Thursday, February 16, 2006

Garden Guru Guy

It's the price I pay for being a member of a prestigious, world-renowned organization like the Men's Garden Club of Wethersfield. And the reason that I normally don't display anything with the club insignia when I'm out in a crowd - probably most of you saw the chaos at the Super Bowl when I mistakenly brought my official club bandanna instead of a "terrible towel”.

(I will wear our group's denim baseball cap to Angela's and Brad's latest wedding - but only because they begged me to. Then, when of course I become the center of attention, they'll probably unceremoniously ask me to leave.)

I just can't go anywhere without being asked "How do I grow ...?", or "What's the best way to...?" They call me "The Garden Guru Guy". And they send me e-mails and leave messages on my answering machine. Here are a few recent questions.

Question: Dear G.G.G. What is the best ground cover for a large flat area that gets only an hour or so of filtered sunlight each day?

Answer: Dirt. And plenty of it. But not just any dirt. Ornamental dirt. Some of the new hybrid dirts (such as Brownus Colorosa and Fruit of the Loam) stand up quite well to the harsh New England climate, require little if any care beyond careful planting, and are priced, well, dirt-cheap.

Q. My rose bushes are infested with aphids. How can I get rid of them without using chemicals?

A. Back in the early 1980's when the Gypsy Moths invaded our fair state, one of my wife's uncles showed me his own fool-proof method for eradicating those vermin. It's a butane torch. And over the years I've successfully applied Uncle Hank's "sight, shoot and scorch" technique to aphids, Japanese Beetles and many other invasive insects.

Unfortunately (as they say) to make an omelet you've got to break a few eggs. So, no matter how careful you are, you will end up searing the edges of the plant you are trying to save.

Well, actually you probably won't just singe the shrub. You'll decimate it - turning it into a fragile pile of hot black ashes that will retain the general shape of your formerly endangered bush until the backdraft caused by the rapidly spreading surrounding fire blows the residue onto your neighbor's highly combustible roof.

But that's good! Because as the conflagration spreads it will get rid of not just your annoying aphids but every damn bug in what used to be your neighborhood.

By the way, Uncle Hank has since moved to the Southwest - somewhere near those big forest fires you've been reading about.

Q. I'm trying to grow holly bushes and someone told me that I had to get two of them in order for anything to happen. So, not knowing any better, I bought what turned out to be two males. Now I find out that I need a male and a female. I could just go out and buy a woman-bush but there's a rather large problem. The two males have gotten to, shall we say, like each other.

First I noticed that they each were growing in directions that had nothing to do with sun or water or anything other than each other. Then I found what I am sure are leaves from the bigger of the two bushes hanging from the smaller one. And last night I definitely heard giggling from the holly bed. Help!

A. First off, most likely it's not your fault. It may be genetic. Unless of course you placed these impressionable young plants in a bed full of pansies. Or watered them with luke-warm bottled water from France instead of hose-blasted, ice cold Connecticut reservoir liquid. Perhaps you even covered them over, sheltering and warming them from the cold New England winters, instead of letting them toughen themselves by standing naked in the harsh January winds. Or spoke to them in soft nurturing words of encouragement rather than brusque Patton-like commands.

In any event, simply introducing a hot-looking chick plant probably won't have any effect whatsoever. (Don't you watch Will and Grace?) Still it is worth a try. I would suggest adding both a new male and a new female to the mix. And continuing to add more opposite gender pairs until either the holly starts to flourish or the giggling gets too loud. If the latter happens your can try one of my answers to the two earlier questions - or (better yet) you can put on your party clothes and join the fun. It's a heck of a lot healthier than sitting in your room fretting about the sex lives of some waxy, spiney-leaved bushes.

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