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.
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:
Editor’s Note: Though he acknowledged that it is bad form for a writer to miss a deadline, especially when it is only the third deadline of his new column, Mike Nowak assured us that his old community college horticultural fraternity roommate would be a more than adequate substitute. Frankly, time constraints and a thin Rolodex left us with limited options in this matter. While docking Mr. Nowak’s pay for this issue and sending him a stern warning about future efforts, we present, with trepidation:
“Hey, where’s Stinky?”
“Didn’t your mama ever teach you not to talk with your mouth full?”
“Well, she should have. Oh, there he is. What’s he doing wasting his time on that stuff?”
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).
Need a little inspiration or just a break from weeding? Garden walks abound this time of year, and there’s plenty to see. Here are a few you won’t want to miss.
Tulips come from Turkey, but woodland wildflowers come from Chicagoland. Why not have some of both in your springtime garden?
I knew it would be a goner as soon as it was proffered. “I don’t have the right conditions for it,” I said. “Yes, I have shade in my backyard, but the soil is clay and besides, there’s no water.” But my hostess insisted, and so I went home with a marsh marigold (Caltha palustris), even though I had no marsh. The plant died within a year, my sighs of regret tempered by some inner I-told-you-so satisfaction.
One fine morning this summer I looked out the second-floor window of my study and discovered a 1-foot tall tomato plant growing a few feet away in the gutter of the back porch. Just one more example, if one were needed, of the amazing, millennia-long saga of seed dispersal on the planet. Thor Hanson offers more examples in his newly published The Triumph of Seeds.
Why do plants grow where they do, puzzled Charles Darwin and other 19th century scientists? When Darwin reached the Galapagos Islands during his 3-year-long voyage on the H.M.S. Beagle, he discovered numerous oddities, including cotton. How did it get there?
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.
If you could only see your face right now (take a selfie and after you wallow in the horror of your expression, send me a copy). You turned to this page, just knowing that I had run out of Christmas carols to parody and that – for once! – your holiday season wouldn’t be ruined by these tunes – and my insipid lyrics to them – running like an out of control Cuisinart in your brain. Well, turn on the blender, kids, ’cause here we go again.
As usual, I disavow any connection to the rest of this column. Not only was I not conscious when I wrote it (and who says I did, huh?), you can’t prove that 1) I have a computer, 2) I know how to use it, and 3) I know how to speak Christmas. That’s what I call an air tight case.
Now you’ll excuse me while I wipe my hard drive clean. Sing!
You may have seen an air plant hanging in an open-faced glass vase or hanging from a seashell at your local garden center. They are becoming popular. Air plants are easy to grow if you follow a few rules – and easy to kill if you don’t. Air plants may be sold with the hype that they live on nothing but air, but this is not the case.
So here I am, wandering around with my nose towards the ground, scrounging for signs of spring. I’ve found a few — snowdrops ...
The age of exploration isn’t over. The hunt continues for new and better plants continues.
The juxtaposition is a little jarring at first, and then you start to smile. You’re downtown, driving along Lake Shore Drive ...
I think I’m missing a gene. Okay, maybe two or three. This is the time of year when gardeners are told to dream, to curl up ...
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 ...