At Chicagoland Gardening we duly make our resolutions, chief among them our determination that 2017 will be the magazine’s best year ever. And then we get down to business.
As in years past, we begin with a cover story on the year’s new plants. Since the number of new varieties is legion, we limit ourselves to varieties that have passed the trial by fire in the well-named trial gardens at Ball Horticultural in West Chicago. Each summer we take a day to reconnoiter the grounds with Jim Nau and his aide-de-camp Katie Rotella, note the high performers, and then commission our trusty photographer Ron Capek to turn them into art.
The most memorable Christmas of my Chicago life was the year the temperature plummeted to 25 below zero and the pipes froze all over the house. Still, the car miraculously started and the family managed to get to the University of Chicago’s Rockefeller Chapel for the annual pageant, surrounded by neighbors bundled up for the duration in scarves, parkas and boots. Every year one lucky middle school girl would be selected to be Mary and ride down the aisle on Mabel, a real live Sicilian donkey brought in from the suburbs. A sight not to be missed.
I always feel grumpy when people refer to gardening as a hobby, and now I know why.
This winter, garden columnist Allen Lacy died, and in The New York Times obituary there was a quote from one of his books that suddenly made clear why the hobby moniker has never sat well with me. “Gardening is not a hobby,” Lacy wrote in The Inviting Garden. “There is nothing wrong with having hobbies, but most hobbies are intellectually limited and make no reference to the larger world. By contrast, being wholeheartedly involved with gardens is involvement with life itself in the deepest sense.”
In the Merry Hall trilogy, a series that ranks high among the world’s great garden classics, the English journalist Beverley Nichols wrote, “[W]hen you are concerned with really important things, such as the dew on a spider’s web, or the first fragrance of a freesia … it is difficult to look over one’s shoulder, as it were, and remind yourself of such shadowy and transient details as the Red Army. In the scale of eternal values, a hundred military divisions are outweighed by a single pinch of thistledown.”
This is the time when the world waxes eloquent (or some semblance thereof) about “new beginnings.” Really? Is there such a thing as old beginnings?
Perhaps we should just call them revisions. We gardeners made a muck of many things in 2015, and now is our time to take stock and resolve to do better next time.
So this year we won’t optimistically set out the tomatoes on a warm day in May, only to see them get blasted by cold winds two weeks later, go belly up and need to be replanted. Nor will we put our new ‘Rebecca’ clematis in the shade … twice … or let the red KnockOut rose get so squished by the 8-foot wide Incrediball hydrangea that the rose actually stopped blooming for most of the summer. Who ever imagined that you could reduce the bloom on a KnockOut rose? (Solution: tell the hydrangea “you win” and donate it to the big perennial garden in Wicker Park.)
Here’s the thing about gardening: it’s never done. So now 2015 is winding down, the year in which I thought my garden would finally achieve some state of near perfection and I would ride out the rest of my golden years just watching the plants chug along on autopilot while I sat on the porch steps sipping tea and enjoying the view. As if.
This year three of my mophead Hydrangea macrophyllas didn’t bloom – probably the spots where I planted them have become too shady, although the effects of the last two nasty winters can’t be discounted.
One fine morning this summer I looked out the second-floor window of my study and discovered a 1-foot tall tomato plant growing a few feet away in the gutter of the back porch. Just one more example, if one were needed, of the amazing, millennia-long saga of seed dispersal on the planet. Thor Hanson offers more examples in his newly published The Triumph of Seeds.
Why do plants grow where they do, puzzled Charles Darwin and other 19th century scientists? When Darwin reached the Galapagos Islands during his 3-year-long voyage on the H.M.S. Beagle, he discovered numerous oddities, including cotton. How did it get there?
The stars must have been aligned as we assembled our editorial calendar for this issue since it turns out that we have a sub-theme going on here. Water. How to use it. How to save it. How to employ it for our benefit while doing our bit to be environmentally responsible. All in all, there are six stories that have come together to reinforce the theme and offer a variety of takes on the topic. It must have been the stars. Speaking for myself, I’m not that smart.
In this issue our primary focus is on perennial gardens – beautiful perennial gardens.
But, of course, no one sets out to create an unbeautiful garden. For thousands of years gardens have been about beauty.
Yes, they were also about utility. People need to eat and people have gardened for food. But when we view the scraps of paintings that have come down to us from ancient Persia or Egypt, it’s obvious that the spaces that people created were intended to be lovely. The gardens of those days, being in hot dry places, were enclosed with walls first of all, and then they added trees for shade, water and flowers. And they didn’t put all the plants together any which way. No, they organized their spaces with straight rows …
“Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning,” wrote the author of Psalms 30. Something to keep in mind as we slog through winter every year.
Now it’s March, and our time of weeping is approaching its end. Oh, we may still get a blizzard, or even two, but rest assured, we’ve survived the worst of it. March blizzards melt
One of the great benefits of gardening is that it gives us so many moments of joy. We could also call them God’s-in-his-heaven-all’s-right-with-the-world moments.
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The most memorable Christmas of my Chicago life was the year the temperature plummeted to 25 below zero and the pipes froze …