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Archive for February, 2008

Cottage Gardens and Cineraria

The English Garden at the Minneapolis Home and Garden show is actually a series of gardens, each designed and planted by a Twin Cities landscaping firm. I’ve only been to Britain once and gardens were not on the agenda, though my younger daughter, then age 9, and I had a great time at the London Zoo, which has a garden-like feel and is located in Regent’s Park, home to a fabulous rose garden. I remember the day because she was so amazed that some kids considered baked beans on toast delicious fast food. Ah, the wonders of travel. In any case, I’m no judge of how realistic the 10 English Gardens at the home show are, but a couple of the gardens caught my eye.

img_1247.jpgimg_1248.jpgThis Cineraria is the bluest plant I have ever seen. The folks at Masterpiece Landscaping in Minnetonka used drifts of blue, blue-purple, and blue-white Cineraria to great effect in their garden. Josh Jerde of Masterpiece told me that the plant is not used much because the blooms fade by mid-June and the foliage is not exciting. I had to take a picture of this eagle garden sculpture nearby. I’m not sure what kind of a garden you would need to have one of these planted in it, except it would have to be very, very large.

img_1256.jpgimg_1263.jpgI also liked the cottage garden. I believe the firm that did it is called Botanical, but I’m not positive. They used some cottage-y plants, like hydrangea and clematis, and combined them with interesting, unusual evergreens, including this evergreen on a stick. I’m planning to convert the bed in front of my house to a much more cottage look–though our house is more aptly described as a snout house rather than a cottage–but I like the feel of fullness and color that cottage gardens have. I’m still not sure how to realize that next to our garage/snout.

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current_cover.jpgThe March/April issue of Northern Gardener is now available and it’s all about spring–just what we need on a day when the landscape looks positively Arctic with the wind and fresh snow. Debbie Lonnee, Northern Gardener’s horticulture editor, wrote the cover story on new annuals for 2008. Debbie recommends a half dozen great newer annuals, including a blue Salvia (Cathedral series) and a lime-green beefsteak plant (Iresine ‘Blazin’ Lime’). In another feature, Mike Heger of Ambergate Gardens in Chaska recommends 10 native plants that he thinks more gardeners should plant. If you are not a subscriber, you can find the issue at independent bookstores, Barnes and Noble, and Lund’s and Byerly’s stores.

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img_1180.jpgimg_1219.jpgMy Instant Garden seeds have germinated and tiny little cotyledons (first leaves) are stretching toward the light. I was concerned about how much stretching was going on, so I moved the pot to this precarious post under some florescent lights in my kitchen. The hope is the close light source will allow the plants to develop into hardy, stocky fellows rather than scrawny ones. I made one mistake (well, at least one) in planting the pot, which is that I forgot to note which herbs were planted where. The middle plant is the green pepper. Fortunately, I’ll be able to identify the oregano, basil, and parsley once their true leaves emerge.

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Prince of Peonies Back Online

majesticrose.jpgMany Minnesota gardeners are familiar with Harvey Buchite, formerly co-owner of Rice Creek Gardens in Blaine and an expert on all things peony. Harvey is a frequent speaker at gatherings of gardening enthusiasts. A couple of years ago, he and his wife, Brigitte, who was trained in horticulture in her native Austria, decided to open their own nursery and purchased land in Spring Grove, Minnesota. They planted 23,000 peonies, hundreds of hostas and daylilies, and began planning for buildings and extensive display gardens. The floods that devastated parts of southeastern Minnesota in August took a toll on the property. However, the Buchites and their nursery, Hidden Springs Flower Farm, are up and running on the internet. (I grabbed the photo of a gorgeous Majestic Rose peony from their site.) The site offers more than 300 peony varieties, ranging from 100-plus year old varieties to brand new ones. The Buchites will be taking orders this spring. Plants are generally shipped bare-root in the fall, which is the best time for planting peonies. Because of the damage from the floods, Harvey tells me they cannot be open for visitors until late 2009 at the earliest.

Despite the setbacks, the Buchites remain upbeat about the project, something Harvey says they have learned from working with plants over the years. He wrote, “I know that we will end up with just a gorgeous home and nursery. I can’t help but be optimistic when I’m working with plants because they teach us patience and the end results from anything is always better when allowed to develop at its own pace.”

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mn_landscapingbook_cover_w_sm.jpgWhen we built our house nine years ago, I planted wildflowers in an area behind our lot. That area backs up to a walking path and several city-owned ponds. Knowing little about prairies or wildflowers at the time, I bought a wildflower seed mix for the Midwest, prepared the area, scattered the seed and hoped for the best. Sometimes that method words out well enough, as it did in my case, but at the time, I could have used a resource available specific to Minnesota. Well, now there is one.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service of the USDA recently published a booklet called “Living Landscapes in Minnesota: A Guide to Native Plantscaping.” For such a small book (only 36 pages), it’s a remarkably thorough resource on native plantings. The booklet provides an overview of how to design your landscape using native trees, shrubs, wildflowers, and grasses, as well as information on site preparation and choosing the best plants for your soil type. It also includes information on rain gardens, alternatives to Kentucky bluegrass for lawns, and planting for energy conservation. The lists of native plants that are appropriate for each type of landscape are also helpful.

The conservation service has a few printed copies available for distribution or you can simply download a PDF of the book. If you are planning to use natives in your landscape, it’s worth checking out.

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img_1179.jpgBack in December, I blogged about how wonderful red-twig dogwoods are for providing winter color. In answer to my question about whether to coppice my dogwoods, a reader suggested taking out one-third of the branches each winter and putting the cut branches in water to encourage bloom.

It’s been so cold recently that I haven’t felt like roaming around the yard with a pruner, but Saturday was a pleasant day, so I went out and cut some branches from my rangiest dogwood. I followed the procedure for forcing branches that is outlined at the Purdue University web site. Forcing basically means bringing the branches inside and coaxing them into thinking it’s spring so they will bloom.

Purdue recommends putting the branches in a tall container and using a preservative liquid. The branches are essentially bathed in the liquid, which apparently keeps them healthy and makes them bloom more. I had one nice tall vase to use, but all my other vases have disappeared, so I had to put some of the shorter branches in a martini shaker. (The last time anyone had a martini around here, Reagan was president.) The preservative is a mixture of lemon-lime soda (pop to you Minnesotans), water and a touch of chlorine bleach. The branches will now sit in a slightly dark, cool corner of the basement for a few weeks. If it works, I should have flowers sometime between Easter and April Fool’s Day.

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img_1075.jpgimg_1092.jpgI was in St. Paul on business today, and one of the events I had scheduled was canceled. So, I found myself not far from Como Park with an hour to spare. Impulsively, I set out for the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory, the tropical garden in Como Park. It was just a few minutes after 10 a.m., the conservatory’s opening time, when I arrived and already the parking lot was nearly full. It makes sense. The weather lately has been cold and lousy. I’m not the only one who decided to take a one hour vacation to the tropics.

img_1070.jpgWhen I got in, the first thing I had to do was wait for my glasses to defrost after the rapid change in temperature and humidity between outside and the conservatory. It turns out the conservatory was hosting its annual Winter Flower Show in the Sunken Garden Room. You couldn’t help but relax and slow down when surrounded by this much beauty, breathing that soft, humid air.

img_1090.jpgimg_1113.jpgI was blown away by the azaleas that lined the room, mixed with Oriental lilies (pictured above right), cyclamen and amaryllis, among other flowers. The azalea flowers were enormous and each one seemed almost perfect. The top group of flowers in the photo at right actually comes from a tree that is in a pot about four feet below the floor of this display area. I talked with a very helpful volunteer named Maggie, who told me that the bushy azaleas in the main area also have thick trunks inside of them. The conservatory horticulturists keep them pruned tightly in order to encourage bloom for this annual show. I was feeling a bit sheepish about how wimpy my azaleas are in the spring, but Maggie told me not to make comparisons. The conservatory show features tropical azaleas, which are nothing like the Minnesota-hardy azaleas developed at the University of Minnesota.

img_1159.jpgimg_1130.jpgIn the main part of the conservatory, orchids are scattered among the palms and greenery. The conservatory keeps a large collection of orchids and sets them out when they are in bloom. I really liked the one at left. I was also fascinated by this Manila hemp plant. The scientific name is Musa textilis and it’s related to the banana family. The plant is known for its durable fibers, which are mainly used for making rope. That pink blossom that looks like its coming off of a cable is the plant’s flower.

img_1132.jpgAm I crazy, or does the flower look like something electrical?

img_1160.jpgMy spare hour was soon up, so I bid Maggie and the tropics good-bye. If you are thinking of visiting the conservatory, it’s open 10 to 4 everyday in the winter. The conservatory is free, though a sign politely asks for a $2 donation per adult. (Definitely, a bargain.) You can also visit the Como Zoo while there, and even have a bite in the park’s dining areas. It’s not exactly Bermuda, but on a frigid February day, it’s a real respite.

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