By PAULENE POPARAD
November is for .... Billy O’Deen.
Without this man, many of my plants would go naked into the winter, their
crowns unprotected and exposed. But because of Billy, they are safely
nestled in the finest mulch I know.
This generous guy brings me huge bags of choice mixed leaves. So far this
year about 30 with more to come, he promises. The first few years he brought
the leaves, which blow into his Griffith yard from a nearby church, Bernie
and I would run them through the chipper ourselves. But now Billy has gotten
a chipper and he brings me the leaves already crushed.
There is a God.
This mulch is wonderful; light yet stable, nourishing yet not smothering. I
lay it five inches deep between the plants and a two-inch dusting closest to
their crowns. After two years the leaves decompose into the soil, enriching
it immensely, and the beds need to be remulched.
It’s a challenge to get the mulch down fast enough once Billy drops off
several bags, which often appear unexpectedly in the grass like huge green
mushrooms. If the leaves were damp, if it rains on the bags or if they stay
closed too long, the mulch can get slimey or even moldy, so don’t be
surprised if you see me running around the yard in the rain like some crazed
nymph tossing handfuls of mulch downwind.
Someday Billy, who is retired, will be unwilling or unable to bring the
leaves, and I will understand. But until then, I and my plants are eternally
Speaking of people who donate their time to benefit others, I recently heard
native Texas artist Chapman Kelley at Purdue University-North Central, whose
non-profit Wildflower Works attempts to deliver man from his own madness.
Kelley believes valuable water, one of our most precious resources, is being
wasted on lawns and hybrid plants when drought-tolerant wildflowers can
replace them and save money on mowing, maintenance and chemicals. In 1976,
Kelley seeded wildflowers to replace miles of lawn between runways at
Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, and in 1984 he planted 1 1/2 million Midwest
wildflowers at the north end of Chicago’s Grant Park.
Kelley currently is developing a Jens Jensen-inspired wildflower ellipse at
Wisconsin and North Clark streets in Chicago’s Old Town area.
Lobelia, allium, liatris, coneflower, yarrow, aster, monarda, rudbeckia. A
wildflower palette is ever-changing, said Kelley, and the more aggressive
plants need to be kept in check. “We’re finding ways to exercise influence
but we never can control it. It’s a partnership with Mother Nature. She has
99 percent of the stock; we have 1 percent.”
Kelley urges the public to accept a new vision of landscape. We hear about
the mind’s eye. What about the eye’s mind? he asks. “Some things we can
communicate only by seeing.”
Design, whether of a garden or a transportation system, is the most
important thing to human beings, said Kelley. Without it, things fail.
Wildflower plantings are self-sustaining and require specialized rather than
no maintenance. Wildflowers also have a place in the trend toward septic
treatment using constructed wetlands, he believes.
Painterly in summer, sculptural in winter, wildflower gardens are our
horticultural future, said Kelley, who vehemently opposes periodic
controlled burns to renew larger wildflower plantings.
Winter arrived early last year and held us in its icy clutch unabated until
spring. Because of this we need to prioritize our remaining garden tasks so
the most important won’t go undone if history repeats itself. Translation:
it’s easier to drive posts into thawed ground than frozen ground, even if we
don’t attach the burlap windbreaks until December.
I dug the new hole for the soon-to-be transplanted tricolor beech tree and,
as usual, it was more of a job than anticipated. One time I had to dig
through a brick foundation to plant a tree. The joys of living on a former
This time the area apparently was where people used to dump cinders from the
coal furnace; I sifted out a full five-gallon bucket of irregular metal
chunks in a four-foot diameter circle. I also found an intact doorknob set.
One month I will share with you some of the treasures -- trash? -- I have
dug up here, unearthing 117 years of history one shovel at a time. Remind me
to mention the teeth.
October 28’s heavy frost finally did in the dahlias. I will dig them, trying
to leave the entire clump intact, shake off any loose dirt, let them dry a
few days in the garage, then pack them in Billy’s crushed leaves in
cardboard boxes that will be covered with newspaper and wintered on the
insulated but not heated front porch, which hovers around 45 degrees during
the coldest months. If the leaves feel dry in February, I’ll dribble a
little water on them.
I have yet another use for Billy’s mulch.
After raking away all debris from under the hybrid-tea roses, at month’s end
if it’s not unusually warm I’ll cover each plant’s base with a mound of good
compost, then a generous topdressing of crushed leaves. I put large, metal
peony rings around each rose at planting time; to this I will attach with
plastic clothespins a 15-inch tall collar of heavy plastic sheeting to hold
in the leaves. Chicken wire also could be used.
I tried something new I saw in a magazine this month. We’ll see if it works.
I wanted to plant tulips in an area where mole or vole runs appeared. I
overlapped and tied chicken wire so its holes would be only half as big and
made a large basket, attaching a bottom of the same double layer. I set the
basket in the hole and planted the larger tulips at seven inches deep and
above them a small bulb iris histrioides at four inches deep. On top I
secured a single layer of chicken wire. Wish me luck.
In the New Age of Anthrax, this note on my bulb order shipping statement
caught my eye: “During storage green penicillin mold may grow on the surface
of lily bulbs. The mold dies when you plant the bulb. If the bulb is firm,
you can plant with confidence.”
With the onset of cold weather, gardening can be especially hard on our
hands as well as our joints. A soothing body scrub by Origins, available at
L. S. Ayres, to the rescue.
Sea salt chunks oozing in macadamia, soybean and almond oils laced with mint
massage and lubricate the skin. A light rinse and pat dry and skin is
renewed and supple. The scent is very odd, but the stuff works.
Didn’t the hostas turn a lovely shade of gold this fall? Sunday, nationally
recognized hosta hybridizer Olga Petryszyn of Furnessville will present a
public talk at 1:30 p.m. at the Lake County Public Library on U.S. 30 in
Merrillville as a guest of the Hosta and Friends Garden Club.
I’ll be the one there whose hands are really soft but smell a little