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Archive for June, 2008

Stella!!

That’s my garden blogger’s imitation of Stanley Kowalski. Stella is back–Stella d’Oro, that is, probably one of the most planted perennials of the past 20 years, a plant that is both loved and disdained. I’ve heard it called,”the most worthless perennial of all time,” by Northern Gardener’s own Don Engebretson, a.k.a., The Renegade Gardener, and praised as “the most popular daylily selection of all time.” Of course, it’s possible to be both: Think reality television, Cheetos or stiletto heels.

Here’s my take on Stella: If you’ve got a spot you don’t want to think about much, plant Stella d’Oro daylilies (Hemerocallis ‘Stella d’Oro’). They can handle full sun (see the planting circle in front of the Northfield Public Library for an example) or mostly shade. They bloom consistently and prolifically from late June through much of July. They will re-bloom again late in the summer. Last fall, I had Stellas off-and-on into October–with absolutely no effort on my part. The flowers are a pretty yellow, though the foliage is a non-starter. Mine are planted on the north side of the house near some hostas that also require next to no care. They get a few hours of morning sun, but that’s it. I’ve divided the daylilies once in nine years, though I think they could use it again.

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Blooming Prairie

The back of our yard butts up against what is locally referred to as the “nature area.” It’s a series of storm water retention ponds with grasses and plants around them. The area boasts lots of birds and occasional visits from loons, which my friend, Penny, posted about earlier this year. It also hosts a colony of muskrats and a family of beavers, who have been the talk of the neighborhood this spring. When we first moved here, I spread a mix of wildflower seeds in the meadow right behind our house. During spring and early summer, I get a nice show of blooms. I’m not sure exactly what any of the plants are (though I think the yellow one is a form of rudbeckia), but they are pretty. I especially like these bluish purple blooms, which give the meadow a hazy look in the early morning.

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During my recent vacation, I read Helen Humphreys’ novel, The Lost Garden. It’s a story about the Women’s Land Army in Britain during World War II. “Land girls,” as they were called, were sent to the countryside to raise food, particularly potatoes, for hungry Britons during the war. Humphreys has a lyrical style and the novel is a beautifully written story of love and loss.

I was reminded of the passage below by the many collapsed peonies in Minnesota gardens this week.

The blooms are white and pale pink, grow upright for now, giant buttons of brilliance festooning green leafy tunics. But soon their heads will become too heavy for the thin, reed-like stalks on which they rise with such hope, and the peonies crash to the ground in a wave of grief. They are too much for themselves and soon they know it… There is something almost heroic in their reckless collapse. And there is nothing sadder than a crowd of stricken peonies, their heads full of rain.

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The July/August issue of Northern Gardener will be on news stands soon. This issue features articles on new hydrangeas, how to use tall plants and how to incorporate variegated foliage in your landscape. It also has a must-read article for folks interested in water gardens. Soni Forsman, an expert water gardener who has worked with gardeners at the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory at Como Park in St. Paul, has written an aquatic plant primer full of information on what to plant in water gardens and how to keep your water plants healthy. Soni also took the beautiful photo of a water lily on the cover.

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Goldmound spireaWith the warmer temperatures and steady sun we’ve had the past 10 days, blooms and plants are exploding. Several new blooms are showing up in my garden. One of my favorite shrubs, Goldmound spirea (Spiraea japonica ‘Goldmound’), has started to bloom. These are tough shrubs that you see all over the Midwest. The leaves start out reddish, then go yellow, then turn lime green. The pink flowers last for several weeks. A couple of times, I’ve trimmed them back after blooming and gotten a second round of flowers in the late summer/early fall. These can get rangy, but that’s easy to correct. Simply cut them back to 4 to 5 inches tall. It seems drastic, but think of it as tough love. A master gardener told me spring is the best time to cut them back, but I did it in the summer last year. While the shrubs looked pretty shocking for a few weeks, they recovered and look better than ever this year.

Also in bloom is a plant that was labeled a “local daisy” that I bought at the Northfield Garden Club plant sale in May. I put it in a bed to keep an eye on it this year, but will transplant it to the meadow behind our house later.

Finally, I’ve got two kinds of penstemon or beard tongue in bloom. In the back, the Husker Red (Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’) looks great with its delicate flowers and striking red/green foliage. (It’s the one on the left.) In the front, the Phoenix™ series penstemon is also in bloom. This is a showy annual that looks like a cross between a snapdragon and a foxglove. Penstemon is a huge genus of plants, which include many wildflowers. Recently, fellow Northfield blogger Rob Hardy of Rough Draft posted some photos of a field of wild penstemon in the Carleton College arboretum. Check it out.

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Late June and July are the big months for garden tours in the Midwest. This weekend the Northfield Garden Club is hosting its annual tour, so I headed out early to check out the gardens. I made it to five of the seven gardens on the tour and came home full of ideas and inspiration.

At Judy and Jim Cedarburg’s garden (No. 6 on the Northfield tour), a small meadow of shasta daisies bloomed in a corner of the double-lot garden. Anyone with an area they don’t want to mow could add that kind of meadow, especially if you combined the daisies with ornamental grasses. The Cedarburgs have extensive perennial gardens and a big vegetable patch. They’ve been gardening in that spot for more than 40 years. If you visit, be sure to ask them about the huge oak they planted from an acorn.

Shirley and Bob Cox’s garden (No. 4 on the tour) is designed to attract birds. It includes all of the things birds need: shelter, water, food and cover. The Coxes use boulders throughout the garden to great effect.

If you are interested in attending the tour, you can get a ticket for $10 at any of the tour gardens (the president’s house at St. Olaf is where I started) or at Knecht’s Nurseries or Hodge-Podge Que Antiques downtown.

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Library in Bloom

Kudos to Judy Code, Pat Allen, the Northfield in Bloom committee and the Northfield Garden Club for all the work they have done this spring getting Northfield gorgeous for the America In Bloom judges, who will be arriving in town in July. Many businesses downtown have participated in the project and the garden club has been working with the city to spruce up public spaces. Case in point: the Library.

In May, members of the Friends of the Northfield Library–including yours truly–weeded, trimmed brush and cleaned up the beds and planters around the library. Then, the garden club went to work, adding hostas, daylilies, roses and dozens of petunias. When you come out of the Division Street door, it’s like stepping into a forest glade with all the shade-loving foliage plants that have been added. Along the street, pink petunias, roses and flowering spirea add color to accent the red brick and the green of the vines that cascade down the wall. Great job, gardeners!

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