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Article ThumbPrep School

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.


Article ThumbMike’s Holiday Hort Sing-Along

I like holiday carols. Really, I do. Honest. Don’t look at me like that. I know it’s hard to tell from the annual hit job I do on them in this column. Hey, I like my plants, too, and yet I kill them with astonishing regularity. Maybe it’s a “you always hurt the one you love” kind of thing.

So a word of advice. Don’t make me like you. It could be bad for your health. Come to think of it, singing any of these ditties around friends or co-workers might land you in intensive care. Just sayin’.


Article ThumbAll Together Now

What is it about starting a community garden that makes people react as if you just pulled a cocker spaniel puppy out of a top hat? “We just started a community garden at the end of our block!” “Awwww.”

“We just planted seven hundred cucumber plants and one radish!” “Awwww.”

“We just harvested another dog vomit fungus patty!” “Awwww. We mean, eewwww!”

You know how much I hate writing facts. But it’s true that I’ve ...


Article ThumbCultivating Wayward Sprouts

I am a bad influence. And not just on would-be gardeners. Oh, no, it’s far worse than that.

I am corrupting America’s youth. Literally, as you will see.

I recently received a Facebook message from a friend, who has a daughter named Lily. He wrote, Lily, as you may or may not know, is a fairly adept writer for a third grader, and she routinely aces her school assignments. But recently she earned an F on an essay that was supposed to be about “spring.”


Article ThumbThe Gardening Zone

You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension: a dimension of soil, a dimension of blight, a dimension of thyme. You’re moving into a land of both dappled shadow and full sun, of bling and pet chias; you’ve just crossed over into ... THE GARDENING ZONE.

Picture, if you will, a room. But not just any room. And in not just any place.


Article ThumbLawn Gone

My neighbor just paved over his front yard.

For those of you who are already doubled over in laughter, saying, “That wacky Nowak! Where does he come up with these things?” all I can say is, “No, really. He paved over his front yard.” By the way, I really was called “No-Wacky” in high school. Is it any wonder that I’ve never been able to hold down a decent job? And the fact that my neighbor just paved over his front yard isn’t all that funny, anyway. At least for a gardener.!


Article ThumbSomewhere Below the Soil Line

“Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…gnxx! Huh?” “Move over. You’re taking up all the root space.” “No need to stick a rhizome in my side.” “And you’re snoring. Can you keep it down?” “Hunh? What time is it?” “Early. Go back to sleep. And stop hogging all of the mulch.” “How early? I’m cold. You know I like to snuggle down under the mulch.” “Early early. January early. And save some mulch for me. It’s bad enough being planted this close together without you using up all of the resources.” “You kidding me? January? I feel like I’ve been dormant forever. Let’s get out of here! I want to sprout! To touch the sky! I want to–ouch! “What now?” “Bumped my head on something.” “It’s called ice, nimroots. The ground is frozen.” “Oh. Well, I still want to…want to…want…zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz….” “Will you just give me some of that…that…oh, never mind.”


Article ThumbFollow the Bouncing Gall

There are two kinds of bets going on among my readers. The first is whether I will follow the tried, true and now fairly stale formula of setting horticultural lyrics to holiday songs for yet another year. The other bet is that I will eventually run out of holiday songs to parody.

Those of you who had your money on my trying something different this year can pony up right now. And those who thought I would run out of songs have never Googled the X-Mas Song Canon. It’s about the size of a medium-sized Midwestern town phone book. This could go on forever. Sing ’em and weep.


Article ThumbHarvest Schmarvest

Some gardeners are able to make graceful transitions from season to season. In my case, I find that the word “lurch” is more appropriate. Actually, applying that word to almost anything I do probably paints a more accurate picture of my life:

Lurching into autumn. Lurching into a radio interview. Lurching into breakfast. Often literally.


Article ThumbScent and Non-Scents

“Stand back! I’m about to have a Proustian moment.

Wait…wait. Whew! It went away. For a second I thought I was going to become sick and depressed and this column would suddenly expand to about four hundred thousand pages that none of you would ever read except if you were in a hospital recuperating from two broken legs and I would start writing sentences that ran on and on and people would call me a genius but it wouldn’t matter because fewer than one person in a thousand would actually read this column but that wouldn’t matter either because the mere act of writing a four hundred thousand page gardening column would cause me to go insane and…and…

What’s that smell? As Marcel Proust once wrote, or perhaps he didn’t and should have written somewhere in Remembrance of Things Past, is a few thousand words about the sense of smell and the average garden.


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Columns
All Together Now

What is it about starting a community garden that makes people react as if you just pulled a cocker spaniel puppy out of a ...


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Mid-Season Classic

Are we all met? Good. Have a seat, everybody. Down in front, please. [Mumble, mumble, rutabaga, watermelon, and other crop ...


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Follow the Bouncing Gall

There are two kinds of bets going on among my readers. The first is whether I will follow the tried, true and now fairly ...


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The Numbers Game

I was reading a gardening book the other day (yes, I occasionally do research – don’t start on me this early in the column …


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Bluebirds, Daffodils and Orchids, Oh My!

The weather outside is still a tad frightful, but the sunshine and the longer daylight this past week seem to have triggered ...


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?

After my father’s tomatoes ripen on the vine, he finds when he cuts into them that there is a hard white core that extends through the fruit.

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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