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The fairy gardener
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Jim Edminster

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This is probably the third time I've started a column with "What strange weather."

In these last days of April, my yard's bulbs are still catching up: the squill are fully in bloom ( note: plant more ), some ( few ) tulips are just budding, no species tulips yet, the pushkinias are all out, no lilies yet, only three or four daffs are blooming, the crown imperial frit is about to flower, no iris, no hosta out of the ground yet, crocus of various pinks and puroles are up and out.

The hosta not being up is a problem: I'm in the process of painting my new Free Library box yellow & blue. ( To get stencils I wanted to put on the box I had to make an expedition to JoAnn Fabrics—let's just say that was a trip. I felt like I was in a foreign country. ) The problem is my parkway is full of new unmarked hostas, and that is where I wish to put the box.

It finally got warm enough to plant some of the plants I got at the Chicago Garden Show: anemones, lilies, toad lilies and the like. I marked them all in my crowded overplanted yard with chopsticks.

I'm buying some cobalt blue ceramic fish to "swim" through my garden. I'm also in the market for a small ( but not bonsai ) tree, possibly a Japanese maple or a miniature weeping red bud for a space that rats made several years ago in my border. ( Sweeney, Smudge & Orion are now guarding against such a recurrence thanks to the Tree House Animal Shelter's "Feral Cat Rat Abatement Program." The kitties, all mature serious adult cats turn absolutely kittenish when I'm in the yard by showing me how fast they can run up a tree or catch and kill a vicious dead grass plume! )

I was reading the new Chicagoland Gardening magazine that I subscribed to at the garden show and I read in the mag's intro that the editor was from the same part of Kansas as I am. I thought "What the heck!" and cold-called her, introduced myself—and she's coming to check out my garden.

Every so often I get in a compulsive mood and then I notice things about the garden. All those dead stalks. All those leaves on the sidewalk. All those bulb leaves being strangled by growing thru holes in leaves. All those dead branches I thought I tossed last fall! If you're truly obscessed you can chop up the stalks and branches for your compost, but I'd advise you to get a life instead ( unless you have a chipper ). If I was that obscessive, I'd grid my whole yard into one foot squares so I could map what's where. Then maybe I wouldn't have bleeding hearts coming up in a clump of Lords and Ladies ( Italian arums ) half an inch away from a sum and substance hosta. I wouldn't have a traditional peony sprouting amid a colony of Virginia waterleaf with hyacinths in it.

If you have garden dislikes, you are not alone: The Japanese think Victorian bedding plants like petunias, zinnias, and snapdragons are vulgar, as are roses, They make an exception for peonies since it is an emblem of emperors. The Japanese even have a saying along these lines: the three elements of a garden are rocks, water and plants. Notice flowers are not mentioned.

Doing some errands on Chicago's near west side with my friend Steve we went off to the Goose Island Brewery where we met Jon Naghski, the head craft beer brewer. He and his assistants go weekly to the local street market to pick up something to infuse in their beers. We sampled a blueberry infused beer. It was ... interesting. I suggested he might want to try perilla, a self-seeding Japanese herb related to basil. Called "shiso" in Japan it has a licorice flavor and is also used to dye other foods purple. I think it'd be interesting in beer.

Here's your recipe for this month—Salmon & Soba Salad: ( It's loosey-goosey

both as to ingredients and amounts. ) Ingredients; pk dry soba noodles, sesame or olive oil, rice wine vinegar, soy or ponzu sauce, lime juice, chunk of fresh ginger, 8-12 green onions, 4-8 chopped tomatoes, small amount of chopped cilantro, S & P, several small cans of water-packed tuna or salmon, some white wine, soy or ponzu, honey. To do: marinate drained fish ( give your cat the liquid—she'll love you. ) in wine, soy and honey overnight. Fix amount of soba noodles you want, mix oil, vinegar, soy, lime juice, ginger and S & P. Drain noodles and add to dressing. Top with fish and its marinade. Adjust dressing up if too dry.

There's a new film out you may want to catch. The Gardener is about the Quebec garden of Frank and Anne Perkins Cabot. Frank visited gardens all over the world and refers to himself as a "master plagiarist," purloining garden ideas from Nepal, India, Japan and Europe.

I'm reading an interesting book by Matthew Restall entitled When Montezuma Met Cortes, and the thesis is that most of the "history" of this encounter is a flat-out lie: The Aztec emperor did not give his land to Cortes in awe of European superiority. One thing the ( according to the book ) incredibly hateful and incompetent Spaniard did was to burn down Montezuma's menagerie ( much advanced from any European model ) and his botanic collections; Montezuma had apparently in his botanic garden every beautiful and/or useful plant in his empire. We would probably be much further along in our plant and animal husbandry if these collections had been preserved.

I was talking to a garden club member ( and old friend ) who wanted to know if planting turtlehead was advisable in her Michigan cabin's garden. It is, I said, considering these conditions: Chelone ( turtlehead ) is a shade perennial, usually pink-flowered. She could plant seed if she could get them but waiting till May for garden center plants would work better. Like any plants, newbies need more water for awhile. It's fairly tough and will grow in clay or boggy soils. Good luck, Geri!

Waiting for truly warm weather with, I assume, all of you.

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