Archive for November, 2007

burrell_c.jpgC. Colston Burrell, a garden designer, photographer, naturalist, and all around guru of the native plants movement, will be speaking at Bachman’s Lyndale Avenue store Jan. 12. The event is co-sponsored by the Minnesota State Horticulture Society, the Rock Garden Society of Minnesota, the Saint Paul Garden Club, and Twin Cities Wild Ones. Burrell, author of A Gardener’s Encyclopedia of Wildflowers, is in the Twin Cities to attend the Minnesota Green Expo, the landscaping industry’s annual trade show.

His public talk, which begins at 10 a.m., Saturday, Jan. 12, will be on the 20th Century Native Plant Movement, tracing gardeners’ love of native plants from “the Victorian passion for the outdoors and the birth of the field guide to the environmental movement and the growing number of modern native plant nurseries.” With the increasing concern about buckthorn and other invasives, more people are seeking native plants for private gardens and public spaces.

Tickets for Burrell’s presentation are $20 for members of MSHS, $25 for everyone else. Seating is limited and this event likely will sell out. If you are interested, call 651-643-3601, ext. 211, to register.


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Lighting the Garden

img_0477.jpgThe activity level in my neighborhood was high this past weekend as everyone put up their holiday decorations. We take a subtle approach–which in my youngest daughter’s opinion is just plain boring. My husband hung our lighted Christmas wreath and wrapped lights around a metal sculpture in our front bed, which looks like a tree when lit up. I circled a pillar at the front door with pine garland and put some boughs in a decorative pot. In a moment of inspiration, we also added lights to the pergola.

We don’t put lights on outdoor trees–mostly because it’s a lot of work–but I found out recently that our laziness is good for the trees, too. In a recent column in Northern Gardener, Stefan Fediuk and Jim Kohut, who oversee the huge Canadian gardening web site, northscaping.com argue that the heat from light bulbs, followed by rapid cooling when the bulbs are turned off, promotes breakage and other damage to evergreens. The danger is greatest with young trees because evergreens grow fastest when they are young.

img_0479.jpgThey recommend lighting the house instead of trees. If you want to light trees, they suggest you pick a large, more mature specimen and use the new low-wattage LED lights. My next-door neighbors put lights on their trees, and these large evergreens are very healthy. (I couldn’t resist taking a picture because we had such a pretty sunset this evening.) However, my neighbors light the trees only during the holiday season, which is another way to minimize damage.

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Crafty Gift Idea

img_0470.jpgMy family does its holiday gift-giving on Thanksgiving, so I got a chance to sew up a garden apron idea that I saw in Gayla Trail’s You Grow Girl. I gave one to my sister, who not only hosted Thanksgiving for 28 but willingly modeled the apron (thanks, Elly!). I also gave one to my mom, who got a subscription to (of course!) Northern Gardener, as well.

The apron is a very easy project. A 10-year-old with a parental unit who knows how to sew could execute it successfully. To make the apron you take two 16-by-20 inch rectangles, sew them together to make a lined rectangle, then fold one end up, sew in little pockets, and attach a tie. The pockets give you a place to carry seed packets, ties to tie up plants, your hand pruners, and all the other things that I tend to forget in the garage or leave in the garden accidentally. Complete instructions with illustrations are in the book, which is available at most bookstores and through interlibrary loan if you live in Northfield.

img_0472.jpgWhat attracted me to the project were the interesting fabrics shown on the apron in the book. I’ve been looking for a project that was fairly easy and would give me an excuse to buy some fabric at digs in downtown Northfield. I love looking at the fabrics in the basement, even though I do not sew much. They are so bright and fun–almost retro looking. The store also carries furniture, yarn, cool buttons, and lots of other crafty stuff. I found a heavy striped fabric for the outside of the apron and a lighter apricot-colored fabric with a subtle print for the lining. It cost less than $20 to make both aprons, and I have plenty fabric left over to make one for myself, too. If you are looking for a simple, homemade gift for a gardener, try this one.

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img_0366.jpgIf you are traveling to the Chicago area during the holiday season, consider a stop at the Chicago Botanic Garden for its Wonderland Express exhibit. Gardeners will love the displays outside, but anyone with a sense of awe or the magical will enjoy the railroad garden inside the Regenstein Center, the garden’s horticulture school. When I was visiting the garden yesterday, Julie McCaffrey, one of the garden’s PR people, walked me through the exhibit, which was getting its final preparations before it opens Friday.

Created by landscape architect Paul Busse, the display covers 10,000 square feet and includes miniatures of Chicago landmarks, snugly tucked into plantings with a train that winds through the exhibit. The first thing I noticed when entering the exhibit was the marvelous smell of cedar. All of the buildings are made of natural materials: wood, corn husks, fruits. They are remarkableimg_0372.jpg likenesses, too, from the towering structures of the downtown to the Frank Lloyd Wright inspired houses. Surrounding these structures are plants, including amaryllis, orchids, boxwood, and hundreds of poinsettias. This photo is of the replicated tea house in the Chicago Botanic’s Japanese Garden. It’s made of corn husks and wood.

The rest of the garden is dressed for the holidays as well. Horticulturist Tim Johnson told me they have been working to include more evergreens and more unusual forms of evergreens in the gardens for year-long structure and beauty. They also place evergreens in pots around water features that have been drained. Some trees are adorned with holiday lights as are huge balls made of chicken wire and lights that look like tree ornaments laying on the lawn.

img_0393.jpgThe Chicago Botanic is built on what was a swamp, so water is a big part of the garden design. Fog shrouded the gardens the day I visited, but I think that only added to the charm of the Japanese gardens. More on those in a later post.

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November is my least favorite month: dark, wet, and nothing but winter in sight for the next six months. But gardeners can find ways to brighten November–or at least work with its palette. Yesterday and today, I’m on a road trip to the Chicago area. En route to Chicago, I stopped at the Olbrich Botanical Garden in Madison, Wis. Olbrich is a city garden, nestled in a large park along Lake Monona. Its executive director is Roberta Sladky, formerly of the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory at Como Park in St. Paul.

Like Madison itself, Olbrich is big enough to be interesting, but not so big it overwhelms visitors. I toured Olbrich on a hot, sunny day in the summer of 2006 and loved the garden’s bright colors, especially its rose garden. This time, fall and a persistent drizzle gave the place a pleasant but muted feel.


Visiting public gardens is a great way to get ideas for your own garden. Public garden designers really know how to frame vistas and outlooks. This view is not far from the entrance to the garden and it clearly tells visitors they are entering a special place. That tower in the distance overlooks the rose garden.

Olbrich uses grasses, fruiting trees, and ground covers to provide interest and color in the fall garden. The gardeners there also leave many of their perennials standing, rather than clearing them out for the winter.

img_0192.jpgI love the rich purple color of this Ajuga ‘Burgandy Glow’ img_0203.jpgwhich is underplanted in a bed of shrubs and perennials. Planted nearby are several crabapple trees with their bright red fruits dangling down. Other highlights of Olbrich are its Thai garden and its use of grasses. More on those in future posts.

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snow-on-haralson.jpgI woke up this morning to the first snow of the season–sort of. It’s already melting, but I took a few photos to mark the official transition from fall to winter. (I still have to bring in the hoses!)

mums-in-snow.jpgWe still have leaves on the oaks and one apple tree in our yard, so they provided places for the snow to settle, as did the mums that are still blooming.

sedum-in-snow.jpgIn an earlier post, I talked about how much winter interest sedum provides. The contrast of the white snow and the dark, almost rustevergreen-in-snow.jpg color of the sedum is striking. Finally, the snow nestled into the needles on this white pine.

In a climate like ours, gardens should be designed for four-seasons of beauty. One thing I discovered this past year is how much a stimulating view out a window adds to the enjoyment of yourpergola-in-fall.jpg house. We had a pergola installed in our back yard, and it is easily seen from the main windows in our living and dining areas. I often find myself stopping to look at it, and I always feel refreshed. There is something about its sturdy shape standing guard outside our house that makes me feel grounded and happy to be where I am.

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The Smother Method

This past weekend, I took the first steps in installing my new flower bed. The actual planting won’t occur until next spring, but I’m using what’s called “The Smother Method,” and that requires a little advanced planning.

cover_thewaywegardennow250.jpgThe idea behind the smother method is simple: why bother to break your back digging up grass and double digging a flower bed when you can just quietly kill the grass over several months and benefit from the organic matter the grass contributes to the soil? The method has been around forever, but I read about it recently in Katherine Whiteside’s new book The Way We Garden Now. you-grow-girl.jpgThis is one of several hip garden books designed to appeal to people who want a lovely garden without too much work. Gayla Trail’s You Grow Girl book is along the same lines, but for even younger readers. You’d never catch me gardening in a belly shirt!

The smother method is simple in theory. Layout your bed, mark it with flour or a landscape spray paint, mow inside the bed to the shortest height on your mower, then spread several sheets of wet newspaper on top of the area you want to kill, cover it with black landscape fabric, weight it down, then go inside, have a beer, and wait several months. As is often the case with my garden projects, it wasn’t quite as easy as it should have been.

First, due to important family obligations on Sunday, I needed to do the project Saturday, which was the windy, cold day of the weekend. Second, I failed to follow my father’s cardinal rule of projects: make sure you have everything you need before you start. Consequently, not only did I need to make a run to the local home improvement store to get a pile of cheap bricks and an extra roll of landscape fabric, I also had to ask several neighbors if they had extra newspapers. (Thanks Paulette, Karen, and Dave and Wendy!)

watering-bed.jpgIt took two or three times longer than expected–not to mention about five pairs of garden gloves–but I did finally get the bed covered. I added the extra step of throwing some composted manure on the area, just to give it a head start on nutrients. I also discovered the most important ingredient in the process is water–lots of water. You water the grass after it’s cut, water the newspapers before you lay them down, water it all when you are done, and I’ve watered it once since Saturday because it looked dry already.


For aesthetic reasons, I plan to cover the bed with a mulch of reed canary grass, which is like hay but has fewer weed seeds. That last step will have to wait until the wind stops blowing. After that, I’m hoping for a nice snowy winter and an early spring.

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