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From the Editor - MarApr 2017


I once knew a woman who vacuumed her rock garden. Seems a revered expert from the East Coast was coming on an inspection tour and she wanted everything perfect with nary a weed or fallen leaf in sight.

I was thinking about her as I pulled out my spent tomatoes and put away the cages this past fall. I had a reasonably successful garden in 2016, but I’m sure she would have looked askance at no end of horticultural errors and mishaps had she descended for a visit chez moi. Fortunately, she wasn’t invited.

I like an orderly flower bed and a well-edged lawn as much as the next person, but nowadays, when it comes to sallying forth with that half-moon edger and knees that are developing suspicious symptoms of arthritis, I often end up thinking, “Well, maybe tomorrow.”

It’s important to remember as we start gardening in 2017 that we do it for pleasure, not pain, and we need to maximize the former and minimize the latter. Thus, if you have to yank the lawn mower cord 15 times before it starts and you end up tearing your rotator cuff, then maybe it’s time to hire out this task so that you can save your shoulder for the fun stuff, however you define fun. Like designing and planting containers, perhaps, the topic for this issue’s cover story (page 42). Or growing a gazillion food crops like city gardener Gloria Ciaccio, our focus in Gardens of the Pros (page 53). Another feature story highlights the garden of Irwin Goldman, a funeral director who counterbalances his daily occupation by nurturing living plants to create beauty and solace at his suburban home (page 48).

Other stories in this issue have a more practical bent. We recently heard about a major onion-growing operation in northern Indiana and nursery co-owner Julie Oudman-Perkins tells us home gardeners how to grow them. Then Jeff Rugg reviews the pros and cons of clover in the lawn – or what about a lawn planted exclusively with clover? As we become increasingly aware of clover’s benefits to soil and the environment (those flowers are good for bees), it’s something to seriously consider. Aesthetic ideals change over time and reflect the contemporary culture. Men no longer wear powdered wigs. Maybe Kentucky bluegrass is equally old-fashioned.

The soil around Lake Michigan is sand-based rather than clay, and those of you with homes in Indiana and Michigan have soils that are seriously sandy. What grows there? Garden designer John Eskandari offers suggestions based on his experience.

We also have a story about early pollinators by greenhouse owner Liz Holmberg and design tips drawn from a project by Mariani Landscape.

If you don’t want to do even a modicum of work in a garden, then it would probably be better not to have one. Lay out pavers, buy a pot of red geraniums and be done with it. But if you aspire to something between an overgrown weed patch and a super perfect garden swept bare by a vacuum cleaner, turn the page. We have lots of suggestions for you.

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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?

Our Russian sage (Perovskia) is full and bountiful but will not stay upright. Is there anything we can do? Is there a way to split some off when it has outgrown its space? Should it be trimmed back in fall or spring?

I have read that purple coneflowers (Echinacea) are a good source of food for birds in the winter. Will they be okay if not trimmed back until spring? If so, how early should they be trimmed?

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