Archive for December, 2008

current_cover1If you are planning a garden or landscape renovation for this year, please pick up a copy of the January/February issue of Northern Gardener, which  is on bookstore shelves now. The magazine includes a story by Don Engebretson, a.k.a., the Renegade Gardener, on how to design your own landscape. As usual, Don’s advice is spot on and completely practical.

In addition to Don’s story on doing it yourself, the issue include a wonderful feature on garden sheds — the new must-have garden accessory — and a profile of a fabulous rock garden in Roseville. There’s also a piece on tree pruning that is well-worth clipping and saving until later this winter when it’s time to prune many trees. Of course, the magazine also includes Michelle Mero Riedel’s piece on winter-sowing, which I mentioned in a previous post. I hope readers enjoy reading this issue as much as we have enjoyed putting it together.


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img_4474Maybe it’s a little early, but I couldn’t resist setting out some of my winter sowing containers this weekend. Winter sowing is a method of starting perennials and some hardy annuals from seed in the winter. Michelle Mero Riedel, a Twin Cities-based photographer and proponent of winter sowing, has been teaching classes on this method for the past two years. I tried it last year with some success…but I would I have done better if I had chosen my seeds more carefully.


Milk jugs and pop bottles work best for winter sowing.

In an article in the January/February issue of Northern Gardener, which should be on newsstands this week, Michelle describes the method and gives step-by-step instructions as well as a list of the best plants to use for winter sowing. The photos of Michelle’s garden, created using winter-sown plants, are stunning. To winter sow plants,  you create mini-greenhouses using plastic milk jugs or other containers, set the plants outside, and let them grow on their own. Come spring, the seeds will germinate and you can gradually open up the greenhouses and then plant the plants as you would normally.


Be sure to put labels inside!

Perennials seem to work best with this method, so I ordered several kinds of seed from Swallowtail Gardens Seeds. Yesterday, I set up my first mini-greenhouses with seeds of White Swan Echinacea, Alpine Blue Clematis, and Chandelier Lupine. Over the next several months, I’ll be setting out additonal seed as time, inclination, and the availability of milk jugs allows. One thing I did learn from my experience last year: Be sure to put a marker with the name of the plant in permanent ink on the inside of the mini-greenhouse. If you do not, you may not remember what you planted!

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I enjoy visiting gardens while on vacation, but you can visit many gardens from the comfort of home through books, web sites, and DVDs. This Christmas, the man in my life gave me a trip to the gardens of Jane Austen through a just-released book by Wisconsin writer Kim Wilson. I’m a minor Jane-ite (as Austen fans are called) and really enjoyed Wilson’s Tea with Jane Austen.

From Jones Books

From Jones Books

In the Garden with Jane Austen takes readers to gardens that Austen and her family would have cared for — mostly cottage type gardens that mixed vegetables, flowers, and herbs — as well as the grander gardens she might have visited.  Wilson does a great job of connecting the gardens to Austen’s novels and letters as well as to the types of gardens that were popular in the Regency and Georgian periods in which Austen wrote.  For instance, when Austen says in Pride and Prejudice that the drive around Mr. Darcy’s impressive park at Pemberley is 10 miles, she’s putting it in the same class as Blenheim Palace. Wilson also covers garden trends of the time that are mentioned in Austen’s books, from the need for “shrubberies,” graveled paths surrounded by trees and shrubs, to the fad of installing a hermitage, sometimes with a hermit in residence. It’s a wonderful blend of cultural and literary connections and garden history.

Wilson has photos of most of the gardens and provides contact information for the sites that are open to visitors.  She also has a list of the gardens filmed in the many movies of Jane Austen novels. If you were planning a real trip to England, this book would be an informative guide.

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The Good Thing About Snow


A little tough to see, but we're at the 7 inch mark.

Two inches here, three inches there, now we’re talking about decent snow cover. While shoveling the snow is a chore — although one I don’t mind — and driving in it can be hazardous, northern gardeners should rejoice with every inch. According to U of M Extension, snow is the best insulation for perennials. Kathy Purdy of Cold Climate Gardening points out that gardeners from areas that experience a reliable snowfall can often plant perennials that might not survive otherwise.

Unfortunately, snow cover here has been unreliable the past few years. A so-called wimpy winter often means warm weather that melts the snow just before subzero temperatures hit.  Garden experts advise putting down a layer of mulch on perennial beds as the ground is freezing. We’re fortunate this year to get a little extra help from the snow.

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Espaliered apples at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum

It took me years to figure out that DIY meant Do-It-Yourself, but the acronym I’ve been hearing and seeing for 2009 is GIY — Grow It Yourself.  This was the No. 2 garden trend for 2009 identified by Garden Media Group, a market research company that tracks trends for the industry every year. (The No. 1 trend for 2009 is — you guessed it — eco-everything.) Grow-it-Yourself means that more people are doing their own gardening (as opposed to hiring a landscaper for the job). It also means that more people, particularly young ones, are interested in growing their own food.

Here’s the most startling statistic I saw in the trends presentation: Seeds sales went up dramatically in 2008. Burpee, the mega seed-seller, saw a 37 percent increase in sales between 2007 and 2008, brought on by what the company’s CEO describes as a “perfect storm” of bad economic news, concerns about food safety, and a desire to live more ecologically. This is a global trend, too. In New Zealand, where it is spring (sigh…), nurseries are reporting seed sales up by 25 percent overall and seed potato sales double from the previous year. Sales of plant starts are up 300 percent!

This is all good, as is the No. 7 trend on the trends report: Info Lust! New gardeners are eager for solid information on how to take care of the gardens they’ve planted. They are hungry for information and inspiration. They are taking classes, reading garden magazines, and — ah-hem, checking out garden blogs.  In gardening, information is power; the more you know, the more you’ll be able to grow. But those would-be gardeners who do not have a lot of time to satisfy their info lust should also know that seeds and plants are generally forgiving. A little dirt, a little water, a little sun — that’s all it really takes to grow at least some things yourself.

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If You Love Garden Books….

presentsDon’t miss the MSHS Holiday Open House, which will be held tomorrow (Saturday, Dec. 13) and next Saturday (Dec. 20).  The open house features classes with a holiday theme, discounts on merchandise in the MSHS store, and a used garden book sale.

This year’s book sale is especially tempting. A prominent Minnesota horticulturist recently culled her book collection and donated the extras to MSHS. The sale started last Saturday, but I was in the office this morning, and found plenty of books left on topics ranging from small garden design to orchid growing.  The hort society office is at 1755 Prior Avenue North,  a block off of Larpenteur near the U of M St. Paul campus.

In addition to the sale, Diane Lee, who has owned her own garden shop and worked as creative director at Mickman Brothers, will be teaching a class on using natural elements in your holiday gift wrapping. Next week, she’ll discuss how to set a seasonal table using natural elements. Classes start at 9 a.m.

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More Fun with Greenery


Maybe a little wild looking, but not bad for a first try.

Making your own holiday wreath is easier than it looks. I followed (more or less) the instructions offered by Susan of The Shambles under Highland Butte, a fellow blogger from Oregon, to make two wreaths for our front and back entries.  I used a red-twig dogwood branch for the form and leftovers from my holiday pots for the greenery for the first wreath. This wreath is made entirely with natural ingredients (except for the ribbon holding it up) and looks festive hanging off of our back deck.

Front-door wreath

Front-door wreath

For the second wreath, I used a heavy-duty wire hangar that I bent into a circle for the form and a combination of real and artificial ingredients.  It seemed a bit more formal to me — though that was not the intention — so I hung it on our front door. One tip: If you plan to make a wreath, be sure to use the 24 gauge wire Susan recommends. I started my first wreath with some picture wire we had around the house and it was much more difficult to work with. I found the 24 gauge wire at a local beading shop.

This is a fun project that an older child could handle with some assistance. Thanks for the instructions and encouragement, Susan!

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