Of Wonders and Weeds
By PAULENE POPARAD
February is for .... curbing our enthusiasm.
Some of Sunday was beautiful. I anxiously toured the yard, searching for
signs of spring. I easily found them: green, growing creeping thyme,
creeping phlox, campanula, rose campion, columbine, hellebores, mums, and
even --- to my great delight --- the new basal growth of the acanthus
spinosus or spiny bearís breeches I bought last year in Ohio.
There was even my first flower bud coming on the green speckled-leaf
hellebore ĎJanetí I bought in 2002. Oh, yes. And a bumper crop of some kind
of mint-like weed running amuck by the garage.
But my urge to get a shovel, dig into the soil and actually do something was
quickly tempered by seeing mud with the properties of quicksand, frozen
ground just below the surface, some persistent snowdrifts and standing
pockets of water.
Had I actually tried to dig, I would have done more damage than good. The
soil in the borders is so mucky it needs to settle and drain before we
really can work it; even refrain from compacting it by walking on it unless
only gently to tamp down any plant thatís heaved out of the ground.
These cautions aside, if your yard is typical thereís no shortage of things
we can do over the next warm spell (remember, thereís still some winter,
possibly even a blizzard ahead). Clean-up is on the top of my list. Did you
cut down your late-blooming perennials like mums, aster and sedum? Neither
did I and they need to go, as do the fine rocks in the mailbox bed courtesy
of INDOT snowplows.
Hickory nuts are half-sunken all over the south side of our yard and in the
east border, so a vigorous raking (and hand-picking them out in the border)
any time is in order. Last yearís mulch and any packed wind-blown leaves
matted around a plantís crown can be loosened but I wonít pull it all back
just yet. If at any time a mulch looks moldy, get rid of it.
The necks of young trees where they touch the ground especially shouldnít be
smothered with deep mulch. Now is a great time to trim trees and shrubs that
need shaping, thinning or have crossed branches unless you want to wait till
after a spring-flowering variety is done blooming.
Two things caught my eye on this first 2004 garden walk. A few perennials
being held in pots for the winter were totally filled with standing water
because the pot bottoms were frozen in ice. I tipped the pots I could break
free on an angle so they could drain.
On the northwest corner where the new sewer chewed its way through an
established bed I spied tunnels; a quick peek showed my favorite daffodils
were sprouting in them underground. At first I thought a vole made the
tunnels but on closer inspection I found the torrent from the new gutter
downspout was carving little canyons in the slight hill.
Iím hoping a surplus stepping stone at the downspoutís end laid tipped away
from the tunnels solved the problem; I temporarily filled the tunnels with
some nearby mucky soil and finely crushed leaves. Iíll do a permanent fix
when the daffodil leaves are yellow and fading.
I was pleasantly surprised about 10 days ago to see what I learned was an
Eastern Bluebird hanging around. Lately, itís gone. Mary Lipp of Wild Birds
Unlimited said some bluebirds arrived early this year, while a few do stay
here year-round. Because no insects were available the bluebird was eating
Lipp suggests putting out suet cakes and raisins plumped in water for the
early arrivals as a supplemental source of food.
If you need a garden fix, the Chicago Botanic Garden greenhouses in Glencoe,
IL are filled with displays of vibrant color, textural interest, intense
aromas and soothing warmth. The Tropical, Arid and Semi-tropical houses
feature plants and shrubs specially selected from Australia, Japan, South
Africa, and New Zealand.
In the nearby Gallery two exhibits are on display through April 4. Artist
Ann Parker passes light through fruits, flowers and vegetables onto color
sensitive paper for translucent images, and Julie Kiefer-Bellís evocative
flower paintings use metallic, iridescent and pearlescent paints on textured
papers embedded with bark and fibers. Kiefer-Bell will discuss her technique
at the Gallery at 2 p.m. March 27.
Admission to the Gallery, which also has a retrospective on 4,000 years of
garden design; to the greenhouses and the 385-acre Botanic Garden is free.
Parking is $8.75. For more details and directions, visit the great
www.chicagobotanic.org website. I want to read more about its extensive
perennial plant trials; in all nearly 10,000 plants of 1,400 different kinds
are grown for evaluation there.
Once at a used book sale I picked up the 1947, $1.50 softcover edition of
the Arboretums and Botanical Gardens of North America that was based on a
survey of responding gardens. The Chicago Botanic Garden was not among them
because it didnít open until 1972.
In 1947 Chicagoís Garfield Park Conservatory, established 40 years earlier,
was described as one of the outstanding conservatories in the country if not
the world. Friends I know still recommend it highly although Iíve never had
the opportunity to visit there. The 1947 guide credits Garfield for
popularizing the ďmodern viewĒ of having special plant displays, not just
caring for plant collections.
Also listed for Illinois was Lisleís Morton Arboretum (1922) with at the
time approximately 5,000 species and varieties of plant material, and
Lilacia Park in Lombard, which had more than 300 lilacs and spent about
$8,000 a year to maintain its nine acres.
Although I donít know if any still exist, Indiana was represented by the
Huntington College Botanical Garden and Arboretum, the Butler University
Botanical Garden in Indianapolis, and Muncieís Christy Woods (formerly Ball
Arboretum), which spent $2,555 a year on 18 acres. Letís hope those kids
from Ball State donated some free labor.
Locally, the new Taltree Arboretum southwest of Valparaiso is doing great
things in the short time itís been open to the public.
The 1947 book distinguishes gardens in three ways: for personal enjoyment
for ourselves and our friends; for public recreational purposes; and in the
case of an arboretum or botanical garden, for both enjoyment and recreation
yet most of all for the education of the public about plants.
The 1947 author, horticulturist Donald Wyman (I think a crabapple is named
after him) of the famous Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, said labor
was the most expensive aspect of any park or arboretum. Thereís no reason to
believe thatís changed. He also emphasized the importance of labeling and
mapping the plant collection.
In our own gardens today, donít you think itís not the actual labor but the
precious time out of our busy lives it takes to tend to things that is
perhaps the most costly to us?