You may have been told that bees are beneficial and that they pollinate a lot of agricultural crops. Most of the time when people talk about bees, they are talking about foreign honeybees, which were brought to North America by Europeans in the 17th century.
Honeybees are fine, but many bees that we see and call honeybees are actually native bees or flies that look like bees.
There are many other bee species native to Illinois, the Midwest and North America. While they aren’t often discussed, they do a lot of pollinating.
I believe it was the Shakespearean actor and gardener Ralph Kean (second cousin of the even more Shakespearean Edmund Kean) who remarked, “Ya know, dying is easy. Composting is weird.” As far as I have been able to determine, Ralph didn’t work much on stage. Or in the garden, for that matter.
If the truth be known, my compost pile has never really been up to snuff. Oh, the stuff (not snuff) I throw into it breaks down well enough. Over time. Over a long, long, long, long time. Are you all familiar with how quickly a decade passes? It’s my fault, I’m sure. Whatever happens in the garden-mine or others-is always my fault and, given that mind-set, blaming myself for having slacker microbes is not all that unreasonable. Perhaps I’m not thinking enough positive compost-y thoughts.
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.
This is the year of the hellebore, at least in my garden. I have about a dozen now, with several of the lime-green ones being self-sown seedlings that have turned into grown-ups that now produce flowers. The others are rosy-red (sold as pink) and the color contrast is pleasant. So far there has been no “intermarriage” or “promiscuity” among them, so green is staying green and rose is staying rose.
“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.
The surprise is that there have been so few surprises. But maybe that’s just what happens when you plant a 5-acre “stylized prairie” in downtown Chicago and half of the species selected are Midwestern natives. Even when the world-renowned plantsman making the choices was from Holland and had never seen a real honest-to-gosh prairie until he came to America several years ago.
The man in question, Piet Oudolf, was in town this summer for the 10th anniversary of the establishment of The Lurie Garden in downtown Chicago’s Millennium Park, and Chicagoland Gardening was able to steal a few moments from his busy schedule to sit down and get his perspective on what he had done.
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.
Yes, I know it’s a mouthful, but I love it even so. When I’m feeling tongue-tied, I can always refer to it by its common name: beautybush.
I received this shrub, Kolkwitzia Dream Catcher maybe 10 years ago as a trial plant from Spring Meadow Nursery in Grand Haven, Michigan. Actually, there were two plants, seedlings really, just a foot or so tall on a single stem. A lovely surprise since I had read about kolkwitizia but never seen it in the flesh, let alone grown it. I decided to make room for the pair under the bay window at the corner of the house, a spot where my sunny front border transitions to the semi-shady side yard.
Those of you who are regular readers of this column are no doubt already aware that actual horticultural content is not my strong suit. Nevertheless, gardeners are hungry for answers. Most of the time, they don’t even care about the questions. For example, you can ask, “What is the capital of Albania?” and as long as the answer is “spray with a fungicide every 10 days,” you have lifted 97.3 percent of all gardeners (and this number has been proven in scientific studies) into a Nirvana-like state.
Hoping in some way to cash in on this unnerving phenomenon, I began searching for an area in the horticultural realm that has remained relatively unexplored for which I could provide answers, regardless of whether a single question has ever been posed. Eureka! I found it:
A gardening story recently caught my attention. At which point, some of you might ask, “Hey, you’re a garden writer. Don’t most gardening stories catch your attention?” At which point, true followers of this column chuckle in disbelief that any person reading this page could be so naïve. All I can say is, “I love you, true followers. You must be very, very lonely, but I love you.”
If the truth be told, ordinary gardening stories tend to affect me the way turkey affects Uncle Ned on Thanksgiving Day. Especially if he is reclining on the couch watching a particularly lopsided football game (usually, Anybody v. the Detroit Lions) after having consumed a couple pitchers of Mom’s special peach punch.
The stars must have been aligned as we assembled our editorial calendar for this issue since it turns out that we have a sub-theme going on here. Water. How to use it. How to save it. How to employ it for our benefit while doing our bit to be environmentally responsible. All in all, there are six stories that have come together to reinforce the theme and offer a variety of takes on the topic. It must have been the stars. Speaking for myself, I’m not that smart.
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