Archive for the ‘See it in Northern Gardener’ Category

This weekend, I finished up the last of my outdoor holiday decorating with a Christmas tree for the birds. I’d seen suggestions for these on a few birding and gardening web sites and thought it would make winter more exciting if we had some birds to watch outside of the front window.  After reading several articles on how to make a tree for the birds, I consulted with my friend, Penny, and the fellow she refers to as “the resident bird expert.”  Lucky I did, because the resident bird expert warned me off all suggestions of stringing cranberries and other fruit for birds. The birds that like fruit are long gone from here, he said, leaving only true northerners behind — birds who like fat, protein and carbs.

You can create all sorts of decorations for your tree, including the standard pine cone with peanut butter and seeds and balls of suet and seeds. The suggestion that caught my imagination, however, was one to use stale cake donuts as carriers of fat and protein for the birds. The instructions called for melting a cake of suet, then dipping the stale donuts in the suet and rolling it in seeds. I had already prepared a pot for the tree and planned to use the tree I’d bought earlier for other holiday decorations. I started work on the ornaments Sunday afternoon, melting my suet, rolling the donuts, and watching the seeds fall right off. (This just goes to show, never trust anything you read on the internet!) Frustrated at how this was going, I took a break with a cup of coffee and a stale donut.

It seemed the seeds needed more traction, so I added peanut butter to the melted suet. That didn’t work either, so I just gave up and spread peanut butter on the donuts and dipped them in seeds. Voila! I used the melted suet/peanut butter mixture as glue in a few pine cones, which I filled with seed, and when the mixture was cool, rolled what was left into little balls.

The donut thief

The bird expert says it may take two weeks or so for the birds to find my tree and start frequenting it. Fortunately, we live in a neighborhood with very few squirrels — an oddity relating to the newness of the area and the location of three ponds. Unfortunately, our dog, Lily, found the tree right away, and already snarfed one of the donuts. She’ll be on leash from now on, and we can hope the birds will get at least a few of the treats on the tree.

For more ideas on holiday decorating, check out the November/December issue of Northern Gardener. Julie Scouten has a great article on how to make decorations using garden supplies and greenery.


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current_coverI have been so busy lately with work, closing up the garden, teaching a class at Carleton College and what not that I have neglected some of my blogging duties.  And, there are two important bits of news that I want to get out. First, the November/December issue of Northern Gardener is on the newsstands now. The issue has a beautiful blue-toned cover and includes a wonderful article on doing holiday decorations with a garden theme. Julie Scouten, who writes the And Sow Forth essay each issue, is a master decorator and she has several fun ideas for using garden implements and plant materials in home decor that can last all winter.  (Julie’s son, Eric Scouten, is the photographer who took the cover shot.) In addition to the decorating article, we have a list of great gift ideas for gardeners, a profile by Terry Yockey of a magnificent small-space garden in Red Wing, and Northfielder Leif Knecht’s recommendations for dwarf conifers. One of his recommendations, the ‘Tannebaum’ mugo pine, is in my new front-yard garden.

The second big item of news is that Northern Gardener recently won a bronze award for general excellence in the special interest publication category at the Minnesota Magazine and Publications Association awards dinner. We were especially pleased to be recognized in this category because it looks at the magazine as a whole, which is how our readers look at it as well. Thanks to the judges for the honor, and as always, thanks to the folks who read the magazine issue after issue.

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IMG_5562Because I edit a garden magazine, I’m constantly tempted by new plants — whether they are new on the market or just new to me. This year, I’ve planted two “new to me” plants that have brightened up different spots in the garden.

On the front porch, I put a Black-eyed Susan vine (Thunbergia alata) in a pot. Despite the common-name reference to a favorite prairie plant, this vine is tropical. It was easy to grow from seed and once out on the porch, it started to climb its support. Vines grow 5 to 10 feet long and can be used as a trailer in a window box or hanging basket or as a climber on a trellis. The 2-inch-diameter flowers come in orange and yellow shades and contrast starkly with the deep black eyes at the plant’s center.

IMG_5476In the July/August issue of Northern Gardener, native plants columnist Lynn Steiner recommends Mexican hat (Ratibida columnifera) for its diminutive size, attractive foliage and bright flowers. This is a tough plant that preforms well in dry conditions, sun or light shade, and has an unusual, sombrero-shaped bloom that inspired the common name. When I saw some plants on sale, I bought three. They seemed to struggle a bit at first in the bed, which has plenty of shrub roots, but they’re blooming now and seem to be establishing themselves.

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current_coverThe July/August issue of Northern Gardener is available and it’s full of summer. The cover feature takes readers on a tour of a garden near Two Harbors, where the owners use structures and drifts of flowers to create a northwoods cottage garden. Be sure to check out the article on using succulents in your garden by the always creative Eric Johnson, and if you are starting to harvest more produce than you can eat, be sure to read Ana Micka’s story on home canning. Good reading for a hot day — if we have any again!

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IMG_5038Yesterday I noticed my tree peony has started to bloom already — in fact, it went from just slightly open to fully in bloom in a few hours Saturday afternoon.  My other peonies — all the herbaceous type — have a few tight balls on them, but no sign of bloom.  I bought this one (sorry, I don’t have a record of its name) a few years ago at the very end of the peony season (fall), planted it in the cold and hoped for the best.  It made it through its first winter and seems to like the moderately sunny spot where it is planted.

Unlike herbaceous peonies, tree peonies develop a trunk-like stem and do not die to the ground each winter. They bloom on old wood and can get as tall as 5 feet. They also have a more striking foliage than herbaceous peonies. Each of the leaves is edged in purple. While my plant has been in the ground two (or maybe three) years, it is still dainty.

An article on tree peonies is in the current issue of  Northern Gardener and in it, writer Margaret Haapoja says most experts recommend some winter protection for tree peonies this far north (oops, I better do that this fall!) but otherwise they are not difficult to grow. They need four to six hours of sunlight and a moderate amount of fertilizer.  It takes them five or more years to reach full size. That’s OK, though, because like other peonies they are long-lived. Most peonies will out-live the person who plants them by several decades.

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current_coverThe May/June issue of Northern Gardener is on the newsstands now, and it’s been getting great reviews. The cover photograph, taken by Ken Friberg, is a spring-fever inducing shot of a ‘Julia Rose’ peony, one of an unusual group of tree and Itoh peonies profiled in writer Margaret Haapoja’s aricle on “Particular Peonies.” Other stories include an explanation of how to garden nearly weedllessly, the ABCs of formal design and a piece on summer bulbs for beginners. If you are not an MSHS member or a subscriber, you can pick up a copy at many nurseries and magazine racks.

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current_coverThe March/April issue of Northern Gardener is now available on newsstands and it’s a good one. The cover story by former Pioneer Press garden columnist Marge Hols talks about some of the wonderful new hardy geraniums as well as old favorites. Vegetable gardeners should be sure to check out Susan Davis Price’s story on Ted and Sharon Pew, gardeners who grow much of their own produce on a suburban lot. Other stories include Eric Johnson’s four seasonal designs for a single container, the results of the MSHS awards and a discussion of what the adage “right plant, right place” really means.

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