Of Wonders and Weeds
By PAULENE POPARAD
December is for ..... a wish come true.
Loyal readers have heard me whine about how much I hated the *&%@ walnut
tree in the front yard. Well, I won’t have the walnut to kick around any
The tree was located just on the neighbor’s side of our property line even
though it looked as if it were in our yard. The property line angles to the
south a bit on that side, perhaps because at one time a previous owner
wanted to keep the walnut tree.
Yet we were stuck with its large, yellow nut capsules that littered the yard
under the tree. The walnut-tree roots also contain a toxin that inhibits
growth in many plants and shrubs, making landscaping the front yard
particularly difficult because susceptible plants would either barely exist
or just die.
Landscaping concerns aside, more importantly the walnut branches kept
growing into our electric service line from the NIPSCO pole. Happily, the
neighbor had the tree cut down recently and the stump ground down. I
probably should have some regrets about that but I don’t because the walnut
was a classic example of planting the wrong tree in the wrong place.
Besides, when you already have nine shagbark hickory trees on one acre, who
needs more nuts?
I’ve thanked our neighbor with a gift certificate to Wagner’s and I can’t
wait to dig --- literally --- into renovating the front plantings. The root
toxins take some time to dissipate, but a friend whose neighbor also cut
down a walnut tree said his vegetables and flowers perked up quickly. I hope
I’m as lucky.
The holiday season is upon us and I’ve gotten a kick out of the JB Robinson
radio commercial where the seemingly shallow woman complains that her
husband got her pruning shears for a gift instead of expensive jewelry. If
she loves gardening and needs a good pair of shears, who’s to say that’s a
Not every woman wants diamonds, believe it or not. Last Christmas eve our
son Tony walked in with a tall, wrapped gift for me that looked like a pair
of skis. It turned out to be packages of 6 foot-tall, sturdy bamboo stakes
that I used all summer in the garden. It was a wonderful present.
Live bamboo plants are the new darling of the garden centers. This month’s
issue of Horticulture magazine has a fine article on clumping bamboos by
author Jackie Heinricher, who feels one day bamboo could become as popular
as ornamental grasses.
Bamboo plants are either invasive (by sending out runners from the mother
plant) or non-invasive; the latter stops when they reach a fixed clump size,
often 5 to 8 feet wide. Size can be controlled to a degree by growing bamboo
in pots. Heinricher recommended several bamboos for our Zone 5 climate.
I still can’t decide if I want to devote five square feet of prime real
estate to one bamboo plant. Some have orange/red or black canes, others
leaves are long and delicate giving the garden a sense of movement with
every little breeze. During a visit to a plant nursery this fall a worker
touted the virtues of a clumping bamboo, but I balked.
Since the nursery was in Grand Rapids, Mich. it certainly would have been
hardy. It was my first visit to 18-acre Knapp Valley Gardens there and it
won’t be the last. Even though it was Oct. 29 the plant material was
plentiful, in good condition despite the lateness of the season, and the
prices were greatly reduced. Perhaps best of all, the staff was very helpful
The nursery and indoor retail area, a family-owned business since 1977, is
located at 4100 Knapp Street one mile east of East Beltline Avenue NE. Knapp
Gardens is just north of Meijer Gardens at 1000 East Beltline NE.
For a total of $21 I bought the carex or sedge ‘Beatlemania’, which I was
tickled to find; a very maroon-red, tiny-leaved ‘Rubifolia’ armeria or
thrift; a large-flowered, bi-color dianthus (mini-carnation) ‘Siskin Clock’;
and two astilbe, all in plump one-gallon pots. The astilbes were in the
bargain area, not labeled, but very healthy. I hope the plants winter over
well and take off next spring.
In England, they’re already using a lot of bamboo for landscaping although
their climate is somewhat more forgiving than ours. Young British plantsman
Matt James, host of the fine television show “City Gardener” that airs on
HGTV Saturday night at 10 p.m., often uses bamboo. His landscape specialty
is narrow, urban gardens with poor views and even poorer soil.
Like another great British gardener I admire, Alan Titchmarsh, Matt is an
innovative designer who can take a virtual bowling alley of a yard and make
it look much larger. He does this by mixing paving/decking materials, having
hardscape run on the diagonal, and creating pockets of private spaces that
are at times partially obscured from each other expanding the sense of size.
Compare this to the deadly dull landscape plans they do on HGTV’s “Landscape
Smart” and it’s easy to see why I prefer the work of British designers.
Three upcoming events should pump some green into our winter-thinned
gardener’s blood. The first is the Midwest Regional Hosta Society’s
always-enjoyable Winter Scientific Meeting Jan. 21 from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
at the Hyatt Regency Woodfield Hotel in Schaumburg, IL.
Tickets are $45 per person including a continental breakfast and a
deli-buffet luncheon before Jan. 6; after that date the cost is $55. For
more information contact 815-224-1383 or log onto www.midwesthosta.org. This
is the meeting where the slide shows are on a screen the size of a General
The Jan. 21 speakers’ line-up is impressive and includes Porter County’s own
hosta hybridizer Bob Balitewicz discussing “Inducing Ploidy in Hostas with
Treflan.” I hope there’s not a quiz. Other speakers are Glenn Herold,
hydrangeas; well-known plantsman John Elsley on new perennials; Dawn
Anderson, growing hostas in pots; and Ron Karlic on his garden throughout
the seasons. Mark Zilis also will give another in his series of talks on
hostas of distinction.
The second event is the 3rd Annual Gardening Show Jan. 28 from 10 a.m. to 4
p.m. in Valparaiso. For $5 for adults the program includes a seed and bulb
exchange, free gardening demonstrations and speakers, vendors with the
newest products, an open flower show, hourly door prizes and new this year a
garden photography contest with six categories.
Deadline for photo submissions is Jan. 26. Since I have more photos of my
garden than my grandchildren perhaps I’ll dig some out and enter. For more
information contact 465-3555 Ex. 24. The garden show is sponsored by the
Porter County Master Gardeners and Purdue University Cooperative Extension
I already have my ticket for the Feb. 6 talk by renowned hybridizer Dan
Heims of Terra Nova Nurseries. He’s speaking at 6:30 p.m. at Our Lady of
Consolation Hall, 8303 Taft Street in Merrillville just south of U.S. 30 on
the east side. Tickets are $20 per person and seating is limited. Call
219-690-0911 for details.
Last year the hall was jammed for Tracy DiSabato-Aust; the event again is
sponsored by Wayne Gruber’s Gardens on the Prairie nursery and gift shop in
Lowell. Heims not unexpectedly has a new book “Heucheras and Heucherellas”
that he will be selling and signing. His talk will be on “Shade Gardening
with New Perennials.”
Congratulations to Phil Brockington and Howard Reeve at Coburg Planting
Fields nursery here on County Road 600N. Theirs was the first 2006 garden
catalog I received. Many of the loveliest daylilies and hostas in my garden
were purchased there.
Howard continues his penchant for unusual daylily names. Don’t you just
wonder what a daylily named ‘Joe’s Jumpin’ Pumpkin Man’ or ‘Wicky Wacky Woo’
must look like?
Let’s hope 2006 brings us more moderate weather than last summer’s heat and