Archive for July, 2008

Bloom Tuesday? It felt a bit like doom Tuesday, what with the car breaking down in the Target parking lot, the phone lines getting cut at my office (no internet or phone all afternoon), and yet another dog-related health crisis. (Good news! We now qualify for the regular customer discount on lab work at the vet.) But these are ultimately minor matters, and today was the final day of the America in Bloom judges’ visit to Northfield. I hope they enjoyed their visit and appreciated the hard work that went into many of the beautification efforts.

So, rather than taking shots of my own garden, I visited (on my bike) several great examples of bloom around Northfield. The baskets hanging on lamp posts around town look especially nice right now, despite the heat. (Thank you, watering crew!) I also like many of the baskets and pots outside of businesses. The block between Fourth and Fifth on Division Street looks like a flower market. While the displays are especially grand this year, the merchants on this block have long brightened up summer with their pots.

Finally, many people in Northfield seem to have taken the call to put out baskets and window boxes seriously. I’ve seen lots of bloom-filled boxes hanging off decks around the ponds near my house. Also, more people seem to be planting out their front yards. This Fourth Street garden is one of my favorite front-yard gardens.


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A reader e-mailed me about a problem with his begonias, which he says are performing much more poorly than they have in previous years.

Here’s how he described the problem:

” The begonias were planted on Mother’s Day in rows 9 inches apart with 10-inch spacing
in the rows…With the exception of limited sunlight in the AM, they are shaded. Have planted begonias in this area for several years and within a couple of months, they have typically been very healthy-looking and taller than the ones shown in the attached pictures.”

Does anyone know what might be happening here?

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Last night, while walking the dog about 9 p.m., my husband commented that it seemed darker than usual. We have crossed over to the backside of summer, and as if they know it cannot last forever, the summer flowers are blooming in desperation.

A daylily I was given during a Garden Writers of America tour last year is now in bloom. This showy, mid-season daylily (Hemerocallis) came from American Daylily & Perennials, a Kansas City company run by hybridizer Jack Roberson and his wife, Jo. I’m a real daylily dunce, but I think this one is either ‘Addie Branch Smith’ or a new daylily called ‘Lady Jackie’. There are thousands of daylilies that have been hybridized over the years and a several hybridizers work in Minnesota.

Out in the meadow behind my house, new plants are blooming. I moved this black-eyed Susan from my front yard bed last year, and it’s brightening up the back. There’s also an Indian blanket flower (Gaillardia pulchella) in bloom.

Finally, while not a bloom, a very welcome summer event is the arrival of the July raspberries. I’ve been picking a few for the last week or so and am hopeful for larger harvests this week. This yellow variety is called ‘Anne’.

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Many gardeners like to take pictures of their gardens, partly to keep records of how things look and partly out of the parent-like pride people rightly feel about their gardens. Getting good garden shots is not easy–as I have certainly discovered while keeping this blog. Some photos look washed out, some too bright, sometimes the main subject looks great, but there is that annoying branch or house in the background.

Donna Krischan, a professional garden photographer from Big Bend, Wis., offered tips to gardeners at the Midwest Regional Master Gardener Conference last week. Donna is a regular contributor to Northern Gardener, and one of my go-to photogs that I contact when we need specific images. There isn’t room here to go through all of her suggestions. If you want to go deeper into photography, Donna occasionally teaches courses on the topic. The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum also offers periodic garden photography courses, usually taught by Two Harbors-based John Gregor. Here are my top three tips from Donna:

  • Move in close. Simpler images have more power and nothing is more simple or powerful than the amazing forms and colors of flowers. Think Georgia O’Keeffe.
  • Focus on the stamens. Where do you focus when you take shots of people? Most people focus on the eyes. Stamens are the eyes of the flower. If you can get those in focus, your subject will look its best.
  • When shooting in sun, force the flash to fire. Bright sun is tough to shoot in, and for that reason, I try to take my garden shots at sunset or early evening. (Many photographers swear that dawn is the best time to shoot, but I’m not that much of a morning person.) If you must shoot in bright sun, force your camera’s flash to fire. This will light your main subject and give more details to your shots

I was so excited after Donna’s talk that I returned to Boerner Botanical Gardens, which we’d toured the previous day, to try out some of her techniques. The photos above are from that shoot, and I think they turned out pretty good. Thanks, Donna!

[Photos from top left, a bee foraging (appropriately) on bee balm (Monarda); my Georgia O’Keeffe impression with a Memorial Day™ rose; and Charmaine daylily, which I used to practice focusing on the stamens, which is tougher than you’d imagine.]

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Who knew my Mom was so cutting edge? In Florida this winter, she showed me her containers, a trio of nice-looking decorative pots, each with a single Sunpatiens impatiens in it. “I’m not putting all kinds of plants in my pots anymore,” she said. “I just put one in there and it looks good.”

Right on, Mom. According to Ed Lyons, the director of the Allen Centennial Gardens at the University of Wisconsin and a frequent author and lecturer, one-plant pots are among the latest garden trends. One reason is containers themselves have become more interesting: high-gloss glazes, bright colors, fun shapes. Using fewer plants per container also allows for more design flexibility. If a plant peters out or doesn’t like the sun in one location, just move it. Re-arrange a big group of pots for different looks. Lyons noted that designers also are using more containers in garden designs.

Since he was addressing a group of plant fanatics at the Midwest Regional Master Gardener Conference in Milwaukee, Lyon also noted which plants are hot now. Here are the top four on-trend plants he sees:

  • Succullents–any and everything, and if you’ve got a spot in the basement and grow them in pots, you can overwinter them successfully;
  • Heucheras–Lyons likes the Heuchera x villosas , which come in colors like ‘Caramel’, ‘Citronelle’ and ‘Brownie’. Be careful: not all Heucheras have been trialed thoroughly in northern climates.
  • Echinaceas–There are dozens of new coneflowers coming on the market. Not everyone will like all the new varieties (personally, I hate the ones with the puffballs in the center), but there is something new for almost every taste. An article I read in Horticulture magazine recently said the new coneflowers may cross pollinate with each other or the old ones, resulting in a variety of colors in your garden. That sounds cool.
  • Baptisia–According to Lyon, this is the next new hot plant with lots of cultivars coming. Start watching for it in plant catalogs and garden magazines. He likes a cultivar called ‘Purple Smoke’.

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While gardening is often viewed as a classic, homespun activity, it is as shaped by trends and fashions just as much as clothing, home decor, or music. Ed Lyon, director of the Allen Centennial Gardens at the University of Wisconsin and a frequent garden lecturer and author, helped Master Gardeners pick through demographic data and trends during Friday’s Midwest Regional Master Gardener Conference.

He noted two big trends: Baby Boomers are getting old and the generations behind them are not as tuned into gardening as a hobby, at least not if it involves much work. These folks, the oldest of whom are in their mid-40s, are financially burdened with big houses and mortgages and want low to no-maintenance gardens because they work all the time, and in their off-hours they go to kids’ soccer games. They want gardens that are great for hosting BBQs, but don’t require much weeding or pruning. The gardens these busy people prefer often look more like a patio with yard attached, boasting several thousand dollars worth of furniture and an extremely cool pot with a single tropical plant in it.

The second big trend, which seems paradoxical in some ways, is that the so-called Generations X and Y are very concerned about health and food, which is leading to an increased interest in growing vegetables. Will this translate into more vegetable gardens or just more shoppers at Farmers’ Markets? Either one is a good trend in my book.

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Good news for lazy rose growers: Another Knockout® rose will be available next year, and this one is white. William Radler, the Milwaukee breeder who created the incredibly popular Knockout roses in his backyard, told a group of Midwest Master Gardeners that a new white rose, expected to be called WhiteOut, will be introduced in 2009. Radler’s organization, Rose Innovations, is also prepping a new verbena, called Sweet Thing, for the marketplace in 2009.

Knockout roses are bred for gardeners with limited time and less inclination to fuss. They require no spraying and no winter cover, just a little fertilizer and water. Radler and his crew gave the master gardeners an inside look at how they develop these tough roses. Radler’s yard/lab, located in suburban Milwaukee, is planted with 1,400 roses, 500 of which are replaced each spring because they could not make the cut. To develop extremely hardy roses, Radler treats them in the worst ways possible. He waters from sprinklers at night several times a week to encourage disease. He intermittently dusts them with a powder made of leaves of other diseased roses. They get one treatment with fertilizer a year. Those that survive might become Knockouts, which also have to be self-cleaning, meaning they drop their petals naturally to keep a neat appearance, and, of course, they have to look good. In addition to the shrub-type roses, Radler is working on developing a sturdy, disease resistant hybrid tea rose.

A Knockout hybrid tea is still several years away, but the visit to Radler’s prompted some discussion among the master gardeners. Apparently some enthusiastic (fanatic?) rose growers don’t like Knockouts because they make gardeners believe roses are “easy,” said one of the master gardeners, who is a rose grower herself. But she liked the Knockouts because they introduced gardeners to roses–and once they were interested and had success with Knockouts, they could move on to other roses.

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