Archive for June, 2018

May: End days

4. May 2017
Planted: A Year of Gardening
The series starts here

With the plants taken care of, I laid paver paths in the Botanic. From earlier in the season I’d hauled 10 CY of mulch, 6 CY of soil, and 80 granite pavers, twice. Now I added to that 30 concrete pavers and about 10 bags of compost to amend the soil, as well as planting out 50 plants. Oh, and switching out my screens and storms.

05- (4) MayThen there was the marble.

One of the delightful side effects of not having a fence is that all the gardeners in the neighborhood stop by to talk about the garden. One of them was K, who works near a marble yard, and has access to scraps. So he brought me about 10 large (very heavy) pieces; enough to make a small patio for the Botanic. Foolishly, I decided one day that I just couldn’t wait for someone to help me with them, and even though I knew my wrist was sore, I decided to carry them “using mostly my uninjured arm.” Right.

I woke up the next morning in screaming pain from spraining the cartilage complex that connects the ulna to the carpals; this injury happens from lifting things that are too heavy, and I’d lifted an awful lot of heavy things.

As the population ages and as people with mobility disabilities demand full participation in society, a gardening industry has grown around accommodating gardeners who use wheelchairs, who are elderly or infirm, and with vision impairments, among other things. There are ergonomically designed garden tools and catalogs full of kneelers, bent-handled trowels, and raised beds with space under them so you can pull a wheelchair right up to the edge.

In addition to trying to discourage rabbits (which by the way, didn’t work), I put in raised beds anticipating growing old with this garden (full disclosure—I started this garden already old), and a time when kneeling and reaching at ground level was not going to be possible.

The therapeutic aspects of gardening have also been discovered, and even have become something of a medical specialty. Numerous hospitals now have healing gardens, which may be simple meditative oases, or may actually include medicinal plantings, or at least sensory plantings, both for the vision impaired, and for the known benefits of aroma, color, and other garden aspects as a therapeutic tool.

05- (4a) MayTen years ago, I managed to break my ankle right at the start of arguably the best gardening summer Chicago had seen in years— just the right mix of hot, warm and cool, pretty much perfect rain, with any severe weather doing only minimal damage, if any, to the flower beds.

I was in a cast for almost nine weeks. Forget gardening- it was difficult just to get down the three levels from the kitchen to the porch to the deck to the garden. Crutches are terrifying on stairs. I would scoot myself down on my rear.

This year my badly sprained wrist put me in a soft cast for 6 weeks.

I spend a lot of time in my garden, although it’s not so much just spending time in it. I work in my garden. Except when some limb is in a cast.

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May: Planting Day

3. May 2017
Planted: A Year of Gardening
The series starts here

05- (3a) MayOne of the things I miss the most about the old garden was the beautiful 3-season perennial border, which was particularly spectacular at its July peak, with a drift of yellow coneflowers, pink phlox, blue balloon flowers, and orange turks’ cap lilies. I brought samples of all of these plants with me. In one of the brief warm spells I planted them out in the Botanic, thinking to recreate the spectacle.

That planting was followed by actual unseasonal warmth, and not enough rain. My transplanted perennials and the annuals starts died. The rabbits ate everything else.

It was the death knell for the cool weather crops, too—the seeds never sprouted, the brassicas had not grown a single inch, and the chard, I’m absolutely convinced, had actually shrunk. The lettuce seeds, planted liberally in my pots, had sprouted quickly as lettuce seeds do, and then never developed a second set of leaves. They didn’t die. They just sat there.

I dug out the brassicas and the chard, and repotted them in a good potting mix, putting them back inside with the warming mats and a grow light. While the weather was certainly a factor, I believe poor soil was the main culprit; the soil company however was not interested in talking to me and ignored my complaints completely.

The rule of thumb on watering is that plants need about an inch a week. When I started gardening three decades ago, that is how it rained: on average an inch a week. In August there might be the occasional heavy downpour of 2 inches in an hour, but for the most part you could count on one to two inches of rain in a single rain event about once every seven to ten days. I seldom watered, because you could count on this.

Now, it seems like it rains nonstop from April through June, but with big rain events of 4 or more inches in a single days-long storm, and then nothing for weeks later in the summer.

But you have to plant, especially when you’re relying on your garden for food. So even though the weather was see-sawing from too hot and dry to too cold and wet, at the end of May I threw caution to the winds and planted out the solanums—peppers, tomatoes, eggplants—as well as putting the repotted, and now thriving, brassicas and chard back in the heavily amended soil. I finished planting all the ornamental starts, plus another set of scavenged plants: astilbe, hosta, junca, day lilies.

And crossed my fingers.

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2. May 2017
Planted: A Year of Gardening
The series starts here

Mother’s Day has a lot of origin myths.

There was one movement to choose a day for the mothers of Civil War vets; another as a nationwide effort for mothers to promote peace. In the U.K. there was a tradition of “Mothering Sunday,” honoring mothers in church on the fourth Sunday of Lent. In America, it’s a sentimental and highly commercialized Take Mom To Brunch Day.

Celebrated around the world, it’s variously recognized as Women’s Day (many countries in the Russian sphere of influence), Women and Children’s Day (Asia), and on various queens’ official birthdays. In Arab countries, mothers are celebrated on March 21, the first day of spring. Like western versions, it’s slotted in right around Beltaine, which as you may recall from February is a holiday for both making and birthing babies.

Congress officially recognized Mother’s Day in 1914, just in time for all the mothers to send their sons off to die in another war.

For Mothers Day in 2017, rather than making me breakfast, or taking me out for a meal, my kids came over and transplanted all my shrubs in the Botanic. Before getting started we walked over to Dunkin’ Donuts and ate junky sweets for breakfast.

05- (1) MayThe kids placed and planted blueberries, currants, and gooseberries in the sunnier spots. We, well they, also planted out other diaspora and scavenged shrubs.

With the plants that my housemate was still scavenging, there are now too many, too large plants in too small an area. I think next May is going to see some serious re-landscaping to pull it together.

There are people with gardens, and there are gardeners. People with gardens hire services to design landscapes where the plants are in the right place when they go in because the designer knows what they are doing, and because they’re getting more mature plants. Gardeners might approach their spaces like this, but often as not, they’re like me—moving plants around as they learn the space, and the plants mature, and you learn what thrives where.

Even in mature gardens, where spaces are filled and plants are large, you have to do some digging and moving. Older plants require occasional dividing so they don’t get unruly or outgrow the space. That’s why I had a garden at all in the first year here—I divided 60 mature plants in the old garden and brought them with me.

This garden required a lot of moving around, because plants were small when I brought them in, and because I hadn’t thought through the space. I acquired the plants in a piecemeal way, one or two at a time, sometimes weeks apart. So the plants had to go in, and then others arrived and everything had to be moved.

So even though I had “designed” all the garden spaces, the plants got moved a lot.

I planned for the Botanic to be a part sun garden, as it seemed to be getting 6 hours of sun across about 25% of the area despite several large shade trees. There are actually very few plants that do well in Zone 5 that really can’t take the sun. It’s just that there are plants that can take the shade. There are also plants that are just less invasive in the shade. I have a beautiful purple-leaf lysimachia that propagates by runners, and will completely take over a sunny garden, but behaves itself in the shade.

It turns out, instead, to have not quite enough sun to support sun-loving plants, but not quite deep enough shade to be a shade garden. It’s going to take a few years while I sort it out.

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May: Frost Day

1. May 2017
Planted: A Year of Gardening
The series starts here

Every year I tell myself I will not plant anything until after the “frost date,” i.e. the latest date that frost might still threaten, which is theoretically May 10 in Chicago. And indeed, there was a frost in the western ‘burbs on May 9 of 2017 during the garden’s first year. In general, cool and long-season crops like greens can take, and even benefit from, frost. At any rate, it’s mostly hard frosts—the kind that get into the soil, or lay heavily on the leaves—that are a problem for vegetables. We generally don’t get those after mid April even in a cold year.

Still, every year I plant before May 10 and regret it. There’s no reason to extend the season in this way. I’ve always got plenty preserved from the prior year, and of course, there are grocery stores.

After the 80-degree tease in April, we went back to a typically annoying Chicago “spring” of 50-degree daytime highs and 30-degree overnight lows, coupled with no sun and too much rain. But this was actually not unusual weather. It turns out it would be weirder in the second week of May for it to be warm. I went back and looked at all my journals from 2006 on, and found these notes. In 2005-2006, “cool.” Then “70s!” in 20017 but back to cool and rainy in 2008, and frost in 2009. 2010 was warm, 2011 cool, and 2012 “seasonal” although I have no idea what I meant by that. I had no notations for 2013, but in 2014 it snowed and 2015 I “turned the heat on.” 2016 said “50s wtf” which kinda is the quintessential comment on Chicago weather.

Only 3 years out of 10 were what I would think of as “seasonal” i.e. upper 60s (which is also what the local weather reports seem to consider seasonal). Maybe they’re only considering temperatures at O’Hare. But here by the lake it’s pretty much SOP with this miserable rainy cold.

05- (1) May

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