George and Theresa Rebersky enjoy growing an assortment of colorful annuals, perennials, vegetables, herbs and gigantic pumpkins in their suburban Worth backyard. But along the driveway leading to their detached garage was a triangle of lawn that separated the drive from the sidewalk. It ran 13 feet on two sides and another 6 feet wide along the patio. There was no connection to the rest of the garden, which has a large arbor, raised beds and a spectacular collection of dahlia flowers and hanging baskets. “The triangle was a dead spot,” George says.
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?
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.
The day began with signs of gloom and doom. A new report from the National Wildlife Foundation said that monarch butterfly populations continue to decrease. Then a friend emailed a link to a New York Times story about the travails of a bee-keeping family I remember from my childhood.(1)
The Adee family lived in north central Kansas at the time, not far from my parents’ farm, but their business operated in many states. Today Adee Honey Farms is the largest in the country and the mysterious colony collapse disorder that has been killing bees here and abroad is also affecting them. Last year 44 percent of the bees in the U.S. died, and the Adees lost half of their 90,000 hives.
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.
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.
There’s a nip in the air — I wouldn’t yet call it a chill — that prompted me to rummage through the box on the back porch yesterday and bring out the bags of bulbs I will be planting. Some of them maybe even today.
“Do you have geraniums?” “Pelargonium or cranesbill?” “Sorry?” “Er, Pelargonium or cranesbill.” “No, I’m not interested in birds. I want a geranium. Got any red ones?” “Exactly. I was just explaining that what you call a geranium is actually a Pelargonium.” “Then why don’t they call it that?” “Well, it’s sometimes called a storksbill.” “Like I said, I don’t wanna bird.” “No, I’m just saying that cranesbills and storksbills are two different things.” “Especially to their mamas.”
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.
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.
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.
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