Chesterton Tribune

Winter garden walk can be a bit scary

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Of Wonders and Weeds

By PAULENE POPARAD

February is for ...... a winter walk-about.

Grab a pen and some paper, bundle up and on the next nice day survey the bones of your garden. I did this recently and it was reassuring, disappointing and even a little scary.

Scary because of so much raking and clean-up I’ll have to do, like dethatching the grass and hand-picking hickory nuts off last fall’s newly laid mulch. Disappointing because the problem areas that frustrated me for the past few years --- like the west side of our three-season porch --- are still there.

It was reassuring though to see that, even at a snail’s pace, I am taming this beast of a yard. The last gardening of the season I do in November is always such a challenge because I have to hold my breath until April or May to see what was accomplished, if anything at all.

Be aware that just because something survived the winter doesn’t mean it will survive the spring, or the whole season. In 2003 I had three little chartreuse grass-like acorus or sweet flag plants I bought in North Carolina that were lovely in April and dead in June.

This year we’ll get to see how last fall’s new perennial planting turned out at the Burns Harbor town hall, which is undergoing a renovation. The previous plantings there were a harsh lesson that less is more.

Years ago a landscape professional crammed so much plant material into such a small space that two healthy, perfectly matched crabapple trees had to come out last summer because they were overtaking the building. Three Rose of Sharon shrubs, which can become quite large themselves, planted right next to the wall behind the crabapples already had been pruned into submission.

I’m keeping my eye on the plant material put in along County Road 1050N for Abercrombie Woods subdivision. Apparently that landscaper didn’t subscribe to the “less is more” planting philosophy either. Good-size conifers and dwarf trees (at least I hope they’re dwarf) are planted very close together, much of this under or near the canopy of tall, limbed-up trees.

It’s meant to be a privacy screen and that’s certainly what they’ll get. But will the new trees grow into their correct shape and mature sizes, or will they be stunted, weak and contorted? Time will tell.

After the walnut tree was cut down here a few months ago I noticed that a nearby 5-foot Norway spruce, our niece’s kindergarten sapling planted 16 years ago, is leaning to the south toward the sun, which was shaded by the walnut after noon each day.

We plan to move the spruce, but will it straighten out by itself over time, need to be set in the planting hole askew to account for its angle, or be planted crooked and coaxed back with a sturdy stake and tie-back?

I definitely need to consult a professional on this one.

Back to that garden walk-about. Just as in life, prioritizing our responsibilities serves us well. It’s good to survey the yard now, jot down the must-do spring tasks and then schedule them as to what should be done first, next and so on. One of my earlier and biggest jobs will be moving two huge clumps of hosta ‘Sum and Substance,’ the massive specimens having overgrown their location.

I didn’t think any hosta could get that big, let alone one tended by me, but they did. Now, where will I put them? I have a suspicion some will end up with friends.

Purists who sketch out your gardens on graph paper first and plant in multiples of three or five may be thinking, “Oh my God, there she goes moving plants around again.” I recently found a kindred spirit in Chick at Bridgewood Gardens nursery whose catalog description of why we grow hostas and how to plan your hosta garden is a hoot.

A hosta garden may be the only place where it’s fine to replace reliable old friends on the chance you might make new ones.

We had a new bird perched atop the feeder one day, but what a bird it was! I briefly caught sight of an American Kestrel, a small falcon that an Indiana Dunes State Park naturalist said is quite common here and often is seen sitting on roadside utility wires. The bird’s striking orange coloring splashed with black, a female, was lovely.

The Chicago Flower and Garden Show at Navy Pier is coming March 11-19. The featured speaker on opening day is P. Allen Smith, the landscape designer of Weather Channel and publishing fame who suspiciously always is attired in tan trousers and a light blue button-down shirt. Think about it --- have you ever seen this man in shorts or a sweatshirt like Paul James?

Bernie recently found Channel 242 on expanded digital Comcast cable; it’s a 24-hour PBS channel of nothing but how-to shows that repeat several times during the day. Either Smith’s fine “Garden Home” series airs beginning at 8:30 a.m. or “The Victory Garden” hosted by Michael Weishan, who at least wears jeans.

I recently had the pleasure of hearing Dan Heims, president of the innovative wholesale Terra Nova Nurseries in Oregon. About 140 of us learned what he considers to be valuable new perennials for the shade garden. He made an interesting point that 100 percent shade is night so even areas that get no direct sun receive reflected light and carefully chosen plants can grow and thrive there.

Dan is a leading hybridizer of heuchera or coral bells, which he described as the best container plant in the world because it doesn’t compete with its neighbors. Heucheras range from yellow to near-black, many with silver streaking or red flares. My containers usually look pretty sad by late July and I may try using perennials instead of annuals this year.

Dan and Grahame Ware have penned the new “Heucheras and Heucherellas,” and last year Dan edited and illustrated a compilation of strange-but-true stories from gardeners and garden-center employees called “The Garden Clerk’s Dictionary.” After reading the latter you won’t ever feel badly if you mispronounce a Latin name again.

I was reading a newspaper in Thomas Library the other night and saw the following quote from a downstate legislator about the controversial plan to lease the Indiana Toll Road for 75 years in exchange for $3.8 billion now.

“Yes, there are questions,” he said. “But I don’t want to wait 75 years to fix all these roads. I want to do it now.”

Well, I want to do all the projects I’ve dreamed of in my garden right now, too, so the solution is obvious: why not lease it?

Of course I’d want a 100-page lease so if something goes wrong I can honestly say, “You didn’t expect me to really read and fully understand all that, did you?” And being the procrastinator I am it’s probably best to have the bids come in shortly before I want to award them so I’m not bogged down trying to compare them and determine what their long-range implications might be for me and my marigolds.

Wait. What’s that section about my neighbors can’t improve their gardens so my leased one will always be the prettiest? On second thought, just forget it. It’s my garden and I don’t want someone else picking all my flowers when I can only look at them.

 

Posted 2/21/2006

 

Winter garden walk can be a bit scary

Of Wonders and Weeds

By PAULENE POPARAD

February is for ...... a winter walk-about.

Grab a pen and some paper, bundle up and on the next nice day survey the bones of your garden. I did this recently and it was reassuring, disappointing and even a little scary.

Scary because of so much raking and clean-up I’ll have to do, like dethatching the grass and hand-picking hickory nuts off last fall’s newly laid mulch. Disappointing because the problem areas that frustrated me for the past few years --- like the west side of our three-season porch --- are still there.

It was reassuring though to see that, even at a snail’s pace, I am taming this beast of a yard. The last gardening of the season I do in November is always such a challenge because I have to hold my breath until April or May to see what was accomplished, if anything at all.

Be aware that just because something survived the winter doesn’t mean it will survive the spring, or the whole season. In 2003 I had three little chartreuse grass-like acorus or sweet flag plants I bought in North Carolina that were lovely in April and dead in June.

This year we’ll get to see how last fall’s new perennial planting turned out at the Burns Harbor town hall, which is undergoing a renovation. The previous plantings there were a harsh lesson that less is more.

Years ago a landscape professional crammed so much plant material into such a small space that two healthy, perfectly matched crabapple trees had to come out last summer because they were overtaking the building. Three Rose of Sharon shrubs, which can become quite large themselves, planted right next to the wall behind the crabapples already had been pruned into submission.

I’m keeping my eye on the plant material put in along County Road 1050N for Abercrombie Woods subdivision. Apparently that landscaper didn’t subscribe to the “less is more” planting philosophy either. Good-size conifers and dwarf trees (at least I hope they’re dwarf) are planted very close together, much of this under or near the canopy of tall, limbed-up trees.

It’s meant to be a privacy screen and that’s certainly what they’ll get. But will the new trees grow into their correct shape and mature sizes, or will they be stunted, weak and contorted? Time will tell.

After the walnut tree was cut down here a few months ago I noticed that a nearby 5-foot Norway spruce, our niece’s kindergarten sapling planted 16 years ago, is leaning to the south toward the sun, which was shaded by the walnut after noon each day.

We plan to move the spruce, but will it straighten out by itself over time, need to be set in the planting hole askew to account for its angle, or be planted crooked and coaxed back with a sturdy stake and tie-back?

I definitely need to consult a professional on this one.

Back to that garden walk-about. Just as in life, prioritizing our responsibilities serves us well. It’s good to survey the yard now, jot down the must-do spring tasks and then schedule them as to what should be done first, next and so on. One of my earlier and biggest jobs will be moving two huge clumps of hosta ‘Sum and Substance,’ the massive specimens having overgrown their location.

I didn’t think any hosta could get that big, let alone one tended by me, but they did. Now, where will I put them? I have a suspicion some will end up with friends.

Purists who sketch out your gardens on graph paper first and plant in multiples of three or five may be thinking, “Oh my God, there she goes moving plants around again.” I recently found a kindred spirit in Chick at Bridgewood Gardens nursery whose catalog description of why we grow hostas and how to plan your hosta garden is a hoot.

A hosta garden may be the only place where it’s fine to replace reliable old friends on the chance you might make new ones.

We had a new bird perched atop the feeder one day, but what a bird it was! I briefly caught sight of an American Kestrel, a small falcon that an Indiana Dunes State Park naturalist said is quite common here and often is seen sitting on roadside utility wires. The bird’s striking orange coloring splashed with black, a female, was lovely.

The Chicago Flower and Garden Show at Navy Pier is coming March 11-19. The featured speaker on opening day is P. Allen Smith, the landscape designer of Weather Channel and publishing fame who suspiciously always is attired in tan trousers and a light blue button-down shirt. Think about it --- have you ever seen this man in shorts or a sweatshirt like Paul James?

Bernie recently found Channel 242 on expanded digital Comcast cable; it’s a 24-hour PBS channel of nothing but how-to shows that repeat several times during the day. Either Smith’s fine “Garden Home” series airs beginning at 8:30 a.m. or “The Victory Garden” hosted by Michael Weishan, who at least wears jeans.

I recently had the pleasure of hearing Dan Heims, president of the innovative wholesale Terra Nova Nurseries in Oregon. About 140 of us learned what he considers to be valuable new perennials for the shade garden. He made an interesting point that 100 percent shade is night so even areas that get no direct sun receive reflected light and carefully chosen plants can grow and thrive there.

Dan is a leading hybridizer of heuchera or coral bells, which he described as the best container plant in the world because it doesn’t compete with its neighbors. Heucheras range from yellow to near-black, many with silver streaking or red flares. My containers usually look pretty sad by late July and I may try using perennials instead of annuals this year.

Dan and Grahame Ware have penned the new “Heucheras and Heucherellas,” and last year Dan edited and illustrated a compilation of strange-but-true stories from gardeners and garden-center employees called “The Garden Clerk’s Dictionary.” After reading the latter you won’t ever feel badly if you mispronounce a Latin name again.

I was reading a newspaper in Thomas Library the other night and saw the following quote from a downstate legislator about the controversial plan to lease the Indiana Toll Road for 75 years in exchange for $3.8 billion now.

“Yes, there are questions,” he said. “But I don’t want to wait 75 years to fix all these roads. I want to do it now.”

Well, I want to do all the projects I’ve dreamed of in my garden right now, too, so the solution is obvious: why not lease it?

Of course I’d want a 100-page lease so if something goes wrong I can honestly say, “You didn’t expect me to really read and fully understand all that, did you?” And being the procrastinator I am it’s probably best to have the bids come in shortly before I want to award them so I’m not bogged down trying to compare them and determine what their long-range implications might be for me and my marigolds.

Wait. What’s that section about my neighbors can’t improve their gardens so my leased one will always be the prettiest? On second thought, just forget it. It’s my garden and I don’t want someone else picking all my flowers when I can only look at them.

 

Posted 2/21/2006

 

 

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