Wednesday, August 9, 2006

Frame of Mind 8/9/06 Constant Gardener

Finding the head gardener in Cheney Mansion's acre and a half of land is easier than it sounds. Simply follow the garden hose.

Charlie Ruedebusch was at the end of one Wednesday, the hose trailing from the front of the mansion to the north side of the Cheney property. The head gardener was kneeling on the ground, watering the base of the zinnias in a potager garden.

He guided a gentle shower of water along the base of the plants, the dry dirt turned moist, small pools of water collecting before absorbing into the ground.

Moving his way around the garden, Ruedebusch stood, dirt on his knees, his once white sneakers dark with soil. He was dressed light in the already warm and muggy morning, a gray Park District of Oak Park T-shirt, dirty shorts, torn at the edges and a baseball cap atop his head.

From the zinnias, Ruedebusch moved on to his "world famous tomato patch," which this year includes eight varieties of tomatoes, down from last year's 22 varieties.

"People were sick of me when I'd come around in August and September because I'd have a bowl full of tomatoes," Ruedebusch said.

The head gardener is available in Cheney's gardens every Wednesday from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. to answer gardening questions. The gardens are open during daylight hours everyday for the public to tour.

"People sometimes bring in pieces of plants from their own garden and say, something is eating them, what is it?" Ruedebusch said. "I'll try to do a little CSI number on them and take a guess."

One person wanted to know how many kinds of poisonous plants there were. Ruedebusch was about to answer, he said, before wondering why the person wanted to know.

"So I said I couldn't remember," he said.

-Chris LaFortune

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