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Article ThumbNaming Rights

Brace yourself. I’m going to smack you across the kisser with a cold, wet herring of truth: Gardening ain’t easy.

There. I said it. You may now wipe that fish oil from your cheek.

One of the reasons that gardening is harder than it looks is that the people who make the rules keep changing them. I’m talking about the keepers of the binomial nomenclature. (Note: If you enjoy reading this column because it’s fact-free, just close your eyes for the next couple of sentences, while I get the serious stuff out of the way.)

Binomial nomenclature is the rule that every living thing – like a plant – has an unpronounceable scientific name that was created to confuse the bejesus out of people who are not scientists. For instance, you think you’re growing a pansy but it might really be a Viola × wittrockiana Gams ex Nauenb. & Buttler. I’m not making this up! As Randy Shakespeare always said, before he was unceremoniously expunged from the history books, “Google it!”


Article ThumbDear Ms. and/or Mr. MacArthur Genius Grant Person

My name is Mike Nowak and, as you can see, I write a column for this very, very, very esteemed magazine. It’s full color and it’s glossy! As you can also see, my column is in a place of honor, on the very, very, very back page, just in front of a big fertilizer ad or something else of great importance to the horticultural community (they change it up every issue, just to keep me guessing).


Article ThumbConference Call

MiNoSoRALaS Announces Best Gardening Conference Ever Anywhere


CHICAGO - Today, The Mike Nowak School of Really Awesome Learning and Stuff (MiNoSoRALaS) announced that in anticipation of the 2017 gardening season, it would be presenting its inaugural “Best Gardening Conference Ever Anywhere 2017.” Some people insist on calling it the “first annual” but Mike thinks that’s putting the compost before the wheel barrow. And he should know.


Article ThumbTough Questions for the Pros

Here we are again, folks, recovering from yet another catastrophic (pick one or more):

Election.

New Year’s Eve celebration.

Christmas, when you hinted and hinted that all you needed to make you truly happy was a cherry red Tesla Model S under your Christmas Tree. But did Santa come through for you? Ha! Only in those annoying car commercials does that ever happen.


Article ThumbMike’s Very, Very, Last, Absolutely Final and Never EVER to Be Repeated Holiday Hort Singalong!

Well, folks, you knew you were living on borrowed time. I didn’t realize it, but so was I. But when the FBI and Walt Disney (hisself!) showed up on my doorstep to ask about certain musical themes “borrowed” for a certain slightly over-the-hill garden writer at a particular Midwest horticulture magazine, I told them to go next door.

However, they came back. And after we all had a chuckle over my subterfuge and ol’ Walt told me the back story of the creation of Mickey Mouse (and I’ll bet you never thought that guy could work blue!) over a heaping glass of Ovaltine, the FBI guys agreed to remove my handcuffs with the promise that this would be the very, very, very last time that I subjected people to this cruel and unusual punishment.

So get out your pitch pipes, your hankies and your best liquor, ‘cause here we go:


Article ThumbA Clear and Present Danger

I was recently interviewing a well-known garden writer about the benefits of an outdoor space in which to contemplate and enjoy your
plants, your sense of aesthetics and nature in general. (Ah. Just writing that sentence lowered my blood pressure by ten points.) Among
the things I learned:

• Plastic flowers have little in common with nature

• Bamboo sticks are not an optimum construction material for a pergola

• An arborvitae fence works only if the plants don’t die

That kind of advice stays with you for awhile, much like a chocolate corn dog washed down with 32 ounces of pink lemonade. …


Article ThumbPlant Identification Flow Chart

A comical plant identification flow chart from our columnist, Mike Nowak.


Article ThumbThe Numbers Game

I was reading a gardening book the other day (yes, I occasionally do research – don’t start on me this early in the column, okay?) and I came across a tip for how to buy the right number of plants for your garden. Unfortunately, it involved unnerving words like “numbers” and “measurements” and “calculations.”

Of course, the tried and true way of figuring out how many plants are needed is to eyeball the garden, go to the garden center, roll out a couple of Radio Flyers full of plants, take ’em home, put ’em in the ground, and try to return the extra plants … for credit, of course. If you undershoot your mark, head back to the garden center. If you’re doing this via the Intertubes and mail, add a few weeks and a couple of emotional meltdowns to the process.


Article ThumbLife without Gardening

There’s a famous New Yorker cartoon that pictures an old tire, a can, a bottle and a pencil on a flat, featureless landscape – save a few non-descript rocks – that stretches to dull gray clouds on the horizon. The caption reads, “Life without Mozart.” The most chilling part of thisdrawing (if you’re me) is that it uncannily evokes my own yard.

the way, no matter how often I remove the tire, the can, the bottle and the pencil from my property, they reappear by the next morning. There’s an episode of “The Twilight Zone” ready to be written here, or perhaps a reboot of “Groundhog Day.” I would particularly welcome the latter, since I think I was the only Chicago actor who didn’t land at least a walk-on part in that film, which is something else that I re-live over and over and over again. But I digress.


Article ThumbImagine That

I was awakened recently by the sound of a pigeon rattling my bedroom window. Peeking with one cautious eye from beneath my covers, I noticed that there was a small scroll attached to its leg. I opened the window, retrieved the scroll and got a dirty look from the bird as it pooped and flew off. (Just what are the rules for tipping carrier pigeons?)

This is now how my editors communicate with me. They mutter vaguely about computer viruses and such. I’m not sure but I think I’m being punished for some grammatical faux pas.

Anyway, the note was about the theme of this first issue of the year (already? can I go back to bed?), which is … uh … “Magician Tissue.” Wait. Nope. (The print is very, very tiny on this little note.) It’s … uh … ah! I think this is the “Imagination Issue.”


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questions

I’d like to know the secret to growing a decent-sized pumpkin for jack-o-lanterns for the grandkids and for decorating. My experience in recent years is that they get about as big as a basketball and then begin to rot. What am I doing wrong?

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?

After my father’s tomatoes ripen on the vine, he finds when he cuts into them that there is a hard white core that extends through the fruit.

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