I’m pretty sure that in the pre-Google era most everyone who spoke of or asked about moss was trying to get rid of it. Even now googling “moss in the garden” produces five “how to kill” results before the first “how to grow.” But I recently attended a lecture at the Chicago Botanic Garden given by Dale Sievert, whose passion for and expertise about mosses made me question how anyone could contemplate mayhem against such a beautiful, ancient and eco-friendly organism. Since mosses have slowly, over the past few years, begun to colonize the damper, shadier parts of my tiny urban forest (i.e. my front yard), I was happy to be urged to encourage the process rather than fight it.
January (and February and December…oh, and add November to that list…and you might as well throw in March, just to complete the set) is the cruelest month. My readers don’t get to garden and I don’t get to create answers to gardening questions from whole cloth and lead people into horticultural cul-de-sacs, which gives me endless pleasure during the growing season.
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 the time when the world waxes eloquent (or some semblance thereof) about “new beginnings.” Really? Is there such a thing as old beginnings?
Perhaps we should just call them revisions. We gardeners made a muck of many things in 2015, and now is our time to take stock and resolve to do better next time.
So this year we won’t optimistically set out the tomatoes on a warm day in May, only to see them get blasted by cold winds two weeks later, go belly up and need to be replanted. Nor will we put our new ‘Rebecca’ clematis in the shade … twice … or let the red KnockOut rose get so squished by the 8-foot wide Incrediball hydrangea that the rose actually stopped blooming for most of the summer. Who ever imagined that you could reduce the bloom on a KnockOut rose? (Solution: tell the hydrangea “you win” and donate it to the big perennial garden in Wicker Park.)
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.
I was reading a gardening book the other day (yes, I occasionally do research – don’t start on me this early in the column, okay?) and I came across a tip for how to buy the right number of plants for your garden. Unfortunately, it involved unnerving words like “numbers” and “measurements” and “calculations.”
Of course, the tried and true way of figuring out how many plants are needed is to eyeball the garden, go to the garden center, roll out a couple of Radio Flyers full of plants, take ’em home, put ’em in the ground, and try to return the extra plants … for credit, of course. If you undershoot your mark, head back to the garden center. If you’re doing this via the Intertubes and mail, add a few weeks and a couple of emotional meltdowns to the process.
If it weren’t for the holiday season, we probably would have legislated the month of December out of existence long ago. It’s not exactly a month that makes gardeners salivate–unless you’re a poinsettia freak, which is even more cause for worry.
So while you’re counting days until you can begin killing plants again (indoor varieties notwithstanding), I’ve come up with a few songs you can sing around the artificial fire in your pre-fab greenhouse. I’ve appropriated the music from some holiday songs for two reasons: 1) you already know the melodies, and 2) I don’t have to pay royalties.
They don’t look alike. Not even close. But kinfolk come in all shapes and sizes. True of people and true of plants.
With people you can often tell at a glance who’s related. Sometimes that’s also true of plants.
Look at any daisy-shaped flower, for example – rudbeckia, coneflower, aster, sunflower, Shasta daisy, silphium – and you immediately know they’re in the same family. They’re all composites, members of the Compositae. Kissing cousins, as it were.
Not so with the poinsettia and its kin. Also known as a spurge, it and other members of the Euphorbiaceae family are as diverse as you could possibly imagine. Did you know that the white-flowering Diamond Frost that started adding sparkle to our gardens, especially our container plantings, about 10 years ago is in the Euphorbia genus? Euphorbia hypericifolia ‘Inneuphe’, to be precise. Big splashy red “petals” (modified leaves called bracts) on poinsettias. Teeny glilttering white blossoms on the Diamond Frost.
In a way you could call it a kitchen garden, and why not? Although there’s not a vegetable to be seen, it was designed while Brian Helfrich was sitting on his usual chair in the kitchen, staring into the backyard, thinking.
A construction manager with Aquascape, Inc., Helfrich explains that he treats every garden he does the same way, designing from inside the house looking out. “I lived in that chair by the kitchen window,” he recalls, referring to the period in which he planned the multi-purpose garden that he built for his Downers Grove backyard.
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.
Who says that gardening on a former cornfield is doomed to fail? Certainly not Laverne and Pete Bohlin, whose garden is a happy mix of prairie, vegetables and flowers.
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