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Ark de Disaster


The ultimate definition of an optimist may very well be a person who looks out at a mass of brown, smushed foliage; twisted, broken, defoliated branches; and lumpy, gray-green lawn and says,

“Yup. Looks like it’s going to be a good gardening season.”

Who are these people?

They’ve certainly never seen my yard in March. I’ve been trying to imagine an analogy and the best I can come up with is Noah’s Ark. Now bear with me. I’m not exactly a biblical scholar but I seem to recall something about God wiping out the earth with rain or snow or something pretty wet. It might have been tangy tomato aspic. Don’t quote me on that.

But the other thing I remember from my bible studies - or maybe it was a Classics Illustrated comic book - is that it rained for forty days and forty nights and the world was flooded for, oh, a hundred and fifty days. At least according to King James. Who was apparently quite the biblical scholar. That’s about five months, or about the same as a Chicago winter. Okay, maybe not quite as long as a Chicago winter. But you get the picture.

Anyway, at the end of that time, when the ark ended up perched on a mountain top like a big, beached, um, ark, Noah looked around and, according to the story, saw a rainbow. A rainbow? Are you telling me that he didn’t look around at what must have been a pretty unappealing world and say, “Who’s gonna clean up this mess?!” I mean the guy was already about six hundred years old, and his kids were probably going to be pretty busy repopulating the world. I think ol’ Noah knew who was going to get stuck with the core aerator and who was going to have to remind people not to walk around on wet soil ‘cause it was going to get all compacted and then how would they grow barley and lentils, huh?

Which brings me to my own yard. (It’s always about me, isn’t it? Get used to it.) Granted, very few gardens look their best as we roll out of winter into the three days of spring that Chicago usually experiences. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know what you’re going to say. You’re going to remind me of those books. You know, the ones that say, “If your garden has strong ‘bones,’ that is to say, trees and shrubs that give it definition, it will be just as stunning in January as it is in July.” Bones, schmones. The only reason people write books like that is because it’s winter and they can’t afford to fly to Pago Pago. Then they publish those books and they still can’t afford to fly to Pago Pago.

I can tell you what my garden looks like in early March. It looks like some practical joker of a deity flooded the world for a hundred and fifty days
and all of the flotsam and jetsam ended up inside my fence. Maybe he’s into payback.

It starts innocently enough, especially if you’ve had some snow cover. (WARNING: If you live in and around Chicago, DO NOT count on snow cover. Especially now that we’re now in Zone 11. Thanks a bunch, global warming.) Anyway, let’s pretend that there’s snow cover. Everything looks smooth, white and orderly. Perhaps you even see the “bones” of your garden.

Mine happen to be a couple of clothesline poles and a tiki lamp.

Then, as the snow turns a delicate shade of gray and begins to flood your hardpan, things start to appear. A shovel. A trowel. Plastic gallon containers containing plants that would have looked pretty good had they ever made it into the ground. Plants that did make it into the ground but have turned to mush. Weeds that are already greening up and thriving. Old appliances. Medical waste. Car parts. This year, for instance, I found an intact 1953 DeSoto FireDome 8 leaning against my heptacodium. Which was really annoying because you know what a gas guzzler that car was.

I do know that you’re not supposed to leave your hose outside during the winter. What nobody ever explained to me is the reason: under the cover of snow, they reproduce and create baby hoses. My yard is now lousy with hoses but they’re so cute that I don’t have the heart to send them packing.
Now, of course, I live in the city, and if you live in the city, you take the grossness factor of your garden coming out of winter and multiply it by, uh, infinity. Suburbanites can use infinity minus ten for their calculations.

By July I’m sure I will have transformed this mess into something really, really average. But first, I need to dig up that huge, rotting hunk of wood in the middle of the lawn. Hmm, looks suspiciously like an ark.

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questions

I want to raise the level of my lawn as much as 2 feet in places. I now have a large quantity of somewhat composted wood chips and I am wondering if I can use them as fill to raise the ground level and provide a good soil in which to sow a lawn.

I have a cycas palm and am not sure how much direct sunlight or water it needs. It has light brown marks developing on the leaves. What is causing this, and how do I care for my plant?

I have two 20-year-old pine trees whose needles are turning brown on the west side of the plants. On the east side I have a compost pile.

I live in the St. Charles region and my soil is mostly clay. What is causing the browning? Should I get rid of the compost? How do I correct the damage?

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