Are we all met? Good. Have a seat, everybody. Down in front, please.
[Mumble, mumble, rutabaga, watermelon, and other crop names used as background crowd conversation.]
Annuals, perennials, biennials, trees, shrubs, tropicals, weeds, insects, arachnids, worms, gastropods, roly polies, millipedes, centipedes, garden gnomes and fellow citizens of this yard:
As we approach the Autumnal Equinox, I come to you, as your Gardener-in-Chief, to deliver my State of the Garden address. It has been a long year — heck, every year is a long year. In fact, many years seem like they are two or three years long. Do you remember last year? Wow. Now that was brutal. That year seemed to go on for decades. I was ready to put all of you out of your misery by July. By then, I was already thinking about grabbing the rototiller and…
But I digress.
Allow me to say that the state of our garden is…well…it’s pretty okay.
We all have our “happy” places–where we feel at home when we’re not at home.
Some people are never so happy as when they are in the unnatural quiet of a library. Unfortunately, it’s not so quiet for me. Whenever I find myself in the presence of the looming stacks of books, I become uneasy. I can hear them whispering, “Why haven’t you read me? Check me out, baby.” It’s unnerving, especially the “baby” part. And if I try to assuage my guilt by taking a few titles home, the books sitting in unread piles in my living room get insulted and begin whispering about me behind my back…in my own house. My advice to youngsters everywhere: don’t end up like me. It’s a hard life when you’re wracked by book guilt.
I’m not sure whether I should be celebrating or apologizing.
Let me explain. The 700 or so words on this page mark my tenth anniversary as a columnist for Chicagoland Gardening magazine. It scares me to think that some of my readers are younger than that. It also scares me to think that some parents might allow their kids to read this column. But I digress.
I’m surprised that the tenth anniversary is generally known as the “tin” anniversary. Which means that if you’ve survived the close combat of a relationship for a whole decade, the best you can hope for a reward is a substance that is used to coat steel containers for food preservation or to stabilize PVC plastics. So, on your tenth anniversary, I suggest you give your wife a few cans of water chestnuts. Or delight your husband with a length of PVC pipe. Then prepare to sleep on the couch, whatever gender you are.
Did I ever mention that in my childhood I was severely traumatized when I happened to discover two snowflakes that were exactly alike? I think it explains a lot of things — perhaps even my obsession with doing irreparable damage to venerable (and often inexplicably dopey) holiday songs, all in the name of horticulture.
Meanwhile, for those of you who are waiting for me to run out of parodies, it’s only fair to warn you that I’ve already written enough to get me through 2034 — when I will be 117 years old. In fact, it’s stated in my will that whoever takes over this column when I’m planted under the poison ivy patch in my backyard must continue rolling out these songs until they’re used up.
Pop Quiz! (Bet you didn’t see this coming. Hurry! There’s still time to click another link! Oops, too late.) More than anything in the world, gardeners want: (A) to keep their plants alive (B) actual gardening shows on HGTV (C) to know how to pronounce Ophioglossum crotalophoroides ‘Walter’ (okay, maybe not the last word) (D) self-cleaning fingernails And the correct answer? It’s a trick question, the only kind I use! The correct answer is ...
When I do garden talks, there are a number of questions that pop up repeatedly. For instance, “Is that your real hair?” is near the top of the list. Occasionally I am asked, “How come your radio show is on Sunday instead of Saturday?” (Note: If you want to see my real hair fall out in clumps, ask me that question. Go ahead, I double dig dare you.)
The other question that I am mercilessly flogged by at these otherwise genial gatherings is, “How come my weeds do better than my plants?” Putting aside the fact that weeds are plants, it has occurred to me that I could become as fabulously wealthy as the person who invented the spork if I could just answer that one question.
I am writing to reach out to humanity, if there is anyone left as of May 1. If you find this note, please take it to the editors of Chicagoland Gardening. They will know what to do with it. No, on second thought, don’t take it to them, because I think I know what they will do with it.
As I write, it is the end of March, and perhaps the end of civilized gardening. It started with “The Winter That Never Was.” Oh, we were happy in our ignorance then. We couldn’t believe our good fortune. It was as if somebody up there ran out of quarters and couldn’t feed the cold/snow/ice machine. (Obviously, that machine is so old that it doesn’t take credit cards.)
The monocotyledonous geophytes are coming! The monocotyledonous geophytes are coming! I knew that would get your attention. It would be a lot harder to get gardeners to respond to a cry of “The bulbs are drawing nigh! The bulbs are drawing nigh!” How about “The rhizomes are riding!” or “The tubers are turning!“ or “The corms are, uh, corming!” Okay, now it’s getting a little out of control.
My point is that we are under attack by these “stealth” plants. Some folks think I’m paranoid but those people are the ones who are out to get me. I say look around! What do you see? Tiny shoots poking up through the leaves and fast food wrappers in your neighborhood. Do you know what that says to me? Reconnaissance, people! Uh-huh. Little periscopes checking out the situation. “Is it safe?” “Is the snow gone yet?” “Any dogs around?” “Ooh, look, a caterpillar!”
Where does the time go? Seems like nano-seconds since I gave up on my overgrown, drought and heat-ravaged mess of a garden in the fall, planted a white flag in the shriveled remains of a tomato plant in a dried up container and screamed to anyone who would listen (mostly squirrels and birds), “It’s yours! You own it! Do your worst. Dig up some bulbs. Go ahead, leave some foxhole-sized divots in the lawn. Knock yourselves out! Go on, sparrows, poop all over everything. Here, I’m putting out an extra lawn chair for just that purpose! Should I leave my bicycle out here, too? You want that, too? Huh? I don’t care! I quit. I resign. I abdicate. I bifurcate. I conjugate! I’ll be back in the spring. Or summer. Or in 2017. Maybe. Don’t hold your breath because… because… there’s nothing weirder than a blue squirrel.”
And with that, I walked into the house and rather animatedly rearranged all of my ties by date of purchase. Flash forward five months or so. Here we are. Spring. Yup. Spring.
January, February and March are the great equalizers of the horticultural world. This is the time of the year when I can look at the landscapes belonging to my oh-so-serious gardening brethren and cistern and taunt, “Gee, that doesn’t look much better than my garden.” I choose to ignore the fact that, even under 20 inches of snow, their yards invariably do look better than mine.
Of course, when the weather warms up (in Chicago that happens around July 15) their gardens pass mine the way that Road Runner passes Wile E. Coyote on a desert road. To make matters worse, the expression on my face then bears a strong resemblance to the one sported by Mr. Coyote. And to add injury to insult, a huge rock usually falls on my head, sometime around July 27. I guess that’s the legacy of a misspent youth.
It is always a topic of conversation: What plants work well in sun or in shade? Or both?
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