I once knew a woman who vacuumed her rock garden. Seems a revered expert from the East Coast was coming on an inspection tour and she wanted everything perfect with nary a weed or fallen leaf in sight.
I was thinking about her as I pulled out my spent tomatoes and put away the cages this past fall. I had a reasonably successful garden in 2016, but I’m sure she would have looked askance at no end of horticultural errors and mishaps had she descended for a visit chez moi. Fortunately, she wasn’t invited.
At Chicagoland Gardening we duly make our resolutions, chief among them our determination that 2017 will be the magazine’s best year ever. And then we get down to business.
As in years past, we begin with a cover story on the year’s new plants. Since the number of new varieties is legion, we limit ourselves to varieties that have passed the trial by fire in the well-named trial gardens at Ball Horticultural in West Chicago. Each summer we take a day to reconnoiter the grounds with Jim Nau and his aide-de-camp Katie Rotella, note the high performers, and then commission our trusty photographer Ron Capek to turn them into art.
The most memorable Christmas of my Chicago life was the year the temperature plummeted to 25 below zero and the pipes froze all over the house. Still, the car miraculously started and the family managed to get to the University of Chicago’s Rockefeller Chapel for the annual pageant, surrounded by neighbors bundled up for the duration in scarves, parkas and boots. Every year one lucky middle school girl would be selected to be Mary and ride down the aisle on Mabel, a real live Sicilian donkey brought in from the suburbs. A sight not to be missed.
September has arrived. Sigh.
Or perhaps you say whoopee!
Whatever your response, there’s no denying the change of seasons is upon us so we might as well revel in the joys to come and limit weeping over the loss of past wonders to a minimum.
For me, one of the great marvels of living in Chicago is …
Seen any good movies lately? One to put at the top of your list is “Greenfingers,” whose title is the English term for having a green thumb.
The film is based on a true story of prisoners from an English jail, some of them murderers, who get a second chance in life (and save their souls) by becoming gardeners.
The main character is a burnt-out shell of a man who is given a packet of viola seeds by his roommate, a cancer-ridden octogenarian. When the violas not only germinate but bloom, it’s a transformative moment.
I always feel grumpy when people refer to gardening as a hobby, and now I know why.
This winter, garden columnist Allen Lacy died, and in The New York Times obituary there was a quote from one of his books that suddenly made clear why the hobby moniker has never sat well with me. “Gardening is not a hobby,” Lacy wrote in The Inviting Garden. “There is nothing wrong with having hobbies, but most hobbies are intellectually limited and make no reference to the larger world. By contrast, being wholeheartedly involved with gardens is involvement with life itself in the deepest sense.”
In the Merry Hall trilogy, a series that ranks high among the world’s great garden classics, the English journalist Beverley Nichols wrote, “[W]hen you are concerned with really important things, such as the dew on a spider’s web, or the first fragrance of a freesia … it is difficult to look over one’s shoulder, as it were, and remind yourself of such shadowy and transient details as the Red Army. In the scale of eternal values, a hundred military divisions are outweighed by a single pinch of thistledown.”
This is the time when the world waxes eloquent (or some semblance thereof) about “new beginnings.” Really? Is there such a thing as old beginnings?
Perhaps we should just call them revisions. We gardeners made a muck of many things in 2015, and now is our time to take stock and resolve to do better next time.
So this year we won’t optimistically set out the tomatoes on a warm day in May, only to see them get blasted by cold winds two weeks later, go belly up and need to be replanted. Nor will we put our new ‘Rebecca’ clematis in the shade … twice … or let the red KnockOut rose get so squished by the 8-foot wide Incrediball hydrangea that the rose actually stopped blooming for most of the summer. Who ever imagined that you could reduce the bloom on a KnockOut rose? (Solution: tell the hydrangea “you win” and donate it to the big perennial garden in Wicker Park.)
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 finally achieve some state of near perfection and I would ride out the rest of my golden years just watching the plants chug along on autopilot while I sat on the porch steps sipping tea and enjoying the view. As if.
This year three of my mophead Hydrangea macrophyllas didn’t bloom – probably the spots where I planted them have become too shady, although the effects of the last two nasty winters can’t be discounted.
One fine morning this summer I looked out the second-floor window of my study and discovered a 1-foot tall tomato plant growing a few feet away in the gutter of the back porch. Just one more example, if one were needed, of the amazing, millennia-long saga of seed dispersal on the planet. Thor Hanson offers more examples in his newly published The Triumph of Seeds.
Why do plants grow where they do, puzzled Charles Darwin and other 19th century scientists? When Darwin reached the Galapagos Islands during his 3-year-long voyage on the H.M.S. Beagle, he discovered numerous oddities, including cotton. How did it get there?
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