Chesterton Tribune

December is when wishes come true even for gardeners

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Of Wonders and Weeds


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 more.

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 stupid gift?

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 and knowledgeable.

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 This is the meeting where the slide shows are on a screen the size of a General Cinema.

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 Service.

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 drought.


Posted 12/27/2005