Sunday, June 5, 2011

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An introduction

I started out as an accidental gardener.

It all began when my husband and I bought our first house, a 75-year-old, two-story brick-and-stucco charmer in St. Paul, Minn., near Macalester College. It was winter and we realized it would eventually need some landscaping work. There was a blue spruce trimmed up almost beyond recognition and an especially nasty juniper on the front sidewalk that threatened to engulf anyone who ventured too close.

Then the snow melted.

Suddenly, the walk to the garage was crunchy. The whole backyard was crunchy and there was no grass. We consulted our new neighbors and learned that the legal description of our property, the Walnut Grove Rearrangement, was quite literally true. We had two of the four remaining black walnut trees in the area.

This made us very popular with the squirrels, especially in the fall. It also made us very unpopular with landscapers because such trees emit a chemical, juglone, that instantly kills roses, tomatoes and a host of other plants.

I started taking classes and learned what plants could be grown under walnuts or in shade. Garden tours became my pastime of choice during the summer months. The dirt in the front of the house, once so hard we needed a pick axe to dent it, eventually yielded to the constant application of composted manure.

Gardening was my “therapy” after a hard day of writing about the world of finance and commerce. So after we moved to the Chicago area, I added a certificate in ornamental plant materials from the Chicago Botanic Garden to my resume. Gardening is now my vocation as well as my avocation. I’m in my third summer as a nursery concierge for Chalet.

A scene from my current garden
 I’ve learned a lot along the way from more experienced gardeners who have generously shared their time. I’ve also learned a lot about patience. Last year, for example, I had major surgery during the winter and didn’t get to my “spring cleanup” until well into June. I was fighting weeds all summer.

I didn’t realize it when I put my first trowel in the dirt, but the saying “There’s always next year” is as true for gardeners as it is for Cub fans.

I hope to share my experiences and thoughts with you in the coming weeks. Your comments and suggestions are welcome.


  1. Welcome Karen. Looking forward to your comments. As an Evanston gardener, I am always looking for shade plants, other than hosta (although I like hosta -- just looking to mix it up a bit.)

  2. Glad to have your helpful insights, Karen. I look forward to hearing from Chalet and especially your warm, friendly, down to earth (no pun intended)advice. Dig in!