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Article ThumbThere Is No “I” in Ideas

This, as I have been told by the esteemed staff of Chicagoland Gardening magazine, is the Ideas Issue. I learned that a little late, as there is a de facto ban on my appearances at editorial meetings. I think it has something to do with declaring at a gathering several years ago, in what might possibly have been a high, whiney voice (I seem to have somehow blocked that memory), that the tubers from sweetpotato vine (Ipomoea batatas) were among the culinary delights of the planet. Or it might have been that I served them up on skewers adorned with Jerusalem cherries (Solanum pseudocapsicum), which are reportedly fairly poisonous.


Article ThumbMike’s Instant Holiday Hort Sing Along: Just Add Snow

I’m often asked, “How do you do it, Mike … year after year?” That’s the wrong question. The right question is “Why do you do it, Mike … year after relentless year?” However, even that question should be presented in a rhetorical way. In which case, I will smile sagely. If asked as a real question, I will suddenly remember that I must tend to the eggs boiling on my stove before they explode all over the unwashed dishes and the languishing pothos.


Article ThumbMid-Season Classic

Are we all met? Good. Have a seat, everybody. Down in front, please.

[Mumble, mumble, rutabaga, watermelon, and other crop names used as background crowd conversation.]

Annuals, perennials, biennials, trees, shrubs, tropicals, weeds, insects, arachnids, worms, gastropods, roly polies, millipedes, centipedes, garden gnomes and fellow citizens of this yard:

As we approach the Autumnal Equinox, I come to you, as your Gardener-in-Chief, to deliver my State of the Garden address. It has been a long year — heck, every year is a long year. In fact, many years seem like they are two or three years long. Do you remember last year? Wow. Now that was brutal. That year seemed to go on for decades. I was ready to put all of you out of your misery by July. By then, I was already thinking about grabbing the rototiller and…

But I digress.

Allow me to say that the state of our garden is…well…it’s pretty okay.


Article ThumbGarden Un-Centered

We all have our “happy” places–where we feel at home when we’re not at home.

Some people are never so happy as when they are in the unnatural quiet of a library. Unfortunately, it’s not so quiet for me. Whenever I find myself in the presence of the looming stacks of books, I become uneasy. I can hear them whispering, “Why haven’t you read me? Check me out, baby.” It’s unnerving, especially the “baby” part. And if I try to assuage my guilt by taking a few titles home, the books sitting in unread piles in my living room get insulted and begin whispering about me behind my back…in my own house. My advice to youngsters everywhere: don’t end up like me. It’s a hard life when you’re wracked by book guilt.


Article Thumb10 Years After

I’m not sure whether I should be celebrating or apologizing.

Let me explain. The 700 or so words on this page mark my tenth anniversary as a columnist for Chicagoland Gardening magazine. It scares me to think that some of my readers are younger than that. It also scares me to think that some parents might allow their kids to read this column. But I digress.

I’m surprised that the tenth anniversary is generally known as the “tin” anniversary. Which means that if you’ve survived the close combat of a relationship for a whole decade, the best you can hope for a reward is a substance that is used to coat steel containers for food preservation or to stabilize PVC plastics. So, on your tenth anniversary, I suggest you give your wife a few cans of water chestnuts. Or delight your husband with a length of PVC pipe. Then prepare to sleep on the couch, whatever gender you are.


Article ThumbMike’s Holiday Hort Sing Along (Again?)

Did I ever mention that in my childhood I was severely traumatized when I happened to discover two snowflakes that were exactly alike? I think it explains a lot of things — perhaps even my obsession with doing irreparable damage to venerable (and often inexplicably dopey) holiday songs, all in the name of horticulture.

Meanwhile, for those of you who are waiting for me to run out of parodies, it’s only fair to warn you that I’ve already written enough to get me through 2034 — when I will be 117 years old. In fact, it’s stated in my will that whoever takes over this column when I’m planted under the poison ivy patch in my backyard must continue rolling out these songs until they’re used up.


Article ThumbVolunteer Army

Pop Quiz! (Bet you didn’t see this coming. Hurry! There’s still time to click another link! Oops, too late.) More than anything in the world, gardeners want: (A) to keep their plants alive (B) actual gardening shows on HGTV (C) to know how to pronounce Ophioglossum crotalophoroides ‘Walter’ (okay, maybe not the last word) (D) self-cleaning fingernails And the correct answer? It’s a trick question, the only kind I use! The correct answer is ...


Article ThumbWeed Watch

When I do garden talks, there are a number of questions that pop up repeatedly. For instance, “Is that your real hair?” is near the top of the list. Occasionally I am asked, “How come your radio show is on Sunday instead of Saturday?” (Note: If you want to see my real hair fall out in clumps, ask me that question. Go ahead, I double dig dare you.)

The other question that I am mercilessly flogged by at these otherwise genial gatherings is, “How come my weeds do better than my plants?” Putting aside the fact that weeds are plants, it has occurred to me that I could become as fabulously wealthy as the person who invented the spork if I could just answer that one question.


Article ThumbA Letter From the Garden Abyss

I am writing to reach out to humanity, if there is anyone left as of May 1. If you find this note, please take it to the editors of Chicagoland Gardening. They will know what to do with it. No, on second thought, don’t take it to them, because I think I know what they will do with it.

As I write, it is the end of March, and perhaps the end of civilized gardening. It started with “The Winter That Never Was.” Oh, we were happy in our ignorance then. We couldn’t believe our good fortune. It was as if somebody up there ran out of quarters and couldn’t feed the cold/snow/ice machine. (Obviously, that machine is so old that it doesn’t take credit cards.)


Article ThumbThe Secret Life of Bulbs

The monocotyledonous geophytes are coming! The monocotyledonous geophytes are coming! I knew that would get your attention. It would be a lot harder to get gardeners to respond to a cry of “The bulbs are drawing nigh! The bulbs are drawing nigh!” How about “The rhizomes are riding!” or “The tubers are turning!“ or “The corms are, uh, corming!” Okay, now it’s getting a little out of control.

My point is that we are under attack by these “stealth” plants. Some folks think I’m paranoid but those people are the ones who are out to get me. I say look around! What do you see? Tiny shoots poking up through the leaves and fast food wrappers in your neighborhood. Do you know what that says to me? Reconnaissance, people! Uh-huh. Little periscopes checking out the situation. “Is it safe?” “Is the snow gone yet?” “Any dogs around?” “Ooh, look, a caterpillar!”


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questions

I want to raise the level of my lawn as much as 2 feet in places. I now have a large quantity of somewhat composted wood chips and I am wondering if I can use them as fill to raise the ground level and provide a good soil in which to sow a lawn.

Do the ants on my peony flowers help buds to open, or is this an old wives’ tale? What are the extremely tiny, microscopic yellow wormy looking bugs crawling on my pink peony flowers? My peonies are beautiful, but I don’t want all these bugs.

What is the green worm that eats my roses and columbine every year?

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