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Article ThumbMike’s “Bargain Basement”  Holiday Hort Sing Along

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.


Article ThumbGo Pantless … er, Plantless!

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?”)


Article ThumbThe Dog Dayz

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.”


Article ThumbGuns and Roses

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.


Article ThumbNaming Rights

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.


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.


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questions

Last summer my neighbor told me the black spots on my peony were a blight, although my peonies bloomed nicely. What can I do about this?

I plan on saving my amaryllis bulbs that I kept outside over summer, but I noticed red streaks on the inner side of the leaves. What caused that? Will I be able to save my bulbs?

With all the emphasis on growing fresh vegetables, I think I should use a cold frame but I am not sure what to do or how to go about it. Any ideas?

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