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Article ThumbMy Greenhouse Beauty

There are a few cyclical events in my life that I look forward to: the first lazy snowflakes, the emergence of a small spring bulb, the fulsome green of spring, my July birthday, and the sudden shocking pink of Aechmea fasciata leaping out of its silver urn.


Article ThumbA Bulb Like No Other

A few days ago it was cool enough to go outside and see the red needles calling me. It was my fully open haemanthus, a rarely grown South African bulb whose salmon red stamens form a round ball up to 10 inches across.


Article ThumbThe Best Plant You’ve Never Heard Of

Ask many skilled gardeners to name their favorite plant, and what do they reply? “The one that’s in bloom right now.”

Not what the interviewer wanted to hear, probably, but true nonetheless.


Article ThumbDon’t Believe Everything You Read

Wouldn’t life be just about perfect if roses could grow in shade? It so happens that once in a while you come across one that says it “tolerates some shade.” So when I saw those magical words attached to ‘Zépherine Drouhin’, I took them as a clear invitation to buy one and plant it by my front porch landing where it would get some morning sun although there was a 50-year-old mock orange shrub standing nearby on the right and a ‘DeGroot’s Spire’ arborvitae a few feet in front of it next to the steps. There was a pocket through which the rose would get “some” sun as it faced east in the morning, but alas, not enough.


Article ThumbWhat a Difference a Year Makes

This time last year we were heading into an awful, hot, drought-ridden summer — one that trounced the tomato plants, sent container plantings wilting if they didn’t get watered twice a day, and left gardeners exhausted and crabby. As we approach the summer solstice on Friday (yes, it’s still spring for a few more days) we’re celebrating a lush spring that’s been filled with cool days and plentiful rain. Many songbirds had a late start nesting and their melodies fill the woods across the road from our garden.

Earlier this spring, a pair of bluebirds began nesting in a box set in our mixed perennial and shrub border, but, sadly, they were chased off by sparrows. I pulled the empty nest, made of dried grasses, from the box in the hopes that they would return. And they did. They’ve rebuilt their nest, and I’ve seen them chase off curious, bullying sparrows.


Article ThumbKilling Grandpa Ott

I have been trying to kill Grandpa Ott, known affectionately around here as Gramps, for twenty years. We brought him here from Decorah, Iowa, having no idea that he would live so long, or be such a pain the metaphorical arse. I have tried poison, knives, my bare hands, everything shy of a gun, and if I had one of those I might consider using it. Nothing has worked and he has seriously overstayed his welcome.


Article ThumbGood Graft

The hot new thing in vegetable gardening is grafted plants. Burpee and Ball and other plant breeders have developed grafted tomatoes and eggplants in recent years, and I saw them growing in the trial beds at The Gardens at Ball in West Chicago last summer. The idea is that the vigorous rootstock will make the fruiting part of the plant grow faster and produce more fruit. The idea has been common practice with roses for decades.


Article ThumbTool Time

If you grow vegetables, one of the most valuable tools around is a soil thermometer. That’s because many vegetable seeds germinate and grow even when the soil is only 45 degrees. On April 6, I took my trusty soil thermometer and discovered that the top three inches of soil where I grow annual herbs was still only 41 degrees. I waited two weeks and it gradually warmed up so I could sow spinach, lettuce, onions and Swiss chard without having the seeds rot in the cold, wet soil.


Article ThumbGardening for Your Taste Buds

In a few weeks, we can start planting tomatoes and peppers as well as sowing seeds of squash, eggplant, beans and other warm-season vegetables. When you’re planning what to grow this summer, think about what you enjoy eating. There are plenty of cooking themes that can make it fun: a salad garden, an herbal tea garden, a pumpkin and squash garden, a Thai garden with lemon grass, Thai basil, hot peppers, and more.


Article ThumbGardening for Your Taste Buds

In a few weeks, we can start planting tomatoes and peppers as well as sowing seeds of squash, eggplant, beans and other warm-season vegetables. When you’re planning what to grow this summer, think about what you enjoy eating. There are plenty of cooking themes that can make it fun: a salad garden, an herbal tea garden, a pumpkin and squash garden, a Thai garden with lemon grass, Thai basil, hot peppers, and more.


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Columns
Somewhere Below the Soil Line

“Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz...gnxx! Huh?” “Move over. You’re taking up all the root space.” “No need to stick a rhizome in my ...


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Blog
Hummingbirds Heading South

One of the most extraordinary creatures to visit local gardens is the hummingbird. There are several species of hummingbirds ...


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Departments
From the Editor - NovDec 2015

Here’s the thing about gardening: it’s never done. So now 2015 is winding down, the year in which I thought my garden would …


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The 29 Steps

One of the things I've come to notice about the horticultural racket (and I'm using the term with extreme fondness, unless I'm n


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Columns
I Can’t Draw, Don’t Ask Me

Do you sing in the shower? Um, I know that’s kind of personal and you don’t need to tell me what kind of soap you use but ...


questions

I brought my mandevilla plant into the house to overwinter. How best can I keep it? Will it flower? Can I root pieces of it?

I have two strawberry plants in a hanging basket in my yard. I have not had any fruit from them although the vines hang down. I give them plant food once a month and water daily. What am I doing wrong?

What is the best time to plant a tree in northern Illinois?

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