Archive for July, 2008

Despite a lot of rough weather in Wisconsin, I’ve arrived in Milwaukee for the Midwest Regional Conference of Master Gardeners, which has attracted gardeners from Minnesota to Michigan. Full disclosure: I am NOT a master gardener–far from it! But consistent with the generosity that is the essence of master gardeners, the conference is open to the public. What better way to learn about plants and gardening than to hang out with people who genuinely care about these issues?

Master gardeners go through extensive training, 48 hours in the classroom in Minnesota followed by 50 hours of community service. Many of the 300 or so gardeners here are taking the course for additional master gardener credits. I’ve met many master gardeners over the years, and as a group, they are among the most giving, knowledgeable, and just plain fun folks to be around. I’m looking forward to meeting more of them. The convention has attracted a bunch of top-notch speakers, including author and TV gardener, Melinda Myers, and Micheal Weishan, host of the PBS program, The Victory Garden.

The educational component is Friday. Thursday is all fun, with a full day of garden tours. I’ll report back tomorrow night.


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The summer flowers are in full bloom now, and for that, I am grateful. The perennial bed near my front door tends to look a little–um, how shall I put this?–scruffy–until July when the rudbeckia and coneflowers come in. The bed looks nice and summery now and a few other mid-summer blooms have checked in as well.

In the front, good old Grandpa Otts morning glories (above) are running wild and starting to bloom. I know many gardeners hate Grandpa because he reseeds so freely. I’ve always liked morning glories, and don’t mind pulling a few–maybe a few hundred–out. In the past, I’ve pretty much let Grandpa and his ilk take over one bed, but have vowed this year to restrict the morning glories to a few areas fitted with climbing structures. This one is climbing a metal obelisk-type piece of garden art. Another summer flower that is making an appearance is bee balm (Monarda). I believe this one is ‘Marshall’s Delight’.

In back, the Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’ has collapsed. This Perennial Plant of the Year grows so prolifically it keels over the minute its blooms are up. What I love about ‘Walker’s Low’ is that you can cut it way back and it will re-bloom. Sometime next week, I’ll cut all the blooming stems back to a couple of inches. Another batch of foliage is growing inside the plant, which may flower in late August or September.

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I bought the two tomatoes pictured here on the same day, from the same vendor and have fertilized and watered them in nearly identical ways. They are different varieties, but each tomato came in the same size pot, a 4-incher. So what happened? Why does the tomato on the left look so sad, even though it is working hard to ripen a handful of fruit? And why does the tomato on the right look so–well, lush?

Most likely culprits: Disease or depleted soil. The tomato on the left is planted in one of my ground-level beds, a bed in which I have grown tomatoes for several years. Perhaps the nutrients tomatoes love have been pulled, and pulled, and pulled out of that soil, even though I add compost to it each year. (Think Irish potato famine or the Dust Bowl for more devastating examples of soil depletion from monocultures.) More likely, the poor performance is due to a soil-borne disease, as this paper from Iowa State indicates. The tomato on the right is in my newest raised bed, enjoying lots of fresh black dirt and piles of compost from the local compost pile.

My plan is to let the poor guy on the left produce his tomato or three, and then pull out the plant, disposing of it in the trash rather than the compost, and replanting the bed with something from a different plant family. Since we are late in the season, I may try a quick-growing green bean or chard. Next year: No tomatoes in that bed.

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It still looks a little sparse, which is to be expected for the first year, but my front-yard garden is blooming at last. The Russian sage in the photo at left is light and airy. The ‘David’ phlox at right is starting to flower. I’m really getting a kick out of the blazing star (Liatris spicata ‘Kobold’). I have five plants; one is up to my hip and this little guy (lower left) is below my knee. Not sure why there is so much variation in height, but they look pretty with their puffy purple bottle-brush blooms.

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If the weather cooperates, July is the perfect time for a garden party–and I made it to two beautiful ones this week.

Thursday night I got a chance to swing by Bob and Trish Johnson’s garden near Hampton, where they were hosting a benefit for the Virginia Piper Breast Center. The event was called “An Evening in the Garden: Living, Healing, Giving,” and featured a silent auction, music, dessert, and arts of all kind. That’s cellist Anna Vazquez at right, who volunteered her services for the event. She’s playing in a formal garden near Trish’s arbor and white garden.

Despite a brutal wind and rain storm that came through Hampton (and Northfield!) Thursday afternoon, the evening was fresh and clear and Trish’s garden looked amazing. (She told me they did some really fast clean up before the party.) I profiled Trish’s garden in the January/February issue of Northern Gardener. This landscape has it all: views that go on for miles, gorgeous stonework, art placed throughout (even tiles on Trish’s pea trellis), and carefully planned and cared for plantings. Trish is a Master Gardener and her experience can be seen throughout this large garden, which easily accommodated a couple of hundred folks for the benefit.

Earlier this week, the Minnesota State Horticultural Society hosted its annual Garden Gathering, which is a “Thank You” event for contributors to the society. The gathering was held at the garden of Ken and B.J. Dahlberg on Lake Minnetonka. The Dahlbergs’ garden features rolling lawns, both shade and sun beds, and quite a bit of wooded area. The place was immaculate and a wonderful setting for this event. That’s MSHS President Joe Plante and CEO Rose Eggert enjoying the event.

That’s it for my social whirl for this week, but next week the party continues: I head to Milwaukee for three days of garden tours and hoopla. I’d better rest up.

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Lots of blooms are out, but I have to book-it up to the Twin Cities now, so here are a couple of garden regulars that have appeared. Left, Rudbeckia; right, purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea). More later on other bloomers.

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I was starting to feel like one of those high-end Minneapolis developers, thinking no one would live in my condos, but some insects have finally moved in. I just hope they are bees. Earlier this spring, I built a bee house for orchard mason bees.

Orchard mason bees are solitary, non-honey producing bees, that are gentle but effective pollinators. They are prized by orchard owners and other gardeners. I certainly don’t have an orchard, but we have a decent-sized bed of raspberries, a couple of apple trees, a cherry tree, and lots of flowers. So, why not provide housing for the guys (well, actually, they are all gals) who do the work pollinating. The houses are easy to make, but mine sat empty for a long time.

The other day, I noticed that three or four holes seemed to be plugged with grass. The web sites on mason bees describe them as plugging the holes with mud, so I’m not sure if these are mason bees or something else. While examining the house last night, I noticed a blue-black insect going into the house, and mason bees are described as blue. So, maybe that’s who has moved into the neighborhood. If so, welcome! If not, does anyone else know what kind of insect would nest in holes like these and plug them with grass?

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