Do you sing in the shower?
Um, I know that’s kind of personal and you don’t need to tell me what kind of soap you use but the point is, do you sing there but nowhere else? I ask only because I know that there are people out there who feel, well, incompetent at certain skills. Singing is a common one. Public speaking is another. Sports, cooking, electronics, home improvement, fashion, and let’s not forget origami, are other areas where the taunts of childhood acquaintances, spouses and co-workers can breed a sense of insecurity that can haunt people their whole lives.
My computer is trying to tell me something. About gardening, no less. That can’t be good.
It’s not like pruners are some cutting-edge-21st-century-whiz-kid invention. Yet whenever I type the word pruners, it looks like…well, the way it does here on the screen. You know, with the funny red line beneath the word. As if to say, “This computer does not recognize the word “pruners.” Check your spelling and/or grammar and get back to me, Leo.” Hey, you clinking, clanking collection of caliginous junk, not only do I know how to spell pruners, I happen to own several, and I know how to spell the word because…because…they put it right on the package, I think.
Every day I receive letters (well, not every day, but every few days…actually, I occasionally receive letters ... okay, okay, I got one once—are you happy?) in the mail (to be precise, not the real, old-fashioned mail, but somehow they find their way to my desk ... my computer ... and they’re somewhat about gardening ... I mean, I assume that increasing your trowel size has something to do with gardening ... uh, by the way, don’t ever open an e-mail with that subject line) like this one from Rusty:
The day we brought her home from the nursery, we were the proudest parents on the block. We hadn’t always wanted one. In fact, the thought hadn’t really crossed our minds until we noticed how happy Kathleen’s brother and sister-in-law were with theirs. Slowly, irrevocably, the notion crept into our heads that perhaps it was time to make a commitment.
Still, I was the one who held back. Was I ready for this kind of a change? Could I handle the responsibility? What if I was found wanting?
As we sat in the yard and looked at her, tiny and green and purple, we thought about the years to come when we would share spring days and summer evenings and even snow-covered afternoons behind our house. I carried with me a mental snapshot of the three of us enjoying ourselves in the yard. I even had the perfect spot picked out for her, where she would always stand.
Something was wrong. I could sense it. How? That’s my job. My name is Begonia. Rex Begonia. I’m a detective. A garden detective. I speak in short clipped phrases and I pack a trowel.
There was nothing wrong with the weather. The weather was perfect. Too perfect. It was one of those evenings that give garden writing a bad name, that cause otherwise perceptive, talented writers to reach inexplicably for their thesauruses. They start using words like “dappled” and “palette” and phrases like “discordant symphony of riotous hues” and I start reaching for the bottle. Pour me a drink, Sam.
If “ignorance of the law” is no excuse, does that apply also to the laws of nature? Of physiology? Of reproduction? Of supply and demand? Of fine print? Of the best intentions of friends gone awry? Of creeping rhizomes and fecund root fragments and floating, flying, fluttering husks of determined seeds?
Perhaps I should start at the beginning.
My partner Kathleen and I own a wonderful vacation house on the Olympic Peninsula in the temperate rainforest of the Pacific Northwest. To make a long story short, it was an impulse buy—two city folks hypnotized by the sight of mushrooms growing on trees. Okay, that and 300-foot-tall conifers in the mountains on a glacier-fed lake in a land that receives an average rainfall of over 140 inches per year and is perpetually green. We may be city slickers but even we can smell the difference between humus and concrete.
Editor’s Note: Though he acknowledged that it is bad form for a writer to miss a deadline, especially when it is only the third deadline of his new column, Mike Nowak assured us that his old community college horticultural fraternity roommate would be a more than adequate substitute. Frankly, time constraints and a thin Rolodex left us with limited options in this matter. While docking Mr. Nowak’s pay for this issue and sending him a stern warning about future efforts, we present, with trepidation:
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.
It is simply a fact of the way I garden. I don’t necessarily recommend deliberately throwing away or conveniently losing plant identification tags. I don’t advise leaving blank the pages of that fancy garden journal you received for Christmas. I don’t suggest you fail to take photographs of your precious rare specimens. I just know that these things happen, mainly because they occasionally happen to me.
I think I’m missing a gene. Okay, maybe two or three.
This is the time of year when gardeners are told to dream, to curl up with their favorite magazine or catalog with that hot cup of cocoa or tea (naturally decaffeinated, of course), to look upon their snow-covered blank slate of a garden and imagine the endless possibilities of the coming growing season. Golden retriever at your side, your mate happily puttering away in the next room (creating ingenious and achingly beautiful mosaic tiles from thrift store ceramic pieces) you flip through the stack of horticultural publications, carefully marking and clipping articles and ads for the newest All-America Selections, secure in the knowledge that this year’s garden would be the absolute envy of even Gertrude Jekyll, had she not departed this vale of tears some seven decades ago.
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