The July/August issue of Northern Gardener is available and it’s full of summer. The cover feature takes readers on a tour of a garden near Two Harbors, where the owners use structures and drifts of flowers to create a northwoods cottage garden. Be sure to check out the article on using succulents in your garden by the always creative Eric Johnson, and if you are starting to harvest more produce than you can eat, be sure to read Ana Micka’s story on home canning. Good reading for a hot day — if we have any again!
Archive for June, 2009
You would hardly call our lovable snout house a cottage, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy cottage plants. Right now, I am lovin’ this hollyhock. Hollyhocks (Alcea rosea) are biennials, which means it takes two years for the plant to complete its lifecycle. I bought this plant in spring 2008 at the Dakota County Master Gardener plant sale. Last year, it was a clump of greenery all summer long. This year, it shot up the way teenage boys do between 9th and 10th grade — so I went from having a stout little plant to big a 6 or maybe even 7 footer.
Last week, it started to put out these lovely deep pink and yellow blossoms, which will go all the way up to the top of the plant and bloom for several weeks. Hollyhocks are easy to grow and they make a dramatic vertical accent in the garden. They are said to self-seed freely, so I will let some of the flowers go to seed this year. One bit of history on hollyhocks: Back in the days before indoor plumbing, homeowners often planted hollyhocks near the outhouse. That way, any genteel visitors would not have to ask where the necessary was — they simply looked for the hollyhocks.
This week I’ve had the opportunity to visit three stunning private gardens in the Twin Cities. Each of these gardens is on a city lot (although large ones) and is primarily tended by the homeowners. While each is glorious, the gardens had very different ambiance and show how the owners’ personalities come through in long-tended gardens. One thing that all three had in common, however, was a sturdy fence around the perimeter. Bunnies, deer and other critters are kept out.
A Scientist’s Garden
The first garden I visited is owned by a gentleman who loves martagon lilies and does a great deal of hybridizing. His large, shaded and hilly lot backs up to a pond. Amid the many beds of shade plants were the stars of the show, the lilies he studies, photographs, and breeds. His use of rock throughout the garden gives it real backbone and makes the garden interesting year-round.
Yesterday I visited this garden in St. Paul. It’s owners take meticulous care of the many carefully designed beds. They mulch with only two things: pine needles and oak leaves. The smell of the garden with its roses, lilies, and that marvelous mulch is intoxicating. While the garden has curving beds and an impressive vegetable garden, its formal room was especially beautiful, symmetrical yet varied, formal but inviting. It also features a hidden gazebo, where the homeowners enjoy the many birds that make a home in the garden.
The last garden I visited was in my hometown, Roseville. This large suburban lot has everything: beautiful conifers, undulating perennial beds, rock gardens, a charming shed, and a continually changing palette of color and blooms. This garden looks beautiful from May to October. The homeowners (the husband says it’s mostly his wife’s talent) have an artisitc sensibility that shows in how everything in the garden is arranged and displayed.
After visiting these gardens, I’m excited about this weekend’s Northfield Garden Club tour, where six Northfield gardens will be open to visitors. See the Northfield News article for more information.
My sister sent me an updated photo of her deck garden. As you can see, even in this small space, they have herbs galore (parsley, three basil plants, and rosemary), and a couple of very nice looking tomatoes. The family has already had pesto a few times this summer. With the heat we’ve had the last couple of days, the plants should get even bigger in the next week or so.
I’ve also discovered another benefit of deck gardening in my own yard. I have a small window box on my deck that I planted greens in — mostly beets and chard. While the bunnies have been rampaging through my raised bed with lettuce and greens, they stay off the deck, so I’ll be eating deck-grown salad this week.
My sister and her husband have a large, sunny backyard, but they prefer to leave that space open for pickup football games and other neighborhood fun. (They have four children of their own and lots of little visitors.) So, when they decided they wanted to grow some vegetables, the solution was to build a deck-side garden. My brother-in-law, John, is an engineer, so he had no problem coming up with a good-looking, efficient design. It’s also easy enough to construct that you don’t have to be an engineer to build one. So, here’s John’s Deck Garden — and thanks to my sister, Elly, for sharing the photos. (By the way, these are larger photo files, so feel free to click on the thumbnails to get a closer look at what’s happening.)
John and Elly wanted a garden large enough to grow a couple of tomatoes, some basil and a few other herbs, so they decided to build a box 6 feet long by 2 feet wide. After buying 1-by-8 cedar boards for the sides, some 2-by-2 lumber for the support pieces and a piece of plywood for the bottom, John (with assistance from my dad) went to work. He cut the lumber to size, then used wood glue to attach the boards on top of the plywood bottom (top photo). He started building the box, attaching the side pieces to the supports using deck screws. (This is where having two people working makes the job much easier.) He built it one layer at a time, so that the final box is about 22 inches deep.
Once the box was complete, John flipped it over and attached four strips of 2-by-2 to the bottom to raise the deck garden off of the deck. It’s not shown in the photo, but he also drilled some drainage holes in the bottom and lined the box with landscape fabric. The fabric helps the bed retain some moisture and the holes make sure it doesn’t retain too much.
With the box ready, John and Elly filled it with a mixture of top soil and compost and planted their tomato and herb starts. The photo at right was taken right after planting, and I’ve since heard that the plants are all doing well and the tomatoes have gotten big and already have blossoms. What a great way to raise vegetables in a small space!
Shortly after posting the item on an amazing tree that clings to life from the cliffs at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan, I got to thinking about another aspect of persistent plants: the invasives. These, too, find homes on the sandstone cliffs off of the south shore of Lake Superior — and once they’re established they don’t want to go away.
While visiting Miner’s Castle (photo below), we admired the pretty forget-me-nots (Myosotis spp.), blanketing the forest floor nearby. It turns out these are not natives to the area, but a very aggressive plant that is displacing trout lilies and other plants of the region. Since this is a rare ecosystem, the National Parks Service is taking some steps to remove (or at least reduce) the forget-me-nots and other invasives such as garlic mustard and spotted knapweed from the area. We also saw what I think is Clintonia borealis (yellow corn lily), which is native to the Upper Penninsula.
The tenacity of plants always amazes me. Faced with poor soil, too much sun, too much shade, competition from other plants–whatever the obstacle, many plants will continue to send out roots, sprout flowers or produce seeds. For a case in point, consider this photograph taken earlier this week at the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore near Munising, Mich. My husband and I took a short vacation there this week, enjoying the cool breezes off of Lake Superior, the incredible rock formations, doing some gentle hiking, and talking with the friendly folks at the Falling Rock Cafe and Bookstore, where we heard a soulful and fun performance of Cole Porter music by six opera singers performing as part of the Pine Mountain Music Festival.
But as we took the long drive home yesterday, I kept thinking about this tree. The sandstone that connected it to the mainland here fell away some years ago. Still, the tree grows, hanging onto the soil and its nutrients by this single exposed root. Now that is persistence.
Baptisia is a perennial heading up the popularity charts — and having planted several tufts of it in my re-designed front-yard bed, I can see why. Baptisia australis is a North American native (as far north as Iowa) that the Cherokee tribes used for dye and to cure tooth-aches. Its use as a dye is understandable when you see the deep-blue to purple flowers that grow on the plant.
Recently, baptisia — more commonly called false indigo — has been the subject of considerable research at the Chicago Botanic Garden, which has introduced two hybrid varieties of baptisia. For their research, the Chicago horticulturists bred Baptisia australis and Baptisia sphaerocarpa to come up with hardy plants with striking flowers. I planted Twilight Prairieblues™, which has a deep purple almost maroon colored flower. (The photo is of mature plant I saw on garden tour recently.) Starlite Prairieblues™ is also hardy and prolific, with plants sending up as many as 100 bloom stalks each season, but its flowers are a lighter blue.
Today I dropped in on the Perennial Festival at Gertens in Inver Grove Heights. MSHS is participating in the event which includes several seminars each day, including one by horticulture editor, garden writer, and Bailey Nurseries production guru, Debbie Lonnee. After perusing the tables at Gertens, Debbie pulled out her 15 favorites among relatively new perennials. I didn’t get the full list down (though you can, if you go to Gertens Sunday at 11 when she will be making the same presentation) but here are a few that I remember — several of which are in my own garden.
- Monarda ‘Coral Reef’ — Debbie named this plant, which was developed at the Morden Research station in Canada. That’s the same place the Morden roses were developed. This bee balm has a striking coral flower.
- Polemonium reptans ‘Stairway to Heaven’ — I love this spring-blooming variegated Jacob’s ladder, too, and Debbie offered a good hint. This plant needs a decent amount of moisture to keep it looking good all summer. I’ve got it in a sandy bed and need to add more humus to hang on to moisture.
- ‘Lady in Red’ lady fern — For shade gardens, ferns add the perfect upright, feathery accent to hostas and heucheras. ‘Lady in Red’ is striking because the center stem in each fern leaf is a bright cherry red that stands out in the light of a shade garden.
Other plants she suggested were Geranium ‘Rozanne‘, Sedum ‘Maestro’ and lilies of all types. For more on great plants, check out Debbie’s talk tomorrow. Other talks will cover fruit growing (1 p.m.), shade gardening (2 p.m.), and rain gardens (3 p.m.).
I checked our rain gauge this morning and it showed 1.1 inches of much-needed precipitation. That lines up with the rainfall total at the nearest weather.com station at Sibley Swale, where the total was .91 inches. I may have had a little water in my gauge from watering earlier in the week. Whatever the amount, I know many farmers and gardeners are grateful. Now, if we could just get a little heat….
Monday morning update: I checked the rain gauge at about 7:30 this morning and it had just shy of an inch in it for a total of about 2 inches.