In a Chicagoland winter, we may or may not have snow. With snow, any garden can look good. Without it, we must pull out a few garden decorating tricks to provide relief from a palette of sepia and stone. Adding a splash of red here and there is a fine way of generating excitement, and when the garden gods do bless us with snow, those winter reds glow and create real garden art.
No one wants to think about gardening when the temperatures hover in the single digits and the wind is howling, but before you know it, you’ll be able to get outside and start planting those lettuce and beet seeds.
All the snow we’ve had recently brought many more birds to the feeders outside our kitchen window. A lone starling was joined by sparrows, house finches, downy woodpeckers, seven cardinals, goldfinches (which are beginning to show faint yellow feathers as they lose their winter plumage), mourning doves and the occasional Cooper’s hawk (which sends the small birds scattering). It’s a good time to be indoors cooking and sowing seeds of tomato and pepper plants. As soon as the snow melts, I’ll get my soil thermometer and when the top inch of soil reaches to 52 F or so, I’ll begin sowing kale seeds.
If there’s absolutely one thing I’m sure of as I slog through this vale of tears, it’s that the MacArthur genius grant people have, tragically, lost my phone number. Why, I can think of at least half a dozen reasons why I should be cashing one of their big, oversized checks and then retiring to an exotic location like Minot, ND. (Slogan: “Why Not Minot?”)
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.
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.
Gardeners are a fickle lot. Either we’re rhapsodizing gooey-eyed about the resplendent, transcendent wonder of whatever miracle of nature we happen to have just witnessed (the emergence of the first tomato seed always does it for me) or we’re doing Scrooge one better and snarling “Bah, humbug!” The weather this past winter had us all in full snarling mode.
Now it’s high summer and we’re in the thick of something else. Storms, heat, drought, floods, wind, mosquitoes – and the tomatoes are (choose one) not ripening because it’s too chilly at night, not setting fruit because it’s too hot at night, cracking from irregular watering, getting blossom-end rot from calcium deficiency, being eaten by giant tomato hornworms, succumbing to early blight, succumbing to late blight … and so it goes. The gods must surely be against us. Woe and double woe.
“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.
What is it about starting a community garden that makes people react as if you just pulled a cocker spaniel puppy out of a top hat? “We just started a community garden at the end of our block!” “Awwww.”
“We just planted seven hundred cucumber plants and one radish!” “Awwww.”
“We just harvested another dog vomit fungus patty!” “Awwww. We mean, eewwww!”
You know how much I hate writing facts. But it’s true that I’ve ...
In this issue our primary focus is on perennial gardens – beautiful perennial gardens.
But, of course, no one sets out to create an unbeautiful garden. For thousands of years gardens have been about beauty.
Yes, they were also about utility.
Rain gardens are hot news, but are they pretty? Here are some examples that take the concept beyond mere buzz words.
Chicagoland Gardening Editor Carolyn Ulrich swore the magazine wouldn’t run an article about rain gardens until she’d seen a beautiful one. She stood her ground staunchly – some might say stubbornly – for years. Two years ago, on a trip to Olbrich Botanical Gardens in Madison, Wisc., she discovered not just one, but three, lovely rain gardens. So here, at last, is the rain garden article.
Towards the end of February a startling fact was reported on the news. January, it turns out, had been the fourth warmest ...
Container gardening is so enjoyable because of its possibilities for creative expression.
“And good English has went.” That’s how it was. At least that’s how I remember it. I am, unfortunately, old enough to have ...
Every day I receive letters (well, not every day, but every few days...actually, I occasionally receive letters ... okay, I ...
"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 ...