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From the Editor - NovDec 2015


Here’s the thing about gardening: it’s never done. So now 2015 is winding down, the year in which I thought my garden would finally achieve some state of near perfection and I would ride out the rest of my golden years just watching the plants chug along on autopilot while I sat on the porch steps sipping tea and enjoying the view. As if.

This year three of my mophead Hydrangea macrophyllas didn’t bloom – probably the spots where I planted them have become too shady, although the effects of the last two nasty winters can’t be discounted.

And then a large Rosa rugosa hybrid rose started succumbing to a mysterious blight after it flowered in May. I cut it back – way back – and by mid-summer little specks of green began sprouting on its inch-thick wood canes. By late summer they had turned into blooming stems with fresh blight-free leaves. Will this last? No idea. And if that big rose has to go, I will need to replace it with … something.

Another major hole will be left after Doug Wood, fearless leader of the Wicker Park Garden Club, arrives to put his new bionic hips to work digging out my incredible Incrediball hydrangea. This 5- by 5-foot wunderkind produces one-foot diameter flowers, and trying to reduce the shrub’s size by cutting it back last April had no effect whatsoever. It’s a cultivar of Hydrangea arborescens so it blooms on new wood, and it simply regrew as big as its genes dictated. It’s a fabulous plant but you must have the right spot for it.

Then there’s the fact that my garden was almost blanketed by bright pink Phlox paniculata in August. Really colorful but probably too much of a good thing, especially as the plants started going geriatric in September. Need to remove some of them and replace with … something.

So no autopilot garden for me in 2016, and probably not for you either. Nature doesn’t stand still and neither do our gardens.

In the meantime, we have winter. A time for dreaming, but more to the point, hard thinking about how we wish to go forward in 2016.

In this issue two features posit contrasting answers to this question. Western gardens began several thousand years ago as shaded enclosures in hot arid lands, and our concept of gardens as a paradise harks back to the Persian word paradiza. Structure was the key element in those gardens and is still integral to any beautiful garden today. Our story about hedges links to that tradition.

But another aesthetic is also at work: the ideal of a naturalistic flower garden overflowing with the native plants so important to supporting pollinating insects and other wildlife. Pat Hill’s garden in Elgin illustrates how this works as we stand at one point in her corner lot and watch as the flowers come and go throughout the year.

Of course, who says a garden has to be one or the other? Smart gardeners
(like us) will combine both.

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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?

Is there a best time to plant tulips? I see them at the garden centers in late summer but I am afraid that it is too early to plant them. If I wait too long, I might forget all about them.

What does it take to make a climbing hydrangea flower? Ours was planted 3 years ago and is growing energetically. It’s in a protected nook near the patio and gets very little direct sunlight, but doesn’t act sun starved. We gave it a shot of slow release fertilizer on planting, and once since. Somewhat inadvertently it gets plenty of water, since the hose spigot is nearby and leaks, but drainage does not seem to be the problem. It now fully occupies an 8-foot trellis but shows no interest in flowering. Is it youth, lack of sun, too much or too little fertilizer, bugs, lack of pruning or what? When do these plants bloom and what conditions do they like?

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