Best Rx: Real Gardening

A $4 bunch of alstroemeria, plus a few green  branches of kerria japonica and evergreen Japanese yew, combine to make a breath of fresh air in midwinter.

By Micheal Leach

It’s that time of winter when cheap thrills are necessary to survive until planting time. Otherwise, I could succumb to the fuzzy headless and inertia caused by Midwest winter gloom made worse this year by an overload of virtual, isolation and Zoom.

Even before the pandemic, we Midwesterners relied on winter substitutes for  gardening. Seminars, classes, books, magazines and catalogs — the bigger and more colorful the photos the better — were treasured go-tos. We chatted and commiserated with others during the coffee breaks and box lunches of those learning sessions.

Generations of gardeners have relied on catalogs to survive winter.

Whether virtual or physical, surrogates are valuable, but they can do only so much. Long before spring arrives I’ve got to recharge with living plants and physical tools.

Here are some thoroughly tested winter-survival tricks. Perhaps you have some of your own to share. If so, please do.

Quick fixes — Buy a bunch of inexpensive flowers from the florist or supermarket. Buy sprigs of florist  greenery if you lack evergreen shrubs or  houseplants that can handle light pruning.

After gathering your materials, put aside worries about winning a blue ribbon with your design. Fresh flowers have all sorts of positive effects, according to the Society of American Florists. And even better, there’s the chance to play with real flowers.

Weather permitting, you can expand this into winter pruning for a healthy dose of outdoor exercise. 

Chase winter blahs with a bit of pruning.

Those with cold frames or other protected plantings of winter-tolerant vegetables can harvest a few and bring them indoors for a fresh-from-the-garden meal.

Cold-tolerant greens, such as this Joi Choi Chinese cabbage, can be grown in winter under row covers or other protection to provide fresh from the garden harvests in January.

Cleanup — Gather debris from the lawn and search for those beautiful green tips of daffodils and other spring bloomers. Snowdrops and hellebores may be budding or blooming. Hope is inspired — a must for making it through winter and these troubled times.

Travel — If you feel safe enough to visit garden centers, florist shops and conservatories – go! Living, colorful plants are tonics. If you’re tempted to bring home a newbie or two – do!

Nature, even winter, provides a boost, so head to a park or hiking trail for open air therapy. America In Bloom offers research to prove this helps .

Repot — This may be the winter I’m desperate enough to repot, a chore I find disagreeable in summer’s warmth. The many others of you who enjoy repotting needn’t wait for summer either. Try to hold off on this until late winter, so plants don’t get the urge to start growing too soon.

Harvest hope — Tired of poinsettias or those fading rescued summer plants languishing on dim windowsills? Go out and gather a preview of spring by cutting a few branches of forsythia, quince, witch hazel and other early bloomers to force into flowering indoors. Watching buds swell and open is an elixir. I do this every year as part of seasonal pruning and send a bundle of branches to my sister in Florida. She relishes this token of remembered springs.

Witch hazel’s winter blooms

Focus — We must never forget that spring always comes no matter how bitter and long the winter. Spring is a glorious constant that remains untouched and unchanged by human affairs.

Garden Trends 2021

Photo by Simon Matzinger on

A Promising Year For Gardeners

By Teresa Woodard

Goodbye, 2020, and hello 2021! Thankfully, the new year is shaping up to be a bright one for the gardening world. Here are a few highlights of what’s to come.

More Gardeners

Experts report more than 20 million new growers took up their trowels in response to the pandemic. The nation went from 42 million gardeners to 63 million in the past year. And following the Black Lives Matter movement, the green industry is working to become more supportive and inclusive. Check out Black Girls With Gardens and Walter Hood’s new book, Black Landscapes Matter.

More Gardens

Public gardens are reporting record attendance figures with as much as a 300 percent boost in a pandemic year. Luckily, more public gardens are slated to open in 2021. Head to Detroit to see the Oudolf Garden Detroit opening this summer at Belle Isle. Last August, more than 26,000 plants were installed on the 2.6-acre site designed by internationally renowned Piet Oudolf in front of the Anne Scripps Witcomb Conservatory.  Visit Waterfront Botanical Gardens, a 23-acre urban garden being developed on a former landfill along the Ohio River in downtown Louisville. The visitor center, its surrounding gardens and Beargrass Creek Pathway are now open. Future plans include a Japanese garden, children’s garden, biopond, pollinator meadow and conservatory. Also, plan a trip to Kingwood Center, a historic garden in Mansfield, Ohio, to see the new visitor center and Gateway Gardens by Austin Eischeid, an Oudolf protege. While the matrix planting will take three years to reach its full potential, the new garden should be quite lovely by June.

New matrix plantings at Ouldolf Garden Detroit on Belle Isle; Image by Ryan Southern Photography

More Garden Content

The green industry has stepped up to provide stay-at-home gardeners with more online content.
Free of charge, I virtually toured English gardens through the UK’s National Garden Scheme, learned from garden masters at Garden Master Class Weekly Garden Chats and heard from new book authors at the Garden Conservancy’s Literary Series.

More insects

Every 17 years, a large brood of cicadas emerge in the Midwest and make big buzz – reaching up to 100 decibels — for five to six weeks. The brood will return this year in May. While there’s no need to spray chemicals, you may want to cover or delay planting new fruit trees this year. The stems are vulnerable spots for cicadas’ egg laying. In 2021, also be on the lookout for spotted lanternflies and viburnum leaf beetles.

Cicada Photo by Michael Kropiewnicki on

More New Plants

Gardeners will find new plants at the garden center this spring.  A few favorites include:

  • Better Boxwoods: NewGen™ boxwoods are promising higher resistance to boxwood blight and leafminers. In addition, Gem Box® inkberry holly by Proven Winners is a tougher native alternative to boxwood.
  • No-So-Basic Houseplants: No more simple snakeplants and pothos. This year’s houseplant darlings include tropical calatheas, sculptural mangaves and bold alocasias.
  • Super Veggies: Pack more nutrients and flavor in your garden crops with smart seed selections and soil amendments. See this article and video for more tips.
  • Color-Charged Annuals: Consumers can add instant eye candy to their landscapes with brilliant new annuals like Marvel II pom-pom marigolds, Double Delight begonias, Roller Coaster impatiens and Surprise Sparkle petunias.
  • Pollinator Favorites: The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden trials pollinator plants each year and posts its favorite annuals, perennials and shrubs.

For more pandemic trends, see our post on trend-spotting from the green industry’s trade show –Cultivate 2020.

Garden Resolutions

In 2021, we collectively hope to be meeting once again in person and sharing ideas for future blog posts. As we kick off our 10th year for Heartland Gardening, we are grateful for all who have joined us and continue to encourage us on this blogging journey. Happy New Year!

By Michael Leach

The tradition of setting goals and making resolutions for a new year is always fraught with uncertainty, something especially true for 2021. However, as the late comedienne Phyllis Diller observed, aim high and there’s less chance of shooting yourself in the foot. So each year, I aim for the stars.

Focus and finish  —  Surely there are others who start projects with the idea of quickly checking them off the to-do list. But sooner or later the focus blurs, and the projects are set aside (sometimes for years), because even more appealing or demanding issues arise.

Juggling several things is possible. I do this when preparing several different dishes for one meal. Unlike those forgotten projects, meal prep is clearly defined and time-sensitive: Sit down to a plate filled with various tasty foods at x’o’clock.  Perhaps if I see projects “finished” even before starting, just as I do with cooking dinner, more things will get done in 2021.

Ease back in —   I yearn for morning workouts and weekly yoga practice at the local  Y, plus the socializing that goes with such activities. Yet I must resist the urge to go from 0-to-60 when things finally allow.

The garden teaches moderation when digging in. Surely I am not alone when it comes to wanting to accomplish three months’ worth of work before lunch on that  first pleasant day of spring. That’s the day when the urge to go outside and play in the dirt is irresistible. Overdo in a few hours then, and you’ll spend the next 48 in aching misery. So it must be with moderation that I revive whatever routines I choose to bring back from pre-lockdown. Pacing is a must.

Socialize with a vengeance — I plan to share my garden sanctuary with special friends, probably only one at a time, as often as possible, even if it means foregoing working on a few of those first balmy spring days. Socializing happened too infrequently in 2020 and sometimes was foolishly considered too inconvenient before. Friends were so starved for real face time in 2020, we sat for hours talking. When we reluctantly agreed to part, legs were stiff. We gasped when checking the time. We were, however, so glad we did it. Now that I think about it, socializing should be the first and most important goal for 2021 — and all the years to come.

By Debra Knapke

I made a few resolutions with a smirk on my face:

  • To clean out my overfull email Inbox
  • To clean my office and keep everything on its place
  • To download and label all my pictures off my phone.

Then, wrote my real resolutions:

  • To keep my tools clean and sharp, really, especially the sharp part. Tired of hurting my body by working with dull tools.
  • Replacing our gas-powered lawn mower with a battery-operated mower that uses the same batteries as my battery- powered garden tools.
  • To add solar panels to our home to help with the power load of our home, greenhouse and battery-operated power tools.

And, finally, offer a few resolutions to challenge every gardener:

  • To make compost from vegetative kitchen scraps and disease and pest-free cleanings from the garden and add it to the garden whenever I plant or create new garden areas.
  • To sequester carbon by planting more trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants, and by putting carbon into the soil through the use of biochar, and compost.

By Teresa Woodard

I’ve always loved reflecting on this day and looking forward to the future. For me, it always seemed to be about the numbers. How many articles I wrote or how many things I accomplished? But after this crazy pandemic year, I’m learning to measure success in quality more than quantity. As Einstein put it, “Not everything that counts can be counted and not everything that can be counted counts.” Here are my 2020 gardening goals:

Grow fruits and vegetables. A highlight of 2020 was planting backyard gardens for families in a food insecure neighborhood. Back home, I gained a renewed passion for planting veggies — no longer looking at it as a novelty but as a privilege to grow and harvest fresh, delish and nutritious food from my own backyard. Bring on more tasty tomatoes, power-packed greens and heirloom beans.

Make friends with other gardeners. While gardening can be a welcomed solitary activity, I’ve also found joy in gardening with others. Together, tasks seem to go faster and feel less like work. Plus, friendships made in the garden are some of the best.

Visit other gardens for inspiration and learning. In 2021, I’m taking on a book project that will give me the opportunity to write about garden designers’ own gardens. So, I’m very excited to meet these gardeners across the country and share their garden stories with others.

Plant with a purpose. I love shopping for plants, and this year, I’m challenging myself to be more selective with my choices. Will this flower benefit pollinators? Will this plant persevere in my backyard and even prevent soil erosion or help absorb water in flooded areas? Will this plant offer shade, edible fruits or shelter for wildlife? And, yes, will this plant add beauty, fragrance or joy?

Happy New Year, gardening friends! We’d love to hear your gardening resolutions in the comments.

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