The most memorable Christmas of my Chicago life was the year the temperature plummeted to 25 below zero and the pipes froze all over the house. Still, the car miraculously started and the family managed to get to the University of Chicago’s Rockefeller Chapel for the annual pageant, surrounded by neighbors bundled up for the duration in scarves, parkas and boots. Every year one lucky middle school girl would be selected to be Mary and ride down the aisle on Mabel, a real live Sicilian donkey brought in from the suburbs. A sight not to be missed.
Compare that to an account in a book by the late English garden designer and author Rosemary Verey where she writes about going out into her Cotswold garden on Christmas Day and picking a few flowers to adorn the altar at church.
I read that and sobbed into my tea (English Breakfast, of course).
Yes, the winters are different here, but it is interesting to pause and think a bit about the plants in Chicagoland that seem to survive – if not actually revel – in our cold temperatures. If the snow melts in January, I may well see some inch-tall larkspur seedlings in my front yard, and they will remain through subsequent snowstorms to bloom in June. The ground cover snow-in-summer (Cerastium tomentosum) as well as the old standards (ajuga, vinca, etc.) are actually evergreen. So this gave us the idea of doing a story on plants that love cold weather. They may not bloom on Christmas Day but their flowers sometimes persist into December and start blooming during the chilly days of March. Ben Futa, who directs the Allen Centennial Garden at the Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison, seemed the perfect denizen of the north to write this.
For those of you who actually enjoy working outdoors in the cold, we offer stories about several options – eradicating buckthorn, leaf composting, planting a pot of layered bulbs. If you prefer to while away the winter hours indoors, we have stories on growing salads, fig trees and carnivorous plants.
In this issue you will learn that the Christmas Tree Ship still sails into Chicago every December and that the era of plant hunting is not over. Local professionals still voyage to lands far, far away to discover species that could be hardy here or offer resistance to the pests and diseases that ail our plants. And like the explorers in days of yore, they even risk life and limb.
Finally, for the gardeners who want to snuggle up and dream about various ways to re-do their spaces in 2017, we offer features on two very different gardens: one a water garden in Elmhurst and the other a fun-filled color extravaganza in Valparaiso. Whether you’re a worker bee or a dreamer, there’s something here for you all.