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Reflections in the Bleak Mid-Something


This period of the gardening year used to be called “the bleak midwinter.” That song would long ago have been changed to “In the bleak down time between Super Bowl Sunday and NCAA March Madness,” except that it doesn’t scan particularly well. But I think you know what I’m talking about. Unless you hate sports. In which case, I’m going to unfriend you on Facebook the next time I log on. But I digress.

This is the time of year that we stand at the window contemplating the garden, understanding that what was chaos just a few months ago in October will again be chaos when we get to April. Armed with that knowledge, we long to catch the flu, which would give us an excuse to toss back yet another hot toddy. But I digress.

We long for inspiration–the lightning bolt that will knock us from our horse, cause us to change our name to Roscoe and set us wobbling down the road to horticultural splendor.

Gentle gardeners, I am that lightning bolt. If you want to know how, year after year after stultifying year, my garden is among the finest on my block (certainly in the top twenty), here are some places I go to brainstorm–places that will help land your garden on the cover of Field and Stream.

The local tire store. What shape in nature is more perfect than the circle? And what could be more perfect than viewing hundreds of perfect, black circles? Well, perfect except for the ones with little slivers of excess rubber. Bring your snippers. I’m sure the tire guys will welcome your efforts.

The library. No, no, no–not to read about gardens, but to observe what a perfectly straight row looks like. Since many gardeners insist on creating straight rows of plants, especially with bulbs, there’s no better place to observe them in their natural habitat. You’ll be the envy of garden clubs everywhere when your plants are arranged using the Dewey Decimal System.

The museum of modern art. Gosh, I can hardly imagine what kind of garden you could create by standing in front of a Jackson Pollock for about six hours. Upon leaving the place, you will need an aspirin or two. However, I can guarantee two things: 1) you will be much less likely to have a blood clot, and 2) your design will be unique. And incomprehensible.

Your iPhone. Nothing screams small space gardening like a combination camera phone, PDA, multimedia player, and wireless communication device. I mean, just how do they cram all that STUFF into something you can stick in your pocket? Be the first on your block to have a drift of plants that can call your sister in New Mexico AND play the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

The laundromat. Good gardeners know that textures are as important as colors in the landscape. Here’s what I suggest. Stop in at your local laundromat and find people who slam their stuff in the dryer and then leave to run errands. When you’re sure they’re not coming back for a few minutes and you think the stuff is dry enough, stop the machine, close your eyes and plunge your hands into the dryer. Feel the different textures. Hmmmmm. That’s nice. Aaaaahhhh, it’s warm. Ooooooh, is that a silk blouse? Ooooooh, that feels like a–oh, hi. Yes, these are your clothes. Yes, I’m taking my hands off of them right now. Um, I’ll just be moving on, okay? Please don’t call the police.

The candle shop. Let’s not forget that smells are important in the garden, too. So it’s important to learn how to recognize fragrances. Walk into a candle shop. Notice how your gag reflex kicks into overdrive from the sickly sweet scent of a mango-raspberry-ginkgo fruit candle in the shape of Frederick Law Olmsted. Now walk back outside and inhale the exhaust from passing bus. Aaaahhhh. Much better. Now you know the difference between a fru-fru smell and an honest, working man and woman’s aroma.

There you have it. My final tip is for when you pick up your “gardener of the year” trophy, thanks to my incomparable advice. If it’s in the shape of Frederick Law Olmsted, I know the location of several hazardous waste disposal sites.

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questions

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?

I have twelve beautiful blooming violet plants on my office desk, placed 12 inches from a light source that’s kept burning day and night. I water them from the bottom and let the water remain in the saucer.

No matter what I spray, I continue to have gnats and other insects in my soil. I also occasionally start to get yellow spots on the tips of the leaves and then the spots start going down the leaves. What’s going on here?

I have two strawberry plants in a hanging basket in my yard. I have not had any fruit from them although the vines hang down. I give them plant food once a month and water daily. What am I doing wrong?

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