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The Dog Dayz


Gardeners perplex me. Actually, I’m perplexed by many things, including gravity and spumoni ice cream and why most Americans think a t-shirt and shorts is a fashion statement in an airport, but when it comes to gardeners, I’m often really perplexed.

In the words of my dad, who never actually said this, so I don’t know why I’m invoking him while channeling one of the Bowery Boys, “Lemme give ya a fer instance.”

Midwest gardeners whine and cry and stamp their feet and threaten to slit their wrists with dull trowel blades if they can’t plant their tomatoes in the spring immediately on March 21. That is the first day of spring, after all. The weather guy said so. Heck, the weather guy has already told them that “meteorological spring” started on March 1! That’s more or less like telling six year olds that they can have as many cookies as they want as long as they don’t eat them “too close” to dinner. Good luck with that strategy.

But back to the kvetching Midwestern gardeners. They wait and whine, whine and wait, until Memorial Day. Then they plant their tomatoes. (The ones who planted their tomatoes on March 1 are now planting their fourth or fifth series of tomatoes.) Then they water them in. Then they eagerly watch them grow for about 20 minutes. Then the temperature hits 90 F plus. Then they start to whine about how they’re “done” with gardening and they can’t wait until the cool weather hits.

These are known as the “Dog Days” of summer – that time about six days into the real gardening season when folks suddenly give up on their yards and their interests turn to water polo and feeding their koi – or watching their koi play water polo.

While some people think that the term “Dog Days” is derived from the Roman dies caniculares and is associated with the hot weather and with Sirius (the Dog Star, not the satellite radio network), my own sources tell me that the origin of that phrase is somewhat different from what you might have been led to believe (if you’re a faithful reader of this column, you saw that coming, didn’t you.)

I was listening to a program from Sirius (the satellite radio network, not the Dog Star) and the genial host, while not as bright as Sirius (the Dog Star, not the satellite radio network), was interviewing a historian, who explained that the Romans loved their lawns much in the same way that Americans love their turf – that is to say, beyond all rational measure. The Kentucky Blue Grass Wars of 24 B.C. are a little known interruption of what was known as Pax Romana or The Roman Peace, not to be confused with Roman Peas, which morphed into Roman Peasa and thence to Pizza. You could look it up. You won’t necessarily find it but you could look it up.

To get back to turf, we still don’t know how Kentucky blue grass made its way to the center of the known universe a couple of millennia before the existence of Kentucky. That’s a subject for another column. However, when the early summer heat descended upon Rome (and the Romans), they became less interested in their lawns and more distracted by things like aqueduct polo and feeding their lions … if you catch my drift. This left the dogs of Rome to do … uh … what it is they do … on … uh, well, where they like to do it. Like lawns.

This made the Romans seriously angry at the dogs. So angry that they saw stars.

Put it all together: Serious. Dogs. Stars.

Sometimes I amaze myself.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, my yellow koi are leading the red koi two goals to one. No way I’m going to miss the last two minutes of exciting Pisces water polo action.

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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?

What is the green worm that eats my roses and columbine every year?

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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