Of Wonders and Weeds
By PAULENE POPARAD
April is for .... making a place for Hobbits and elves in our
I could drone on and on about how Spring is finally about to break, but you
know that, right? Let’s move on.
I must admit I’m a late-comer to the world of Middle-earth and “The Lord of
the Rings.” I had heard all the hoopla about the first two movies “The
Fellowship of the Ring” and “The Two Towers,” better known as FOTR and TTT
to LOTR fans. But it wasn’t until the final chapter, “The Return of the
King,” was about to premiere in December that I became a fan.
Starz television network had a LOTR weekend and ran FOTR and TTT
back-to-back. I watched all seven hours, over and over again, and was
hooked. I saw ROTK by myself in the first week and sobbed through the last
For the uninitiated, LOTR is John Ronald Reuel (J.R.R.) Tolkien’s
masterpiece. His book “The Hobbit” set the stage for these later works. In
the prologue for LOTR, Tolkien describes how Hobbits, halflings smaller than
men but just like them in many ways, are a peaceful people who love to till
the good earth in the Shire. Now that’s the life.
I can’t begin to explain the 400-page LOTR book, which I’ve never read, but
its themes of courage, friendship, loyalty, perseverance, duty, hope and
spirituality are universal and reassuring that good can still triumph over
LOTR isn’t kid stuff to adults. After all, ROTK did win 11 Oscars, and one
adult I know bought children’s meals at a fast-food restaurant, threw away
the food and kept the LOTR action figures. Many fans track LOTR gossip and
news by logging onto www.theonering.net. Apparently, even plant breeders are
Daylily World sells ‘A Bauble for Bilbo,’ the Hobbit having the misfortune
to find The One Ring. The plants, peach with the red eye of Sauron (the
villain who wants the ring), sell for $100 each. The gals get equal time.
For $75 you can buy the amethyst/lavender ‘Lilacs for Galadriel’, the Lady
of the Golden Woods played by Cate Blanchett in the films. The latter
daylily is hardy here.
Hosta fans aren’t left out. Naylor Creek Nursery sells ‘Academy Celeborn’
named after the elven lord; at $30 it is a medium clump of blue-green
leaves. There’s also the $30 ‘Academy Galadriel’ with elongated gold leaves.
To remember the nine of The Fellowship, the smaller upright $10 ‘Golden
Friendship’ might be a good choice.
Bridgewood Gardens sells the $10 hosta ‘Blond Elf’ with undulating leaves of
subtle tones of gold. The break-out star of LOTR is young Orlando Bloom who
portrays Legolas, an elf prince. Please do not mistake elves for miniature
fairies! With Legolas’ flowing blond hair, expressive eyes and dead-aim bow
and arrow he made hearts flutter, young and old alike.
Westchester Public Library ordered a number of LOTR posters to promote
reading this summer. WPL Director Phil Baugher said some of the female
employees have asked if the Legolas poster can hang in their department.
Could Legolas be auctioned to benefit WPL someday?
One of the LOTR’s many creatures is Treebeard, a guardian of Fangorn Forest
who is a living, walking tree. I thought, wouldn’t it be nice to tell a
tree, “Hey, I need more shade here. Move over about 15 feet to the left.”
But with my luck I’d probably get a nazgul at the bird feeder so I better
leave well enough alone. (A nazgul is a huge, evil winged creature who
I recently have discovered a lost passage from a LOTR script where Sam,
played by Sean Astin, is trying to encourage Elijah Wood’s Frodo, the Hobbit
at the heart of this epic adventure.
“These folk had lots of chances to turn back but they kept going,” says Sam.
“What are they holding onto, Sam?” asks Frodo.
“That there’s some good in this garden, Mr. Frodo, and that it’s worth
fighting for,” Sam replies.
Unfortunately, I do not have eight companions helping me, but if there is
any justice in this world, by using perseverance, hope and courage I will
finish my garden someday and throw that last clump of clay into Mt. Doom;
the darkness will pass and the sun will shine all the clearer in my yard
So far this year it’s been a good-news/bad-news gardening season around
The large round evergreen on the single trunk or standard, moved last fall
after the sewer line installation, has dried up and died. However, when
initially restoring the post-sewer lawn last week the Bobcat driver pulled
out a poorly performing cotinus or smoke bush for me. He also made my east
shade border about 30 square-feet larger. Opportunities in both locations
Timber Press recently sent me its new 368-page, $49.95 book “Armitage’s
Garden Annuals” to review. Well-known University of Georgia plantsman Allan
Armitage packs this encyclopedia with more than 1,300 color photos of both
classic and new annual bedding plants, ranks their worthiness and for some
traces their unusual history or attributes.
Do you know there are 8,000 cultivars of fuchsia? The difference between
love-in-a-mist, love-in-a-puff, and love-lies bleeding? That 80 percent of
geraniums sold are red? That Armitage believes arctotis or African Daisy is
among the most beautiful and under-used flowers in American gardens?
Armitage hits the mark noting that the rex group of begonias is “where the
gardening public has really made demands upon the begonia, pulling the
beautiful ‘foliage’ plants of the 1950s into the gardens of the twenty-first
century.” So is the public enamored with the architectural ricinus communis
or castor oil plant, he says.
Armitage’s plant lore is fun. Acmella oleracea is called the toothache or
eyeball plant because chewing the eyeball-looking buds will numb the mouth
and gums. The popular bellis perennis or diminuitive English daisy began as
a lawn weed.
I wonder why Armitage has more pictures of calendula officinalis or pot
marigold than the more attractive, shade-loving caladium, but it’s his book
after all. Armitage includes these generally non-seed annuals such as
caladium, dahlia and canna in his descriptions; even vines like lablab
(”They’ll think you’re stuttering about your dog.”) purpureus or hyacinth
bean are discussed.
One problem is that some plants Armitage praises, like the tweedia caerulea
whose flower he says is the ultimate in the color blue, are pretty darn hard
to find. “I expect tweedia to become a bestseller,” he predicts. Until then,
I guess we’ll have to be detectives if we really want these plants.
For readers’ convenience Armitage created a section that groups annuals into
several categories such as unique flowers, for edging or foliage interest. I
like books I can take into the yard and use as I garden; this isn’t one. But
it makes a fine basis from which to create knock-out container and border
plantings this year and for many to come.
Speaking of annuals, last fall I took cuttings of some of my prettiest
coleus, rooted them in water, then transferred them to pots of soil. Ten of
the 12 survived, but over the winter the new leaves on some of the parent
plants changed both leaf shape and color. Puzzled, I emailed Glasshouse
Works, which sells dozens of dazzling coleus on the web.
Thomas Winn replied that my coleus were merely showing their winter color
and that as the sun intensifies both the original leaf shape and color
A quick check of the Plant Delights Nursery top 25 sellers is as one would
suspect: two of the hottest new plants lead the list. People are talking
about echinacea ‘Art’s Pride,’ an orange coneflower until now pink or white,
and gaillardia ‘Fanfare’ with its tubular orange/yellow flower petals flared
at the tips around a daisy-like center.
Last year the local Duneland Garden Club hosted its first garden walk; the
public responded and it was a success, even in intermittent rain. But this
year not enough people offered to show their gardens and the event had to be
canceled. Hopefully, next year five or six deserving gardens can be found
with appropriate parking, the latter a major stumbling block. There still
will be garden walks this summer in Crown Point, Hobart, Miller and Ogden
Dunes to provide us with fresh ideas and new approaches to common site
Next month I’ll share with you my impressions of the recent Chicago Flower
and Garden Show, and why I think I’m always so disappointed.
Speaking of Allan Armitage, he authored an article in the June, 2004 issue
of Fine Gardening, for some reason now on sale. Armitage discusses the
mildew-defying phlox paniculata ‘Robert Poore.’ The same magazine has an
informative article about dividing perennials, and a warning about the new
hosta virus X or HVX.