By PAULENE POPARAD
May is for …. seeing the garden through Felder Rushing’s eyes.
An award-winning garden author, radio personality and lecturer, Rushing is a
Mississippi state turf specialist yet he doesn’t have any grass in his yard.
Instead, it’s jam-packed with plants, funky yard art, a sitting area, pond
and fire pit.
“If a brain surgeon doesn’t need a tumor, I don’t need a lawn,” he explains.
Rushing is imaginative, entertaining, practical, whimsical and, at times,
even serious. But he doesn’t stay serious for long, which is why his
philosophy of gardening is so refreshing.
Stupid rules take the fun out of gardening; start small and feel good about
it, Rushing told 300 of his disciples at last month’s LaPorte County Master
Gardeners’ spring symposium. “If the neighbors don’t get it, they can shut
up,” he added.
A few Felder-isms:
Gaudy is doing something people may not like but you think you know what
you’re doing so it’s OK. Tacky is when you don’t know any better and bless
your heart do it anyway.
There are only two rules for composting: stop throwing that stuff away and
pile it up somewhere.
Paying someone to mow your grass is out-sourcing your pleasure.
Native plants are the Helen and Thelma Lou of Mayberry; they fit right in
and are dependable. Hybrids and exotics are the Party Girls from Mt. Pilot
who come and go.
Lightening up doesn’t mean lowering your standards.
Rushing believes gardeners fall into three categories: prissy silver people
(“I don’t want them setting the standard for me”) who prefer formal
plantings and know all The Rules; blue people who are basically crazy and
tend to over-accessorize (like creating a giant beetle sculpture out of a
rusted Volkswagen shell); and the red people who use the best of both
approaches in their yards.
Rushing was spoofed on the April Fool’s Day episode of Martha Stewart
Living, and the current Plant Delights catalog cover is dedicated to the
wacky ways he recycles used tires in his yard (a rubber Christmas tree?)
Rushing also popularized the bottle tree made by sliding large, colorful
bottles (think cobalt blue milk of magnesia, etc.) over the bare branches of
a small dead tree or large limb for a jewel-like effect.
An extension agent by profession, Rushing encourages gardeners to try new
plants and see on which side of the rhubarb/okra hardiness-zone line they
thrive. If it grows, share the plant with others, he advised.
Studying your yard will make one alert to new possibilities, says Rushing. A
damp area is a great place to build a pond, and if you add a waterfall, you
won’t hear the highway traffic or a passerby questioning your sanity.
People miss the point if they think shoveling snow and spreading fertilizer
is “being outdoors.” Sitting around a campfire with your children and
studying the habits of fireflies is, according to Rushing.
When his Grandmother died, other relatives were dividing up her furniture
and dishes, but Rushing took a weathered concrete chicken, the featherless
fowl a fixture of her garden. “The color gray on the chicken was an echo of
the powdery mildew on her zinnias,” recalled Rushing fondly.
What I took away from his talk, which was punctuated by hilarious slides of
gardening gone awry, is that our gardens are us. The us we secretly want to
be, the us we are and don’t know it, or the us we want others to believe we
are. In either case, we make a statement through our gardens, whether
through a whisper or a shout.
Also speaking at the symposium prior to Rushing, who would have been a hard
act to follow, was author Carolyn Harstad of Indianapolis, who has carved
out a wildflower haven only seven miles from downtown.
Harstad is a firm believer “you can’t know what a garden feels like until
you get into it – you don’t just peek in.” Put some paths and benches along
the plantings to encourage a closer look.
Ponds are like a skylight on the ground, reflecting beauty back at you, said
Harstad. Water, food and shelter are needed to make our yards a backyard
wildlife habitat, and she encouraged us to provide them.
Native plants have history and myth, said Harstad, not a label on a test
tube. Legend has it the serviceberry was so named because it blooms when the
ground improves enough for a funeral service, or for people to travel for a
Harstad and Rushing garden very differently, but neither way is right or
wrong. I purchased Rushing’s book “Passalong Plants” co-authored by Steve
Bender. It’s delightful, even if it does dwell on plants that do well in the
south. When Rushing signed my book, he wrote, “Have fun. Pass it along!”
Who could argue with that?
May 10 Girl Scout Troop 358 from Flint Lake Elementary School will help
plant a Children’s Sunflower Village at Taltree Arboretum and Gardens just
south of U.S. 30 at 100 N. 450 West. The village is for all children to
enjoy and eventually will consist of seven staked sunflower houses with
morning-glory roofs, a flowering tunnel made of vines, a hummingbird garden,
tree stumps for climbing and benches for sitting.
The hummingbird garden will be planted with pink turtlehead (chelone
oblique), native Joe Pye (eupatorium fistulosum), cardinal flower (lobelia
cardinalis), royal catchfly (silene regia), columbine (aquilegia
canadensis), new jersey tea (ceanothus Americana), little blue stem
(schizachyrium scoparius), and beard tongue (penstemon).
Donations are being accepted to maintain the sunflower village.
May 13 at 7:30 p.m. at Valparaiso University’s student union Great Hall,
Taltree invites the public to Douglas Roth’s lecture and slide show on the
nature-inspired gardens of Japan.
Roth, who lived in Japan for 10 years and became the first foreigner
licensed to practice gardening there, publishes a bi-monthly journal about
classic Japanese garden design, construction and maintenance techniques. He
will discuss various ways to evoke natural Japanese patterns in small spaces
in addition to other topics. For more information on this or Japanese
stone-setting and aesthetic pruning workshops, contact 462-0025.
Someone brought to my attention the current early summer issue of Lake
magazine, which caters to the “resort lifestyle on Lake Michigan” including
gardening. The magazine, published six times annually, is based in LaPorte.
It’s a fun read, the advertisements alone are very informative and there’s a
spring calendar of events for Fernwood Botanic Garden in Niles, MI.
Author Denise Declue did an outstanding job writing about wild orchids
native to this area. Color pictures accompany her Lake article, and the
detailed culture and historical notes are a bonus.
In my own backyard, the tri-color beech finally is leafing out after a late
transplant last fall. But that doesn’t mean the battle to settle gracefully
into its new home is over. This first season I need to be sure it is well
watered but not overly so, and given enough nourishment but not
The beech still has one problem I haven’t yet addressed: the main vertical
branch or leader of the tree is bent in an “S” curve from straining to find
the sun in its former location. I want to be sure the sap is warm and
flowing before I gently attempt to do anything.
I was happy to see I have two baby daylily plants growing from
“proliferations” off the mother plant. Have you noticed that sometimes the
flower scape of a daylily starts growing leaves on the stalk? This is a
proliferation. “So Lovely,” a fragrant pale yellow to near white, has a
tendency to throw them, according to Oakes Daylilies, and so do some of my
other varieties here.
I tried cutting off a proliferation before, taking a good five inches above
and below it, and planting it in a pot. No luck. Last fall I tried it again,
this time planting the green proliferations (which I marked) deeper and
right in the ground near its mother plant, a fine late deep coral from
Coburg Farm. I doubt the baby daylilies will flower their first year, but it
will be exciting when they do to see if they look just like or different
from their mother. Oakes seems to imply the former is the case.
Late as usual, I cleaned up and trimmed the rose bed Sunday, thinking about
some tips well-known area consulting rosarian Karl Bapst gave us at the
March Home and Garden Show at the Porter County Expo Center. Bapst has 500
roses, so his is a voice that commands respect.
Karl believes the reason many people have bad experiences with roses is
because they start with inferior stock. He recommends not buying
pre-packaged bare root roses after May 1; instead, look for No. 1 superior
grade container roses with at least three fat, healthy green canes.
Roots are what will get the plant growing so Karl says they should be as
long or longer than the top growth; if not, trim the top canes accordingly.
Edmunds Roses, from which I just received a “Big Purple” hybrid tea,
recommends adding some sand to the soil in the planting hole to aerate it
because the roots need oxygen to grow.
Karl feels the bud union, the knobby joint where the roots start and the
canes begin, should be three inches below the soil line in our climate.
Roses like water but not wet feet. If clay, Karl prefers to add perlite,
organic fertilizer, manure and compost to the soil to improve drainage.
Another Rosenut (Karl’s nickname) tip: Roses can’t read so fertilize them
with a lawn food (without weed killer, of course) that has similar ratios of
nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium as the three numbers on the expensive
rose fertilizers. Karl favors organic fertilizers and does not recommend
using systemic rose insecticides in the hopes an insect some day may nibble
To keep rose blooms coming, Karl also suggests pruning roses at different
times instead of all at once.
The many tulips planted around Duneland are rewarding us with lovely
extended color. Tulips welcome the congregations at the entrances of both
Porter United Methodist Church and Bethlehem Lutheran Church. There’s also a
surprising number of tulips planted to brighten the graves of loved ones at
Chesterton Cemetery, where workers are careful to mow around the tulips. It
says so much about a community the way its cemeteries are cared for and
In the “if at first you don’t succeed” category is my second – and finally
successful – attempt to grow the spring-flowering bulb fritillaria or crown
imperial. The smaller checkered lily is a cousin.
The nearly three-foot crown imperial has hanging funnel-shaped flowers borne
at the top in a circular cluster, mine burnt orange with a yellow center.
Lovely, yes, but the real reason I planted them is because the huge bulb
stinks to high heaven and is thought to repel moles. The bed where I planted
the frits had tunnels made by something so I put out the unwelcome mat.
This I apparently need to do in the rose bed, too, because when removing the
old mulch (a must to deter black spot) I found, you guessed it, little
tunnels around the roses. Frits require good drainage, especially in winter.
My first attempt with them failed in soil that contained more clay than
organics. Since my main roses are planted in four groups of four, this fall
I’ll try planting a frit in the center of each group.
With all the graduations coming up, don’t throw away the disposable plastic
tablecloths you’ll use. I find a number of ways to recycle them in the
garden, like lining a truck bed when shoveling compost, repotting plants on
them, holding weeds and deadheaded plants bound for the compost pile, and as
a quick cover in a rain.
The Duneland Garden Club’s spring plant sale begins May 18 at 8:30 a.m. to
accommodate those who have said they must be at work for 9 a.m. and miss the
sale, which takes place at the public parking lot at Third Street and
Broadway in downtown Chesterton. Shoppers have until 11 a.m. to choose among
many varieties of hardy perennials and even some herbs and heirloom annuals.
As Mother’s Day nears, consider making your special Mom a personalized
stepping stone. Craft and home stores have several kinds of kits.
Last Christmas, granddaughters Melanie and Maggie each made me a stepping
stone bearing their handprints, names and the year. The girls decorated
their stones with colorful marbles, but the possibilities are endless
including pressing fern fronds, pieces of broken plates and even decorative
buttons or old jewelry into the cement.
When you’re given something special, it needs a special place. I have yet to
find the perfect spot in the garden for my keepsakes from the girls, but I
know one thing: I don’t want anybody stepping on their stepping stones.