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Beyond Extreme Makeovers


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.

I’m thinking about opting for E) this year. I know it seems a tad drastic, and that’s the point. We gardeners tend to nip and tuck in our domains, moving this plant and pruning that one. Take grandpa’s old crabapple tree in the backyard, the one that gets apple scab more regularly than you shower. Rather than cut the dang thing down and replace it with a cultivar that is resistant to the disease, you’d rather inhale a bucket of sprayed fungicide every spring while cursing your deceased grandpa’s bad taste in trees.

And why won’t you cut it down? You mumble vaguely about “grandpa” (he was a mean old coot who scared the dickens out of you) and “tradition” (“I love the smell of fungicide in the morning. Smells like spring!”) and “permanence” (you’ve been married three times).

What you need is a kick in the fungus. And I’m just the guy to do it. Here are some modest ideas for garden makeovers that will have your neighbors crossing the street—either to stop and stare or to avoid being seen in the vicinity of your property.

Ultimate Rose Garden Makeover
This is the solution for those crazy kids who cut through your yard. It’s a maze…carved out of towering rose bushes! And the aisles are only two
feet wide! Just wait ‘til those little monsters try to sneak across your property lines again—especially at night. You’ll be the envy of every misanthrope on the block.

Water Park Makeover
If you’re one of those “pond people,” you’ll wonder why you didn’t do this years ago. Get rid of the dirt altogether, leaving only water pools, water slides and water rides…for your fish! C’mon, admit it. You love your koi more than you love your kids. So why not make ‘em happy? Imagine the hours of entertainment you will get watching your scaley friends hoisted up a conveyor belt to the top of a three-story high platform and then doing Olympic-caliber dives into a quart of water.

Or how about sprinkling fish food along a 40-foot-long-water slide and watching those little devils gobble it up as they careen from side to side like bumper cars. Now that’s good old-fashioned fun!

Paved With Good Intentions Makeover
Let’s face it, who doesn’t like brick pavers? You see them everywhere, so why not just pave the whole yard with them? But don’t stop with just a dance floor of pavers. Create sculpture fantasies, too: prodigious pyramids, outlandish obelisks, stupendous steeples, maybe even re-create Mount Rushmore in your backyard! Hours and hours of backbreaking, tendon-stretching fun.

Lollipop Makeover
Since “professional” landscaping firms are so determined to cut your favorite plants into bowling balls (think: lilac, viburnums, boxwoods, forsythia, yews—you know, all of those plants with natural ball shapes), regardless of when they do it (think: cutting spring-flowering buds off in September) you can be the pre-eminent purveyor of lollipop shapes in your neighborhood and end up on America’s Funniest Pruners. It’s easy. Just trim everything in your yard into a ball shape: your trees, your garage, your dog. Hey, you can cut lollipop holes in your fence if you think that will make your garden stand out in a crowd. Just get a good, sharp blade for your jigsaw, especially if you hope to apply this technique to a chain link fence. And if you want to get creative, don’t limit yourself to circles. Squares, triangles, and parallelograms are especially trendy. Here’s your chance to take high school geometry all over again and this time get it right.

Oops. I’m out of space. In terms of what can be done in the garden, I’ve barely scratched the surface. Hmm. Or maybe I’ve been scratching that apple scab fungus. Hard to tell.

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questions

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?

I have twelve beautiful blooming violet plants on my office desk, placed 12 inches from a light source that’s kept burning day and night. I water them from the bottom and let the water remain in the saucer.

No matter what I spray, I continue to have gnats and other insects in my soil. I also occasionally start to get yellow spots on the tips of the leaves and then the spots start going down the leaves. What’s going on here?

Will a trumpet vine growing on a tree harm it?

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