Chesterton Tribune

Chicago Flower and Garden Show is March highlight

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Of Wonders and Weeds


March is for .... our annual pilgrimage to Navy Pier.

If we can’t have spring outside, we can enjoy it inside the 2004 Chicago Flower and Garden Show, this year host to 25 gardens based on the event’s theme “Public Spaces, Private Places.”

Where else could you see a giant 12-foot tall, high-heeled shoe except perhaps in Carrie Bradshaw’s dreams?

There’s certainly diversity among the gardens. The website describes an architectural meadow garden (whatever that is) and another that reproduces the finest features of Oscar de la Renta’s 400-acre Connecticut estate. There’s also a Japanese garden with tea house, stream and lanterns and a second Oriental garden with a bamboo house, pond and waterfall.

One of my favorite exhibitors, the University of Illinois Extension Service, will showcase groundcovers this year, while I’m also anxious to see the Chicago Park District’s “Spring Rhapsody in Blue” garden featuring, what else, blue flowers.

A late Victorian street scene will depict a Frank Lloyd Wright-style garden, and PBS’s Ryan Gainey will interpret the classic American garden. There’s even a surrealist garden inspired by Salvador Dali.

In addition to the 150 sales and exhibit booths hoping to part us with our money, there’s 50 how-to lectures scheduled during the flower show’s March 13-21 run. There are so many great speakers planned I want to take the South Shore in and attend every day!

Michael Weishan, the new host of PBS’s venerable The Victory Garden series, titled his talk “The Seven Deadly Sins of the Modern American Landscape, and How to Avoid Them.” Erring on the side of brevity, James Van Sweden, garden designer and author, entitled his “TBA".

If you can make one seminar, I highly recommend Felder Rushing’s “An Irreverent Southern Gardener Looks Northward” at 3:30 p.m. March 20. He is a delightful speaker with hilarious slides (like a garden with dozens of mismatched shoes on sticks) and the person who gave me the idea for a bottle tree.

Warning: this year I’m moving the new, improved bottle tree (whose skeleton will be December’s carefully trimmed Christmas tree) to a different location in the garden with more bottles than ever. All ye of little faith who don’t appreciate funky yard art, just avert your eyes.

Felder also is speaking at 12:30 p.m. March 20 on “Tough Plants for Midwest Gardens.”

New 2004 plant introductions will be featured at other seminars, and several speakers will be Chicago Tribune contest winners describing their home gardens. Our own Basil Cross of Furnessville will describe the lovely garden he and the late Bill Brincka developed during a 11:30 a.m. March 21 seminar.

You can check or download the seminar list on the website. For more information phone 312-222-5086. The flower show is open Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sundays 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. All lectures begin at 11 a.m. each day.

Congratulations to Chesterton Feed and Garden for being ranked the third best garden/nursery store in Porter County in The Times of Northwest Indiana’s recent Best of the Region poll. Curiously, Frank’s Nursery and Crafts which isn’t even located in Porter County was ranked first, followed by Johnson’s on U.S. 30.

Local master gardener Elta Cloud recently related a story about how hopeful she is to see if her special rhubarb will return this year.

According to Elta, “When my plants start to peek through the soil in the early spring, I usually greet them with a cheerful hello and tell them I’m glad to have them come back this year.” Last spring, Elta believes, her clumps of rhubarb given to her by the late Herb Radtke over 20 years ago were trying to tell her something, but she didn’t realize it.

”Mid-September I went to dig up a clump for Carol Brenn and to my horror the roots were black mush!” said Elta. “No doubt a fungi infection had found my prize rhubarb.” Ever the optimist, Elta dug up the mushy roots and destroyed them finding one little root that appeared healthy. She soaked it in a weak bleach solution and replanted it at the edge of her son Chris’ large yard.

If the root does make it, it will take several years to reach the size when rhubarb can be harvested, by which time the bleach will have been long gone, emphasized Elta.

Looking for a fun one-day getaway? Frederik Meijer Gardens in Grand Rapids, Mich. is hosting its annual Foremost’s Butterflies are Blooming now through April 30. The event draws good crowds and you walk among gorgeous butterflies winging free in the large indoor conservatory. Visitors are checked when leaving to be sure no hitchhiking butterflies try to make a break for it.

June 20 is the grand opening of Meijer’s new Children’s Garden under construction the last time I visited. The annual plant sale is May 7-8 and plant exhibition shows are slated for seven weekends this year. For more info, visit

Closer to home, April 3 is the Friends of Indiana Dunes 8th annual native plant sale at the Indiana Dunes State Park pavilion from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Two free lectures are slated in the park’s nature center, and 124 varieties of plants native to northwest Indiana will be for sale. Additional surprise plants also will be available.

The Duneland Garden Club is looking for local gardens to feature on its June 26 public garden walk. If you think your garden is special and would enjoy showing its beauty to others, please contact Donna at 477-4995.

Elta’s rhubarb she was digging for Carol was originally given to Herb by a friend on U.S. 20. It’s the perfect example of what Felder Rushing calls “passalong plants.” When he signed his wonderful book of the same name (co-written with Steve Bender) for me in 2002, his inscription read, “To Polly, Have fun. Pass it along!”


Posted 3/12/2004