A Clean Tool is a Safe Tool
In the garden, everything has its season. Fall is the season for cleaning and preparing tools for spring. Dirt and rust are harmful to just about everything, but especially to garden tools that are often wet and dirty. We depend on our tools to be safe and effective. Dirt and rust make our tools less safe and make us work harder. Water may be great for the garden, but it is the enemy of our tools.
I’m feeling guilty. Perhaps that’s because my column was due last week and I’ve now written, let’s see, 18 words.
But I’m feeling guilty also because I’m a gardener. Many people mistakenly believe that guilt has to do with the kind of religion you practice—you know, Jewish guilt or Catholic guilt. (I read once that people who suffer from Buddhist guilt come back in the next life as dung beetles. I’ll get back to you with that weblink as soon as I track it down.)
It’s like the emperor with no clothes. The crown imperial stands 3 to 4 feet tall, its Sun King-bright flowers lording it over the spring garden with the hauteur of Louis XIV, utterly unaware that its dignity is fatally undercut by the absurdity of its green bad-hair-day topknot.
Not every spring bulb has the classic sculptured grace of a lily-flowered tulip. Yet many bulbs beyond the ordinary have charms that can grow on a gardener, adding variety and interest where tulips, daffodils and crocuses may seem old hat.
I’m not always the sharpest trowel in the garden bucket, but even I have noticed a recent trend in horticulture. Suddenly, gardening experts are getting all “sciencey” and stuff about growing things, and they’re debunking conventional wisdom left and right. If you do a search on the Intertubes for “garden myths,” you will see that there are more debunked myths about gardening than there are actual facts. And, as we all know, the Intertubes are the place you go for Science! and The Truth. And cat videos.
In the world of fashion, styles change rapidly. All of a sudden this summer, women started walking down the street with their shoulders peeking out from their sleeves. Where did that come from anyway?
In the gardening world, styles change more slowly. But change they do. During the summer as I was driving down 55th Street, I passed the new high-rise dormitory complex Jeanne Gang designed at the University of
Chicago. The architecture is striking, but what caught my eye as I whizzed past that day was the mixed plantings in front with tall goldenrods dancing in the breeze, along with grasses and hydrangeas. You wouldn’t have seen anything like this 20, or even 10 years ago. There would have been lines of red geraniums and yellow marigolds for summer and more lines of mounded chrysanthemums for fall. Public garden design and landscaping have now become so much more interesting. The aesthetic has changed.
“Hey, Gerry.” “ Morning, Al.” “ Where’s Carey?” “ They moved him to the front this morning.” “ No kidding. Think we’re next? “ You never know.” “ Well, I’m gettin’ tired of sittin’ around here. Use me or lose me, I say. Did you hear about Cal?” “ Yeah, poor guy. I thought he was doing well.” “ Well, he was always kind of stiff. You know?” “ Yeah.” “ Now he’s real stiff. Know what I mean?” “ Yeah.” “ Real stiff.” “ I get it.”
You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension: a dimension of soil, a dimension of blight, a dimension of thyme. You’re moving into a land of both dappled shadow and full sun, of bling and pet chias; you’ve just crossed over into ... THE GARDENING ZONE.
Picture, if you will, a room. But not just any room. And in not just any place.
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?
This South Side Chicago garden attracts an astonishing variety of butterflies thanks to the biodiversity it offers in a neighborhood of otherwise sterile green lawns.
Illinois is an agricultural state.
We all know that, right?
But did you also know that Illinois imports 90 percent of its food? This is according to an August 24, 2014 article in the Business section of the Chicago Tribune.
So what’s wrong with this picture? The hard truth is that most of Illinois is a monoculture of corn and soybeans, which goes to feed cattle in this country and abroad. We’re not a state of home gardeners feeding our families from our backyards. When I buy frozen edamame (whole soybeans) at my local supermarket, I see “Product of China” stamped on the bag. What’s wrong, indeed.
“Do you have geraniums?” “Pelargonium or cranesbill?” “Sorry?” “Er, Pelargonium or cranesbill.” “No, I’m not interested in birds. I want a geranium. Got any red ones?” “Exactly. I was just explaining that what you call a geranium is actually a Pelargonium.” “Then why don’t they call it that?” “Well, it’s sometimes called a storksbill.” “Like I said, I don’t wanna bird.” “No, I’m just saying that cranesbills and storksbills are two different things.” “Especially to their mamas.”
They’re back, just in time for holiday decorating and gift giving! Terrariums, that is. They’ve recently made a big comeback…
A comical plant identification flow chart from our columnist, Mike Nowak.
Garden Un-Centered We all have our “happy” places–where we feel at home when we’re not at home. Some people are never ...
In this issue our primary focus is on perennial gardens – beautiful perennial gardens.
In our neck of the woods, there’s been little snow to speak of, but the temperatures finally dropped into the teens. And ...