“This Place Is Special”

January 29, 2011

Autotroph Woman has nothing on me.

Greg again taught Master Gardener class yesterday (this time, I read the correct chapters) and began by asking the question, “Why do we plant flowers?”

The designer and artist in me knows exactly why I do it and I answered, “Color!” He looked at me, very surprised and said, “I never get that answer. It’s the right answer, but I never get it. I get all kinds of answers, but never that right answer. Very good!”

I tried not to feel smug.

I failed.

Greg showed us photographs of gardens, public and private, and mentioned how Oak Brook Mall has always made horticultural a key component of their philosophy. He talked of walkways lined with flowers, of impatiens and marigolds, of borders and cottage gardens. He told us that flowers are a signal, a shout, a proclamation that “this place is special.” This place, he said, is loved and respected and welcoming. “This place is special.”

This, to me, was the really fun stuff. On the slate were annuals (plants that germinate, grow, bloom and die all in one growing season), perennials (plants that emerge, grow, bloom, die back to the ground and then repeat that for at least 3 years) and roses (a rose).

Greg began with lessons in planting seeds, starting plants indoors and I found out so many reasons why I’ve failed at this time and time again. One of the most critical elements, he explained, is warm soil, so a heating pad/plant mat is vital to successful, uniform sprouts.

Never knew about that, so I had mediocre sprouting at best.

Moisture needs to be constant and uniform. They need 14-16 hours of light each day, but no special bulbs are required. I started thinking that this really shouldn’t be that difficult. It sounds like I can make a few tweaks in my methods and I could fill the basement with seedlings. I started picturing more exotic varieties of marigolds, impatiens and zinnias, all grown in my basement.

Then Greg got more specific. Lighting needs to be tight, right on top of the seedlings, and moved up as the plants grow. Hmmm…I’d have to put lights on chains to move them up and down. Planting material, potting “soil”, containers, everything has to be perfectly clean and sterile, equipment preferably washed in a light bleach solution before you begin or you encounter the biggest problem, one have I experienced with every single effort, “damping off”, a fungus that constricts the stems at the bottom and chokes all the seedlings. (I always thought they needed more water.) The seedlings may have to be transplanted to cells and then they must be hardened off, taken in and out of the house to acclimate to the cooler temperatures and night time drops, before planting or I could build a cold frame if I don’t have a wagon.

Sunrise Greenhouse looks really good from right here.

Germinating seeds at this level is not for me, certainly not at this time in my life. I’ll throw my beans and peas and spinach and lettuce in the veggie garden when the soil warms up and let nature have at it, with a little help from a soaker hose. I’ll go to Sunrise and trust in their forward thinking to provide me with the latest varieties and newest colors.

Greg also talked about soil preparation, using Round Up to kill whatever vegetation is in your preferred location and then tilling in the soil. He mentioned a company in Palos that will deliver yards of garden soil mix, a blend of compost, torpedo sand and soil. My “someday” garden on the back of our yard started becoming a reality as mind’s eye laid the border with a garden hose, saw the grass turning brown and rented a tiller. With all the plant material that has to be divided every year, with my ‘Miss Kim’ on the move, this may indeed be the summer to make this happen.

He ran us through a wonderful schematic to help calculate a continuous bloom in your perennial bed – what a helpful tool! He said coral bells, heucheras, will be the next hosta. He ran us through some of the All-American Selections for 2011 and 2012, including a huge orange marigold called ‘Moonsong’.

While I felt that germination was harder than I could imagine, the roses seemed to be almost easier. I learned that the first hybrid rose was created in 1867 and roses before that period are known as OGR or “Old Garden Roses.” There are species roses, which are climbers and ramblers – your “wild” roses. There are also Hybrids and Shrub Roses, like those ubiquitous Knock-Out Roses planted in front of all homes built in the last five years (I think that’s a law).

Greg talked of both blooms and foliage as having wonderful fragrances and frankly, had me hooked. The woman next to me, who is very pleasant but quiet, said during break that she grows roses and has a great deal of success. I know the Damn Rabbits love them – they ate three tea rose bushes down to the ground and killed them completely our first summer here. I’m thinking a climber on the arbor, something old-fashioned and with a perfume that will saturate the summer nights.

Greg mentioned that landscaping principles have changed over the last decades. In the past, the front of the home was formal, with closely clipped evergreens and green, unbroken lawn. Flowers in the front were frowned upon. The backyard was the private space, the place where color could run riot, splash across the yard.

Now, there is color and blossoms and blooms all around the house. In many ways, my front yard, with its full sun exposure, has more color and excitement than the back. I agree that flowers declare “this place is special.” They make a house look happy, cared for and loved.

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