Four final seeds of wisdom

Gardening is one of those ­hobbies that is never the same, at least not in Illinois. Every season brings something different from the ­previous year, which is why it’s fun and ­somewhat annoying for those who like predictability.

Yet, gardening shouldn’t be ­predictable. If it becomes too routine, it can lead to monotony. Frustrations abound, but they keep you on your toes. Of course, the human way is to control nature, and she in turn fights us most steps along the way.

Spring makes you appreciate the wonders of nature, where nothing turns into something in a matter of a few weeks, and bare soil sprouts shoots of green that morph into ­colorful and fragrant flowers. It’s when naked woody branches suddenly create a hint of silver at their tips before ­bursting seemingly overnight with expanding green foliage. It’s an ­awakening that after a winter infuses the body and spirit with a newness and purpose. It’s the time to throw off the covers and get to work.

Summer isn’t far behind, and in some years seems to be pushing spring aside with a leafy elbow by the middle of May. Summer brings us maturity, when the fruits and ­vegetables ripen, when the birds, bees and butterflies are out and about, and the air is ­perfumed by roses, lilies and annual flowers. It’s a time to step back ­somewhat, and say, “Wow, isn’t this great.”

Then there’s fall with the multitude of colors, those last gasps of colors, but with crisp apples and air. Winter isn’t far behind.

So, all this is leading to this ­statement. This is my last column for Illinois Country Living, after more than 20 years. It’s all because after 37 plus years, the retirement gong is sounding at the University of Illinois, and it’s a glorious sound. It’s been 37 years of watching gardeners embrace plant diversity and non-chemical pest control measures, both of which make me elated.

It’s watching Stella d’Oro daylilies sell for $75 when they first came out, and today the fact is anyone will give you a free plant.

Hostas, heuchera (coral bells) and Hellebores were something you saw only in English gardens. Everyone grew vegetables then. There’s not nearly as many now, but seeing the proliferation of farmer’s markets is great. There’s a great awareness of butter­flies and bees as pollinators.

There will be more changes. That’s the takeaway with gardening – there’s always change.

So, I leave you with four thoughts of wisdom based on decades (argh!) of trial and much error.

1. There is always room for one more plant. In most cases, just get rid of some of the grass. Or, get rid of a plant that everyone else now has.

2. Plants can’t read, so they don’t know what they aren’t supposed to do. Knockout roses didn’t know they were only supposed to grow 24 inches high. That’s why they grow 4-feet tall. So, if they say it won’t grow in Illinois, try it anyway. My Nandina and 20-foot tall southern Magnolia are proof.

3. Don’t become plant-stagnant. The breadth of available plants is seemingly unlimited. If you want something specific, look in books or online. Don’t ask the garden center if they carry a certain plant; ask them when they can get it for you! Don’t plant what your neighbor has.

4. There is always tomorrow. Take time to smell the flowers while you are working in the garden. Make it fun and enjoyable.

 Editor’s note: Illinois Country Living would like to thank David Robson for his years of insight into gardening. We wish him well in his retirement. We are pleased to announce that Candice Hart, another University of Illinois Extension Adviser, has agreed to write the gardening column ­beginning in July.