Chesterton Tribune

A month for gardeners to rest

Back to Front Page




Of Wonders and Weeds


December is for .... last-minute chores, then a well-deserved rest.

As I write this, it’s 55 degrees at midnight. Last month ended as the warmest November on record at Midway Airport, if you can believe those weather guys, and so far December has come in like a lamb. And we all know how the rest of that saying goes, don’t we?

In my November, 2000 garden journal I wrote “Whole month unseasonably cold.” But in 1998, the first week of December was “60’s all week. Still moving plants. Warmest year on record in 500 years.” Yet let’s not forget Dec. 11, 2000: “Blizzard! More than 12 inches, then 5 below.”

By the third week of December in 1999 and 2000, the ground was frozen, the days in single digits and nights below zero.

Things can change quickly now, so every moment in the garden borrowed from our otherwise busy lives should be used wisely.

I transplanted the tri-color beech in mid-November to its new home farther away from the walnut tree, watering well after the move and it looks good so far. Because I feared it could be top-heavy since the soil ball was disturbed, I placed a large decorative rock at its base to help anchor it against the north winds.

Luckily, my friends and relatives know any homeless brick, boulder or wood product that might even remotely be re-incarnated into a useful garden life usually will find a home here.

I have no shame when it comes to scrounging someone else’s garden left-overs I covet. I once followed a man to Kabelin Hardware after his wife described his truck, waiting by the vehicle until he came out of the store to ask if he wanted to get rid of the pile of bricks behind his house. He did not. He said he moved them from Monticello years ago and he planned to use them. Someday.

My stepfather Eddie found a Michigan City neighbor who bought a nearby house and didn’t like its existing field-stone landscape treatment and piled the rocks in the alley. We loaded them up and I gave them a home, sliding the heavier ones down a board off the truck tailgate and rolling them to their new location among the plants, sometimes to minimize grade changes, others just for the effect.

Sunday I bought some corrugated paper tree wrap to protect the beech’s trunk, as well as other young trees or exposed stems that might look like an appetizer to winter-starved rodents and rabbits. I also need to get the plastic stakes in on the north/northwest sides of the rhododendrons and the hydrangeas so I can attach burlap windbreaks with clothespins. Someone who has a collection of rare Japanese maples said they do the same thing but with black landscape fabric, a denser material than burlap.

In a pinch I’ve just set an empty 40-pound dirt or manure bag with one of the short ends slit open over two sturdy bamboo stakes, securing the bag with clothespins, as a windbreak.

A $40 registration fee now is being accepted for the Jan. 19 winter scientific meeting in Schaumburg, IL of the Midwest Regional Hosta Society. I never have attended but am anxious to do so and hear six quality speakers assure me there is plant life after sub-zero cold.

I especially want to hear Bob Solberg talk about hosta identification (no, they do not all look alike) and Kevin Walek discuss “Hostas, Sun or Shade.” I am fast running out of shade and need to choose more sun-tolerant varieties. To make reservations, contact Morgan Wilson at 815-224-1383.

The event is organized in part by Tom Micheletti of the Hosta Patch nursery, who has a wide selection available on the internet at

Catching my eye were a reverse sport of “Francee” dubbed “Matrix,” I being a great fan of the movie, and the gold “Starboard Light.” Oz groupies might want to order $5 “Munchkin,” a 6-inch tall, 15-inch wide fast-growing clump of narrow dark green leaves. There’s even “Slick Willie” for the Republicans who like a good laugh, at $18 a medium hosta having shiny, dark green heart-shaped leaves.

The LaPorte County Master Gardener Association is hosting what sounds like a great Garden Symposium April 20 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Silver Palace in LaPorte. The $18 tickets are available locally at Chesterton Feed and Garden.

The LaPorte speakers are Felder Rushing, a garden columnist, award-winning garden author and magazine contributor. His own garden has been featured in several national publications. Also speaking is Carolyn Harstad, a garden lecturer, nature photographer, certified landscape design critic and advanced master gardener.

Hands down the last plants blooming heavily here are the malva “Zebrina,” which self-sowed in late summer. At four feet it has large mid-green leaves on upright stalks that are clothed in scores of violet purple striped flowers. Some of the shorter malva, like the more showy white “Alba,” are said to be reliably hardy.

The 2002 rose catalogs (why are these never scratch and sniff like the perfume samples in our charge-account bills?) are arriving, as are other garden catalogs in the mail almost daily. Jackson and Perkins’ 2002 featured rose is “Lovers Lane,” a deep red hybrid tea with pale reverse. According to J&P, it’s perfect, sumptuous, and spectacular. An unbiased opinion, to be sure.

I wanted to leave you with two thoughts about gardening from Alan Titchmarsh, the perky host of BBC America’s “Ground Force,” a British gardening show.

The GF team are horticulturalist Alan, the brains; contractor Tommy, the muscle; and bra-less Charlie, a busty strawberry blonde who presumably was hired for her water gardening expertise. In each day’s 30-minute episode they surprise someone and transform their front or back yard (in England these are often extremely long and narrow) over two days into a stylish, landscaped retreat. It’s fascinating how they make separate garden “rooms” in such small spaces, and combine hardscape (patio/walkways, sheds, fences, decks) with plant material.

Alan is of the opinion, “A weed is a plant growing out of place.” A rose can be a weed if it’s where you think something else should be, according to Alan.

Another Alan observation: it’s sometimes not what we like best but what we dislike the least about our gardens. As soon as he said this, I thought of how I have been dealing with a few border areas that I am never quite happy with. Over the winter I plan to review those problem pockets in a different way -- instead of worrying about what I want to keep, I’ll decide what definitely needs to go. Until next month, happy holidays!




Posted 12/6/2001