One of the great benefits of gardening is that it gives us so many moments of joy. We could also call them God’s-in-his-heaven-all’s-right-with-the-world moments.
They take many forms – the much-anticipated opening of a new rose (or a beloved old rose), the first ripe tomato, the scent of a mock orange, the sight of robins plucking berries from a crabapple.
Illinois is an agricultural state.
We all know that, right?
But did you also know that Illinois imports 90 percent of its food? This is according to an August 24, 2014 article in the Business section of the Chicago Tribune.
So what’s wrong with this picture? The hard truth is that most of Illinois is a monoculture of corn and soybeans, which goes to feed cattle in this country and abroad. We’re not a state of home gardeners feeding our families from our backyards. When I buy frozen edamame (whole soybeans) at my local supermarket, I see “Product of China” stamped on the bag. What’s wrong, indeed.
It’s a bird, it’s a plane … it’s a flash mob of garden writers!
Late last summer 420 garden writers from the U.S. and Canada assembled for their annual symposium and ended up dancing to Pharrell Williams’s “Happy” on the lawn in front of the University of Pittsburgh’s “cathedral of learning” (watch the video here: bit.ly/1ttDyjf).
While it may not rank up there with the moon landing, it’s sure to find a beloved spot in the annals of the Garden Writers Association (GWA), founded in 1948 with a current membership of 1500.
The surprise is that there have been so few surprises. But maybe that’s just what happens when you plant a 5-acre “stylized prairie” in downtown Chicago and half of the species selected are Midwestern natives. Even when the world-renowned plantsman making the choices was from Holland and had never seen a real honest-to-gosh prairie until he came to America several years ago.
The man in question, Piet Oudolf, was in town this summer for the 10th anniversary of the establishment of The Lurie Garden in downtown Chicago’s Millennium Park, and Chicagoland Gardening was able to steal a few moments from his busy schedule to sit down and get his perspective on what he had done.
Gardeners are a fickle lot. Either we’re rhapsodizing gooey-eyed about the resplendent, transcendent wonder of whatever miracle of nature we happen to have just witnessed (the emergence of the first tomato seed always does it for me) or we’re doing Scrooge one better and snarling “Bah, humbug!” The weather this past winter had us all in full snarling mode.
Now it’s high summer and we’re in the thick of something else. Storms, heat, drought, floods, wind, mosquitoes – and the tomatoes are (choose one) not ripening because it’s too chilly at night, not setting fruit because it’s too hot at night, cracking from irregular watering, getting blossom-end rot from calcium deficiency, being eaten by giant tomato hornworms, succumbing to early blight, succumbing to late blight … and so it goes. The gods must surely be against us. Woe and double woe.
At the end of February I spent a couple of weeks in a suburb south of San Francisco, doing grandma duty while my daughter and her hubby were off in Italy, huffing their way to the top of Florence cathedral, plying the waters of the Venetian canals and wallowing through mountains of pasta.
As I never wearied of emailing back home, the Bay Area magnolias and flowering cherry trees were in full bloom, as were the daffodils, and I even spied a bright red bougainvillea as I tooled down the hill chauffeuring the grandson to high school. The boy had been studying about South Africa in his world studies class, so we kept our eyes peeled for cycads, a South African native reminiscent of palm trees that was found on the earth during prehistoric times. It was all very pleasant. Northern California is always ... pleasant.
In a few days I will plant my first tomato seed. Planting always makes me happy, whether it’s planting bulbs in the fall, dividing and moving perennials or putting in shrubs. But nothing holds more mystery and promise than a seed. It’s so small. How can it possibly contain the wherewithal to develop into a 5-foot-tall plant? And tomato seeds are big enough to be easy. When it comes to foxglove or ‘Crystal Palace’ lobelia, I never expect the truly teeny seeds to germinate and so always plant far too many and end up discarding many seedlings (these seeds, too, are actually easy). I never learn.
This is our “Ideas Issue,” designed to be a keeper, although of course we hope you keep all of our issues. So to get this new year off to a rousing start, we’ve created an issue that’s chock full of ideas for everything.
Every January and February, we get the garden ball rolling with Jim Nau from Ball Horticultural offering his appraisal of the year’s new plants. This issue we’ve tweaked that concept a bit in order to focus on plants for sun and ideas for shade, including shade-loving alternatives to the disease-prone common impatiens. There are newbies, but also a few golden oldies (well, not that old but definitely golden).
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