There are many lovely plants in Ted and Gidget Nyquist’s garden in Bartlett. But it’s Ted’s collection of rhododendrons – hundreds of them – that stop visitors in their tracks when the plants bloom. “I just love it,” Ted says. “People come around the corner, and they’re not expecting to see a garden with all these rhododendrons.”
Well, here we are again. Funny how Jan. 1st rolls around about this time every year. It’s almost a pattern. Depending on circumstances, I’m guessing that some of you are…
A) looking out at the remnants of the Great Blizzard of ‘08 and laughing about all of the earnest prognostications about global warming. B) looking out, horrified, at the blooming roses in your yard while writing donation checks to Al Gore. C) looking out, closing your eyes and imagining the lawn expanded into a nine-hole putting course (male fantasy, most likely). D) looking out, closing your eyes and imagining your husband, still sitting on his riding lawn mower, buried under your new bed of exotic cutting flowers (female fantasy, I’d guess). E) looking out, closing your eyes and imagining a kind of shaking-the-Etch-A-Sketch approach. That is to say, wiping out the whole thing and starting from scratch.
For the past two weeks I’ve been charging around saying I’m willing to bet real money that when the snow melts, there will be inch-tall snowdrops and crocuses already up and just days away from blooming.
It’s still too early to start collecting my money, but today, the icicle that once cascaded a full 3 feet down from the front porch gutter has vanished, and all that’s left is a steady drip-drip from the melting roof. The front yard garden is still blanketed with 2 feet of snow.
I’m feeling guilty. Perhaps that’s because my column was due last week and I’ve now written, let’s see, 18 words.
But I’m feeling guilty also because I’m a gardener. Many people mistakenly believe that guilt has to do with the kind of religion you practice—you know, Jewish guilt or Catholic guilt. (I read once that people who suffer from Buddhist guilt come back in the next life as dung beetles. I’ll get back to you with that weblink as soon as I track it down.)
It is always a topic of conversation: What plants work well in sun or in shade? Or both? However, the conversation has taken on a slightly different perspective for 2014.
The plant world has been turned upside down due to a disease that has impacted one of gardeners’ favorite shade plants — Impatiens walleriana. Impatiens are the standard for any annual shade garden, and varieties belonging to this class have died in Europe, the U.K. and now, North America, from a disease called downy mildew (Plasmopara obducens). Infected plants start to drop leaves overnight and only the plant stems remain after a few days. So what can you replace them with to give color in a shaded location? Here are a few suggestions.
The monocotyledonous geophytes are coming! The monocotyledonous geophytes are coming! I knew that would get your attention. It would be a lot harder to get gardeners to respond to a cry of “The bulbs are drawing nigh! The bulbs are drawing nigh!” How about “The rhizomes are riding!” or “The tubers are turning!“ or “The corms are, uh, corming!” Okay, now it’s getting a little out of control.
My point is that we are under attack by these “stealth” plants. Some folks think I’m paranoid but those people are the ones who are out to get me. I say look around! What do you see? Tiny shoots poking up through the leaves and fast food wrappers in your neighborhood. Do you know what that says to me? Reconnaissance, people! Uh-huh. Little periscopes checking out the situation. “Is it safe?” “Is the snow gone yet?” “Any dogs around?” “Ooh, look, a caterpillar!”
“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 day we brought her home from the nursery, we were the proudest parents on the block. We hadn’t always wanted one. In fact, the thought hadn’t really crossed our minds until we noticed how happy Kathleen’s brother and sister-in-law were with theirs. Slowly, irrevocably, the notion crept into our heads that perhaps it was time to make a commitment.
Still, I was the one who held back. Was I ready for this kind of a change? Could I handle the responsibility? What if I was found wanting?
As we sat in the yard and looked at her, tiny and green and purple, we thought about the years to come when we would share spring days and summer evenings and even snow-covered afternoons behind our house. I carried with me a mental snapshot of the three of us enjoying ourselves in the yard. I even had the perfect spot picked out for her, where she would always stand.
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.
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.”
In our neck of the woods, there’s been little snow to speak of, but the temperatures finally dropped into the teens. And while I was tempted to perhaps get a jump on spring (which is 10 weeks away) and cut down the grasses and clean up the perennial beds (which I neglected to do during that fabulously long autumn), I’ve opted recently to stay indoors and stick my nose in a few new garden books.
It is always a topic of conversation: What plants work well in sun or in shade? Or both?
Back in January 1906, the Gardener’s Monthly Magazine featured these women perusing seed catalogs and magazines.
It’s probably been more than four years since a wild shade-loving tulip made its surprising appearance in a shady, grassy bed in
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