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Garden Un-Centered


We all have our “happy” places–where we feel at home when we’re not at home.

Some people are never so happy as when they are in the unnatural quiet of a library. Unfortunately, it’s not so quiet for me. Whenever I find myself in the presence of the looming stacks of books, I become uneasy. I can hear them whispering, “Why haven’t you read me? Check me out, baby.” It’s unnerving, especially the “baby” part. And if I try to assuage my guilt by taking a few titles home, the books sitting in unread piles in my living room get insulted and begin whispering about me behind my back…in my own house. My advice to youngsters everywhere: don’t end up like me. It’s a hard life when you’re wracked by book guilt.

Then there are those folks who love being in a hardware store. These are the people who get all weepy at the sight of nine different types of hammers on display, who pick up rolls of duct tape just to get a whiff of the toxic chemicals, and who always have a caulk gun locked and loaded in the trunk of their car–just in case.

I now turn my focus on the people for whom the week is not complete without a visit to their local garden center. If you didn’t see this coming, you might have accidentally picked up this magazine when you were really reaching for Dressage Today. Happens to me all the time.

Some garden center types are always asking questions about the merchandise: “Will this bloom in full shade, too?” (No.) “Is there a purple variety?” (No.) “I want to cover my yard with this. Will three plants be enough?” (Uhh, no.) “Ooh, those leaves are fuzzy. Do you have a variety without fuzzy leaves?” (No.) “Will this annual come back next year?” (Nope.) Does this trowel come with a paisley handle, too? (Na-uh.)

Some garden center types ask any old question: “Do you know why I have Creeping Charlie?” (Your lawn hates you.) “Do you think there will ever be a blue rose?” (Come back in 2023.) “Why do you think that green peppers taste like tin cans?” (Don’t know. I’ve never put tin cans in a salad.) “Have you ever noticed that it’s almost impossible to screw a hose to a faucet so that it stops dripping one hundred percent?” (Is 60 Minutes looking for a replacement for Andy Rooney?)

Regardless of the crazy people who often frequent them, for most gardeners–and a lot of normal people–garden centers are wonderful places to stick your face in a few flowers and suck up some color, some fragrance, and the occasional bewildered bee.

But just as libraries have moved into the modern era by adding rows of computers, it might be time for garden centers to do likewise. I just happen to have some modest proposals about how to reach Generations X, Y, Z, A², B², niacin and iron.

Virtual Plant Arcade. Why deal with the muss, mess, headaches and heartaches of real plants that you’re going to eventually kill anyway? In my garden center, people would come to the garden center to play video games in which they murder plants that are harder and harder to kill at each succeeding level. For instance, they fight crabgrass, then yews, then bamboo, then phragmites, until reaching the top level and locking horns in mortal battle with the indestructible hosta. Fun for the whole family.

DIY Pottery. Let’s face it. Most shoppers think that plant pots are over priced. If they think it’s so easy to create a trendy, durable container, why not set up a potter’s wheel and let them have at it themselves? Think of the fun as wet clay goes flying around the greenhouse. Put “Unchained Melody” on a loop and, as it plays over and over again, watch the potters sobbing into their misshapen creations. Fun for the whole family.

Prunerama. Just use this slogan: “The More You Groom, the More You Save.” Distribute pruners to your customers as they walk in the door and then turn them loose on your plants. What could possibly go wrong? Fun for the whole family… but make sure you don’t put any feuding siblings near each other.

Oops. My unread books want me to straighten their piles. Gotta go.

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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.

I have houseplants outside that I will need to bring indoors. What is the lowest temperature at which I can leave them outside?

Is it possible to plant and grow Italian cypress in the Chicago area? Are our winters too severe for it? If they are, is there an alternative conifer that will provide a similar look?

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