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Perennial Professionals!

If you’ve ever shopped at Chalet Nursery in Wilmette, or watched Channel 7 TV in the morning, or listened to Mike Nowak’s Garden Show (lamentedly it is no more), or well, just been around the plant world, you have seen the ever-enthusiastic Jennifer “Who Knows More Than God About Plants” Brennan.

Jennifer’s energy and exuberance knows no bounds. The woman doesn’t ever snooze. In addition to all else, she is now serving as the central region director of the Perennial Plant Association (PPA), which is the group which designates the “perennial plant of the year” for retailers to type. In 2014 it was Panicum virgatum ‘Northwind” which was grown from wild-collected seed from South Elgin, Illinois. This blue-green, erect grass was found by Chicago’s “very own” Roy Diblik, co-owner of Northwind Perennial Farm in Springfield, Wisconsin and author of The Know Maintenance Perennial Garden.

The PPA also holds seriously great conferences, most often attended by pro’s but they are nice people so anyone can go. So great that I’m still laughing about one that I attended in 1998 where a very famous landscape architect–old as the hills!–tried to kiss me out behind the hydrangeas. When I got back on the bus, I told my friend Pam about the incident. She laughed so hard, then said, “Ha! I was 1996!”

But I digress. Jennifer has organized a conference which every one of you MUST attend if you like perennials. And who doesn’t? Plus you get to go to The Morton Arboretum, which it’s time for you to revisit. It’s fantastic! Here’s the announcement of this wonderful conference. You will learn so much! 

 

regional perennial plant symposium

regional perennial plant symposium-2

 

The Polish Garden Writers Club (2 members so far)

I have a friend named Mike Nowak, a fellow hale & hearty Pole and (hail and hardy) garden writer (although Mike is way way way more prodigious than I). He just sent me his new book, in which he wrote the following inscription (which I suspect he writes in every book he autographs, even when the book was not written by him): “To _____: who is almost as funny as I am”. This made me laugh. A rare thing, these days, what with beheadings, floods, social injustice, and difficulty finding the Alpo dog food my dogs prefer.

Um, back to Mike’s book. One thing I realized about myself after I read most of his essays is that I mostly read backwards. That is, I don’t start at the beginning and go forward. Instead, I randomly thumb through a book, breaking the spine at not-the-middle, let my eye alight on a line of text, and then I read from that point forward. If I like it (which in this case I did, a lot), I will page back to the first paragraph of the essay and then read all the way through. This bad habit probably started in college when I learned to read only the first chapter, last chapter, and last paragraph of every chapter in a book. This trick sped up the Russian Revolution considerably….

Mike also helped me discover another bad habit: I am a page corner “folder-over”. (Hmm, maybe it’s “fold-over-er”?) That’s how, like a dog, I mark territory I like. And I folded over an awful lot of pages in this book. Not because I was learning anything about gardening (no one, not even Mike Nowak, actually KNOWS anything about gardening), but because so many pages are very funny. Out loud funny. Being Polish, of course, I especially enjoyed his description of his long-departed relative, Telewizja Kablowa “Cable TV” Nowakowa, who, operating out of a small village near Krakow, is said to have created cooking recipes for over 12,000 insect species…” This made me guffaw, which in Polish, is spelled, guffav. Or guffow. Never mind.

Last, I found out that Mike and I have distinctly different views of only one thing: the color pink in the garden. Oddly, I spent yesterday taking photos of pink flowers to show you in their dazzling array. Then I opened Mike’s book and read that pink is “ubiquitous, relentless, abhorrent, insidious, formidable, unyielding, despotic, and pitiless.” Tell us what you really think, eh, Mike? Mike blames his horror of pink flowers on early color TV sets, but I? I LOVE pink. PINK, PINK, PINK. PINKETY PINK PINK, can’t have enough. It’s a word that’s fun to say! It’s fun to wear (ok, not if you are manly Mike Nowak.) Or maybe I came to love pink flowers because “I Love Lucy’s” hair was so extraordinarily PINK and GREEN on our tv… Nonetheless, I present PINK IN THE GARDEN:

pink hydrangea

tiger swallowtail on shrub

P1110714

P1110719

P1110721

What more can I say about Mike’s book, Attack of the Killer Asparagus and Other Lessons Not Learned in the Garden? I can say that if I was inclined to spend a lot of time in a bathroom, this would be the book I would want to read there. (Way way better than Reader’s Digest.) Instead, I think I’ll take it to bed with me and let my husband try to figure out why I’m laughing. Out loud. This time.#

[Buy many copies of Mike’s book here: http://www.aroundtheblockpress.com/Onlinestore.htm]

 

Thinking Spring Means a Trip to Chalet Nursery in Wilmette, IL

Beautiful spring day. I swung over to Northfield, IL to check on the seedlings that I’m growing  in 90 year old Aunt Sue’s greenhouse, and then I couldn’t resist a detour to Chalet Nursery in Wilmette. It has the best selection of plants on the North Shore, and before opening for the season it underwent a needed facelift inside and out. Well done: someone is very talented at merchandising displays.

Here are a few new plants that caught my eye:

Syringa-Tiny-Dancer

Syringa vulgaris ‘Tiny Dancer’: grows only 3-4′ high and wide, smaller than another full-scented small lilac that I’ve used over and over: Syringa v. ‘Little Boy Blue’ which grows to about 5′. ‘Little Boy Blue’ is pretty hard to find, even wholesale, so I was glad to see it for sale at Chalet.

Spirea-Double-Play-Big-Bang

Bright orange foliage? Whoa, look at this bad boy: Spirea ‘Double Play Big Bang’ (which is also called ‘Tracey’, go figure). It’s orange now, but is yellow the rest of the summer, with bright pink blooms. That’s where I get off the bus. Bright pink on bright yellow? Combine with bright red cedar mulch, and you have….vulgar!

Forsythia-Show-Off

But I digress. I saw a Forsythia that was awesome. Brightest yellow I ever saw: like a fake flower. Evaston, IL landscape designer Karen Koerth emailed to say that Forsythia ‘Show Off’ has the largest flowers she’s ever seen on a Forsythia as well. She says it looks like a small yellow single rose.

locust-twisty-baby-branches-tree

I spied a Black Locust ‘Twisty Baby’ [Robinia pseudoacacia ‘Lace Lady’] that grows 15′ high and wide and has the Locust’s usual fragrant white flowers. My honeybees love our Black locusts. I wish “conservationists” wouldn’t be in such a hurry to cut them down. I know they sucker, but that means that they also hold soil on steep slopes. AND they fix nitrogen. So what’s not to like? Huh? Huh?

One more fine occurence at Chalet: I ran into Jennifer Brennan, who has worked at Chalet for 20 years and hands-down is the most enthusiastic garden geek (also, voted most enthusiastic human) I’ve ever met. She has linked up with Mike Nowak, similarly crazed person, to create a TV show, Dig In. Watch them on Saturday mornings at 8:30 am on WCIU or on Infinity channels 248,360; RCN, channel 35; or WOW channel 170. Such nice people–please support their work! Find them on Facebook under their names or at diginchicago.

Chalet-new-garden-under-Larch

Last, thanks to Chalet for protecting the roots of the huge ol’ Bald Cypress [Taxodium distichum] when they moved the old check-out shed and installed a new garden there. Chalet had a damn fine idea and built an arcing pedestrian “bridge” (barely noticeable) instead of taking the cheapo route and putting pavers right up against the aging beauty. Bald Cypress, by the way, is a great tree: tiny female cones release tasty seeds eaten by squirrels, songbirds, wild turkeys, egrets, herons and ducks. The wood of this tree is so hard it is used for building water tanks–like the ones on rooftops in Manhattan.##