Of Wonders and Weeds
By PAULENE POPARAD
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.
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 www.hostapatch.com.
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
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
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
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
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!