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Archive for August, 2008

State Fair Fun

Having grown up a mile or so north of the Minnesota State Fairgrounds, I am no romantic about the fair. It is noisy, dusty, crowded, and fattening. But it can be fun, too. I really enjoyed my evening at the fair Thursday. It helped that the weather was perfect, and I spent nearly all my time in and around the Horticulture Building, where the Minnesota State Horticulture Society has two booths. I worked in both the merchandise booth, where visitors can buy T-shirts, books, garden gloves, garden art, and other doo-dads, and at the education booth.

This year MSHS is highlighting community gardening in Minnesota, with information and displays at the education booth. The society is also holding a drawing for a paint-able rain barrel from the Minneapolis Reuse Center. The barrel sells for $80 and appears to be made of recycled milk cartons. Many of the folks I talked with are intrigued about the idea of setting up a rain barrel to catch runoff from their roofs for use in the yard and garden, but are put off by the high price of some barrels (I’ve seen them as high as $250 in some catalogs).

In between my shifts in the booths, I wandered into the nearby vegetable room, where the giant vegetables were on display. I did not catch the size of the big winner in the pumpkin division, but one of the runners-up weighed 375 lbs. The fair also has a competition for giant zucchini, and as you can see these entrants are impressive.

It would not be a trip to the fair without something decadent to eat. I stopped at the French Meadow Bakery’s booth in the Food Building for a chocolate chunk scone with peaches and cream. It was better than cheese curds.

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If you go to the Minnesota State Fair this weekend, be sure to stop by the Horticulture Building to admire the gardens that have been planted there. The Minnesota State Horticultural Society is responsible for several gardens on the southwest corner of the building, and they are gorgeous, providing a place to rest from the noise and excitement of the fair. While many volunteers and organizations contribute to the gardens, the mastermind and driving force behind them is Ron Dufour of the St. Anthony Park Garden Club.

Ron supervises the plant selection and design, then works with volunteers to put the finishing touches on the gardens just before the fair opens. I had a chance to talk with him at the fair last night and he noted that volunteers were working the night before the fair opened to get the gardens ready. All summer long, Ron stops at the garden on his way home from work to pull weeds or water the perennials. While he has training in horticulture, Ron has created the kind of garden most people could plant and maintain on their own, full of colorful shrubs, bright perennials, tall grasses and charming annuals.

Many of the plants are donated by nurseries and by individuals. Ron spends sometime every day during the fair at the garden, answering questions of the thousands of people that walk by his corner. The plants he gets asked about most are the gloriosa daisies. This Rudbeckia is an easy-care, short-lived perennial that readily reseeds. The ones at the fair have a deep red color at the center of the bloom, bright enough to attract attention even at the gaudy fairgrounds.

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Gardens on a Stick

I won’t be showing a prize pig (as Will Rogers did in the 1933 version of State Fair) or competing in contests for flower growing, jam making, or artwork made of dried beans, but the Minnesota State Fair is always worth a visit.  Thursday evening, I’ll be hanging out at the state horticulture society booth, where we sell T-shirts, garden gloves, a good selection of garden books, and subscriptions to Northern Gardener. Stop by and say hello. It’s always fun to meet readers and members of the society. The MSHS booths are in the Horticulture Building at the corner of Underwood Street and Judson Avenue. It’s a central location and dangerously close the the Food Building!

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The color of August is yellow. Yellow corn. Ripening grasses waving yellow/tan tassels instead of green. The vivid, gaudy yellows of black-eyed Susans and tall rudbeckia. During these dry days of August, what looks best in my garden is yellow, especially these tall rudbeckia in the wildflower meadow and the pretty, butter yellow nasturiums that peek out under the pergola in back and the morning glory vine in front. I am harvesting yellow tomatoes as well. I planted the very prolific heirloom Beam’s yellow tomato on a whim in June, and it has sprawled all over one of the flower beds. Let it go. It’s August, and if I get enough of these fruits I will make jam.

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This morning I harvested my first Minnesota Midget melon and ate half of it for breakfast. The University of Minnesota introduced this vintage melon in 1948. Bred specifically for our short growing season, it has fruits about 4 inches across and ripens in 70 days. Mine may have taken longer to get ripe because I had so many problems with rabbits this spring that many of my transplants (including the melon) were nibbled down to nubs in June. I’ve read elsewhere that you know it is time to harvest Minnesota Midgets by the heady, melon smell they give off when ripe. I caught a whiff of that lovely odor yesterday. For my melon breakfast, I halved the melon, filled it with vanilla yogurt and sprinkled some granola on top. Delicious.

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I Spotted a Monarch

I did not have my camera with me, but I spotted a monarch in my front garden yesterday afternoon. It’s perhaps the third one I’ve seen this year, compared to dozens in a normal year. The prevailing theory about the monarch shortage is that it is weather related–cold spring, dry summer.

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As summer marches on, some perennials are reblooming. At left, a bumblebee goes crazy over the flowers of catmint (Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’). I blogged about this plant’s blooms back in Bloom Tuesday No. 10. After the first blooms faded, I cut it back to about 6 inches tall and it is blooming again.

I’m also seeing a few volunteer snapdragons in my front bed. This year, I swapped out my usual cheapo snapdragons for the fancier Phoenix series Penstemon. I won’t do that again. The Penstemon is pretty, but it is not blooming prolifically and it seems to need more care and fertilizer than I usually give plants. Next year, back to the snaps, which are showing up anyway without any encouragement from me.

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