Of Wonders and Weeds
By PAULENE POPARAD
December is for ...... an
abrupt end to the 2008 gardening year.
Talk about seasons
changing overnight. I kept thinking that we’d get a spell of nice days in
late October or November to finish the garden chores, but no such luck. I
remember a few warm, late-November nights in past years where I used
lanterns and even truck headlights to get some much-needed tasks done. Not
My garden journal shows in
1999 the second week of November was a heat wave with 73 degrees, and in
2004 the weather was unusually warm with days in the 50s and 60s. In 2006
late November was the same again. Even in Week 2 of December, 1998 we had
50s and 60s.
Our consolation is that
yo-yo temperatures in any season are harder on plants so it’s probably
best that --- except for Sunday’s brief 50 degrees --- it got cold and
Speaking of cold, if
you’re looking for a great gift for the gardener in your family they’d
love “Growing Perennials in Cold Climates” by Mike Heger and John Whitman.
The book, published in 1998 by Contemporary Books, is available for loan
at Thomas Library.
Heger and Whitman list 50
popular perennial groups that can take minus 20 degrees or more and still
thrive. Each group listing from Achillea to Veronica explains basic
information like how they grow, where and how to plant, and how to care
for them. A list of the best plants in each group is given as are sources
to buy them.
Under the “Problems”
heading for dendranthema (garden mums) I may have solved one of my
A plant I bought years ago
labeled “Late Korean single peach mum” usually blooms so late I hardly get
to enjoy it. One year it bloomed in October and got nipped by a hard feeze
in the same week. Heger and Whitman say mums are light-sensitive and need
long nights to bloom so they shouldn’t be planted near outside lights.
My Korean mum is directly
under a mercury vapor light.
Next spring I’m going to
move half the plant to a darker spot and see if that makes a difference;
maybe genetically it’s just “late". Moving half a
plant is a new method I’m using if it’s a plant I really don’t want to
lose. Whether spring or fall division makes a big difference and moving
half is a protection you’ll have some left to try again if the first
There’s so much to rave
about in the Heger/Whitman book, but a section in each group I found so
interesting was how to make more plants, usually by division, cuttings
Last winter I had great
fun planting hosta seeds for the first time under one fixture of twin
fluorescent light tubes in the basement. I used seed given to me by local
hybridizers and seed I bought at auction. The anticipation was so
exciting. Several times a day I’d go downstairs and see what seeds had
sprouted, how much they grew, which tiny ones had spotted petioles (leaf
stalks) and out of hundreds only one had variegated green and white
The hardest part was
deciding which baby hostas to pot up and grow on, and which to toss. I
ended up with about 20 moved in late spring outside, then planted in the
partially shaded raised planter box Bernie built me for this very purpose.
I put a light dusting of mulch on the seedlings but not a lot; I want to
see if they’re hardy, after all.
In the spring I’ll check
on the baby hostas every day --- several times a day, probably ---
anxiously watching for them to break ground. They’re protected by a dome
of sturdy wire hardware cloth to prevent animals from
Soon I’m going to plant
this winter’s batch in the basement but they’re my own hosta seeds
collected this fall. These are all open pollinated and I only know the
mother plant; some probably won’t germinate. One thing I will do this year
is be meticulous about labeling, which got all mixed up in my first
attempt. For more information about planting hosta seeds, go to
www.hostalibrary.org and click on Seed Growing.
Last year I gained
confidence from my first hosta planting (I did three over four months) so
I let a pod on my orange-flowered clivia houseplant set seed; I popped
five seeds in starting medium under the fluorescent lights and sure enough
they sprouted after many weeks, but they’re not growing very fast. I’m
down to two good ones.
Someone told me to plant
the clivia seedlings very shallowly; I might try replanting one deeper and
see what happens.
Speaking of clivia, White
Flower Farm’s holiday catalog offers the first peach-flowered clivia,
introduced in 2002. The blooms supposedly range from light to dark peach.
Are you sitting down? A 10-inch pot costs $399. That’s no typo. As more
plants become available the price will come down, as has the yellow
‘Golden Dragon’ clivia from White Flower Farm now at $75 for a 6-inch pot.
If you want to get some
select seeds locally, be sure to mark Jan. 24 on your calendar.
I am so excited that the
6th annual Porter County Gardening Show will be on that date at the Porter
County Expo Center. I’ve heard wonderful things about the event, sponsored
by the Porter County Master Gardeners Assoc. and previously held on the
third Saturday of January. For many years that’s also been the weekend of
the Midwest Scientific Meeting (WSM) of the regional hosta societies in
For me, hostas win out
every time, but happily I now can attend both shows. Equally good news is
that the Chicago Flower & Garden Show is returning in March to Navy Pier
after moving inexplicably to the suburbs. Maybe the new doubledecker South
Shore passenger cars will be in service by then.
The Master Gardeners’
event in Valparaiso details its offerings at www.pcgarden.info/gardening_show
including the speakers and presentations, a garden photography contest, a
juried plant contest in six classes, many exhibitors and of course the
popular seed and bulb exchange.
The speakers list is
impressive and deals with shade gardening, bewitching witch hazels,
hydrangeas, attracting butterflies and hummingbirds, home vegetable
gardening, growing and enjoying orchids, succulents and bromeliads, and a
guide to ground covers.
“Arboreta of the Lake
Michigan Region” will be discussed by panel members executive director
James Hitz of Taltree Arboretum & Gardens; David Michener, assistant
curator of the University of Michigan Arboretum & Gardens; and Kunso Kim
of The Morton Arboretum, who serves as curator of Living Collections.
I’ll be hearing Kim at the
Jan. 17 Schaumburg WSM as well, this time about “Trees and Shrubs that are
Good Neighbors for Hostas". I’ve really noticed that some hostas perform
well despite tree-root competition while other hostas suffer. Additional
WSM presentations include “Are Red Hostas Just Round the Corner?” by Bob
Solberg, and “Hostas of Distinction” by Mark Zilis. Both men are prominent
in today’s hosta breeding and marketing.
New this year at WSM are
three concurrent break-out sessions in the afternoon dealing with hosta
sports (when an individual plant mutates showing a new leaf pattern),
hosta botanical classification (true hosta nuts really get into this
stuff), and leaf-show winner’s tips.
The big Schaumburg news is
that the hosta conference is moving from its long-time home at the Hyatt
Resort to the Marriott Hotel, and that the Midwest Regional Hosta Society
has assumed sponsorship of the event. Will it be different? Better? I
can’t wait to find out. Learn more about it at www.MidwestHostaSociety.org
and register before Jan. 5.
Some years at WSM we’ve
even received free live plants. Hybridizer Doug Beilstein last year talked
about starting his hosta seeds using 96 fluorescent bulbs. Growing seed
hostas requires patience because they can look one way in the first few
years, then stabilize or change and be different in subsequent years.
It was prophetic that in
2008 Glenn Herold of Illinois Central College spoke at WSM about trees and
cited a lot of squirrel damage in the Peoria area at that time. This past
year at our house we’ve had the worst problem with gray squirrels we’ve
ever had in 30 years.
I deterred them somewhat
by laying lengths of chicken wire on the ground around some plants, then
mulching over the wire. I used flagstones here and there to hold down the
wire; I could have used landscape-fabric pins or made my own. Later in the
spring I made cuts in the chicken wire, folding it back as the hostas,
bleeding heart and carex emerged and grew; now I need to fold the wire
I’ve even had to form and
stake chicken-wire cages around probably 24 plants to protect them from
being dug and damaged. Unfortunately, I can’t chicken wire the entire
garden so I’m reduced to running outside in all seasons and yelling at the
brazen squirrels, who look at me as if to say, “You got a problem, lady?”
We don’t always realize
what an impression our behavior makes on children. While we were on
vacation last spring we asked our daughter to stop at our house and water
the hosta seedlings, still in the basement. She said when she arrived her
youngest daughter, then 4, jumped out of the van and unexpectedly went
running into the back yard.
“Get away from those
plants you squirrels!” my granddaughter yelled.
Even in my absence, Emma’s got my back.