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Read ‘em and Weep


January (and February and December…oh, and add November to that list…and you might as well throw in March, just to complete the set) is the cruelest month. My readers don’t get to garden and I don’t get to create answers to gardening questions from whole cloth and lead people into horticultural cul-de-sacs, which gives me endless pleasure during the growing season.

It’s the kind of situation that can lead one to engage in strange activities, like attempting to create the first indoor tomato plant bonsai or, even more desperate, reading some of the gardening books that have been sent to me over the past six months. The nice thing about these books, which arrive on my doorstep with great regularity (I assume that I am mistakenly considered to be some sort of gardening expert), is that they are often large, with hard, glossy covers, and as a result make excellent dinner trays. If you stack them high enough, they can also be used to create terrific plant stands. It’s important, however, that you put the larger books at the bottom and the smaller ones at the top, for those of you unfamiliar with the laws of interior decorating and physics.

However, finding myself at loose ends recently, I decided to rescue a few titles from the pantry shelf to see what kinds of horticultural nuggets I’ve been using to cool my microwave pizza.

Trowel and Error by Livingsworth Henderson Hawsley III (Effete Press) traces the use of the garden trowel from its humble beginning as table spoon (bowls–and mouths–were much bigger in those days, says Hawsley), through the “Trowelmania” that predictably swept Europe on the heels of “Tulipomania,” to his assertion that today’s shoddily constructed trowel “is nothing more than a gardening joke punch line.” Hawsley’s claim that the phrase “throw in the towel” is really a corruption of “throw in the trowel,” and was first used by Vlad the Impaler, is sure to be controversial.

The Unabridged History of Green by Eleanor Vert (Crayola College Press) clocks in at over seventeen hundred pages but this fast-moving tome reads as if it were a mere fifteen hundred. If you thought that green is green is green, boy are you in for a surprise! Spring green, forest green, sea green, chartreuse, emerald green, surf green, turf green, surf-and-turf green, pea green, split pea green, avocado green, electric green, and I-really-shouldn’t-have-eaten-that-whole-basket-of-buffalo-wings green are just some of the shades that Vert has mercilessly researched. She spends some three hundred pages alone on whether aquamarine is really green or blue. A word of caution: do not drive, operate heavy machinery, or attempt brain surgery after reading for more than three minutes.

The Secret Life of Dipping Vegetables by Susan Lazy (Party Hardy Press). Who knew? I won’t give away the surprise ending but I can say that the next time you jam a mini carrot into a saucer of creamy ranch dressing and imagine you hear muffled screams, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Chaos: Garden Design for a New Millennium by Bluto Mas (Meet The Press). “Design is for sissies” says Mas in his introduction. Yes, he really wrote that. He also thinks that the less gardeners know about their plants, the better. For example, the outspoken Mas advises people to buy plants that are either unlabeled or appear to be mislabeled, adding, “Gardening should be more like Russian Roulette than Chess.” I don’t know what that means but, yes, he really wrote that, too. Since reading his book I’ve had the urge to arrange all of my gardening tools in alphabetical order. I think it’s some kind of allergic reaction. I’ve also been having dreams about Popeye the Sailor Man, which I don’t think is a good sign.

I would review a few more books except that I’d like to get some decent sleep. Not to mention that I’ve removed so many books from my plant stand that it has dipped too low for my plants to get enough light. Oh, and the microwave just beeped. I think my pizza is ready.

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questions

I have two 20-year-old pine trees whose needles are turning brown on the west side of the plants. On the east side I have a compost pile.

I live in the St. Charles region and my soil is mostly clay. What is causing the browning? Should I get rid of the compost? How do I correct the damage?

This past spring I planted a lacebark pine (Pinus bungeana) in full sun. As winter began, the angle of the sun’s rays has caused the tree to receive, at most, 4 hours of sun. What are sun requirements of evergreens in winter?

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.

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