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Go Pantless … er, Plantless!


If there’s absolutely one thing I’m sure of as I slog through this vale of tears, it’s that the MacArthur genius grant people have, tragically, lost my phone number. Why, I can think of at least half a dozen reasons why I should be cashing one of their big, oversized checks and then retiring to an exotic location like Minot, ND. (Slogan: “Why Not Minot?”)

So it should be no surprise to you that I awoke with a start and a snort a few nights ago to find myself face down in a field of sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) in my backyard. It might have had something to do with the May Wine Festival I had attended the night before, but that’s just a guess. But while I was lying prostrate in the garden, breathing in and sneezing out the small, whorled sweet woodruff leaves, I began to think of what a nuisance this plant is. It does have a lovely shape and produces starry white flowers in the spring. I’ve been told that the dried leaves have an odor of new-mown hay, honey and vanilla. The extract, not the ice cream. And, as you already know, you can create something called May wine from it.

However, as “sweet” as it seems to be, the plant has a nasty habit of creating a dense mat and pretty much smothering anything that gets in its way. I do believe that, had I lain there another three or four minutes, my body would never have been found. Close call.

Here’s where the “genius” moment comes in. Pour a glass of May wine, listen and learn.

I realized that living, breathing things like plants (I suppose you could lump scorpions, pigeons and people in that category, too) have a nasty habit of being unpredictable. And, let’s face it, most gardeners prize stability and predictability over almost everything in the world, including their spouses, their children, their sacred honor and their numerous TV remotes. Why do you think there are so many lawns in the world? And so many yews? And so many Callery pears? And so many boxwoods? And so many box stores? Which produce so many Tiki torches?

That’s when the light went on in my head. (It wasn’t a Tiki Torch but an old-school incandescent bulb – not a compact fluorescent or an LED, which might explain why I keep getting skipped over by the MacArthur people.) It occurred to me that the perfect garden is one in which there are no plants! Eureka, CA!

Oh, I’m not talking about those so-called Zen Japanese rock gardens, which consist of … well … rocks. And some sand. And you better have a pretty good rake. And be ready to use it. Very, very carefully. And you’ll lie awake nights thinking about that one spot that isn’t perfect. One man’s Zen is another man’s “What’s the point?”

No, I’m talking about inhabiting your garden with things that won’t grow and won’t need raking and won’t give a darn whether you’re there or not. And the best news (and the reason why the MacArthur people can call me tomorrow – I’ll be home all day!) is that you can put stuff you already have in your home in your garden!

For instance, create a drift of coffee mugs that haven’t been used in 14 years. Think of the riot of colors that will entertain you for the whole season. Heck, the “World’s Greatest Mom” section could take up half the yard!

Or mismatched tupperware! Who doesn’t have 40 tubs and 40 lids that don’t even come close to fitting together? Throw ‘em out in the yard. Stack some, half bury others, put lids on edge in the soil – the possibilities are endless. And, hey, it’s tupperware! Those things will be in your yard forever! No need to replant.

But why leave all the fun to mom? Dad has dozens of tools in the garage that he doesn’t even know how to use. I know where those babies are going – yup, to the “tool bed” in the garden. Imagine blades, rods, handles and batteries of all shapes and sizes adorning that precious patch of soil. As a bonus, the neighborhood cats, dogs, squirrels and kids will be terrified to go near it.

Are you getting the idea? Okay. Ready, set, go! Start searching your home for useless stuff that can end up in the yard. (Think numerous TV remotes, for a start.) In other words, pretty much everything you own. Get back to me tomorrow. I’ll be waiting for that call from … um, you know … keep it quiet: AcArthur-may Enius-jay Ant-gray. Shhhhh!

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questions

Can you tell me if the African daisy Osteospermum ‘Springstar Aurora’ can be winterized here? It is a healthy plant?

Now that bedding impatiens (I. walleriana) are not recommended because of impatiens downy mildew, what are three good annuals for shade?

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?

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