Chesterton Tribune

Gardeners hard work pays off in August

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Of Wonders and Weeds


August is for....actually enjoying our gardens.

Every avid gardener, usually when the sweat is soaking our clothes and we can drain a can of Diet Coke in one gulp, at one time or another asks ourself, “Am I stupid or what?”

But the reward for our effort (or in some cases, our obsession) is sitting in a lawn chair at 10 p.m. on a warm summer night serenaded by a chorus of lusty crickets, the spicy smell of phlox paniculata hanging in the humid air. The Japanese beetles are asleep and all, at least temporarily, is right with the world.

Phlox is among my favorite perennials. I remember it growing in my grandmother Kathryn Povlock’s garden in Morgan Park when I was a little girl. Alas, even fairly disease-resistant varieties in my garden this year are riddled with mildew, likely because of the weather, because their neighbors are too close, or because I didn’t thin the phlox in the spring by cutting several stalks to the ground to improve the clump’s air circulation.

While its powdery grey blotches are unsightly, mildew usually won’t kill the plant. If it did, the lovely mauve “Franz Schubert” would have been a goner long ago.

If you can believe the internet, phlox “David,” a tall, robust white beauty, will be the “Plant of the Year” for 2002; this year’s was “Karl Foerster,” an ornamental grass. Another eye-catching phlox is “Blue Paradise,” its gaudy blue-purple heads visible from a distance.

Phlox needn’t always be big. The white-eyed bluish rose “Little Boy” is more compact but blooms long and well, and the beautiful phlox maculata “Natascha,” its pink and white blooms swirled in a pinwheel pattern, is only 28 inches tall instead of 48 like “David.”

The daylilies are still coming, late-blooming “Susan Webber” just opening now, its cream petals blushed with very ruffled rose edges. Winding down after a six-week show is “Open Hearth,” an eight-inch, brick red giant with yellow throat and more than 30 flowers on each stalk, the petals having a slight twist.

For a special dinner or event like a bridal shower, try snapping off several newly opened daylilies and scatter them between the serving bowls or along the buffet table for a “wow” food presentation. The daylilies won’t need water to stay fresh but beware of the pollen, which can stain clothes and table linens.

Once the spent daylily clumps catch their breath, I’ll dig up and start dividing several varieties later this month, thinning some for the Sept. 22 Duneland Garden Club plant sale and moving others to new locations.

You can do this the right way by digging up the clump, washing off the dirt, carefully dividing the daylilies and replanting them, or you can do it the lazy way and take a good chunk out of the clump with a sharp shovel, coaxing the individual plants somewhat apart before placing them in a well-prepared hole. I’ve done it both ways with success, and in each case cut back the transplanted foliage by about half.

Last month’s Crown Point Garden Walk provided a wealth of inspiration. Here are some ideas and tips from participating gardeners:

Dan and Paula Bencie knew the city was going to break up some old sidewalks so they had the chunks delivered to their home and the couple busted them up into approximately 10-inch pieces, turning them upside down to expose the stone aggregate and stacking them around their flower beds as a border. Because their yard is flat, they use several trellises to add height.

Recommended Paula, “Do what you like. Don’t go by the book. Make errors; you learn from them.”

Christie and Garry Knesek have a wonderfully restored Victorian home that sets their garden’s tone. Flea-market finds decorate the flower beds; a large industrial shower head streams into a pond, and a mismatched collection of flower-themed dinner plates are half-buried here and there among the borders. (The plates winter indoors.)

A must-have phlox they planted was “Becky Towe,” a salmon carmine-rose color with magenta eye and a yellow edge on its leaves.

Elaine Hough’s garden was small by comparison, but she had this pragmatic advice: “Everythings grows as long as you water it, and if it doesn’t, you find a do-dad and put it there.”

Back in my garden, dedicated watering has helped the annuals do unusually well, especially the coleus in a riot of colors and what appears to be the bush fuchsia “Gartenmeister Bonstedt” I found at Remus Farms on U.S. 6. A hedge in zones 10-11, my 28 inch-tall fuchsia is thriving in part-shade, its green leaves having burgundy veins and narrow red tubes hanging in clusters of about 16 off each stem.

It’s such a cool plant, late this month I’ll try rooting tip cuttings in both water and dirt to see if I can winter the fuchsia indoors and have several for planting outside next year.

We recently had some roofers here and although I saw their truck, I couldn’t find them. They were quizzically inspecting the dried 12-inch globe heads of Allium cristophii (Stars of Persia,) which now look like something from outer space.

These lovelies (also known as flowering onion) are amethyst in bloom and surprisingly inexpensive at about 10 for $10 in many garden catalogs. Other allium varieties are taller, smaller, or have different colors and bloom times. Now is the time to order bulbs and related plants for fall planting; for the money, they are among gardening’s best buys.

Nursery alert! I recently found two fine places, one local, the other a two-hour drive (if tri-state traffic isn’t gridlocked) but well worth the trip.

In Porter County, Tammy Hall has maximized every square inch of her South Haven yard to develop Helping Hands Nursery. She sells at farmers’ markets and by appointment at 759-1025. Tammy’s passion is hostas, and she offers more than 60 varieties, many hard to find, including “Azure Snow,” “Donahue Piecrust,” and the lovely “Summer Music,” which I purchased, its wide white center bordered by unusual yellowish chartreuse and pale apple green margins.

If you want hostas, Rich’s Fox Willow Pines Nursery in Woodstock, Ill. lists over 400 on its retail list.

Owner Rich Eyre was in the Peace Corps in Bolivia and all hosta sales are tax-deductible donations to the Heifer Project International, which helps hungry families become self-reliant for food and income through milk sales. The hostas are Rich’s mother Margaret’s babies, and she’ll sit under the shade tree and happily answer your questions as she pots up transplants.

Fox Willow Pines’ main attraction is six acres of thousands of rare trees and dwarf conifers. We’re talking more than 100 varieties of Colorado blue spruce alone.

The vistas are breathtaking down every path and the planting possibilities endless for our own home landscapes. Fox Willow Pines inspires us each March at the Chicago Flower and Garden Show with one of the best displays every year. For more information, directions or digital pictures of specific specimens, visit

My husband recently commented that summer is just about over, a pessimistic observation I refuse to share. I hope to savor many more evenings sitting in that lawn chair, even if for just a few minutes at a time, the mosquitos not having found me and I left to contemplate how far is far when it comes to a star.

And the best part? You can’t see mildew in the dark.


Posted 8/6/2001