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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

I have a nicely sheltered, rounded 7-foot tall Japanese red maple on the southeast corner of my backyard. Half of the tree has lost its leaves, the formerly red bark is turning gray, and a good-sized square of bark has been stripped off on the side that faces the yard. I sprayed the exposed bark with black pruning spray to close any entry for insects. I have not cut off any of the branches.

Does the winter have any effect on the tree? Should I look for some insect infestation? What should I do now?

I have a hoya houseplant that has been growing happily for eight years. It had flowers when I received it, but it hasn’t bloomed since. What am I doing wrong? Can I get it to flower?

I’m moving to a townhouse with limited direct sunlight. I would like to put a Japanese maple in a north-facing garden but don’t know if it will do well. What are the best kinds? Also, when is the best time to plant a small tree?

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