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Behind the Curve (and losing ground)


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 with their favorite magazine or catalog with that hot cup of cocoa or tea (naturally decaffeinated, of course), to look upon their snow-covered blank slate of a garden and imagine the endless possibilities of the coming growing season. Golden retriever at your side, your mate happily puttering away in the next room (creating ingenious and achingly beautiful mosaic tiles from thrift store ceramic pieces) you flip through the stack of horticultural publications, carefully marking and clipping articles and ads for the newest All-America Selections, secure in the knowledge that this year’s garden would be the absolute envy of even Gertrude Jekyll, had she not departed this vale of tears some seven decades ago.

You sigh, you scratch Charlie’s head (dog, not mate), you sip the hot beverage. Life is good.

If the Human Genome Project ever sends a mapping expedition to my block, they will discover that those genes are not in my pool. I refer to the catalogs, the dreaming, the organizational skills (both personal and mate), the planning, the confidence, the execution. The dog.

Ergo, I present the Mike Nowak Gardening Calendar for anno Domini 2003:

January: Look through garage, basement, closets and onion bin for spring bulbs. Throw out moldy and desiccated bulbs. Wait for semi-warm day; find pickax and plant surviving bulbs. Retreat indoors; apply appropriate alcoholic beverage to hot drink.

February: Shovel snow from backyard concrete walk. Dig through piles of shoveled snow to find garden tools. Throw garden tools in a pile; vow to clean, lubricate and sharpen sometime before September.

March: Find garden hose in yard exposed by melting snow. Buy new hose; vow that this year you’ll coil it and bring it indoors in November. Visit Flower and Garden Show; purchase seeds that you will lose, find, then plant in August, much too late to be of any good to you.

April: Admire budding trees and shrubs; realize that you have missed the window of opportunity to do dormant pruning. Notice that spring bulb growth isn’t quite as vigorous as it should be; ponder reasons why. Pay exorbitant prices for bulbs already in bloom; plant them in yard.

May: Visit pile of rusty tools; say “Ah.” Promise you will get to them…uh, soon. Go online (you forgot to order the magazines and catalogs) to study cold frame designs; next year you’ll build one for sure.

June: Stop at favorite nursery to purchase pansies and other cool annuals for early spring planting. Wonder why the pansies are looking a little leggy and tired. Think about planting seed for cool-weather veggies like lettuce. Buy lettuce at the local Jewel.

July: As lawn goes dormant in record-breaking heat, consider spring fertilizing program. Purchase lovely spring ephemerals like forget-me-nots and Virginia bluebells; they’re way past bloom so stick them in an out-of-the-way place, then throw them away in two months when they turn to dried sticks and leaves.

August: Plant summer bulbs like canna and gladiolus; don’t worry, there’s still plenty of time for them to reach their full potential.

September: Visit pile of rusty tools; tell them you’re absolutely positive you’ll get to them in a few days. Buy last two sickly Wave petunias at Home Depot for container that somehow got forgotten this year; plant in last year’s potting mix; wait for a miracle.

October: Think about planting glorious summer bloomers like coneflower and rudbeckia; just think about it ‘cause you missed that boat, too.

November: Dig up cannas and gladiolus bulbs; ponder why they didn’t reach their full potential.

December: Start compost pile; yeah, it’s cold, but nothing was ever achieved in gardening without some suffering. Retreat indoors; apply appropriate alcoholic beverage to hot drink. Throw away now-fused pile of rust; tell mate and friends that you are adding garden tools to Xmas list.

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questions

I would like to start seeds under lights. When is the best time to start flower seeds? The seed packet always says to sow a number of weeks before the last frost. When is the last frost?

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