This South Side Chicago garden attracts an astonishing variety of butterflies thanks to the biodiversity it offers in a neighborhood of otherwise sterile green lawns.
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.
In a few weeks, we can start planting tomatoes and peppers as well as sowing seeds of squash, eggplant, beans and other warm-season vegetables. When you’re planning what to grow this summer, think about what you enjoy eating. There are plenty of cooking themes that can make it fun: a salad garden, an herbal tea garden, a pumpkin and squash garden, a Thai garden with lemon grass, Thai basil, hot peppers, and more.
“Hey, where’s Stinky?”
“Didn’t your mama ever teach you not to talk with your mouth full?”
“Well, she should have. Oh, there he is. What’s he doing wasting his time on that stuff?”
A funny thing happened to me on the way to writing one of my columns last year. I decided to draw something instead, thereby saving myself from writing about four hundred words and, simultaneously, terrorizing approximately 93% of the people who open the magazine to this page. (How do we know? We take dozens and dozens of scientific polls about every aspect of this publication. Doesn’t everybody?)
I titled that piece “I Can’t Draw, Don’t Ask Me” and a second funny thing happened a couple of months ago. It won an award from the Garden Writers Association (of America, no less). For illustration. This is what we in the writing business call “irony.”
“Good afternoon, everybody, and welcome to another season of exciting action! I’m Bud Blast–“ “–And I’m Hort Holler–“ “And it’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, to coin a phrase.” “I sure am!” “Uh, yeah. Anyway, we’ve been through what can only be described at a long winter–“ “Hoo-boy, Bud! Long winter!” “–especially in light of the way the last season ended.” “Everything dropped dead, Bud. Door nail dead! Not a good way to end the season, Bud.” “Nope, not at all, Hort. But, as they say, ‘Hope springs eternal’–” “Specially in spring, Bud. It springs in spring.” “Yup, and this year’s team has come a long way since the fall.”
It’s a bird, it’s a plane … it’s a flash mob of garden writers!
Late last summer 420 garden writers from the U.S. and Canada assembled for their annual symposium and ended up dancing to Pharrell Williams’s “Happy” on the lawn in front of the University of Pittsburgh’s “cathedral of learning” (watch the video here: bit.ly/1ttDyjf).
While it may not rank up there with the moon landing, it’s sure to find a beloved spot in the annals of the Garden Writers Association (GWA), founded in 1948 with a current membership of 1500.
It’s probably been more than four years since a wild shade-loving tulip made its surprising appearance in a shady, grassy bed in my garden. Its color looked like the “before” shot in a commercial for women with faded blond hair. After a close examination on my knees, I determined it was actually a tulip. I know how long ago it was because my knees no longer permit close examinations.
It helps to go out and look at your garden every day. After a Saturday morning spent hacking out purple violets with the dandelion weeder because 1) there doesn’t appear to be an organic herbicide on the market that deals with violets and 2) I worry about the after-effects of whatever strong chemical a licensed professional might apply, I decided to catch my breath with a leisurely stroll through the front yard. And there I discovered a treasure — a lovely pendulous apricot-colored brugmansia.
So here I am, wandering around with my nose towards the ground, scrounging for signs of spring. I’ve found a few — snowdrops 2 inches high with their white buds clearly visible, a few dark red sprouts that are surely tulips, and teeny red buds on the ‘Jens Munk’ rose, a rugosa hybrid from Canada that sneers at winter and breaks dormancy earlier than anything else around. It’s primed, ready to come roaring out of the gate as soon as it gets a good clear signal. The other roses are still snoring away.
Dear Diary, I’m soooo excited that I can hardly breathe!! Spring is almost here!! I can feel it in my very, very cold toesies, even through my warm, fluffy raccoon foot duvets. (No, no, diary, I would never ever use raccoon fur to line my foot duvets. The duvets are decorated to look like raccoons, complete with tails. It’s as if Davy Crockett got into the corn mash and started wearing his caps on his feet.)
Anyway, with spring just around the corner, it’s time to germinate seeds in the basement. I plan to spend the afternoon pushing away boxes to see if I can find the basement door. Wish me luck!
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