A startling sight greeted me this morning when I looked out the back porch: a crew had arrived to take down one of the 2 big Siberian Elms in our neighbor’s backyard. The other tree was going to receive a hard pruning.


When it comes to seeds (plants, too, but that’s not relevant here), I’m always thinking of 1 (or 2 or 3) more things I meant to buy. No problem: fire up the laptop and put in one more order. But around the middle of March, I noticed suddenly that lots of seeds at lots of seed companies were out of stock. What’s more, orders that were usually filled in a few days would now take weeks.

'Black Cherry' Tomatoes
A cluster of unripe ‘Black Cherry’ tomatoes.

We put up our new trellises the other day, and I’m pretty happy with them. These were the 9′ Panacea Giant Wall Trellises I wrote about earlier. They’re certainly a big improvement.


Books for the Global Pandemic

Not books about the global pandemic, mind you. God forbid. Rather, books to get you through the unexpectedly substantial amounts of free time that some of us are experiencing lately.

Here’s what I’ve been reading recently.


All this time at home, and it’s been too cold and wet to do much in the garden lately. In fact, it snowed all afternoon today, damn it! So I have not much to do but think up schemes, schemes that will further explode my garden budget deficit.

il wildflowers blackhaw
Blackhaw Viburnum flowers are supposed to look like this. Photo from illinoiswildflowers.info. 


This is the closest I’ve felt to being grounded since I was about 15 years old. Any suggestion that I might head out into the wider world runs into intense spousal opposition. However, I can always go into the garden. Even when it’s too wet or cold to do any actual gardening, there is still the option of carrying out a close inspection of new developments. That’s something I do a lot of even in normal times.


Snowdrops (mostly Galanthus nivalis with some G. elwesii) have reached their peak in our garden (though our display is awfully meager to use the word “peak”, which ought to describe thousands of blooms).

Anyhow, the area where they have naturalized most freely is around the Annabelle Hydrangeas (Hydrangea arborescens) along the east fence. I cut the Hydrangeas back pretty hard so we can see them better. Annabelle doesn’t seem to mind.

Just stop freaking out about the pandemic, OK? I mean, you should follow the guidelines of the CDC or some other trustworthy experts. But beyond that, freaking out does not help. One good thing about being isolated at home is that we can spend more time in our gardens, right? So let’s talk about spring garden cleanup.

Driveway Border, pre-cleanup

So before I write about spring cleanup in the garden, which is going pretty well, I have to touch on an unpleasant subject. Namely, my failure to protect all my woody plants from girdling.


For the first time, a prairie-style native plant gardener got the City of Chicago to back off a $600 fine for “uncut weeds”.

Cup Plant, Silphium perfoliatum
Cup Plant

For a couple of years I hired a “green” landscaping company to do my spring cleanup, because: 1) spring is a busy season and it was hard to make the time; and 2) they promised to mulch all my leaves and garden debris. Well, they lied. What they meant was that they would cart off all my leaves etc. and then give me the option of paying them to bring it back.


So I’ve gone back to doing spring cleanup myself. With some of the money I saved, I bought myself a Ryobi hand-held electric (cordless) leaf mulcher. Actually, I learned that such a thing existed from Cortney who writes the blog Box and Bay.


The mulcher arrived on Thursday and this weekend I was able to take it out for a spin. So here are a few observations.

First of all, THIS IS NOT A LEAF BLOWER. I hate leaf blowers! Instead of blowing leaves, it vacuums them in, shreds them, and deposits them in a canvass bag. It’s pretty quiet compared to a leaf blower – makes about as much noise as a vacuum cleaner you’d use indoors.

Raking the leaves off the Parkway Bed exposed a bunch of Daffodil leaves in search of sun. There was a very thick layer of densely packed leaves, though, thanks to the city plows. Plus, they were mostly maple leaves – blech. 

While it’s got a decent amount of power, you shouldn’t just shove it into a giant pile of leaves and garden debris. This will result in a clogged vacuum. This I learned the hard way. Fortunately, it’s not too hard to unclog. If you’re trying to deal with a huge quantity of leaves (especially densely packed maple leaves), as I was this weekend, just go slow.

On the other hand, if you’ve just got a couple of inches of leaves spread out on the lawn, use it like a vacuum cleaner on a dirty carpet, and it works great.

Newly uncovered Daffodils now surrounded by fluffy leaf mulch. 

The mulcher stops working automatically once the canvas bag is full of leaf mulch. I’ve got to say, it was lovely mulch – soft and fluffy. I just reapplied it to the areas where I had raked off the leaves.

One more thing: though this mulcher comes with a pair of wheels to support the tube, it is not super light. It’s 13 lb. before the canvas bag starts to fill with mulch. Once full, the whole thing weighs much more, so your arms will get a moderate workout.

Here’s the battery.

Also, the amount you can get done is limited by the need to recharge the battery (after 1-2 hours as far as I could tell), and empty out the leaf mulch. Because of this, this leaf mulcher is appropriate for a suburban yard but probably not for someone with acres of garden.

Overall, I’m quite pleased with my leaf mulcher, and it was a real pleasure to get started with spring cleanup this weekend. Much more on garden cleanup to come in future posts.

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