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Planning Commissioner


The folks in the editorial office tell me that this issue is about planning. I’m taking their word for it, since they don’t invite me to editorial meetings anymore. That might have something to do with the time that I showed up with my Giant Burrowing Cockroach (Macropanesthia rhinoceros), an insect from Australia. I thought they would find it educational. I still don’t know how it escaped. You’d think they would have been a little more concerned about my emotional attachment to Rhino and less about how to get it out of their potted fiddle-leaf ficus.

As I recall, we didn’t get a lot accomplished that day. And the invitations to the meetings stopped about that time.

Anyway…planning. Right.

Let me give you an example of how planning doesn’t work. Let’s say that you just opened this magazine and turned to the back page to read my column. See how that shows a lack of planning? You bypassed the table of contents and everything else up at the front of the train in order to watch the caboose. What if they had put my column in the middle of the magazine this time? You wouldn’t have known it, would you? And you would now be befuddled. That’s a terrible way to go through life.

For those of you who played by the rules, started on page one and are now studying my caboose…um, that makes me nervous. Regardless, my job is to wrap it all up, to make sure that the lessons of my fellow horticulturists stick, even though I haven’t seen a single word of what is contained in this issue. However, that does not faze me. I know that my colleagues and I are on the same page, figuratively if not literally.

So, to reiterate, here are the basics when it comes to planning a garden:

  • To get up early to garden, you must remember to set the alarm. And when it goes off do not, under any circumstances, hit the “snooze” button. Gosh, that has absolutely killed some of my perfectly well-intentioned efforts to get a garden planted.
  • Have a hearty breakfast before going out to dig and mulch and prune and weed. A word of advice: airline peanuts and black coffee is not considered a hearty breakfast.
  • Put it on paper! I’m talking about your gardening boots, of course. Otherwise, you’ll mess up the living room floor.
  • Know how to get into your neighbor’s garage when you realize that you don’t have the proper tool. A key is good but a crowbar can work wonders. It’s important to have the right tools to obtain the right tools.
  • You may have heard that you should design using odd numbers of plants. But I plant using prime numbers. Thus, 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13 and 17 are very good numbers. If you really want to make a statement, try massing 7919 plants. (FYI, that is the one thousandth prime number. So please don’t whine that you never learn anything from this column.)
  • Right plant, right place. Now pay attention. If you put in a plant and it dies, that was the wrong place. Conversely, if you put in a plant and it survives…well, I think you know where I’m going with this.
  • Big plant, little plant. Most people think it’s about front and back, spacial integrity, good design. Are you kidding me? It’s about ego. Every single one of those small plants has a chip on its shoulder. Why do you think those little impatiens are so…well…gaudy? Know what I mean?
  • Make friends with the neighborhood squirrels. For example, learn the squirrel gang signs or empathize with them by burying knick-knacks and chotzkes in your lawn and then forgetting where you put them. I’m not exactly sure how, but it will pay dividends later.

There you have it. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I just hit the snooze button. Don’t wake me until the next prime number day.

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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 purchased some pre-chilled hyacinths and tulips for forcing but there were no directions with them. Does this mean I don’t have to chill them in the refrigerator, and will they just bloom in the house any time during the winter? The last batch of bulbs became moldy in the refrigerator.

I’d like to start composting. Do you have any advice on what kind of bin to purchase/build so that it is successful in the Chicago climate?

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