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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.


Article ThumbGirdling the Family Tree

I need to unburden myself. No, I’m not talking about figuring out what to do with the myriad of partially filled bags of soil amendments strewn about the garage. I’m talking about my past. Aha! I knew that would get your attention.

You see, it’s not easy being a horticultural genius. It’s a curse as well as a blessing. The curse part of it comes from my family, of course. Those of you with cursed families know the drill. In my case, the curse comes courtesy of centuries of ancestors who spent untold hours swimming in questionable gene pools.

Since I can’t afford therapy (I’m still waiting for my MacArthur Genius Grant-do you think they lost my address?) I thought that by examining the lives of my brilliant though sometimes, um, peculiar forefathers and mothers I could achieve some kind of peace. One can hope, can’t one?


Article ThumbMacGregor Redux

“Hey, where’s Stinky?”
“Mmmphrgbl?”
“Stinky!”
“Phbbmmrrggnndr.”
“Didn’t your mama ever teach you not to talk with your mouth full?”
“Nrrp.”
“Well, she should have. Oh, there he is. What’s he doing wasting his time on that stuff?”


Article ThumbThe 29 Steps

One of the things I’ve come to notice about the horticultural racket (and I’m using the term with extreme fondness, unless I’m not), is that everyone seems to be looking for “the next great thing.” You can hardly blame them. Horticulture is not exactly a lucrative profession. In terms of annual income, it ranks somewhere just above chainsaw juggling and just below origami design. You could look it up on the world wide web. Whatever that is.

Anyway, this is the time of year when folks get all buggy-eyed about their lawns. So I thought I’d take those people to the cleaners and offer some practical advice that I think just might turn out to be “the next great thing” in lawn care. Here’s how I figure it. The American way of thinking is “more is better.” Thus, if four pounds of manure is the recommended fertilizer application, heck, why not just buy the darned cow and stick her on your lawn? See what I mean?


Article ThumbArk de Disaster

The ultimate definition of an optimist may very well be a person who looks out at a mass of brown, smushed foliage; twisted, broken, defoliated branches; and lumpy, gray-green lawn and says,

“Yup. Looks like it’s going to be a good gardening season.” Who are these people? They’ve certainly never seen my yard in March.


Article ThumbBeyond Extreme Makeovers

Well, here we are again. Funny how Jan. 1st rolls around about this time every year. It’s almost a pattern. Depending on circumstances, I’m guessing that some of you are…

A) looking out at the remnants of the Great Blizzard of ‘08 and laughing about all of the earnest prognostications about global warming. B) looking out, horrified, at the blooming roses in your yard while writing donation checks to Al Gore. C) looking out, closing your eyes and imagining the lawn expanded into a nine-hole putting course (male fantasy, most likely). D) looking out, closing your eyes and imagining your husband, still sitting on his riding lawn mower, buried under your new bed of exotic cutting flowers (female fantasy, I’d guess). E) looking out, closing your eyes and imagining a kind of shaking-the-Etch-A-Sketch approach. That is to say, wiping out the whole thing and starting from scratch.


Article ThumbMike’s 2nd Annual Holiday Hort Sing-Along

It’s been that kind of year. I’ve been breaking all sorts of personal rules. I don’t know what came over me when I put actual information into this column (see July/August). I think I was suffering from a summer fever.

And here I go again. I never repeat column ideas, but I’m reprising my holiday sing-along. Maybe it was the letter from the woman who said she read my songs and couldn’t stop crying. Or perhaps it was the letter from my editor who said, “If you don’t have a column to us by tomorrow, we’re putting a monkey at a keyboard and seeing what he produces.”


Article ThumbCompost Tales

I believe it was the Shakespearean actor and gardener Ralph Kean (second cousin of the even more Shakespearean Edmund Kean) who remarked, “Ya know, dying is easy. Composting is weird.” As far as I have been able to determine, Ralph didn’t work much on stage. Or in the garden, for that matter.

If the truth be known, my compost pile has never really been up to snuff. Oh, the stuff (not snuff) I throw into it breaks down well enough. Over time. Over a long, long, long, long time. Are you all familiar with how quickly a decade passes? It’s my fault, I’m sure. Whatever happens in the garden-mine or others-is always my fault and, given that mind-set, blaming myself for having slacker microbes is not all that unreasonable. Perhaps I’m not thinking enough positive compost-y thoughts.


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questions

I have a large variegated sedum with pink flowers that I have had for years. I noticed that it has started to send up some all-green shoots. Why is it doing this and how can I keep my plant variegated?

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?

I have houseplants outside that I will need to bring indoors. What is the lowest temperature at which I can leave them outside?

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