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Mike’s Really, Really Cool Gardening Stuff for 2006


It might have been yesterday when, huddled under a fluorescent kitchen light with a cup of instant decaf, staring vacantly out the window at the arborvitae that was split in two by Tuesday’s ice storm, I began entertaining dark, dark thoughts about life without gardening.

I know that I am not alone. Heck, through the window I can see, somewhere just above my damaged arborvitae, a dark, dark thought-cloud hovering over the city, rising like smoke from the kitchen windows everywhere, which tells me that my fellow gardeners are on the precipice, too.

Don’t jump, fellow gardeners! I bring joyous news!

Winter will end, spring will arrive, and we will all once again engage in the ancient ritual of maxing out our credit cards on new stuff for our gardens. So let’s all gather around the table, hold hands, put something a little stiffer into that coffee cup and sing “Kumbaya” while I tell you about some of the odd and interesting products that have crossed my desk and which you will immediately purchase with money that should have gone to your mortgage payments:

Echinacea purpurea alba “Fission-brite” is figuratively and literally one of the hottest plants in the gardening world. Discovered in a New Jersey brown field by the late Louie “Light Fingers” LaSalle, its glow-in-the-dark habit will have you abandoning years of conventional design theory in favor of lining these plants like soldiers along your sidewalks and driveway. Use them in lieu of laying messy electric lines or settling for dim, solar-powered lights. (Special lead-lined “Fission-brite” gloves are a suggested accessory.)

Meet the “Bud Zapper.” This is for folks who like to garden but who really don’t like to get off their backsides. The “Bud Zapper” is a laser beam that can snip the spent blossom off any plant within a 50-yard radius. Just point, click and snip. (Not recommended for gardeners with pets, children or any other living, moving things in their yards. Also not recommended for people with failing eyesight. Batteries not included.)

The Zone Extender promises to let you grow a Zone 9 plant in a Zone 3 area with just the flip of a switch. Curiously, the device seems to resemble an over-sized crock pot that is dug into the ground and filled with soil. Coils at the base of the pot heat the soil into which tropicals and other ridiculously out-of-zone specimens are planted. For further protection, a large, plexiglas “bubble” can be placed over the top of the plant. Also suitable for creating bromeliad broth, croton casserole and ti tea. (Batteries not included.)

Heuchedrangea is an exciting new player in the plant world. A hybrid between Heuchera and Hydrangea, the Heuchedrangea is a low-growing plant that produces huge, blue mop-head blooms on wispy stems. This is, in fact, its major drawback. Those stems, which would normally hold up airy coral bells, can’t possibly support a giant, blue mop-head, so the blooms just lie there on the ground, looking pretty dumb. We were planning to include an illustration of the plant on this page but we can’t get the artist to stop laughing and execute the drawing. We suspect that more research is needed on this one. I’ll get back to you.

The nutritional value of certain species of Amaranthus can be traced back thousands of years to the Aztecs, who grew it as a so-called “super grain.” What seems to have been lost in the mists of time, however, is the origin of its nickname “pigweed.” A recently-developed form of this plant, called Amaranthus greaseii, produces the fragrance of crisp, frying bacon. That’s right. Now you can have your breakfast cereal and bacon on the same stalk, so to speak.

Last and anything but least, if you don’t have a Swiss Army Trowel yet, just which planet have you been living on, pal? This spring-action multi-use device is a combination trowel/Japanese digging knife/Japanese sushi knife /digging spade/perennial spade/spading fork/composting fork/salad fork/fan rake/bow rake/bow diddly/ dethatcher/aerator/candlestick maker/pruner/lopper/ hedger/hand saw/hand jive/cultivator/half-moon hoe/full-moon hoe/full Nelson hoe/ho-ho-hoe/thermometer/ sundial/rain gauge/odometer/G.P.S. receiver (batteries— surprise!—not included)/flashlight/penlight/state police approved signal flare/fingernail clippers and, of course, church key. Though a tad pricey (think re-mortgage), it comes in a lightweight carrying case that you simply sling over your shoulder with the help of three or four friends. It may very well be the last garden tool you ever buy. Especially if you open it wrong.

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questions

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?

I have a cycas palm and am not sure how much direct sunlight or water it needs. It has light brown marks developing on the leaves. What is causing this, and how do I care for my plant?

I recently moved to Chicago from Houston and I miss fresh picked figs. Is there any way to grow figs in Chicago short of installing a greenhouse? Will sunny windows do? I’m desperate.

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