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From the Editor


In this issue our primary focus is on perennial gardens – beautiful perennial gardens.

But, of course, no one sets out to create an unbeautiful garden. For thousands of years gardens have been about beauty.

Yes, they were also about utility. People need to eat and people have gardened for food. But when we view the scraps of paintings that have come down to us from ancient Persia or Egypt, it’s obvious that the spaces that people created were intended to be lovely. The gardens of those days, being in hot dry places, were enclosed with walls first of all, and then they added trees for shade, water and flowers. And they didn’t put all the plants together any which way. No, they organized their spaces with straight rows and paths and vistas that reflected their ideas of what made a space beautiful. Dulce et utile is how the Romans described the aim of poetry a thousand or so years later. Sweet and useful. It applies to gardens, too.

So when you read about the featured gardens in this issue, take a few moments to put them in the context of the last 4,000 years of Western gardens. (Asian gardens are equally ancient but adhere to a different aesthetic.) These gardens, belonging to Greg and Janie Schaumburg, Kim Visokey and Ben Futa, are all about color and flowers, and there’s a certain kind of softness to the look. There’s a sense of enclosure and order, but it’s more relaxed and understated. Clearly a different, informal, aesthetic is at work in the upper Midwest of the 21st century. But however that aesthetic works itself out, beauty is still front and center. We can draw a line from ourselves back to antiquity.

Virtually everything in our current issue of Chicagoland Gardening (and most of our issues) reflects varying understandings and interpretations of beauty. In this issue we have a story on making a cutting garden and show photos of the utilitarian (but also pretty) cutting garden at Shady Hill Nursery in Elburn (page 26). A story on choosing a native oak invites us to reflect on the loveliness of our native landscape. The Container Garden showcases beautiful – actually spectacular – containers at the Schaumburg Golf Club (page 52).

One story, however, does fall outside the all-gardens-aim-to-be-beautiful-rubric. In this issue our Edible Garden writer explains how to create a straw bale garden (page 21). To its practitioners, straw bale gardening is the greatest thing since the invention of ice cream, and it is apparently easy, successful and productive, provided you follow some simple guidelines. But beautiful? Even when draped with billowing tomato plants and other happy sprawlers like zucchini, you’re still going to see pockets of straw peeking through. So I’m a NIMFY, not in my front yard. But if I had a sunny backyard, I would most certainly give it a try.

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questions

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?

I’d like to block an unattractive view of my neighbor’s house/yard. What are some good plant/tree choices to hide unattractive views?

I have a dampish area with poor grass and moss that I would like to change to ground cover, but if I have only one plant, won’t it be boring? Can I get rid of the grass in winter or early spring?

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