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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 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 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.”


Article ThumbMike’s ‘Bottom of the Barrel’ Xmas Xtravaganza

If you could only see your face right now (take a selfie and after you wallow in the horror of your expression, send me a copy). You turned to this page, just knowing that I had run out of Christmas carols to parody and that – for once! – your holiday season wouldn’t be ruined by these tunes – and my insipid lyrics to them – running like an out of control Cuisinart in your brain. Well, turn on the blender, kids, ’cause here we go again.

As usual, I disavow any connection to the rest of this column. Not only was I not conscious when I wrote it (and who says I did, huh?), you can’t prove that 1) I have a computer, 2) I know how to use it, and 3) I know how to speak Christmas. That’s what I call an air tight case.
Now you’ll excuse me while I wipe my hard drive clean. Sing!


Article ThumbSeasonal Affectation

We are rapidly approaching Corn-Phlegma-Plethora-Terminus-Ucopia and I’m sure that all of you are planning big parties for this beloved
annual gardening event.

Basically, CPPTU or “C-Ptui!” (as it is popularly known) marks that time late in the year when we begin to realize that we don’t have anywhere close to enough storage space to save all of the stuff we’re about to harvest and we’re really not interested in spending the next three months chained to a cutting board inside the canning kitchen pickling Tree of Heaven root and making used-leather-sandal jerky simply because the editors of Organic Flotsam Magazine claim it can be done. Gardeners celebrate C-Ptui! by tossing green pumpkins and rock-hard tomatoes at passing cars with out-of-state license plates.


Article ThumbThe Dirt on … Oh Never Mind

By the time you get to this page (that is to say, if you’ve read all or most of this magazine), your brain is so crammed with horticultural knowledge that if you make one false move it will explode, spewing chloroplasts and bark and bits of binomial nomenclature and fragments of tasteful garden design all over the place. And who’s going to clean up that mess?


Article ThumbSomething is in the Eye of the Beholder

You know you’ve made it in the world when you have your own Wikipedia entry. There’s something about the bracketed phrase [attribution needed] in an entry about your own life that just screams, “This guy is something special!” But since I do not yet have a Wikipedia entry (feel free to jump in there and fill the void, folks), I could be guessing.

Nonetheless, when I was told that this issue of the magazine would be focusing on a number of beautiful gardens (it must be “beautiful garden season,” which does not speak highly for the times of the year that are
not “beautiful garden season”), I immediately did what any reporter worth his or her salt would do with 700 words to write and not a flipping clue as to which 700 words to choose from, and that was to investigate the word “beauty.”


Article ThumbSearching for Nature (In All the Wrong Places)

You might have noticed, as you were reading through this magazine, that there are stories about the birds and the bees (which makes some of us nervous), wildflowers, not-so-wildflowers, milkweed (which is a wildflower, not actually a weed, but don’t get me started) and other things that could be lumped generally under the heading of “nature.”

SPOILER ALERT! If you start by reading this column first (come over here and let me give you a great big hug!), I just ruined the rest of the magazine for you by giving away the plot, for which I apologize. Sometimes I just lose control.

Wait a second … this is a gardening magazine. The plot is always the same: plant the seed, water the seed, nurture the tiny plant, feed the tiny plant, water the tiny plant, transplant the plant, nurture the growing plant, feed the growing plant, water the growing plant, watch the plant bloom, watch the plant fruit, deadhead or prune the plant, watch the plant decline, watch the plant die, curse the fates, wonder what you did wrong, rinse and repeat. It’s pretty simple, really.


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questions

Is it possible to plant and grow Italian cypress in the Chicago area? Are our winters too severe for it? If they are, is there an alternative conifer that will provide a similar look?

We moved into a house with a lovely azalea that didn’t bloom. We thought it might have been over-pruned. Last fall we did not prune it and now it still hasn’t bloomed. I was hoping to transplant it this year, but it looks rather sickly. Shall we prune it again and give it another year? Can I still transplant it?

I have twelve beautiful blooming violet plants on my office desk, placed 12 inches from a light source that’s kept burning day and night. I water them from the bottom and let the water remain in the saucer.

No matter what I spray, I continue to have gnats and other insects in my soil. I also occasionally start to get yellow spots on the tips of the leaves and then the spots start going down the leaves. What’s going on here?

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