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From the Editor - Mar/Apr 2014


In a few days I will plant my first tomato seed. Planting always makes me happy, whether it’s planting bulbs in the fall, dividing and moving perennials or putting in shrubs. But nothing holds more mystery and promise than a seed. It’s so small. How can it possibly contain the wherewithal to develop into a 5-foot-tall plant? And tomato seeds are big enough to be easy. When it comes to foxglove or ‘Crystal Palace’ lobelia, I never expect the truly teeny seeds to germinate and so always plant far too many and end up discarding many seedlings (these seeds, too, are actually easy). I never learn.

Then will come some real work as I prune back the roses. Since I can never resist a rose, I seem to have acquired more than 20 over the years, and there’s no room for anything new unless I dig out something I already have. (“You underperforming roses, take note and shape up!”) Fortunately, I acquired a pair of leather rose gauntlets during a visit to The Growing Place, and they’re one of the smartest garden purchases I’ve ever made. Unfortunately, I seem to have lost my other favorite gardening aid – a tarp with looped handles at the corners – and this strikes me as just plain dumb. How could I lose something so large? It couldn’t have blown away in a gust of wind, so if I keep looking I will surely find it hiding in the basement or under the front porch steps. Or so you would think.

The tarp will be sorely needed as I wrestle with the canes of ‘Constance Spry’ and ‘William Baffin’. Susan Crawford’s story about pruning climbing roses (page 20) in this issue reminded me that I really need to be removing far more canes each year than I’ve been doing. It seems counterintuitive, but the plain truth is that you’ll get more blooms with fewer canes, so I’m now rarin’ to get out there and whip them into shape. (If I could just find that blasted tarp.)

In this issue, we have a real feast for the eyes. The cover story showcases geums, a perennial you may have never grown, but the breeding efforts of Brent Horvath, owner of Intrinsic Perennial Gardens in Hebron, will surely make you eager to try them. We also visit the spectacular home garden of Charmaine Vlcek in the western suburbs (page 52) and a small professionally designed space on the northwest side of Chicago. The difference between the “before” and “after” photos is mind-boggling, Page 48)

There’s much, much more: growing fruit trees in the upper Midwest, making seed tapes with your kids, a surefire method of marking the spots where you need to plant bulbs next fall and what you need to know if you’re going to grow vegetables for a competition. Sure, it’s chilly now, but those county fairs are just around the corner.

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questions

Is it possible to plant and grow Italian cypress in the Chicago area? Are our winters too severe for it? If they are, is there an alternative conifer that will provide a similar look?

I am growing my potted tropical hibiscus indoors for the winter. The leaves are starting to yellow and fall off. Should I give the plant iron and should I fertilize it? Do I cut it back, and if so, when?

I start ‘Dragon Wing’ begonia from seed under grow lights. What other begonias can I use to cross-pollinate with the ‘Dragon Wing’ so I can collect my own seeds?

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