Chesterton Tribune

Rocky start for 2004 gardening year

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January is for ..... getting 2004 off to a rocky start. One of the last things I did in late fall was to buy some trap rock at Clark’s Landscape Supply on U.S. 6 in Liberty Township. These colorful rock chips, flat on several sides, pack down well; I’m using them for a new path to walk on rather than all over the soil I worked so hard to prepare, or replace as the case may be. This is the area I’m reclaiming behind the garage where years ago we had a dog pen with beach rock, which I have grown to hate. Just try, as I am, digging out in some cases 10 inches of it out now packed into clay and see how happy you’d be with the stuff. But I digress....

Clark’s has added dozens of exciting stone slab, stacking and boulder varieties of rock with more arriving this year. I’ve spent the winter thinking how I can incorporate at least a small amount of this beautiful hardscape into our yard.

Clark’s manager Sue Cowsert said they visited a stone distributor south of St. Louis who had 50 acres of different kinds of stone. Clark’s chose selections from Idaho, Nova Scotia and those with picturesque names like Cherokee, Grand Canyon and Sedona Valley with an eye toward offering selections especially suited for ponds and waterfalls.

Seven semi-truck loads of stone arrived last year and sales were brisk, said Cowsert. A local nursery even bought a large quantity to build a new water display. Idaho quartz is great for ponds, she said, because it has no limestone to adversely affect fish.

Catching my eye were cut stones that resembled New England cobbles; red/green/grey mottled flagstone; and weathered field stone slabs with what appeared to be lichens and moss on them. Lichens are tiny, colorful flat plants of fungi and algae.

Natural stone isn’t only for the outside. The day I was at Clark’s a man was looking at slate for a fireplace surround.

In my yard I’ve thought of using a few pieces of something for stepping stones through a border to a spot where the persistent stump of a former oak tree --- once at least 40 inches in diameter, taller than our house in 1894 and struck by lightning twice --- is decaying underground after being shaved down somewhat with a stump grinder. Every time I try to plant something near it I hit a part of the stump.

With a few flagstones and a small lawn chair I could make a quiet place to watch for humingbirds at the butterfly bush. Doing this would let me solve another problem as well.

I now have an old manual farm cultivator over the stump and three different clematis varieties growing on it. But because the cultivator is low and long rather than high, you can’t really see the flowers when they bloom. This I could move someplace else.

Even though I’m anxious to work with the stone, I remember Bernie’s admonition to finish one project (behind the garage) before I move on to another. For those of you who want to learn more about hardscaping, I found two helpful books.

“Garden Stone” by Barbara Pleasant ($29.95 by Storey Books) has 200 photos showing how to use and mix stone in the landscape. Experienced stone contractor Phillip Raines wrote “Simple Stonescaping” ($24.95 by Sterling Publishing Co.), a hands-on guide to doing stone projects.

Earlier this month I attended the Northern Illinois Hosta Society’s popular Winter Scientific Meeting in Schaumburg. Just seeing slides of new hostas on a screen the size of a General Cinema is enough to banish the winter blues.

Mike Shadrack let us vicariously visit the famed Chelsea Flower Show with him. Exhibitors and vendors have to earn their way into the show, which carefully guards its prestigious reputation as the best if not the biggest in England. Although open for JUST FIVE DAYS, a mantra Mike had us repeat, it takes almost three months to prepare the Chelsea hospital grounds for the show.

While you can’t dig down more than a few feet, there’s no limit how high your exhibit can be; you’re only limited by how much material you want to truck back out (like mature palm trees and timber bridges) when the show’s over so the grounds can be restored.

Mike said growers cultivate many immaculate plants just to pick the most perfect ones to display. As the May event approaches, spring plants are in coolers to slow their bloom and fall ones in ovens or under hair dryers to make them open.

The English like dry stone walls, white flowers and a pond in proportion to a garden’s size so there’s a lot of variations on these themes. Through its nearly century of operation, Chelsea also has featured “new” gardening trends like hostas and bonsai that have become landscape staples. And if you’ve got the money and like an exhibit, you sometimes can buy the whole thing!

Another WSM speaker, hybridizer Olga Petryszyn of Furnessville, said today we’ve become so crazy about hosta splashes and edges and centers we forget about color and form. If only hybridizing were as easy as Olga made it sound! She said she crosses hostas with compatible personalities. Maybe that’s why her introductions are so special.

Glenn Herold discussed major/minor small garden bulbs. I like his tip that the fritillaria imperialis or crown imperial needs very good drainage so plant the large, foul-smelling bulb (that I have found to discourage voles) on its side in a pocket of sand surrounded by rich soil.

Bob Solberg of Green Hill Farm nursery in Chapel Hill, NC talked about chasing the elusive red-leaf hosta and asked if we put too much red in the leaf, can it still photosynthesize? He showed a slide of a trial hosta with red well into the leaf’s veins at first flush, but as the summer intensifies the leaf looses vigor.

Hosta ‘Whiskey Sour’ could be a promising gold hosta with red stalks or petioles. ‘One Man’s Treasure’ is being used a lot to push the red factor, and ‘Katsuragawa Beni’ through Naylor Creek Nursery was unusual with red dots at the base of the leaf. Vol. 34 No. 2 of the American Hosta Society 2003 publication The Hosta Journal has a fine article rating red-petioled hostas.

As usual, talking to people in the WSM audience proved as interesting and helpful as the speakers. I learned the Dubuque, Iowa Arboretum and Botanical Garden is the largest public U.S. hosta garden, and Conner Nursery & Gardens in Edwards, IL eight miles west of Peoria was highly recommended ( as a plant source

A woman at my table had a Naylor Creek catalog and said their mail-order quality is exceptional. I checked out the website when I got home and ordered a catalog although you can download the whole thing to a printer. Their selection was fantastic.

This month don’t forget to gently wipe or brush the dust from houseplant leaves, and to inspect them for diseases and insects. With the furnace blasting hot air to keep us warm, our plants may require a bit more water.

If you’re at Thomas Library, check out the 25-cent sale magazines in the downstairs lobby. I bought four Garden Design back issues, normally $5 each, and tore out a number of articles to read and save; thanks to the person in Dune Acres whose name was on the subscription and donated them.

I stumbled on a 60-minute gardening show, new to me, on the cable Discovery Channel airing at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. weekdays. “Rally Round the House” follows the predictable pattern of 1) friends want to surprise a family member or neighbor, 2) the surprisee can’t see it until it’s done in two days, and 3) the friends and the three hosts act like giggly pre-teens while they work on the project.

The locations are in warm-weather climates and the designs are sometimes too gimmicky like a safari-themed backyard, but a few good planting tips and ideas do sometimes overshadow the silliness and it’s nice to see green grass, even if it’s someone else’s.

In closing, I want to note the passing of two fine women.

Duneland recently was saddened by the unexpected loss of Rita Skeffington, a true friend to local gardeners who benefited from her cheerful assistance at Chesterton Feed and Garden center where she worked. Rita also helped our Duneland Garden Club by opening her personal garden to the public for our first garden walk last year.

Rita’s enthusiasm for life and living things will be missed by many.

My own family this month lost my aunt Christine Senderak, who was accomplished in so many ways; I particularly remember her as a great cook and the first real career woman I knew.

My mother Louise became her sister’s legal guardian when Aunt Chris’ health seriously declined. Over the last 14 years Mom devoted a huge part of her own life to making sure Aunt Chris, confined to a nursing home, was made comfortable and, most of all, loved with dignity and affection.

If Heaven is a garden, Aunt Chris and my Mother will be rewarded by enjoying its beauty while those of us who have never known such suffering or sacrifice will have to weed it.


Posted 1/30/2004