Fall is upon us but there’s no reason to put your garden to bed just yet. That’s because the show goes on with birds, thousands of which are migrating and stopping daily in local gardens for a bite to eat or a drink of water. And the activity doesn’t stop there. Monarch butterflies will be looking for nectar – a rich source of energy during their long commute to Mexico. Bees remain active and there’s an assortment of insects – praying mantis and other “beneficials” – that are present until the first fall frost about mid-October. There’s plenty to observe and enjoy.
“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.
I like holiday carols. Really, I do. Honest. Don’t look at me like that. I know it’s hard to tell from the annual hit job I do on them in this column. Hey, I like my plants, too, and yet I kill them with astonishing regularity. Maybe it’s a “you always hurt the one you love” kind of thing.
So a word of advice. Don’t make me like you. It could be bad for your health. Come to think of it, singing any of these ditties around friends or co-workers might land you in intensive care. Just sayin’.
Purple coneflowers (Echinacea) have been a staple in my garden for 25 years. I’ve grown them from seed, purchased them in pots and have received free cultivars from friends and growers. The flowers provide nectar for butterflies from June through October and the seed heads provide food for goldfinches in winter.
I’m not sure whether I should be celebrating or apologizing.
Let me explain. The 700 or so words on this page mark my tenth anniversary as a columnist for Chicagoland Gardening magazine. It scares me to think that some of my readers are younger than that. It also scares me to think that some parents might allow their kids to read this column. But I digress.
I’m surprised that the tenth anniversary is generally known as the “tin” anniversary. Which means that if you’ve survived the close combat of a relationship for a whole decade, the best you can hope for a reward is a substance that is used to coat steel containers for food preservation or to stabilize PVC plastics. So, on your tenth anniversary, I suggest you give your wife a few cans of water chestnuts. Or delight your husband with a length of PVC pipe. Then prepare to sleep on the couch, whatever gender you are.
You know who you are. You’re the gardeners who keep your lawn perfectly edged and weed-free, the ones who maintain an exquisitely proportioned space between plants. You’re the opposite of folks like me whose plants are forever rubbing shoulders with their neighbors and muttering under their breath about garden bullies.
At some point in a gardener’s life, he or she will likely come across the writings and photographs of the renowned gardener and garden writer Christopher Lloyd (1921-2006). Lloyd gardened at his family’s estate, Great Dixter, in Northiam, East Sussex, in the south of England. The wonderfully atmospheric and picturesque garden surrounds a rambling fifteenth-century Tudor-style manor house that continues to draw thousands of visitors each year.
I once knew a woman who vacuumed her rock garden. Seems a revered expert from the East Coast was coming on an inspection tour and she wanted everything perfect with nary a weed or fallen leaf in sight.
I was thinking about her as I pulled out my spent tomatoes and put away the cages this past fall. I had a reasonably successful garden in 2016, but I’m sure she would have looked askance at no end of horticultural errors and mishaps had she descended for a visit chez moi. Fortunately, she wasn’t invited.
“Stand back! I’m about to have a Proustian moment.
Wait…wait. Whew! It went away. For a second I thought I was going to become sick and depressed and this column would suddenly expand to about four hundred thousand pages that none of you would ever read except if you were in a hospital recuperating from two broken legs and I would start writing sentences that ran on and on and people would call me a genius but it wouldn’t matter because fewer than one person in a thousand would actually read this column but that wouldn’t matter either because the mere act of writing a four hundred thousand page gardening column would cause me to go insane and…and…
What’s that smell? As Marcel Proust once wrote, or perhaps he didn’t and should have written somewhere in Remembrance of Things Past, is a few thousand words about the sense of smell and the average garden.
I had just finished an environmental talk to a local gardening group. It was the usual advice. Don’t do an oil change on your car and spread the spent lubricant on your trilliums. Adding cigarette butts to your compost pile won’t necessarily kill the pathogens, though it may get them addicted to nicotine. When you have a soil test, always check for Strontium-90 in your tomato patch. In short, we’re all going to heck in a handbasket and there’s little you can do about it. Feeling pretty proud of myself, I said I would entertain questions from the now wide-eyed and terrified gardeners.
A woman on my right (which is “stage right” and “audience left” for those of you whose misspent youths and early adulthoods didn’t include long delusional stretches when you thought you were going to make millions of dollars as actors) calmly raised her hand and demanded: “What do you spray to get rid of chipmunks?”
I was recently interviewing a well-known garden writer about the benefits of an outdoor space in which to contemplate and enjoy your
plants, your sense of aesthetics and nature in general. (Ah. Just writing that sentence lowered my blood pressure by ten points.) Among
the things I learned:
• Plastic flowers have little in common with nature
• Bamboo sticks are not an optimum construction material for a pergola
• An arborvitae fence works only if the plants don’t die
That kind of advice stays with you for awhile, much like a chocolate corn dog washed down with 32 ounces of pink lemonade. …
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