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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.


Article ThumbAttack of the Killer Asparagus

I had one of those horticultural dreams the other night. You know what I’m talking about. The ones where you’re being attacked by giant loppers and you’re running through a field that’s been sprayed with a sticking agent so that it’s like running on fly paper and it’s slowing you down and the loppers are gaining on you and as you look back over your shoulder you can see that the loppers have a face that you can’t quite recognize but they are shouting “Snip! Snip!” as they get closer and closer and it dawns on you that the voice sounds remarkably like your fifth grade teach Sister Mary Malathion and now you’re really sorry that you threw that spit wad or maybe you’re actually sorry because you used a very toxic chemical in your garden many years ago when you didn’t really understand anything about gardening and you wish you could take it back but it’s too late or maybe it’s something else altogether but it doesn’t really matter because Sister Mary Loppers is right behind you and…


Article ThumbThe Birds Is Coming!

“And good English has went.”

That’s how it was. At least that’s how I remember it. I am, unfortunately, old enough to have a memory of when Alfred Hitchcock made his film “The Birds.” (Hint: don’t watch it before visiting the aviary.) The tag line for the advertising campaign was “The birds is coming!” However, I was pretty young (really) and I remember the Mad Magazine parody as well or better than the actual movie. And in the Mad cartoon, there was a billboard that countered the advertising pitch with the phrase, “And good English has went.” It was just a visual throw-away line, but I thought it was about the funniest thing I had ever read.


Article ThumbStep Away from the Garden

Gardeners are patient people, generally. Think about it. In a world in which the cable news cycle changes every 13 minutes or so, a gardener will wait for six months or longer for a seed to germinate. Gardeners put in perennials and shrubs knowing that they will reach their full potential about the same time as their kids do. They think nothing of planting a tree with the expectation that in, oh, 20 years or so, it will provide some shade. If we still live here. So why, when the calendar changes to March, do these stolid, unhurried souls suddenly get all wide-eyed and jittery? Why do these wise observers of nature’s slow pageant start acting like a bunch of all-sugared-up kids on Christmas Eve?

Behold the power of spring. Ever seen a dog try to go through a storm door to get to a mailman? Ever watched a cat that’s spotted a bird on a picnic table? Ever observed a man surfing on the television who comes across a football game? They all have one thing in common, the look in their eyes that says, “Must. Have. Now.”


Article ThumbRead ‘em and Weep

January (and February and December…oh, and add November to that list…and you might as well throw in March, just to complete the set) is the cruelest month. My readers don’t get to garden and I don’t get to create answers to gardening questions from whole cloth and lead people into horticultural cul-de-sacs, which gives me endless pleasure during the growing season.


Article ThumbMike’s Holiday Hort Sing-Along

If it weren’t for the holiday season, we probably would have legislated the month of December out of existence long ago. It’s not exactly a month that makes gardeners salivate–unless you’re a poinsettia freak, which is even more cause for worry.

So while you’re counting days until you can begin killing plants again (indoor varieties notwithstanding), I’ve come up with a few songs you can sing around the artificial fire in your pre-fab greenhouse. I’ve appropriated the music from some holiday songs for two reasons: 1) you already know the melodies, and 2) I don’t have to pay royalties.


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From the Editor - Mar/Apr 2014

In a few days I will plant my first tomato seed. Planting always makes me happy, whether it’s planting bulbs in the fall, ...


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Columns
The Gardening Zone

You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension: a dimension of soil, a dimension of blight ...


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Columns
Girdling 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 ...


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Columns
Searching for Nature (In All the Wrong Places)

You might have noticed, as you were reading through this magazine, that there are stories about the birds and the bees (which...


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Columns
Basement Bounty

Decisions, decisions. What’s a devoted gardener to do with brugmansia as winter approaches?


questions

I have two 20-year-old pine trees whose needles are turning brown on the west side of the plants. On the east side I have a compost pile.

I live in the St. Charles region and my soil is mostly clay. What is causing the browning? Should I get rid of the compost? How do I correct the damage?

What are your three favorite “all-but-forgotten” perennials that every garden should include? Why do you like them?

Miniature gardening is the rage. What enchanting miniature plants work well in a shaded area?

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