I’m pretty sure that in the pre-Google era most everyone who spoke of or asked about moss was trying to get rid of it. Even now googling “moss in the garden” produces five “how to kill” results before the first “how to grow.” But I recently attended a lecture at the Chicago Botanic Garden given by Dale Sievert, whose passion for and expertise about mosses made me question how anyone could contemplate mayhem against such a beautiful, ancient and eco-friendly organism. Since mosses have slowly, over the past few years, begun to colonize the damper, shadier parts of my tiny urban forest (i.e. my front yard), I was happy to be urged to encourage the process rather than fight it.
News alert! I have been known to be obsessed with weather, and weather reporting. Why is everybody laughing? Stop that. I’m serious here.
I’m the kind of guy who wants to experience the minus 25 F freeze-o-rama and the 110 F meltdown outside, so I can say I actually lived it. Then, after about two minutes, I want to duck back into my cozy living room with a suitable hot or cold beverage and watch the coverage on TV. Hey, I’m crazy but I’m not nuts.
It might have been yesterday when, huddled under a fluorescent kitchen light with a cup of instant decaf, staring vacantly out the window at the arborvitae that was split in two by Tuesday’s ice storm, I began entertaining dark, dark thoughts about life without gardening.
I know that I am not alone. Heck, through the window I can see, somewhere just above my damaged arborvitae, a dark, dark thought-cloud hovering over the city, rising like smoke from the kitchen windows everywhere, which tells me that my fellow gardeners are on the precipice, too.
There’s a famous New Yorker cartoon that pictures an old tire, a can, a bottle and a pencil on a flat, featureless landscape – save a few non-descript rocks – that stretches to dull gray clouds on the horizon. The caption reads, “Life without Mozart.” The most chilling part of thisdrawing (if you’re me) is that it uncannily evokes my own yard.
the way, no matter how often I remove the tire, the can, the bottle and the pencil from my property, they reappear by the next morning. There’s an episode of “The Twilight Zone” ready to be written here, or perhaps a reboot of “Groundhog Day.” I would particularly welcome the latter, since I think I was the only Chicago actor who didn’t land at least a walk-on part in that film, which is something else that I re-live over and over and over again. But I digress.
At Chicagoland Gardening we duly make our resolutions, chief among them our determination that 2017 will be the magazine’s best year ever. And then we get down to business.
As in years past, we begin with a cover story on the year’s new plants. Since the number of new varieties is legion, we limit ourselves to varieties that have passed the trial by fire in the well-named trial gardens at Ball Horticultural in West Chicago. Each summer we take a day to reconnoiter the grounds with Jim Nau and his aide-de-camp Katie Rotella, note the high performers, and then commission our trusty photographer Ron Capek to turn them into art.
The folks in the editorial office tell me that this issue is about planning. I’m taking their word for it, since they don’t invite me to editorial meetings anymore. That might have something to do with the time that I showed up with my Giant Burrowing Cockroach (Macropanesthia rhinoceros), an insect from Australia. I thought they would find it educational. I still don’t know how it escaped. You’d think they would have been a little more concerned about my emotional attachment to Rhino and less about how to get it out of their potted fiddle-leaf ficus.
As I recall, we didn’t get a lot accomplished that day. And the invitations to the meetings stopped about that time. Anyway…planning. Right.
Wouldn’t life be just about perfect if roses could grow in shade? It so happens that once in a while you come across one that says it “tolerates some shade.” So when I saw those magical words attached to ‘Zépherine Drouhin’, I took them as a clear invitation to buy one and plant it by my front porch landing where it would get some morning sun although there was a 50-year-old mock orange shrub standing nearby on the right and a ‘DeGroot’s Spire’ arborvitae a few feet in front of it next to the steps. There was a pocket through which the rose would get “some” sun as it faced east in the morning, but alas, not enough.
Last spring my sister called to say that she had found a wonderful new anemone to add to her collection in a mixed flower border. When she described the flower, the deeply saturated color and the black center, I knew she had purchased Anemone coronaria, a summer-flowering tender bulb. She was disappointed to learn that these magnificent flowers would not overwinter in her Indiana garden and that they must be lifted in the fall and replanted each spring.
I was reading a gardening book the other day (yes, I occasionally do research – don’t start on me this early in the column, okay?) and I came across a tip for how to buy the right number of plants for your garden. Unfortunately, it involved unnerving words like “numbers” and “measurements” and “calculations.”
Of course, the tried and true way of figuring out how many plants are needed is to eyeball the garden, go to the garden center, roll out a couple of Radio Flyers full of plants, take ’em home, put ’em in the ground, and try to return the extra plants … for credit, of course. If you undershoot your mark, head back to the garden center. If you’re doing this via the Intertubes and mail, add a few weeks and a couple of emotional meltdowns to the process.
“Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning,” wrote the author of Psalms 30. Something to keep in mind as we slog through winter every year.
Now it’s March, and our time of weeping is approaching its end. Oh, we may still get a blizzard, or even two, but rest assured, we’ve survived the worst of it. March blizzards melt
One of the great benefits of gardening is that it gives us so many moments of joy. We could also call them God’s-in-his-heaven-all’s-right-with-the-world moments.
If you grow vegetables, one of the most valuable tools around is a soil thermometer. That’s because many vegetable seeds germinate and grow even when the soil is only 45 degrees. On April 6, I took my trusty soil thermometer and discovered that the top three inches of soil where I grow annual herbs was still only 41 degrees. I waited two weeks and it gradually warmed up so I could sow spinach, lettuce, onions and Swiss chard without having the seeds rot in the cold, wet soil.
There is no better part of the year for a gardener than right now, assuming you’re reading this around March or April and ...
Well, here we are again. Funny how Jan. 1st rolls around about this time every year. It's almost a pattern.
You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension: a dimension of soil, a dimension of blight ...
In our neck of the woods, there’s been little snow to speak of, but the temperatures finally dropped into the teens. And ...
This, as I have been told by the esteemed staff of Chicagoland Gardening magazine, is the Ideas Issue.