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.”
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.
Some people are known as “glass half full” folks and some drift towards the “glass half empty” side. Personally, I’m a “Whoops! I’m sorry I just spilled that half glass of red wine all over your white lace tablecloth” kind of guy.
I know that many gardeners look at the coming year with anticipation. By January, the unspeakable, unending string of horticultural tragedies of the previous season have been relegated to the compost pile of history, figuratively and literally. (Or is that just my experience?) They view the world – which is pretty much limited to their patios, backyards and all-season deck chairs – with fresh eyes, convinced that this is the year that the porcelain berry vine that strangled their prize affenpinscher will be vanquished, that the heptacodium tree, which died under mysterious circumstances five years ago and which now resembles a hat rack for squirrels, will finally be removed (if only by a wind storm), and that the drainage issues that had them considering creating a rice paddy by the recycling bin will miraculously be alleviated by a climate-change-induced drought that begins in April and lasts through, oh, 2023.
People ask me why, year after inexplicable year, I continue to crank out these bizarre little lyrics for the holidays. Normally, I nod and smile and ignore the question. But when it’s your shrink who is pleading for an answer, uh … let’s just say that I said I would think it over, but, gee, I’m on deadline and I’ll talk to you next week.
I’m not sure that counts as an answer. I’ll let you know next year.
If there’s absolutely one thing I’m sure of as I slog through this vale of tears, it’s that the MacArthur genius grant people have, tragically, lost my phone number. Why, I can think of at least half a dozen reasons why I should be cashing one of their big, oversized checks and then retiring to an exotic location like Minot, ND. (Slogan: “Why Not Minot?”)
Gardeners perplex me. Actually, I’m perplexed by many things, including gravity and spumoni ice cream and why most Americans think a t-shirt and shorts is a fashion statement in an airport, but when it comes to gardeners, I’m often really perplexed.
In the words of my dad, who never actually said this, so I don’t know why I’m invoking him while channeling one of the Bowery Boys, “Lemme give ya a fer instance.”
It seems that I’m either easily amazed or not fazed at all by new information. For instance, if you were to tell me that science has suddenly concluded
that the moon is made of Agaricus bisporus (Portobello mushrooms), my response would most likely be, “Yeah, saw that coming.”
But recently, a colleague told me about a magazine called Garden & Gun and I nearly spit my split pea soup into my fairy garden terrarium. Perhaps it’s because I’m not the kind of guy who has to strap on heat to feel safe from the squirrels in my yard. Yes, they have been known to take my lunch money from me, but that’s my own fault for wearing peanut butter scented cologne.
News alert! I have been known to be obsessed with weather, and weather reporting. Why is everybody laughing? Stop that. I’m serious here.
I’m the kind of guy who wants to experience the minus 25 F freeze-o-rama and the 110 F meltdown outside, so I can say I actually lived it. Then, after about two minutes, I want to duck back into my cozy living room with a suitable hot or cold beverage and watch the coverage on TV. Hey, I’m crazy but I’m not nuts.
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.
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.
It is always a topic of conversation: What plants work well in sun or in shade? Or both?
I don’t know the names of all of the plants in my garden. There, I said it. I’m not bragging, mind you, nor am I apologizing.
This is the time of year that many of us look back in our horticultural rearview mirrors the same way we would if we’d just ...
There’s a reason why tillandsias are called air plants. Just don’t call them airheads.
Ted Nyquist’s rhododendrons light up his woodland wonderland.