Chesterton Tribune

September Garden apologies to Cactus Jack

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September is for .... apologies to Cactus Jack.

I’ll admit it: I’m a packrat. I tuck things here, there and everywhere thinking certainly I’ll remember where that check is for Cindy’s shower (I found it, Mom) or where I put the still-missing labeled drawing of my daylilies as I have them planted in the yard.

This past spring during two delightful weeks in Arizona I visited the wonderful Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix. I’ve been there twice and the place still amazes and inspires me. This time I went on a group tour of the garden with guide Cactus Jack.

He was a delightful fellow and told us fun stories about himself and his wife before we even stepped away from the staging area. Once the tour began Jack was a wealth of interesting information about the fragile co-existence of desert plants, animals and nature.

You’ll have to trust me on this because I can’t find my notes. I have searched the house high and low in every place I thought I could have tucked them for safekeeping, but apparently while safe their location is not that obvious.

I found the pamphlet I picked up in the Botanical Garden’s butterfly pavilion and the two books I bought during the vacation (“The Complete Book of Cacti and Succulents” by Terry Hewitt, and “The House Plant Expert” by Dr. D.G. Hessayon). I even found the special garden issue of Phoenix Home & Garden magazine I bought while there.

There also was the article I tore out about the fantastic Kierland Commons mall in Scottsdale we visited that has more than 70 shops and restaurants lined along what resemble quaint New England streets, just the kind of mall that would be a perfect fit here.

Yet no pieces of folded hotel stationery that had Cactus Jack’s witty remarks, seasoned insights or scientific trivia that made our 30 minutes with him so interesting.

I wanted to share the Botanical Garden visit with you months ago but kept believing I would find the notes. I now have given up. That means I’ll probably stumble on them soon. If you ever have a chance to visit the Botanical Garden, I strongly encourage you do, but preferably not on a 98-degree day like I did.

While watching a gardening program recently someone said, “A garden isn’t done until there’s nothing you’d take away.” I pondered this a while and realized it made perfect sense.

How many of us don’t have at least one plant, tree or shrub that we’d like to move, give away or wish would just die? It rarely blooms, overreaches or is a general disappointment. Now imagine if you loved every plant you had exactly where it’s growing, so much so you couldn’t bear the thought of moving or losing any of them? There was nothing you’d tweak, relocate or replace.

That is a garden that’s done, and what a boring place it could be. Life is ever-changing and so is a garden, at least my garden and those of many of my friends. I admit at some point it would be nice to have what I consider a mature, established garden, but never one that’s completely “done.”

One of the biggest hits this year in our yard has nothing to do with plants. It’s Tree Man. Last year I saw an advertisement for Lifestyles in Valparaiso for Faces in the Forest, whimsical tree art that had a nose, mouth and eyes you hung on a tree. By the time I got over to Lifestyles, they were all sold out.

This spring while sprinting down the aisles at Alsip Home and Garden in Lake County (a fine store that’s a cross between Hobby Lobby and a big plant nursery) something caught my eye: two eyes framed by bushy eyebrows, a big nose and a crooked mouth with green moss snared in the teeth.

For $11.96 children have had great fun with our tree art and the adults have done double-takes. With more spontaneity than originality I told the youngest granddaughters it was Tree Man. Being some sort of composite plastic he will have to be brought in for the winter, but I know the girls will get a kick peeking at him from time to time in his box. Maybe we can bring Tree Man out for Christmas and start a new tradition.

Whoever said necessity is the mother of invention was right. I always wear garden gloves but by this time of year for some reason I have lost most of the right-hand gloves. I remedy that by turning a left-hand glove inside out and voila, a pair again.

My plastic two-gallon watering can has cracked and rather than lug the hose over to where I wanted to gently water a few pots, I filled a small cooler with water and opened the spigot to release a trickle, not a blast.

This northwest Indiana summer has been a tough one on plants. Early on I planted a Crimson King maple, a tree I’ve long wanted in the yard. It was large and had a big rootball so Bernie brought over a friend’s backhoe and good thing he did; there was a foundation from a former barn right in the way. We cleared the planting hole of bricks, amended the soil and seemingly did everything right.

So then why in August did I see the tree’s bark had split wide open on the southeast side 24 inches long? The professional where I purchased the tree said either it could be sunscald from the unusually high number of 90 degree-plus days we’ve had, or the tree liked its new home so much it had a growth spurt but the bark didn’t catch up.

He recommended I cut away any bulging bark and apply a tree balm that had a consistency slightly stiffer Vaseline. He also recommended in November I protect the trunk with tree wrap. Other than the gash, the tree looks fine.

The funny thing was I had a much smaller tree to plant in another location and I said, “I can handle this one. Don’t bother with the backhoe.” I dug down 18 inches and clunk! Using a big iron prybar even Bernie couldn’t get this to move. Back comes the backhoe and it turned out to be a stubborn concrete piling nine inches across and almost 30 inches long.

I always remember local gardener Barbara Barg telling me, “Rocks are great. They’re disease resistant and they don’t move around on you.”

After the effort it took to resurrect it I wanted to keep the concrete piling in the yard somewhere, but I was outvoted. Perhaps Bernie was afraid I’d paint a face on it and call it Rock Man.


Posted 9/28/2005