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From the Editor - May/Jun 2014


At the end of February I spent a couple of weeks in a suburb south of San Francisco, doing grandma duty while my daughter and her hubby were off in Italy, huffing their way to the top of Florence cathedral, plying the waters of the Venetian canals and wallowing through mountains of pasta.

As I never wearied of emailing back home, the Bay Area magnolias and flowering cherry trees were in full bloom, as were the daffodils, and I even spied a bright red bougainvillea as I tooled down the hill chauffeuring the grandson to high school. The boy had been studying about South Africa in his world studies class, so we kept our eyes peeled for cycads, a South African native reminiscent of palm trees that was found on the earth during prehistoric times. It was all very pleasant. Northern California is always … pleasant.

But then the word “glory” popped into my head, and I got to remembering the fabulous profusion of summer color that greets folks as they go down Oak Park’s Lake Avenue, a spectacle only outdone by the even more fabulous plantings along Chicago’s Michigan Avenue. Or stroll anywhere at the Chicago Botanic Garden. These displays aren’t merely pleasant: They raise the rafters and scream razzle-dazzle abundance, beauty and … yes, glory.

I’m prone to proclaiming that I prefer to live in a part of the world where there is seasonal change, although I concede that this was a winter worthy of Dylan Thomas, who described a snow “shaken from white wash buckets down the sky ... shawling out of the ground … ” in the ineffable “A Child’s Christmas in Wales.” It was snow that “grew overnight on the roofs of the houses like a pure and grandfather moss ... ”

Well, that’s how our last winter was, and dare we admit for a moment that there was something oddly glorious in it, too? (Perhaps we should say perversely glorious.) Certainly a winter to remember.

But at last it’s May, time for us all over the Midwest to don our garden gloves and start digging. There’s joyful work to be done, and throughout the land gardeners are arming themselves for the tasks ahead. So many annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees to buy at the local garden centers. New color combinations and textural juxtapositions to try. Plants to dig up and move because last August we realized they really were in the wrong place and needed more sun, shade, wind protection, space, whatever. Hopefully our friends in local garden centers and nurseries will harvest a bumper crop of sales as the winter-weary descend in droves.

And the end result will be glory, reaching from this moment to the end of October. In this land of radical contrasts, we don’t settle for the merely pleasant.

So now’s the time. Go out and plant some glory.

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questions

Now that bedding impatiens (I. walleriana) are not recommended because of impatiens downy mildew, what are three good annuals for shade?

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 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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