Chesterton Tribune

Hobbits and elves come out in April gardens

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Of Wonders and Weeds


April is for .... making a place for Hobbits and elves in our gardens.

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 20 minutes.

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 evil.

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 Apparently, even plant breeders are LOTR fans.

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 serves Sauron.)

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 forever.

So far this year it’s been a good-news/bad-news gardening season around here.

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 await.

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 should return.

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 problems.

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.


Posted 4/16/2004