There are many lovely plants in Ted and Gidget Nyquist’s garden in Bartlett. But it’s Ted’s collection of rhododendrons – hundreds of them – that stop visitors in their tracks when the plants bloom. “I just love it,” Ted says. “People come around the corner, and they’re not expecting to see a garden with all these rhododendrons.”
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.
Some gardeners are able to make graceful transitions from season to season. In my case, I find that the word “lurch” is more appropriate. Actually, applying that word to almost anything I do probably paints a more accurate picture of my life:
Lurching into autumn. Lurching into a radio interview. Lurching into breakfast. Often literally.
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.”
One fine morning this summer I looked out the second-floor window of my study and discovered a 1-foot tall tomato plant growing a few feet away in the gutter of the back porch. Just one more example, if one were needed, of the amazing, millennia-long saga of seed dispersal on the planet. Thor Hanson offers more examples in his newly published The Triumph of Seeds.
Why do plants grow where they do, puzzled Charles Darwin and other 19th century scientists? When Darwin reached the Galapagos Islands during his 3-year-long voyage on the H.M.S. Beagle, he discovered numerous oddities, including cotton. How did it get there?
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…
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.
If you could only see your face right now (take a selfie and after you wallow in the horror of your expression, send me a copy). You turned to this page, just knowing that I had run out of Christmas carols to parody and that – for once! – your holiday season wouldn’t be ruined by these tunes – and my insipid lyrics to them – running like an out of control Cuisinart in your brain. Well, turn on the blender, kids, ’cause here we go again.
As usual, I disavow any connection to the rest of this column. Not only was I not conscious when I wrote it (and who says I did, huh?), you can’t prove that 1) I have a computer, 2) I know how to use it, and 3) I know how to speak Christmas. That’s what I call an air tight case.
Now you’ll excuse me while I wipe my hard drive clean. Sing!
If Mother Earth had a full-time assistant, it would be Kay MacNeil. For more than 25 years, the Frankfort resident has advocated and gardened for those with no voice — Eastern bluebirds, butterflies, hummingbirds and many other struggling creatures that most people take for granted.
Many of the homes in her subdivision, which surrounds the Prestwick Country Club’s golf course, sport manicured lawns and neatly trimmed shrubs. That look is a far cry from her garden, tucked away on a cul-de-sac where native wildflowers, trees and shrubs mingle with flowering vines and passalong plants from her late parents, grandmother and friends.
Towards the end of February a startling fact was reported on the news. January, it turns out, had been the fourth warmest month in the history of the world. How can that be, everyone east of the Mississippi must have gasped?
On a sunny winter day a few years
ago, I strolled into our Palos-area garden looking for signs of snowdrops. The snow was melting, leaving behind large patches of wet soil around the tree trunks. The air was calm and the day was somewhat downright mild for February — almost 50 degrees. Out of the corner of my eye, something darted just above the ground — a mourning cloak! I had read that mourning cloak and question mark butterflies occasionally ventured out from their winter hideaways — they overwinter here and ca
Ask many skilled gardeners to name their favorite plant, and what do they reply? “The one that’s in bloom right now.”
Rain gardens are hot news, but are they pretty? Here are some examples that take the concept beyond mere buzz words.
One of the great things about being a columnist is that when you run out of ideas you can steal them from other people.
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