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Archive for April, 2008

I’ve always worn an old baseball cap when I garden, which was not much in the looks department and did not protect my neck from the sun. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve been more careful about sun protection. (And perhaps a bit regretful about those sunburns in the Bahamas back in the 80s.) So, this year, I splurged. Here I am modeling my new sun-proof garden hat from Tilley’s. It’s still not much in the looks department (or maybe I’m just not a hat person) but no stray UV rays will get me. What I really like about this hat is that it has a band that goes around the back of your head–just like the famous hats worn by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, according to the brochure–so it will not blow off during windy weather.

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Bloom Tuesday

PansiesI’ve never been very dedicated to keeping garden records, even though I have several lovely journals just for that purpose. I’m hoping this blog might keep me more on task. So, here it goes, the first of what I hope will be weekly updates on what’s blooming in my garden. Right now, I hope your garden is doing better. This morning, I stepped out on the front stoop and the most prominent “bloom” was frost. According to the weather service, it hit 26 F. in Northfield last night.

I’ve got two things blooming: two pots of pansies that I just put out and the squill that I planted last fall. I potted one set of pansies in a strawberry pot and another batch in a terracotta pot I picked up for free last fall. This is the first year I’ve put pansies out, because it usually gets too warm for pansies very quickly. This year, it seemed worth it to spend a few bucks for some color.

The squill (Scilla siberica) are bright and cheery, despite the cold, rain and general gloom they have put up with since emerging. Squill flowers tend to face downward (as in the first picture), so I held the bloom up on one to get this detail shot.

While I don’t have much going, I’ve noticed a few yards with early daffodils blooming. My neighbor’s crocus were very pretty a week or so ago, but have faded now. The forecast calls for warmer, but still cool weather for the next week or two. I guess this is the time of year we northern gardeners earn our bragging rights.

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Unlike so many condos for people, I am hoping my just completed condo project for orchard mason bees will soon be abuzz with activity. I’ve been meaning to build one of these since I read an article in Fine Gardening about raising raspberries and the importance of orchard mason bees as pollinators.

Last fall, we had an article in Northern Gardener on the honeybee crisis. Honeybees, which are responsible for much of the pollination of commercial crops such as almonds, have been dying off in large numbers. Marla Spivak of the U of M is a bee expert, and she believes several factors may be causing the die-off, including mites or diseases and changes in habitat, such as prairies becoming residential areas and large monoculture crops (corn). If you are interested in honeybees or just want to see pictures of people with bee-beards, please check out the U’s great Bee Lab web site.

Well, no matter what the situation with honeybees, gardeners need bees of all types for pollination. Orchard mason bees are perfect bee neighbors. They are not social bees–each little bee wants her own condo. They are very gentle and pollinate like crazy. To build the house, you need a 4-by-4 block of wood of any length (mine is about a foot) with an angle cut on one edge. You also need a spare piece of wood or a cedar shingle for the roof, and another piece of wood to mount the house on. If you are lucky and have a friend with lots of spare lumber and a rotating arm power saw, the job is a snap. (Thanks, Steve!)

Once you have the wood, you drill holes 5/16th of an inch in diameter about 3 inches into the wood. Drill as many holes as you want, but there should be about 3/4 of an inch center to center between the holes. I got 28 on my block. Then, attach the roof to the block, and the block to the mounting piece and you are ready to hang your bee house. The bees like it facing south, so I mounted mine on one of the posts of my pergola. The bees use the holes in the house for nesting. They love pollen from apples and raspberries and I have both very close to the bee house. With any luck, the bees will help produce a good crop of raspberries, apples, veggies, flowers, and more bees this summer.

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The rain we’ve had has been great, as I noted in the previous post, but c’mon, snow! This morning, I woke up to a small pile of the white stuff on the gardens and yard. It’s melting rapidly, but according to local weather forecasts, we’ll be getting night temperatures in the high 20s the next two nights. Spring bulbs and buds on trees should be able to deal with this–and, if they can, I suppose gardeners can as well.

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Feeling Grateful

It’s been cold and rainy the past couple of days, but I cannot help but feel grateful for it. This is one of those turning-point rains, steady and plentiful, but not too hard. With a rain like this, suddenly the grass goes from dull to vibrant, the trees start to glow with leaf buds just ready to pop, and foliage sprouts from the ground where flowers were last summer.

The buds on my tulips need only a little sun before they will open up to spring.

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The May/June issue of Northern Gardener will be arriving in mailboxes and at news stands soon. This is our biggest issue of the year and includes articles on several hot trends in gardening. Margaret Haapoja writes about tropical plants, including plants that are hardy to the North (Margaret lives near Duluth) but look like they’re from south Florida. Don Engebretson, the Renegade Gardener, has an interesting column on using perennials in containers. While petunias, impatiens and begonias are great, this is the year to try something different. Don offers several suggestions for using perennials with unusual foliage, and he tells us how to keep those plants through the winter to use in containers next year as well. Look for the pale blue banner and the striking passionflower vine on the cover.

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Oprah’s Rose

She influences the best-seller lists, dabbles in presidential politics, and tells American women how to think about themselves….and now, what to plant in their gardens. Oprah Winfrey is introducing a rose. Called “The Legends” in honor of 18 African-American women leaders and pioneers, Oprah’s rose is a large, hybrid tea rose with big, bright red blooms. It’s is being offered in pre-release by California-based Regan Nursery, before its wider release in 2009. The rose was developed–based on Oprah’s preferences–by hybridizer Tom Carruth, who has hybridized nine previous All-America Rose winners. For the rose fiends among us, here is the parentage of the rose: (City of San Francisco x Olympiad) x [Amalia x (Ingrid Bergman x All That Jazz)].

While roses seem a bit of a stretch even for Oprah’s brand, she joins a long line of famous folk, living and dead, who have roses named for them. Yes, The Legends isn’t exactly named for Oprah, but what do you think people will ask for when they buy it at their local nursery?

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