Chesterton Tribune

Winter weeding prepares for gardening when spring comes

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Of Wonders and Weeds


January is for ..... doing some serious weeding.

Yes, weeding. Weeding the clutter from our indoor lives so when warmer weather arrives, we have more time outdoors to devote to gardening. A lot can be accomplished in the yard in the extra 15 or 20 minutes we gain by knowing our indoor “weeding” is done and needed things can be found more quickly.

In my house this past week, no drawer, closet or shelf is safe from my weeding frenzy. I must have started gardening seriously in 1993 because I had a stack of magazines and similar publications dating back that far.

It’s taken time, but I got a storage box and hanging dividers at Kmart and went through each magazine tearing out articles I wanted to save; the rest of the magazines are headed to the recycling bin. I labeled the dividers for hostas/shade plants, daylilies, roses, perennials, yard art, projects, gardening techniques, landscape layout and shrubs/trees. I’m sure I’ll add a few more labels, like bulbs, as I go, but this is a good start.

In one 1995 magazine, the advertisers had no web sites; snail mail, telephone or fax were our only recourse. But by 1999, nearly every advertiser had a web site.

I also made a divider label for decorating tips (I still had the fall 1996 Crate and Barrel catalog if anyone was looking for it) and one for recipes. I have come to the conclusion I can never live long enough in my lifetime to make all the recipes I have already collected, but that won’t stop me from clipping more when my monthly Bon Appetit subscription arrives.

In addition to my gardening and food interests, being a reporter generates enough paper to bury a human alive. I easily can come home from a NIRPC or NICTD meeting with 20 or more sheets of paper.

One pile of work papers I had not filed for some time yielded a real treasure: the 1991 Norton Auctioneers four-page color flyer promoting the Oct. 19 sale of amusement park rides and equipment from Enchanted Forest, now Splash Down Dunes water park. The Page 1 undated black and white photo shows excited children waiting in line to ride the Mad Mouse. A man wearing a hat and suit smoking a big stogy looks woefully out of place. Could one of you be among those kids?

Say, isn’t this column supposed to be about gardening? If it’s January, that means the garden-catalog floodgates have opened.

A good way to review them is to get small Post-it flags and mark plants that interest you. Because the flags are easy-release, you can move them as you change your mind. If you know someone who gets Lucky, the magazine dedicated to fashion shopping, use the page of colorful adhesive flags provided in each issue. If it helps, about 90 percent of the Lucky flags say “Yes” and 10 percent say “Maybe.”

A catalog plant catching my eye was Jung Quality Seeds’ new echinacea ‘Vintage Wine,’ billed as the reddest flower of any purple coneflower. This is one perennial I have trouble growing. Like irises, coneflowers just doesn’t perform well for me. I plant in full sun, but maybe my soil isn’t well-drained enough for either.

Horticulture and Chicagoland Gardening magazines both have lists of their best plants to try in 2003. Horticulture included ‘Vintage Wine’ among them. Roots and Rhizomes and Plant Delights both sell corydalis ‘Blackberry Wine,’ a new color. Sometimes, the other corydalis forms can be short-lived or wilt in the summer. This small plant’s delicate leaves prefer partial shade.

Horticulture touts a yellow, not purple leaf, smoke tree or cotinus called ‘Golden Spirit.’ Gossler Farms Nursery sells the large shrub, which people recommend giving an annual haircut to promote more new leaf and flower growth.

Tiarella or foamflower --- small, clumping spring woodland plants with bottlebrush flowers at the top of each stalk --- has been hybridized a lot lately with ‘Pink Brushes’ and ‘Pink Skyrocket’ typical of the trend toward more prominent flowers. Some tiarella, like the mottled green and cream-leaved ‘Heronswood Mist’ and the prominently veined ‘Iron Butterfly’ go the other route featuring stunning foliage.

The rage for dark leaves continues, and a tall near-black ‘Purple Majesty’ ornamental millet is featured in Chicagoland Gardening. It’s probably an annual grass, but it’s a knockout.

For the adventurous, you can try growing your own tender 12-foot tree ferns from seed for the house; Thompson and Morgan’s seed catalog features spores for 25 plants for just $3.99. It says the germination and after-culture are easy, but I can barely keep a Boston fern alive. Outdoors, I’m on my third try to overwinter a perennial Hart’s Tongue fern.

This same catalog also offers seed for the fragrant annual nicotiana sylvestris or flowering tobacco plant. Here’s a bargain: 3,000 seeds for only $2.59. I predict you’ll be seeing more of these beauties, which were planted all around Valparaiso’s wonderful Ogden Gardens park last year. I also saw them for sale at a nursery in Illinois. The long, tubular white flowers clustered atop the 4-foot tall plants are very unusual; most flowering tobacco we’ve seen are much shorter with smaller flowers.

Dig out your most comfortable walking shoes. March 8-16 will be the ninth annual Chicago Flower and Garden Show at Navy Pier; this year’s theme is “Theater in the Garden.”

In addition to more than 200 gardening products, educational booths and seminars, 30 gardens will be spotlighted. The red carpet’s being rolled out for one by Ralph Lauren Home, an English country estate showcase garden, and for Glastonbury Abbey’s private garden by award-winning Chelsea Flower Show Brits Tim Redwood and Andrew McIndoe.

Speaking of that little island across the pond, I recently got very excited when I saw that my favorite television gardening show, Ground Force on BBC America, was coming to the U.S. to do a new season of garden makeovers here. I logged onto the website and brought up the application, only for my hopes to meet my hero, host Alan Titchmarsh, to be dashed.

Alan and his sidekicks Tommy, Willie and Charlie will film next month in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and Louisiana; in May, they move to Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Washington, D.C. Don’t they know all this big land west has been settled?

Being the rebel that I am, I sent in an application anyway. My sob story was that I have a steel-finishing mill in back of our yard (which we do) and I needed a landscaped patio and pergola outside my kitchen window to disguise the view. I am still waiting for the BBC to call. That’s OK, though, because I’m probably going to win Home and Garden Television’s $900,000 Florida dream house giveaway instead.

I walked around the garden on the last warm day, happy to see 11 varieties of different plants still green. The new pink penstemon (beard’s tongue) ‘Rondo’ planted last spring looks as if it were in suspended animation with its green leaves still intact. It was disheartening to see all the holes the grey squirrels have dug in my borders, and how many fallen hickory and walnuts I have yet to rake.

I also was horrified to count that I have almost 100 pots of perennial plants semi-buried or sheltered away for the winter. Many are saved for friends who are moving, for the Duneland Garden Club spring plant sale, for Lakeland Park and for myself. I am not alone in this insanity. Most serious gardeners I know always find themselves with potted plants to babysit over winter.

After a chilly walk around the garden, the Tea Association of the United States of America wants us to know that January is National Hot Tea Month. Because I drink tea and not coffee, when our son went to South Africa he brought me back a single-serving package of caffeine-free Lipton Rooibos. Nowhere on the bag did it say it was tea.

Curious, an internet search led me to African Red Tea Imports in Los Angeles, which touts the “red tea,” actually a wild plant in the legume family, as an outstanding antioxidant that can counter the aging process. It’s also been prescribed for mild depression, nervousness, digestive problems and insomnia, according to the tea company. I brewed the mineral-rich Rooibos and it was heartier than a lifeless herb tea but sweeter.

Nothing can beat a steaming cup of Bigelow decaffeinated apricot tea in my book, but I could get used to Rooibos.

While recently talking to local gardener Betty Daulton, she told me, “I just cannot wait for spring. I am so excited.” She’s not alone. For some reason I am really looking forward to the upcoming gardening season, more so than I have in years.

Hope (and a few more precious minutes of daylight each day) is just on the horizon.



Posted 1/16/2003