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Article ThumbThe Best Plant You’ve Never Heard Of

Ask many skilled gardeners to name their favorite plant, and what do they reply? “The one that’s in bloom right now.”

Not what the interviewer wanted to hear, probably, but true nonetheless.


Article ThumbDon’t Believe Everything You Read

Wouldn’t life be just about perfect if roses could grow in shade? It so happens that once in a while you come across one that says it “tolerates some shade.” So when I saw those magical words attached to ‘Zépherine Drouhin’, I took them as a clear invitation to buy one and plant it by my front porch landing where it would get some morning sun although there was a 50-year-old mock orange shrub standing nearby on the right and a ‘DeGroot’s Spire’ arborvitae a few feet in front of it next to the steps. There was a pocket through which the rose would get “some” sun as it faced east in the morning, but alas, not enough.


Article ThumbWhat a Difference a Year Makes

This time last year we were heading into an awful, hot, drought-ridden summer — one that trounced the tomato plants, sent container plantings wilting if they didn’t get watered twice a day, and left gardeners exhausted and crabby. As we approach the summer solstice on Friday (yes, it’s still spring for a few more days) we’re celebrating a lush spring that’s been filled with cool days and plentiful rain. Many songbirds had a late start nesting and their melodies fill the woods across the road from our garden.

Earlier this spring, a pair of bluebirds began nesting in a box set in our mixed perennial and shrub border, but, sadly, they were chased off by sparrows. I pulled the empty nest, made of dried grasses, from the box in the hopes that they would return. And they did. They’ve rebuilt their nest, and I’ve seen them chase off curious, bullying sparrows.


Article ThumbKilling Grandpa Ott

I have been trying to kill Grandpa Ott, known affectionately around here as Gramps, for twenty years. We brought him here from Decorah, Iowa, having no idea that he would live so long, or be such a pain the metaphorical arse. I have tried poison, knives, my bare hands, everything shy of a gun, and if I had one of those I might consider using it. Nothing has worked and he has seriously overstayed his welcome.


Article ThumbGood Graft

The hot new thing in vegetable gardening is grafted plants. Burpee and Ball and other plant breeders have developed grafted tomatoes and eggplants in recent years, and I saw them growing in the trial beds at The Gardens at Ball in West Chicago last summer. The idea is that the vigorous rootstock will make the fruiting part of the plant grow faster and produce more fruit. The idea has been common practice with roses for decades.


Article ThumbTool Time

If you grow vegetables, one of the most valuable tools around is a soil thermometer. That’s because many vegetable seeds germinate and grow even when the soil is only 45 degrees. On April 6, I took my trusty soil thermometer and discovered that the top three inches of soil where I grow annual herbs was still only 41 degrees. I waited two weeks and it gradually warmed up so I could sow spinach, lettuce, onions and Swiss chard without having the seeds rot in the cold, wet soil.


Article ThumbGardening for Your Taste Buds

In a few weeks, we can start planting tomatoes and peppers as well as sowing seeds of squash, eggplant, beans and other warm-season vegetables. When you’re planning what to grow this summer, think about what you enjoy eating. There are plenty of cooking themes that can make it fun: a salad garden, an herbal tea garden, a pumpkin and squash garden, a Thai garden with lemon grass, Thai basil, hot peppers, and more.


Article ThumbGardening for Your Taste Buds

In a few weeks, we can start planting tomatoes and peppers as well as sowing seeds of squash, eggplant, beans and other warm-season vegetables. When you’re planning what to grow this summer, think about what you enjoy eating. There are plenty of cooking themes that can make it fun: a salad garden, an herbal tea garden, a pumpkin and squash garden, a Thai garden with lemon grass, Thai basil, hot peppers, and more.


Article ThumbDahlia Delights

Last summer, I had the pleasure of strolling through Cantigny Park in Wheaton, where the floral displays are always spectacular. Some of the loveliest plants there were the dahlias in shades of red, yellow, white and pink, some with burgundy leaves. I realized then that my garden was sorely lacking in these beautiful flowers.


Article ThumbRain, Rain Go Away!

Our official National Weather Service rain gauge clocked in with 3.60 inches of rain at 7 a.m. this morning. And more is falling. The daffodil flowers are nodding down toward the mud. The vegetable garden is a pond. There’s nary a robin in sight to feast on the hordes of worms migrating across the driveway in search of dry ground. And it continues to rain. What a difference from this time last year when gardeners were bemoaning the hot weather and how quickly all the spring bulbs flowered and dried up. But that’s ok. This is a good time to sow seeds indoors.


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Pretty in (everything but) Pink

I’m not paranoid but it’s out to get me. It’s everywhere. It’s in my life, my dreams, my backyard, my garden.


questions

I have read that purple coneflowers (Echinacea) are a good source of food for birds in the winter. Will they be okay if not trimmed back until spring? If so, how early should they be trimmed?

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

I’m moving to a townhouse with limited direct sunlight. I would like to put a Japanese maple in a north-facing garden but don’t know if it will do well. What are the best kinds? Also, when is the best time to plant a small tree?

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