Of Wonders and Weeds
By PAULENE POPARAD
February is for .... looking for some inspiration in a winter
Sure, by the time you read this we’re probably in the midst
of a sloppy thaw, but as I write this the vivid memory of our continuous
whiteout is still fresh.
I’m always looking for garden inspiration that leads to an
ah-ha moment. You know, when you have a problem and the most obvious
solution for some unknown reason eludes you. A perfect example is behind my
It’s a big box like most garages, and then we built a garden
shed offset next to it projecting about 5 feet behind the garage; now I had
two boxes, a sharp right angle, nothing particularly pleasing to the eye. I
wrestled for some time what to do with the area.
One day I was flipping through a gardening book and behold,
there it was. A picture of a lovely circle garden in the right angle formed
by flat building walls that made the same L shape as mine. Ah-ha! Now I knew
what I needed to do.
Fortunately, I found someone who wanted to get rid of lots of
really nice bricks so I used them laid side-by-side to form the circle’s
perimeter about 7 feet in diameter.
I ringed the inside of the circle garden with seven different
daylily varieties and the middle with a nifty caryopteris divaricata
‘Snow Fairy’ small perennial shrub. The strappy daylily leaves and
the small spicy-scented variegated caryopteris leaves are a good contrast.
Fall brings tiny purple caryopteris flowers.
Once the brick circle was done I knew I had to get from the
shed to the far side of the garage so a path was in order.
On Sue Cowsert’s advice I chose trap rock --- small, angular
maroon chips that pack down and make a crunching sound when you walk on
them. The outside of the 24-inch wide path, which curves around 80 percent
of the circle, has bendable, rigid black edging to contain the rocks.
Over the years what was once grass has been replaced around
the circle garden path with plantings and garden art including an old,
peeling green farmhouse door with decorative handle and hardware.
Can the area be made even better? Of course. I’m just waiting
for another ah-ha moment but there’s no hurry.
I’ve been inspired and encouraged so many times when hearing
other gardeners talk. So here is a list of some of the good things I’ve
heard people say:
Wayne Gruber: “I don’t think in my lifetime I’ll totally do
everything I’ve set out to do, but I’ll have a great time trying.”
These are reassuring words. Every year we have lots of plans,
little time, too many obligations and frustration at year’s end that we
didn’t accomplish more. Wayne reminds us not to sweat the small stuff and to
enjoy the journey, even if we don’t always reach our destination.
Unknown: “Gardening is like good writing. You need
That’s what the unexpected green door is anchored against the
blank garage wall: punctuation. It can be as involved or as simple as you
like. Don’t get too tripped up over where something should go. Get it in the
garden and move it around until the perfect spot finds you.
Mel Zalodec: “Gardening is a game of patience. If you’re
impatient, try the stock market. But I guarantee you’ll feel better with
Mel, who I heard speak six years ago, also suggested we enjoy
“flower-watching” as we would birdwatching. I was disappointed last fall to
see seed heads on some flowers I never saw in bloom. I was too busy to stop
and look at the flowers, let alone smell them.
Gene Bush of Munchkin Nursery in Depauw said it best at last
month’s wonderful Porter County Extension Service/Master Gardeners show.
“Some things are fleeting. If you don’t have the time to walk through your
garden, you miss so much. You need to slow down, relax, and see what there
is to be seen.”
Chuck Gleaves: “Go ahead and do it. Don’t be cautious. Being
overly-cautious prevents you from doing things.”
This advice has gotten me into trouble. I get something in my
head and I dang well am going to do it, like moving trees, but I think Chuck
was talking about less-physical courage like mixing red and purple with
Chuck does make a good point. What if I did all that work on
the circle garden and didn’t like it?
Would it have been a waste of time? No! Former beach rock was
removed from that area, compost brought in and a big straggly Rose of Sharon
bush dug out. Without the goal of the circle garden, all that wouldn’t have
happened when it did.
Kris Medic: “Try not to be done in by your gardening. Fly
ribbons from your tomato stakes if it makes you happy.”
If you’re dreading warmer weather because you have to go out
and deadhead perennials, maybe you need to dig them up and give them away.
Think fun, creativity, satisfaction, not sweat, poison ivy or chiropractor.
In 2003 Kris already was advocating sustainable gardening
practices to save us time like using groundcovers instead of grass, planting
shade trees to use less air conditioning and eliminating obstacles to reduce
both mowing time and hydrocarbon emissions.
Scott Kunst: “Elephant ears weren’t cool. Now they’re on the
cover of garden magazines. That’s garden history. If we look to the past
you’ll find great plants we forgot about.”
Every new hybrid isn’t a keeper. It’s reassuring that hostas
‘Yellow River’ and ‘Jack of Diamonds’, two of the first I bought years ago,
are turning up again in current garden catalogs. Some old favorites like
‘Blue Angel’ and ‘Halcyon’ still appear on the American Hosta Society annual
Some day I fear we’re going to have a coneflower (echinacea)
rebellion and they’ll refuse to bloom after the perennial’s been forced
recently by hybridizers to turn nearly every color of the rainbow except
Rich Eyre: “If you think good garden ideas will jump in your
lap, you’re wrong.”
Now is the perfect time to head to a book store, to Thomas
Library’s periodicals reading room where several garden magazines and their
back issues are found, or attend a garden club meeting or the March 7-15
Chicagoland Flower and Garden Show at Navy Pier.
Watch television. Surf the Internet. Talk to friends. Stop a
stranger at a garden center. Don’t be afraid to ask. Gardeners love to
Kunso Kim: “Somebody has to plant trees so the next
generation can appreciate them.”
Are you enjoying a tree someone else planted years ago? A
century ago? Thank them by planting one in return. Kunso recommends we
choose carefully, plant several varieties so no one disease or insect can
wipe them out, and consider a tree’s size, cultural requirements, site and
Our perpetual snowcover has some gardeners concerned that
their buried plants will suffer. Up to now the snow has done a good job
insulating plants from our near-zero and
Porter County master gardener Laura Leush says we probably
shouldn’t be concerned for our plants --- yet.
“They’re getting moisture. It’s not bad now. If we have a wet
spring, and our fall wasn’t too dry either, they could rot out. If we have a
dry spring, we’ll be fine,” said Laura.
I’ll cross my fingers if you cross yours.