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My Northern Garden is being transplanted! I’m moving (with much help from local computer guru, Sean Hayford O’Leary) to http://mynortherngarden.com. The original site will continue to be available for some time, but the information will also be available in the new location with plenty of new posts about garden trends as well.

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Snowy Christmas

Phase one of the monster snow storm hitting Minnesota and the rest of the Midwest this Christmas forced the postponement of some family plans for Christmas Eve, so I spent the day snow-blowing the driveway, baking cookies with my daughters, and admiring the snow shapes that form on the plants in the yard. After the next wave of snow hits (15 to 19 inches predicted for Northfield), I may not be able to see any of my perennials or even this birdbath!

Merry Christmas to all!

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Judging by the decorations Northfield merchants are putting out for tomorrow’s Winter Walk — an annual shop, sing, meet, greet event that is enjoyed all but the city’s most Scrooge-like residents — the hot items in holiday container decorations are: spray paint, whimsy and lots of texture.

While taking photos downtown, I observed Mary Closner of Swag spray-painting away at her lovely blue and silver outdoor container. Inside the shop, she had last year’s Christmas tree on display. After it lost its needles, she had spray-painted it red. Cute! The stuffed ornaments from Sweden add a homey touch. The display outside the Northfield Historical Society also featured spray-paint as a stand-in for the snow we do not have yet.

For whimsy, how about the little packages the folks at the Hideaway Coffeehouse and Wine Bar had tucked into their usual evergreen sentinels outside the store? That’s an easy decoration idea anyone with an evergreen and some ribbon could try.

Texture is everywhere, in the mixed greens in the pot outside of the Monarch, in the rough narrow branches festooned with pink lights outside of the Glass Garden, and in the more sedate and natural-looking pots outside of Buntrock Commons at St. Olaf, where the thousands of visitors to the St. Olaf Christmas Festival will get their lefse and lutefisk this weekend.

Mix greens for texture.

Ready for the big festival.

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Zonker Goes All Garden

I have about four comic strips that I have to check in on nearly every day: For Better or Worse (yes, I’m one of those saps who teared up when Farley, the dog, died); Luann, Crankshaft (the recent bit where the parents take their daughter to college was a hoot), and Gary Trudeau’s Doonesbury. It is rare that you get garden information from a comic, but Zonker, the loveable stoner/deadbeat from Doonesbury, has taken up gardening. In recent strips, he’s been talking to his bulbs, pecking at the earth with a trowel, and salivating over the garden catalogs. Gardeners: We have arrived.

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current_coverThe September/October issue of Northern Gardener is on newsstands now and it’s packed with practical and interesting articles for fall gardening. For instance, if you want to plant a tree —  and fall is a great time for tree planting — Nancy Rose offers 10 choices for yard or street trees that are not green ash. How about adding some perennials, now that they are on sale? Tom Krischan has suggestions of plants to add to your yard to attract butterflies and hummingbirds. (Tom’s wife, garden photographer Donna Krischan, supplied the wonderful image of a monarch on a milkweed plant for the cover.)  Or, what about re-doing a  section of your garden as a “know maintenance” garden — one that you can maintain in less than 20 minutes a week? I interviewed Roy Diblik of Northwind Perennial Farm and author of Small Perennial Gardens: The Know Maintenance Approach, on his ideas for using well-behaved, companionable plants for creating beautiful and low maintenance gardens. You can find the magazine on newsstands or stop by the MSHS booth at the State Fair and sign up for a subscription or membership.

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Rain Report

After a fairly dry summer, we’ve certainly been making up for it over the past two weeks. On Aug. 7 and 8, my rain gauge collected 2.75 inches of rain; over this past weekend, it picked up another inch. Today, after extremely heavy rains, the gauge had 1.75 inches in it — with more rain predicted for tomorrow. This brings our total for the year to 10.24 inches, according to the weather underground report. We’re catching up, but still only about half way to the average rainfall for this area by mid-August. Let it rain!

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IMG_5781Earlier this week, the cherries on my ‘Bali’ cherry tree looked like rubies; they were shiny, lush, bright red and definitely ready for picking. So after removing the layers of netting that kept the birds off the tree, I got to work picking. When positively ripe, ‘Bali’ cherries come off easily, and I pitted most of the cherries right on the tree. A gentle squeeze on the fruit, a slight tug, and a perfectly pitted cherry went into my pot. Those cherries that still had the pits in them went into a separate pot for pitting in the kitchen later.

On my 3-year-old tree, which is less than 5 feet tall, I harvested about 15 cups of cherries total. Not bad for such a little tree — and it makes me hopeful about future harvests, which are said to be enormous.

Once picked, I cleaned the cherries by swishing them in water. One problem with the pit-on-the-tree method is that you have to be very gentle in cleaning. You also need to process them immediately. I put the cherries in appropriately sized containers, sprinkled about 3/4 cup of sugar on them per 6 cups of cherries and froze them.This morning, I started making a basic cherry pie. Having lost many times in the now-defunct Northfield News pie-baking contest — an event this community sorely misses, I don’t claim to be a great pie-baker, but these pies were winners.

Basic Cherry Pie

For the crust, I used a recipe my Mom gave me, which I believe came from her Mom: For every 1-1/3 cup of all-purpose flour, add 1/2 cup shortening, a half-teaspoon or so of salt, and a tablespoon of sugar. For a two crust pie, go with 2-2/3 cups flour, a cup of shortening (what type is your choice — my Grandma no doubt used lard but I stick with Crisco with maybe a dab of butter for color), teaspoon of salt, 2 tablespoons sugar. Cut the shortening into the flour, salt, etc. mix with two forks or your fingers until it is the size of small peas, then add just enough ice water to pull the dough into a ball. Shape the dough into two disks, one for each crust, wrap in plastic or wax paper, and put in the refrigerator for one hour. Letting the dough rest an hour is the key to easy rolling of your crust.

After the rest period, preheat your oven to 425 F. For the filling, mix together 1-1/4 cups sugar (1/2 cup, if using previously sugared frozen berries),  3 tablespoons of corn starch, and a good shake of cinnamon. Stir the sugar mixture into  6 cups of  tart cherries. Add a 1/2 teaspoon or so of vanilla. (For a fancier, more explicit recipe, check out Martha Stewart’s cherry pie.) Roll out your bottom crust on a floured board, fit it into a 9-inch pie pan. Add the cherries and a few dabs of butter on top of the filling, then roll out the top crust and put that on top. Crimp the edges to seal the crust, and cut a couple of slashes or an artistic design into the top crust. You could put an egg wash on the crust and sprinkle it with sugar, or just stick it in the oven. I always put my pies on a baking sheet to prevent a smelly house in case the pie juices ooze out of the pie.

Bake the pie at 425 for 12 minutes, then turn the oven down to 350  and let it go for at least 45 more minutes — it may take longer. The filling should be slowly bubbling and the crust should be golden brown when it is done. Let the pie cool completely before eating, unless you like soupy pie.

Multi-Berry Variation

I also tried this multi-berry variation, which my husband preferred to the plain cherry: Follow the recipe, except instead of 6 cups of cherries, use 2 cups each of tart cherries, blueberries, and raspberries. Wow!

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