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.”
Ask many skilled gardeners to name their favorite plant, and what do they reply? “The one that’s in bloom right now.”
Not what the interviewer wanted to hear, probably, but true nonetheless.
No one wants to think about gardening when the temperatures hover in the single digits and the wind is howling, but before you know it, you’ll be able to get outside and start planting those lettuce and beet seeds.
They don’t look alike. Not even close. But kinfolk come in all shapes and sizes. True of people and true of plants.
With people you can often tell at a glance who’s related. Sometimes that’s also true of plants.
Look at any daisy-shaped flower, for example – rudbeckia, coneflower, aster, sunflower, Shasta daisy, silphium – and you immediately know they’re in the same family. They’re all composites, members of the Compositae. Kissing cousins, as it were.
Not so with the poinsettia and its kin. Also known as a spurge, it and other members of the Euphorbiaceae family are as diverse as you could possibly imagine. Did you know that the white-flowering Diamond Frost that started adding sparkle to our gardens, especially our container plantings, about 10 years ago is in the Euphorbia genus? Euphorbia hypericifolia ‘Inneuphe’, to be precise. Big splashy red “petals” (modified leaves called bracts) on poinsettias. Teeny glilttering white blossoms on the Diamond Frost.
January, February and March are the great equalizers of the horticultural world. This is the time of the year when I can look at the landscapes belonging to my oh-so-serious gardening brethren and cistern and taunt, “Gee, that doesn’t look much better than my garden.” I choose to ignore the fact that, even under 20 inches of snow, their yards invariably do look better than mine.
Of course, when the weather warms up (in Chicago that happens around July 15) their gardens pass mine the way that Road Runner passes Wile E. Coyote on a desert road. To make matters worse, the expression on my face then bears a strong resemblance to the one sported by Mr. Coyote. And to add injury to insult, a huge rock usually falls on my head, sometime around July 27. I guess that’s the legacy of a misspent youth.
Here’s the thing about gardening: it’s never done. So now 2015 is winding down, the year in which I thought my garden would finally achieve some state of near perfection and I would ride out the rest of my golden years just watching the plants chug along on autopilot while I sat on the porch steps sipping tea and enjoying the view. As if.
This year three of my mophead Hydrangea macrophyllas didn’t bloom – probably the spots where I planted them have become too shady, although the effects of the last two nasty winters can’t be discounted.
“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.
There are a few cyclical events in my life that I look forward to: the first lazy snowflakes, the emergence of a small spring bulb, the fulsome green of spring, my July birthday, and the sudden shocking pink of Aechmea fasciata leaping out of its silver urn.
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!
There’s a nip in the air — I wouldn’t yet call it a chill — that prompted me to rummage through the box on the back porch yesterday and bring out the bags of bulbs I will be planting. Some of them maybe even today.
What is it about starting a community garden that makes people react as if you just pulled a cocker spaniel puppy out of a top hat? “We just started a community garden at the end of our block!” “Awwww.”
“We just planted seven hundred cucumber plants and one radish!” “Awwww.”
“We just harvested another dog vomit fungus patty!” “Awwww. We mean, eewwww!”
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