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Article ThumbDismayed in the Shade

“President Jimmy Carter once said that life is not fair. I’m not positive, but I don’t think he coined that phrase. I’m not positive about this either, but I think he was referring to gardeners. I’ll check LexisNexis when I have a spare decade.

The point is that not all gardeners are blessed with perfect growing conditions. (I haven’t gone out on a limb here, have I?) The types of soil, water and asphalt paving can all be challenges to the success of our gardens, our personal esteem and hence, our very existence. At least, that’s what I tell my therapist.


Article ThumbHope Springs Eternal

“Good afternoon, everybody, and welcome to another season of exciting action! I’m Bud Blast–“ “–And I’m Hort Holler–“ “And it’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, to coin a phrase.” “I sure am!” “Uh, yeah. Anyway, we’ve been through what can only be described at a long winter–“ “Hoo-boy, Bud! Long winter!” “–especially in light of the way the last season ended.” “Everything dropped dead, Bud. Door nail dead! Not a good way to end the season, Bud.” “Nope, not at all, Hort. But, as they say, ‘Hope springs eternal’–” “Specially in spring, Bud. It springs in spring.” “Yup, and this year’s team has come a long way since the fall.”


Article ThumbReflections in the Bleak Mid-Something

This period of the gardening year used to be called “the bleak midwinter.” That song would long ago have been changed to “In the bleak down time between Super Bowl Sunday and NCAA March Madness,” except that it doesn’t scan particularly well. But I think you know what I’m talking about. Unless you hate sports. In which case, I’m going to unfriend you on Facebook the next time I log on. But I digress.

This is the time of year that we stand at the window contemplating the garden, understanding that what was chaos just a few months ago in October will again be chaos when we get to April. Armed with that knowledge, we long to catch the flu, which would give us an excuse to toss back yet another hot toddy. But I digress.


Article ThumbMike’s Never-Ending Holiday Hort Sing-Along

There’s Nothing Like Loam for the Gardener: (Sung to “There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays”)

Oh, there’s nothing like loam for the gardener Whether you live in Naperville or Nome When you want dirt that’s crumble-y and decomposed For the gardener, you can’t beat loam, sweet loam ...


Article ThumbPretty in (everything but) Pink

I’m not paranoid but it’s out to get me. It’s everywhere. It’s in my life, my dreams, my backyard, my garden. It is ubiquitous, relentless, abhorrent, insidious, formidable, unyielding, despotic and pitiless.

It is…it is…. It is pink…aaaaahhhhhh!

I cannot, for the life of me, understand the Oliver Goldsmith phrase “The very pink of perfection.” (Note that his surname belies his sentiment.) For me, pink is the very opposite of perfection. Perhaps I was frightened by a demonic little pink sock in my cradle. Maybe I just looked in a mirror and saw a pink blob that horrified me. Or, I suppose, my fear and loathing of anything pink can be traced back to the early days of color television. For those of you unfortunate enough to have lived through that transition (think “Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.”), the early color television sets had a tendency to make everything appear, well, pink-ish. It’s possible that watching Lucille Ball with pink hair every week had something to do with my phobia.


Article ThumbFamily Gathering

My family is in the backyard. Lordy, save me from my family.

They say that you can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family. Hah! Who is this “they” anyway? The same ones who say “The night is darkest before the dawn”? Well, for those of you who have difficulty figuring out the obvious, I usually find that the night is darkest pretty much about the time that the neighborhood cats get into a big ol’ hissy fight and guarantee that you will get about two hours of sleep–usually the night before a big morning presentation.

But before I get all depressed about the night, let me get all depressed about my family in the backyard.


Article ThumbFailure to Communicate

“Do you have geraniums?” “Pelargonium or cranesbill?” “Sorry?” “Er, Pelargonium or cranesbill.” “No, I’m not interested in birds. I want a geranium. Got any red ones?” “Exactly. I was just explaining that what you call a geranium is actually a Pelargonium.” “Then why don’t they call it that?” “Well, it’s sometimes called a storksbill.” “Like I said, I don’t wanna bird.” “No, I’m just saying that cranesbills and storksbills are two different things.” “Especially to their mamas.”


Article ThumbWeather Warrior

As I write, the guy on the Weather Channel is warning us to stay indoors. “Don’t go out unless you absolutely have to,” the earnest man says apocalyptically. The graphic at the bottom of the screen informs me that the actual temperature is 11 degrees F, the wind chill is 0 degrees. It is 2:52 p.m. Things will only get worse.

Bring. It. On. Oh, yeah. I don’t want to battle against just any weather. I want it the coldest, the hottest, the wettest, the driest. I want it to rain frogs and goats and shag carpeting. And I want to be out there in it. Running for the bus sucking in lung-crystalizing cold air. Desperately planting the last of my seven thousand daffodils in a fifty-six-year monsoon. Playing softball in a Dust Bowl storm in the twilight in Chicago. And I want to win that game.


Article ThumbPlanning Commissioner

The folks in the editorial office tell me that this issue is about planning. I’m taking their word for it, since they don’t invite me to editorial meetings anymore. That might have something to do with the time that I showed up with my Giant Burrowing Cockroach (Macropanesthia rhinoceros), an insect from Australia. I thought they would find it educational. I still don’t know how it escaped. You’d think they would have been a little more concerned about my emotional attachment to Rhino and less about how to get it out of their potted fiddle-leaf ficus.

As I recall, we didn’t get a lot accomplished that day. And the invitations to the meetings stopped about that time. Anyway…planning. Right.


Article ThumbMike’s 3rd Annual Holiday Hort Sing-Along

Don’t you just hate it when columnists fall into that trap of using the same old formulas year after year after year, simply because they don’t have the creativity or they’re too lazy to come up with something new?

Yeah, me, too. On that note, by popular demand (thanks, Mom!) I present the third installation of my not-so-award-winning
gardening words to popular carols. If you need to acquire music rights, you’re on your own, pal.


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Blog
Bringing in the Bees

I pay close attention to the plants in my garden that attract a lot of bees. I don’t know the names of all the bees in my yard,


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Columns
Pretty in (everything but) Pink

I’m not paranoid but it’s out to get me. It’s everywhere. It’s in my life, my dreams, my backyard, my garden.


Article Thumbnail
Columns
Dear 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 ...


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Features
Winter Reds

In a Chicagoland winter, we may or may not have snow. With snow, any garden can look good. Without it, we must pull out a few …


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Columns
Mike’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 …


questions

What ratio and amounts of fertilizer would you use for a perennial bed and a vegetable garden? For growing annuals in a greenhouse, should the fertilizer be fast or slow-release, organic or inorganic?

After a summer outside, my clivia has returned indoors. Last year it had only one puny flower. What treatment should I give it over winter to bring it into bloom?

I have a hoya houseplant that has been growing happily for eight years. It had flowers when I received it, but it hasn’t bloomed since. What am I doing wrong? Can I get it to flower?

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