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The fairy gardener
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Jim Edminster
2017-07-11

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Here's a lead item that may be unpopular among some who are "gardeners." I touched on this in my last column: There's an increasing number of horticulturalists, landscape architects, garden mavens and the like who have redefined "garden." ( We're talking decorative gardens here. )

A garden, they say, is not a few plants in a yard; it is a space in which plants, as in the wild, are cheek-by-jowl, wall-to-wall, jostling each other. There should be no large open unplanted spaces: no single plant, three feet of dirt ( or mulch ), etc. If you have more visible mulch than plants, you have a ( possibly poorly ) decorated yard, not a garden.

There are a few outs: Much as I don't like them, lawns don't count as bare. And of course you can have gravel or mulched paths. So if you're thinking, as I do, that a four-foot-wide, 25-foot-long parkway with eight smallish plants in a row down the middle looks a little lonely and pathetic, you're not alone anymore. Good God, Gertie—fill in the spaces! You've got shade and you put in three hostas? Stick in six ostrich ferns and some astilbe ( and sweet woodruff as a ground cover. ) You've got sun? Put some coneflowers, lilies and Russian sage in back, and some columbines, daisies and short asters in front. No more bare dirt! If you've got spaces where the ground is so awful that nothing will grow ( yes, such things exist ) put in pots of annuals. Less is out! More is in!

Have you ever noticed how many common plants have religious names? If you're one of the new fundamentalist free-thinkers ( who woulda thought that atheists would form a pseudo-religion? ) you may have a difficult time planting Star of Bethlehem, Jacob's ladder, Solomon's seal, Archangel, Rose of Sharon, Baptisia, bishop's weed, bleeding heart, et.al.

As I write this, the lilies in the yard are coming into bloom. Mine are blooming with milkweed so my garden smells like a perfume factory. ( I will put one more push for milkweed as a garden plant: They're handsome, three feet tall, have pink tennis-ball-sized flowers that smell wonderful and monarch butterfly caterpillars eat ( only ) them keeping them from extinction. Boo and hiss to the companies that promulgate poisonous fertilizers that "innocently" kill milkweed. )

I'm putting a mix of purple, pink and striped petunias in my window boxes, with chartreuse creeping Jenny for accents. I see some baby moss roses re-seeded from a previous year coming up in some boxes. I'll leave them for serendipity. I have some leftover garden seeds, so I'm sticking them in pots on the top deck. Once again, my hanging plants ( wandering Jew, zebrina ) are spouting morning glories ( originally from those flowers growing over the compost bin ) that grow up the chain to the third floor. I notice I inadvertently got a different variety of zebrina for my swan planters: Beauty, Grace and Serenity have callibrochia ( miniature petunias ) and New Guinea impatiens and zebrine. Regular zebrine is purple- and green-striped but I picked up a couple that have dark and light purple stripes.


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