Remembering Michael

By Teresa Woodard and Debra Knapke

Dear Gardening Friends,

It is with sad hearts that we share the news of Michael’s recent passing. He was a dear friend, talented writer, faithful Christian and consummate gardener. For 10 years, we have been writing this blog together to celebrate the Midwest’s seasons of gardening. Along the way, we shared wonderful visits, traveled to gardens and attended garden conferences together. We also saw Michael courageously fight and win his battle with cancer.

Many times, we sat on Michael’s back porch and brainstormed our next round of blog topics. He would make us tea to enjoy as we looked out into his backyard paradise. And he often sent us home with plants or cuttings from his garden. He was our editor and thoughtfully edited our pieces while keeping our voice. He only made our writing better and always encouraged us to write more descriptively.

As a tribute to Michael, we thought we might share a few gems from his inspiring blog posts and essays.

His Love of Daffodils: He wrote, “they may lack the regal elegance of lilies and voluptuousness of roses and peonies, but daffodils are the flowers that make my heart leap highest.” While in his early 40s, they came to symbolize hope for him. He shared during a dark valley time of life, a friend gave him a bag of bulbs as a birthday gift. After a tough day of work as an office temp, he came home and planted the bulbs.  He wrote, “while digging holes, I thought, ‘these symbols of spring will be blooming in a few months. When they do, my life will be as different as the pastel spring scene is from the gray, gloom of late November.’” That April, his daffodils and spirits blossomed together, and he continued planting a couple more dozen each fall.

His Vegetable Gardening Struggles: Michael planted vegetable crops each year and loved the challenge of extending the season with cold frames to jump start spring seedlings and row covers to grow kale late into the winter. One year, he even resolved to give up vegetable gardening, but friends and family who enjoyed the harvests he shared are thankful he persisted.

His Garden Wit: We appreciated Michael’s snarky take on rainy days and winter snows. In Spare Me the ‘S’ Word, he makes fun of forecasters who “can’t wait until the world becomes a floured mess.” He described Daylight Savings as “the black expanse as vast and forbidding as Siberia.” He also made fun of Groundhog Day and suggested “gardeners apparently weren’t consulted when groundhogs were chosen as prognosticators of winter’s duration,” since the creatures chew up his barn floors and wrecked havoc amongst his vegetables. He even laughed at himself in Garden Downsizing as he wondered how to bid farewell to a jealous lover, his clever metaphor for a beautiful but demanding garden.

His Favorite Tool: One season, we decided to write about our favorite gardening tools, and Michael chose the edging iron. He wrote, “edging is the landscape equivalent of tucking in a shirttail, pinning back stray hairs and putting scattered papers into a straight stack.”

His Grateful Heart: One Thanksgiving, Michael wrote about Growing Gratitude and encouraged readers to be thankful for those who introduced you to gardening and nurtured you along the way. He specifically remembered his Grandpa Leach with his “furrows straight as laser beams” and his grandmother who had “a higgledy-piggledy collection” of plants in her small backyard. He also expressed his appreciation for nature’s beauty and its Maker.

His Last Post: In late March, Michael wrote Garden Party for Native Plants and encouraged readers to add more native plants to their carts when plant shopping this spring. Michael’s own yard was filled with redbud trees, dogwoods and sugar maples. We encourage you to plant one of these trees or a handful of daffodils to remember Michael. In a Memorial Day post, he wrote “such plants make me smile. Perhaps because I remember the donors in their gardening years, active, yet at peace, working in their little Edens.”

Garden party for native plants

Trilliums are among Ohio’s many spring wildflowers.

By Michael Leach

While garden shopping this spring, plan on adding plants that evolved in your part of the world. Besides being decorative, they may have historic connections to local ancient peoples as food, building supplies, clothing material and medications. More amazing, some of these plants fill specialized places in the local food web that flora from afar may not do as well if at all.

If you haven’t guessed, we’re talking native plants. In the past 25 years or so, natives went from being the newest trend to vital players in combating climate change and the decline of birds and other animals.

Because of their importance, not to mention the aesthetic appeal of many, such as asters and redbud trees, Ohio designated April as Ohio Native Plant Month.  The event debuted two weeks after the state’s pandemic lockdown last year. Planned activities were canceled but not enthusiasm. 

Redbud trees dazzle in spring and add beauty year round.

For instance it failed to slow the group’s initiative to plant 100,000 Ohio native trees and shrubs. Turns out 200,000 trees and shrubs were planted last year. The 2021 goal is 200,000 as well.

Because there are many new gardeners among us and some seasoned growers who may be new to natives, caveats are warranted about these plants.

Pink dogwood are a jewel of spring.

Natives aren’t magic. If your site doesn’t offer the soil, light, moisture and such they need to flourish, they won’t grow well, if at all. Neither will plants from any place else. Study your site and the needs of whatever plants you may want to grow. It’s estimated that 80 percent of all plant problems are eliminated if the plant has what it needs to grow successfully.

Native plants may not supply eye candy when you want it. In my part of the Midwest, there isn’t a native to rival the brilliance (or bee appeal) of snow crocus in early spring. If I’m doing all the work, I see nothing wrong with flowers on well-behaved plants from elsewhere, especially if they break the evil spell of Midwest winter.

Sugar maples make Ohio autumn glorious.

Natives don’t always behave as heroes. Some natives, such as Virginia creeper, can take over in minutes if left on their own. Others, such as my beloved redbuds and sugar maples, can be prolific seeders whose progeny appear in unwanted places making them weeds to pull. Black walnut, among the Borgias of the plant world, poisons rivals with a soil borne chemical.

Even after careful research you may be surprised by nature. As a wise gardener once observed, “Plants can’t read so they don’t know what they’re supposed to do.”

Jerusalem artichoke adds color to the late summer scene.

Multiple approaches

Along with plant sources and details on the tree-and-shrub challenge, the site offers:

  • Great Healthy Yard Project — Take the Healthy Yard Pledge and avoid using synthetic pesticides, weedkillers and fertilizers except on rare occasions to resolve an infestation or improve habitat for native plants and  wildlife. 
  • Pocket Pollinator Gardens — Take a small but deliberate step in changing the environment by replacing a sunny part of your lawn with an array of native plants that benefit bees, butterflies, birds and insects. Directions and plant lists are given. Plus you can register your site with different organizations keeping tallies of such activities.
  • Backyard power — Learn why your yard needs native plants by viewing Dr. Doug Tallamy’s hour talk. It was part of the Ohio State University Chadwick Arboretum’s Living Landscape Speaker series during the past winter. Tallamy is a professor of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Delaware. Heartland Gardening’s Debra Knapke was one of the series’ quartet of experts who shared advice and insights.

The National Wildlife Federation Native Plant Finder has advice based on Zip Code for the flowers, shrubs and trees offering the most benefits for local fauna.

Discoveries Await in the Garden

By Michael Leach

As the incredible NASA rover seeks signs of extinct life on Mars, I don jacket, gloves and boots to discover life in the garden.

My quest lacks any scientific or other significance, but it’s exciting for me. To behold snowdrop blossoms, crocus shoots and swelling magnolia buds fires hope.

In this part of the Midwest, winter sets no records (so far). Still it’s been a trial. Months of always cold, mostly gray weather preceding a snowy mostly subfreezing February. As the snow pack melts away, daily excursions across the backyard wasteland produce a harvest of sightings. 

Just as NASA chose a landing site rich in potential for discovery, I too, know where to search. My eyes carefully scan little warm places, microclimates where the scant winter sun strikes longest and protected areas near the house.

In mid-January the snowdrops beside the walk near the backdoor were opening. As the piles of snow melted in late February, there they stood as if nothing happened. Deliberately planting such tiny wonders in places easily seen from the warmth of indoors enhances the show (no jacket, gloves and boots are needed to see them). I also plant clumps of these early birds elsewhere in the garden to enliven forays into the brown world of wintery death and dormancy.

More than green awaits. Sound is back.

Water trickles into the roof gutters overhead as the snow mass melts. Occasionally crystal icicles shatter as they plunge from rooftop glaciers. Little streams, once muted by an ice slab, babble again.

The resident male cardinal, who began singing pretty regularly about Valentine’s Day, is joined by other birds almost every morning.

Even before melting commenced and birds chirped, I brushed snow from the glass top of the tiny cold frame to speed warming. I cleared weeds and debris from this solar-heated grow box in January, and have been looking for weed seeds sprouting at least once a week since. Germinating weed seeds will  indicate it’s warm enough under glass to plant cold tolerant greens for a jump on the growing season.

Doesn’t that sound hopeful — growing season?

Squirrelly Weather Predicted

By Michael Leach

Photo by Aaron J Hill on

Gardeners apparently weren’t consulted when groundhogs were chosen as prognosticators of winter’s duration. At least not this gardener. 

Personal experience with these creatures is all negative. From chewing up the floor in the old tool barn (woodchuck is a well earned common name), to wrecking havoc amongst the vegetables, this member of the rodent family is unwelcome in my yard. It doesn’t help that the Encyclopedia Britannica defines these pests as one of 14 types of large ground squirrels. Don’t let me get started on squirrels.

Regardless of opinion, there’s a wonderful certainty in Feb. 2. It’s the midpoint between the winter solstice, the longest night of the year, and the spring equinox, when day and night are equal. Days are getting longer, nights shorter.

Soon birds, most of whom are always welcome, will begin singing in the early light, which comes a bit sooner each morning until the longest day on the summer solstice in June.

While several animals were associated with Feb. 2 by ancient Europeans, Germans believed the cute hedgehog predicted winter’s end. If it saw its shadow on Feb. 2, a second winter of six weeks lay ahead, clouds meant an early end.

Lacking hedgehogs, German immigrants in the United States used the groundhog. Definitely a choice lacking in cuteness. This is underscored by Hollywood’s inability to turn groundhogs into appealing animated rodents, such as mice and squirrels. Groundhogs are also called marmots, which almost rhymes with varmints — and that pretty well sums up the situation. Annual rodent family damage totals in the millions of dollars. Food is a prime target, but they sometimes ignite house fires after gnawing on wiring.

Despite the negatives, the celebrated ground squirrels have one trait I envy — hibernation. What a brilliant way to avoid seemingly endless Midwest winter. Just pork out on people’s gardens and snooze till green returns.

At least one groundhog, however, suffers a sleep problem. Since 1887 the western Pennsylvania town of Punxsutawney has brightened winter by rousing a groundhog for a long-term weather prediction and an excuse for a festive time. 

After such a rude awakening, it’s little wonder the animal’s accuracy is only about 40 percent. Without my first sip of morning coffee, I’m exceedingly fortunate to spell my name correctly, much less predict the weather for even the next six hours.

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.

Happy Gardening to Me!

Deb gifts herself some power tools — battery-powered chainsaw and blower.

By Debra Knapke

First, I have to confess that chainsaws scare the bejeepers out of me. They are loud and incredibly dangerous, and I never thought I would own one. I always figured that If I couldn’t prune a tree or large shrub with a good handsaw, then it was time to call in the professionals. But this year’s drought and the loss of two dwarf conifers – one 16 years and the other 23+ years in the garden – changed that belief.

I planted a 12-inch tall Diane European larch in 2004, and here it is in April of 2019, a 6-foot tall graceful tree. We had several years of too much water in the winter and late spring into early summer. This killed a good part of the thyme lawn, but Diane grew beautifully or so I thought. Then we had drought in 2019 and 2020.  In mid-July of 2020, she turned yellow and dropped all of her needles. New needles appeared at the tips of the branches in early August, but they promptly dried up and dropped. By September, you could snap the branches.

Diane European larch in all her glory

Behind Diane larch, you can just see Glauca Nana Scotch pine I planted in the late 90s. It had been slowly declining due to a combination of water and temperature stress – too warm – followed by recurring infestations of pine needle scale and pine sawfly. By the summer of 2020, only one portion of the tree was “thriving”.

With my handsaw, I was able to prune the trees to their main trunks (see Glauca Nana skeleton), but the wood on both species had very tight rings which made sawing the trunks by hand an onerous task. Calling in an arborist seemed silly for a job this small.

The skeleton of Glauca Nana Scotch pine

I had recently seen an ad for a battery-operated chainsaw made by Stihl. Time to research battery-operated tools! I ended up comparing Stihl, Husqvarna and Makita chainsaws. The Makita chainsaw best fit my needs.

After going over the operation of the chainsaw with the excellent folks at Como Mower in Columbus and my husband, it was with some trepidation that I started her up. Yes, “her”; I have relationships with all of my tools and treat them with respect.

It was really cool and surprisingly empowering.

You can see that I need to refine my technique by the wonky cuts on the trunks below, but I will get better with practice. Never the less, the chainsaw surpassed my expectations on its ease of handling, manageable weight, noise level and cutting effectiveness.

 There are approximately 32 rings in the larger trunk.

I bet you are wondering how a blower ended up in the mix. Anyone who knows me knows I really dislike noisy, gas-operated blowers. However, the Makita blower, being electric, is relatively quiet, and it has a lot of power for its size.

I have three rock gardens that I clean out with a hand rake. This is becoming increasingly difficult and this blower will make that garden task easier to do.

And, there was this promotion that was difficult to resist!

Wishing you beautiful Christmas and New Year’s celebrations!

Spare Me the “S” Word

By Michael Leach

Alas! Once again it’s the season when weather predictions often include the four-letter “s” word. But there’s no cause for undue delight or despair.

This wee word, representing countless minute bits of frozen, white precipitation, is a subject celebrated in poems, lyrics, paintings, ski resort posters and greeting, cards. Yet it also appears in unflattering ways in ads touting warm, palmy places. The commercials generally switch from images of turquoise water and scanty swimwear on attractive bodies to a Dantesque nightmare of pale gray city streets awash with oily slush. Scattered in the gloom are hunched figures, swathed in mounds of drab coats and scarves, staggering against an arctic  gale.

This little word has divided Americans in northern areas far longer than political parties. Some love it, while others are rational and disdain it. I’ll grant the first snow transforms my garden into something of a living landscape painting. This view from the sunporch enhances morning coffee time and breaks between shoveling.

The ”s”  divide extends to weather forecasters. No matter how they attempt dispassionate predictions, It’s easy to tell who loves “s” and who doesn’t. Not so subtle clues give them away.

Those who can’t wait until the world becomes a floured mess are pixilated when the computer spews out parameters that include only the tiniest hint of “s”. From this, they paint scenarios maximizing the potential misery in terms of inches, duration and wind chill. Their lust for heavy frozen precip blinds them to the downsides: snarling traffic, slipping pedestrians and aching backs from shoveling. To be fair, there are a few winners, tow truck and plow drivers for instance. Oh, and let’s not forget that sales spike for heavy winter clothing to warm hunched figures in arctic gales.

The “s” enthusiasts put too much confidence in computer models. Sure, science tells about the inner workings of the atom, and Seri tells me where to go, but how about telling me what the weather will be 24 hours from now? Hmpf! It’s easier to predict the trajectory of a startled cat.

Such variability is especially true of winter weather. A wind gust here, a dry spot there, some 50-mile wobble in the path of a storm stretching across half the Midwest and voila! We can have an icy glaze or a few drops of rain or 12 inches of “s” or some combination of all the above or nothing. To put this in gardening terms — during a drought, would any of us  skip watering the wilting tomatoes when a 100 percent chance of an inch of rain is forecast? Not hardly. Such experience keeps panic at bay no matter how dire the weather prediction.

Plus, I’ve learned a coping mechanism that can help you regardless of your weather preferences. Check TV channels and scan weather websites to find a forecast echoing your desires. After discovering such a prediction, believe it. At least until something better comes along.

The Native, Not Native Plant Debate: Is It Valid?

By Debra Knapke

Late fall is my time for contemplation, for this question and so many more. The leaves are down, the garden beds are put-to-bed – as much as I do that anymore. The days are moody with short periods of transcendent blue skies bracketed by gorgeous sunrises and sunsets.

I look out into my garden and consider… what delighted me? what did not? what worked? what did not?

My ideas and gardening have changed considerably over the years. From collecting and figuring out where everything could fit to needing to understand how nature works. It isn’t about the quantity, but the quality of plants, plant communities and soil – the foundation of everything.

Purpose – the concept that must underlie all garden creation and maintenance. Why are you doing it? For these times when our climate is changing, our food systems are insecure, and we know that we must support each other and the Earth. My garden’s purpose is to support all life that comes to it, and to supplement our diet. These are my primary gardening intentions.

For the first intention, using native plants is essential. Native plants – those that belong to an ecological niche, have not been introduced by humans and have been here longer than us (I’ll let you determine who “us” is) – native animals, and soil systems have evolved together. At every step of the way, change has been a part of this relationship, so the native plant of 500 years ago may not be the native plant of today, but the relationships remain.

For the second intention, many of us would be hard-pressed to live off the land in Ohio. There are too many of us and we have become accustomed to having luscious tomatoes, spicy basil, and our pick of culinary delights. Fortunately, many of these food plants from other lands also have relationships with their animal counterparts, and often, these relationships work for our native insects and others.

Yes, there is the question of fitness: does a non-native plant offer as good a resource to our animals? I believe the jury is still out on this question. We have studies (Mt. Cuba, Cornell, and other institutions) that show that our native insects prefer our native plants as shown by their visitation rate. But I am waiting for the brilliant researcher who is able to figure out how to ask a bumblebee the question: “Which of these offers the best nutrition for you, false sunflower or Black Adder anise hyssop?”

Bumbles on our native false sunflower (Heliopsis sp.) and on Black Adder anise hyssop, a hybrid of our native Agastache foeniculum and European native A. rugosum

So, my title and question: the native, not native plant debate: Is it valid? My answer is yes and no…  It depends on Why You Garden – a topic for another time.

To  help you figure out where you stand in the native/non-native debate, I offer a rating scale by the brilliant J. C. Raulston who looked for plants that performed well in the landscape and who may have introduced plants that are in your garden.



By J. C. Raulston – 1996

To help understand where others (and you) stand in the very wide spectrum of the horrific and unending native vs. exotic plant “mud-wrestling debate” – the following scale is offered tongue-in-cheek for humor to laugh at ourselves on this admittedly serious issue. Where are YOU in this range??

1-2: Encourage maximum population growth; burn, bulldoze and kill all existing vegetation and build everywhere; plant only those ugly aggressive noxious exotic plants with no redeeming values (e.g. – hybrid tea roses, Leyland cypresses or ‘Bradford’ pears); eat only kiwis, mangos and rice; live in rosewood lumber homes with plastic furniture; demand “Chemplush” (TM) lush iridescent green lawns everywhere and in all seasons.

2-4: Burn, bulldoze and kill most existing vegetation – but save old historic trees slept under by great presidents; maintain cryogenic tissue samples of native flowers germplasm just in case someone ever wants to sample for a pimple cure; eat olives and figs, with one bowl of beans a month; live in a redwood home with a basket woven of local reeds; weed and feed lawn monthly and mow weekly.

4-6: Live life in moderation; plant and enjoy useful plants; protect native habitats; eat everything in sight regardless of origin (Raulston’s Rule); recycle paper, homes, and other products – and use local plantation grown lumber to build; weed & feed lawn annually and mow monthly if it needs it; worry endlessly about everything ’cause you don’t have a final perfect answer to Earth’s problems like everyone else seems to.

6-8: Eliminate aggressive invasive exotic plants; work politically and financially to protect native habitats; urge population control; use low maintenance native plants appropriate to environment and culture; eat beans, corn, blueberries and an occasional cantaloupe in season; live in hand-hewn pine cabin from lumber you grew yourself; use all native oak furniture built from lightening killed trees and enjoy a mahogany rocking chair inherited from your Indonesian great-grandfather; let goats graze whatever grass or other stuff comes up out front – then eat goat (if not vegetarian or animal rights).

8-10: Eliminate all plant species not growing when and where they existed as colonists arrived; remove all physical construction not in use in 1492 and reduce human population levels to that time with appropriate attention to native American ethnic purity; eliminate all travel and exchange of products and/or technology; eat only the foods botanically existing on your specific habitat (no cheating with imported Mexican corn or Maine blueberries) – mushrooms are recommended as they don’t reproduce easily or spread aggressively; live in caves to protect trees from destruction; wear no clothing or use any tools; if there is no tree removal, there is no sun, and therefore no summer grass = no lawn maintenance sweat.

Garden Topics

%d bloggers like this: