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.
Back in January 1906, the Gardener’s Monthly Magazine featured these women perusing seed catalogs and magazines.
The article that accompanied this photo, “How to Have a Better Garden” touted that “the whole point of a kitchen garden is this: You get better things than money can buy — fresher vegetables, better kinds. As to freshness, the home gardener can beat the grocer every time. Any beginner can do it. But the better kinds — the varieties that stand for quality, not for ability to ship round the word and last forever — that’s where study and planning come in.”
One of the things I’ve come to notice about the horticultural racket (and I’m using the term with extreme fondness, unless I’m not), is that everyone seems to be looking for “the next great thing.” You can hardly blame them. Horticulture is not exactly a lucrative profession. In terms of annual income, it ranks somewhere just above chainsaw juggling and just below origami design. You could look it up on the world wide web. Whatever that is.
Anyway, this is the time of year when folks get all buggy-eyed about their lawns. So I thought I’d take those people to the cleaners and offer some practical advice that I think just might turn out to be “the next great thing” in lawn care. Here’s how I figure it. The American way of thinking is “more is better.” Thus, if four pounds of manure is the recommended fertilizer application, heck, why not just buy the darned cow and stick her on your lawn? See what I mean?
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:
It’s like the emperor with no clothes. The crown imperial stands 3 to 4 feet tall, its Sun King-bright flowers lording it over the spring garden with the hauteur of Louis XIV, utterly unaware that its dignity is fatally undercut by the absurdity of its green bad-hair-day topknot.
Not every spring bulb has the classic sculptured grace of a lily-flowered tulip. Yet many bulbs beyond the ordinary have charms that can grow on a gardener, adding variety and interest where tulips, daffodils and crocuses may seem old hat.
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.
Did I ever mention that in my childhood I was severely traumatized when I happened to discover two snowflakes that were exactly alike? I think it explains a lot of things — perhaps even my obsession with doing irreparable damage to venerable (and often inexplicably dopey) holiday songs, all in the name of horticulture.
Meanwhile, for those of you who are waiting for me to run out of parodies, it’s only fair to warn you that I’ve already written enough to get me through 2034 — when I will be 117 years old. In fact, it’s stated in my will that whoever takes over this column when I’m planted under the poison ivy patch in my backyard must continue rolling out these songs until they’re used up.
This is our “Ideas Issue,” designed to be a keeper, although of course we hope you keep all of our issues. So to get this new year off to a rousing start, we’ve created an issue that’s chock full of ideas for everything.
Every January and February, we get the garden ball rolling with Jim Nau from Ball Horticultural offering his appraisal of the year’s new plants. This issue we’ve tweaked that concept a bit in order to focus on plants for sun and ideas for shade, including shade-loving alternatives to the disease-prone common impatiens. There are newbies, but also a few golden oldies (well, not that old but definitely golden).
It seems that I’m either easily amazed or not fazed at all by new information. For instance, if you were to tell me that science has suddenly concluded
that the moon is made of Agaricus bisporus (Portobello mushrooms), my response would most likely be, “Yeah, saw that coming.”
But recently, a colleague told me about a magazine called Garden & Gun and I nearly spit my split pea soup into my fairy garden terrarium. Perhaps it’s because I’m not the kind of guy who has to strap on heat to feel safe from the squirrels in my yard. Yes, they have been known to take my lunch money from me, but that’s my own fault for wearing peanut butter scented cologne.
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.
I need to unburden myself. No, I’m not talking about figuring out what to do with the myriad of partially filled bags of soil amendments strewn about the garage. I’m talking about my past. Aha! I knew that would get your attention.
You see, it’s not easy being a horticultural genius. It’s a curse as well as a blessing. The curse part of it comes from my family, of course. Those of you with cursed families know the drill. In my case, the curse comes courtesy of centuries of ancestors who spent untold hours swimming in questionable gene pools.
Since I can’t afford therapy (I’m still waiting for my MacArthur Genius Grant-do you think they lost my address?) I thought that by examining the lives of my brilliant though sometimes, um, peculiar forefathers and mothers I could achieve some kind of peace. One can hope, can’t one?
I’m often asked, “How do you do it, Mike … year after year?” That’s the wrong question. The right question is “Why do you do it,
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You may have been told that bees are beneficial and that they pollinate a lot of agricultural crops. Most of the time when …