Blooming in November?

This gallery contains 6 photos.

Here we are in the first week of November, with several days of 60s and 70s ahead, and my poor Minnesota garden does not know what to do. We’ve only had a couple of freezes so far, and several plants … Continue reading

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A Succulent Pumpkin Centerpiece

A couple of weeks ago, photographer (and regular Northern Gardener contributor) Michelle Mero Riedel posted some photos on Facebook of a pumpkin decorating class she attended, where the students used succulents to create a funky, fun centerpiece.

The finished product

The finished product

I just loved the idea, which is generally credited to designer Laura Eubanks, and after watching a couple of youtube videos discovered that it is a fairly easy fall decorating project. This could be a very expensive project, but with a little scavenging, I was able to create my succulent pumpkin centerpiece for under $20, plus I have a whole bunch of cold-hardy succulents left over that I can plant in my garden. If you have a large collection of succulents at home already, you could do it for less.

Here’s what you will need for the project:

  • A pumpkin with a flat top. I found a pretty cheese pumpkin (yes, that’s what they are called!) at eco gardens in Northfield.
  • Some moss. I bought a couple of bags of this from EcoGardens as well. Keep it dry.
  • A bunch of succulents! I had a gift certificate from Knecht’s Nursery and bought their last succulent bowl for half price. (With the gift certificate, this cost me only $7.) I also cut some tops off of succulents from a bowl that my mom gave me a couple of years ago. The bowl goes outside during the summer and comes back in healthy and lush. I also had a cactus that was on its last legs, which I cut the top off of. Life is cruel.
  • Spray adhesive and glue. I had both of these on hand.
  • A scissors or floral snip or some other cutting thing.


Spray adhesive on the top of the pumpkin and press moss on it.

Spray adhesive on the top of the pumpkin and press moss on it.

This is not usually part of the process, but I decided coat the pumpkin with a sealant to help it keep longer. I’m a big fan of Mod-Podge, so the pumpkin got three thick coats of it, which then dried over night. Do not seal the pumpkin! It will ooze from the inside and stink. Take my word for it!!!

The next day, I sprayed the top of the pumpkin with Elmer’s Spray Adhesive and pushed the moss onto it to create a soft medium in which to stick the succulents. Some of the succulents may actually root in the moss, helping the display to last longer.

A little tail helps you to snuggle the succulents into the moss. Put craft glue on the end of the plant.

A little tail helps you to snuggle the succulents into the moss. Put craft glue on the end of the plant.

Then, the fun started! Time to add the succulents.  I added a little craft glue to the bottom of each succulent piece then pushed it into the moss.

I started by adding the cut-off cactus, which was the biggest and trickiest piece.  Most guides suggest putting the biggest piece a little to one side of the center of the pumpkin. Then, I added more succulents, working around the pumpkin, filling the spaces as full as possible. The succulents I had included crassula, hens and chicks, echeveria and a couple of things that I think are sedum. For texture, I also added seedpods from Baptisia and some rosehips from the garden.

Basic container principles, such as thriller, filler, spiller, apply to the pumpkin centerpiece.

Basic container principles, such as thriller, filler, spiller, apply to the pumpkin centerpiece.

The whole process only took about an hour and it was creative and fun. For care, it’s recommended that you spritz your succulents with water about once a week to prolong their life. I’m hoping this little centerpiece will last from now through Thanksgiving.

What are your favorite fall decorating projects?

Posted in Container Gardening, Decorating, Fall Gardening | 1 Comment

New Plants for 2016: First Impressions

I’m one of those lucky garden writers who receives plants from several plant wholesalers to test before the plants are introduced to the public. The companies—Proven Winners and Bailey Nurseries this year—use feedback from writers (and many other plant testers) to make sure the plants will perform well in home gardens.

These are plants that you will likely see in nurseries and garden centers next year. Maybe I’m getting better at growing these new plants or maybe this is just a particularly good year for introductions, but the plants I tried this year were overwhelmingly great.

Here are five that you may want to look for next year.

Campfire bidens blooms weaved around Autumn Joy sedum in my garden in June.

Campfire bidens blooms weaved around Autumn Joy sedum in my garden in June.

Campfire™ Fireburst bidens was one of the most commented on plants when my garden was on a tour earlier this summer. The bright yellow and orange flowers add a dainty element to containers. The blooms were prolific and the plant bloomed most of the season. They took a bit of a break in August, but revived with some fertilizer and more attention to watering.

Holy Moly calibrachoa blended nicely with pink and green coleus. (Note to self: wash off pot before taking photos!)

Holy Moly calibrachoa blended nicely with pink and green coleus.

Superbells® Holy Moly™ calibrachoa is a cousin to Superbells® Cherry Star, which I loved for its bright pink and yellow petunia-like blooms. Holy Moly is predominantly yellow with red-pink accents. It is a prolific bloomer and looked fantastic in several containers. This calibrachoa is known for continuing to bloom even in the fall, and that certainly proved true in this warmer-than-average October. The plant took a break in September, but has been blooming away since then.

container with sedumAnother container plant I really liked was Lemon Coral™ sedum, a  short, chartreuse annual sedum. I used the plant in containers and it added a textural element as well as brightness. This sedum can handle part sun and is great for brightening up a shady corner. Some other garden bloggers have commented that the plant is a bit too aggressive, but I grew it only in containers and did not find that it took over. That may be because the containers were usually in part shade areas.

I’ve never been a huge fan of potentilla, but I really liked the look of the new First Editions® Lemon Meringue™ potentilla from Twin Cities-based Bailey Nurseries. The blooms on this plant look like tiny, yellow roses and the foliage is neat. The plant grows 2 to 3 feet tall and wide, making it a good option for smaller landscapes. Potentilla is completely hardy to northern climates and virtually maintenance free. This looks like a great addition to potentilla options.

divine imptiensThe last plant I’d like to recommend is not new per-se, but is a recent introduction for those who love impatiens but are concerned about downy mildew on impatiens. Northern Gardener Plant to Pick columnist Debbie Lonnee recommended the Divine series of New Guinea impatiens in her column. Since my garden was on a tour and I have a lot of shady spots, I bought an entire flat of them to use to brighten up parts of the garden. They were a bit slow to get going, but once they took off they were gorgeous. (For the tour, I grew some of them in containers, which got them to a bigger size faster, then planted them on the edge of some of my tree, shrub or perennial beds.) While the small frosts we’ve had recently, have nipped some of the Divine impatiens, many are still going strong.

Which plants did well in your garden this year?

Disclaimer: I was sent some of these plants for free, but am under no obligation to write about them and have no financial relationship with Proven Winners or Bailey Nurseries.



Posted in Annual Flowers, Container Gardening, Plant Research, See it in Northern Gardener | Tagged , | Leave a comment

It’s Time for Some Pickling and Jamming

Fall seems to be rushing in here in Minnesota, which is all the more reason to preserve some of the garden harvest for enjoying over the winter.

This past weekend, I spent some time pickling and jamming, using vegetables from my own garden and a few I bought at the farmers’ market. Here’s the round up with links to all the recipes:

Pickled onions, bread and butter pickles, yellow tomato jam and a stray bottle of pickled red cabbage.

Pickled onions, bread and butter pickles, yellow tomato jam and a stray bottle of pickled red cabbage.

I’ve never pickled onions before, but both my Chicago daughter and our Northern Gardener Kitchen Garden columnist Rhonda Hayes tell me that they are all the rage on tacos, pulled pork and other foods that need a bit of zing. I had good luck this year growing these onions from Seed Savers Exchange. The mixture is super tart, but just right to brighten up a meaty sandwich.

I had half a head of red cabbage left from a salad I made so I decided to pickle that as well using the same method, but adding some raw ginger to the container. Ginger is a great companion to cabbage, adding a little heat to an otherwise bland vegetable.

Of course, I had to make a batch of Grandma Lahr’s Bread and Butter Pickles. Minnesotans like a sweeter pickle and these have just the right sweet-tart blend. I grew up eating these alongside a tuna or meat sandwich — yum!

Finally, I made a batch of this Yellow Tomato Jam, a sweet way to preserve the harvest. To me, this jam is like the first taste of fall because it has some of the spices of fall. If you like your tomatoes sweet, you may want to try this  recipe for a tomato peach pie!

The preserving is just starting here — my raspberries are ripening fast so I’ll be picking, freezing and eating them daily, and I have bunches of herbs to make into pesto and a sauce I call salty herb blend, which is great for putting in soups or on meats.

What are you preserving this fall (oops) summer?

Posted in Canning and Preserving, Herbs, Recipes, Tomatoes | 2 Comments

From Garden Hats to Pot Feet: Stuff I’m Trying

One of the perks of my job is I get to try garden products and plants. I’ll review some of the plants I’m trying this year later, but here’s a run-down on three items that I’m giving a try.

Classic Sun Hat

This is serious sun protection.

This is serious sun protection.

During the Garden Bloggers Fling in Toronto in June, we visited Lee Valley Tools, which is a very classy, very practical store full of garden and home repair gear from tools to garden pots. The Lee Valley folks generously gave each blogger a $50 gift card and I used part of mine to buy this classic sun hat. Being a pale gal, I have a tendency to burn if I spend too much time in the yard, and I love the full coverage this hat gives. The 4-inch wide brim covers the back of my neck and the tip of my nose—both burn-prone areas. The cotton fabric should be easy to wash at the end of the season, and the hat is soft enough to crush into a bag or purse when I’m out and about. It has UV protection factor of 50, which means I will look flushed but not crimson at the end of a day in the garden.

PotRisers® pot feet

pot feet

You have to really look to see that this container is being lifted up.

I like to arrange pots on my front stoop, and I’ve got the cement stains to prove it. So, I was interested in trying Potrisers, which hold your containers about a half inch off the cement. The feet are basically a hard rubber/plastic material cut into larger or smaller squares. I used four of the smaller feet to hold up 12-inch pots filled with annuals. You really do not notice the feet, and they are significantly less expensive than some of the rolling or ornamental pot stands you see in garden centers. You do have to remember that the risers are there and when you move your pots, lift up first, but other than that, they are a great solution to the problem of stains on cement. One note: They are not recommended for surfaces made of vinyl or vinyl composite materials.

Drain Smart container disks



These disks are designed to replace gravel or other porous materials that gardeners place in the bottoms of their containers.  The disks have hard nylon loops on the bottom and a porous, plastic material on top. The loops hold the disk above the bottom of your container and the porous material allows water to run through, promoting better drainage and reducing the amount of potting soil that leaches out of the pot. I don’t like to fill my pots completely with potting soil (too expensive) so I modified the instructions on how to use the disks. For several years, I’ve used wadded up newspapers because they take up space in the container and can be composted. This year, I put the newspaper in the bottom as always, then added one of the disks on top of it. My containers have looked great this year. I will see how the disks look when I take my containers apart in a couple of months. My guess is they will be fine and can be saved for the next season.

Disclaimer: I received these products free of charge for review purposes, but am under no obligation to write about them and have no financial relationship with these companies.



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Top Three Garden Stars

The Northfield Garden Tour of 2015 is finished, and I really enjoyed having so many visitors to my yard. It’s interesting to see what people ask about when they are on a tour–and I had three items that lots of folks were especially interested in.


What’s this pretty orange annual?

Probably the most asked about bloom in the garden were these Campfire™ Fireburst bidens, which are an annual that I am testing for plant wholesaler Proven Winners as part of its garden writers trial plant program. Campfire is one of the most productive, bright annuals that I’ve ever tried and I think it is indeed a winner. The shades of yellow and orange brightened up the small herb bed that I have at the front of my house. I’m growing them in pots, but you could certainly grow them in the front of a bed as well. These are not on the market yet, but will be in nurseries and garden centers in 2016.

baptisia in bungee cordsIs this a shrub?

bee on baptisiaNot really. I have several Twilite Prairieblues baptisia around my front yard, which are perennials that act like shrubs. I love baptisia (also called false indigo) because it is a prairie plant that the bees love. It blooms in June with purple flowers on spikes. There are white and even yellow baptisias, but I like the purple/blue ones. After blooming, the plant forms seed pods, which eventually turn black. I leave mine standing all winter, and sometimes shake the seedpods, which make a rattling noise. In spring, I cut the plants back. This can get to be a big plant (more than 4 feet high and almost that wide), so they may require some tying up or pruning back. I use half-hoops and bungee cords (one of the most under-rated garden tools around) to keep mine upright and looking pretty.

cherriesCan you eat these?

Yes, you can! They are sour cherries. My cherry tree was full of ripe berries and quite a few garden visitors sampled the fruit. I really like my little Bali cherry tree, which is a handsome, short tree in the front yard. After the tour, I went out and picked a couple of gallons of additional cherries. The rest are pretty ripe or hard to reach, so I left them for the birds to enjoy.

Now that the tour is over, it’s time to relax and enjoy the garden.


Posted in Events, Northfield | Tagged | 3 Comments

Tour Ready?

Well, it’s a bit more than 12 hours until the start of the Northfield Garden Club Tour and I think I might be ready. This year’s tour is gardens that are near city property and mine was chosen because of the wild area near our backyard.

We’ve been doing a lot of cleaning up, sprucing up and planting up to get ready for the tour, and I think the yard looks pretty good. Here are some of the things I hope tour goers will enjoy:

Toronto lily peeking out from baptisia

Toronto lily peeking out from baptisia

Addie Branch Smith daylily is in bloom

Addie Branch Smith daylily is in bloom

Herb garden near front door

Herb garden near front door


Cherry tree is full! Free samples!

Cherry tree is full! Free samples!

Cute plant tags made by my daughter!

Cute plant tags made by my daughter!

Posted in Events, Northfield | 3 Comments

Peony Time!

The peony season is short and sweet, but the folks at the Micheal and Judi Denny Peony Garden at the Oshawa Valley Botanical Garden in Oshawa, Ontario, have managed to extend the peony season to seven weeks by carefully choosing varieties that bloom early and late.

This was listed as an unknown variety. It sure is pretty, though.

This was listed as an unknown variety. It sure is pretty, though.

I had a chance to visit this lovely park and garden as part of the Garden Bloggers Fling in Toronto last week. The botanical garden was busy with weddings the day we visited, and the peonies were in glorious bloom.

Micheal Denny, who died in 2013, was an economics professor at the University of Toronto and a devoted peony lover. The garden named in his honor includes more than 300 varieties of peony and is one of Canada’s largest collections of contemporary peonies. This weekend (June 13-14), the garden is part of the city of Oshawa’s annual Peony Festival.

Here are a few of the gorgeous peonies on display there:

Age of Victory peony just about to open

Age of Victory peony just about to open

Lovebirds poeny in bud

Lovebirds poeny in bud

A bee checks out Pink Vanguard peony.

A bee checks out Pink Vanguard peony.

Scarlett O'Hara peony and friends

Scarlett O’Hara peony and friends


These bow-tie clad dogs served as attendants at their owner's wedding, one of many at the gardens the day we visited.

These bow-tie clad dogs served as attendants at their owner’s wedding, one of many at the gardens the day we visited.

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The Garden in Spring

While mowing the yard the other night, the vibrant green of the lawn and all the plants in the garden beds seemed to radiate growth. We’ve gotten about 2 inches of rain over the last week or so, and the plants have responded with enthusiastic growth.

Borage has dainty blossoms on a monster plant.

Borage has dainty blossoms on a monster plant.

The borage I planted next to my vegetable garden last year shot up about a foot overnight, going from a pleasant, if nondescript, mound of green to a monster herb in full bloom. I’m glad it’s happy in its place.

Tree peony blooms are brief but beautiful.

Tree peony blooms are brief but beautiful.

Nearby, the Jacob’s ladder has been covered with purple-blue blooms for almost three weeks now. Its variegated foliage perfectly compliments the Garden Glow spireas in front of it. The tree peony nearby finished its flush of bloom shortly after the rain this week. That is the nature of peonies, a splash of rain and they melt. But before that happened more than 20 big, fluffy deep pink/red blooms with yellow centers covered the plant. The bees were very happy.

A little out of control, but great food for hummingbirds and bees.

A little out of control, but great food for hummingbirds and bees.

Up front, the weigelas have more blooms than I’ve seen before, pink trumpets covering the plants. The chives, as always, bloom prettily this time of year and I will be needing to thin them shortly. For now, I let them run wild. Hummingbirds have been visiting them the past few days. One of them buzzed my head the other night — I think I was between the bird and its meal.

My new bigroot geraniums are living up to their reputation of being super hardy. The bright pink flowers were a surprise for me — I bought them mostly as a foliage groundcover.

Finally, the baptisia, which for reasons I can’t figure out are more contained than usual, are just beginning to open up. This is another favorite plant of the bumblebees.

Spring has definitely sprung in my garden. How about yours?


Posted in Bees, Perennials, Seasons | 3 Comments

Creating a Monarch-Friendly Garden

Last weekend, I had a chance to speak at the Duluth Garden and Flower Society (MSHS District 8) Spring Luncheon in Duluth. The luncheon attracted about 80 enthusiastic gardeners from Duluth, the North Shore and the Iron Range. It was a fun event and I was honored to be asked to talk about MSHS, Northern Gardener and gardening trends.


Monarchs seem to like annuals, such as zinnias, but native plants are best for them.

One of the host groups was the local chapter of Wild Ones, a national group that promotes environmentally sound landscaping practices to preserve biodiversity. Wild Ones does a lot to educate and encourage the public about planting nature-friendly landscapes, including Monarch Way Stations. Wild Ones will even certify a garden space as a way station, if you provide what monarchs (and other pollinators) need. Whether you get your garden certified or not, it’s a good idea to learn about what it takes to attract pollinators. I decided to do a little inventory of how my own garden stacks up.


If you want Monarchs, plant milkweed. It’s what those caterpillars need.

Larval plants: Monarch caterpillars require milkweed to grow into butterflies. It is their only food source. Wild Ones recommends having two types of milkweed in your landscape. I have lots (and lots!) of common milkweed on and near my property, but I think that is the only type. I’ll be looking this spring for either seeds or plants for swamp milkweed or prairie milkweed, both of which would do well in different parts of my landscape.


Joe Pye weed is one of the summer plants Monarchs use for nectar.

Joe Pye weed is one of the summer plants Monarchs use for nectar.

Early, mid and late food sources: Of the six early necatar plant shrubs Wild Ones recommends, I have one (serviceberry) in my yard, but there is pussy willow in the ponds near here. Of the eight recommended early forbs, I’ve got three (lupine, beardtongue and phlox). Not bad on early plants, but it could be better. Of the 36 shrubs, vines and perennials recommended for Monarchs for midsummer, my landscape has nine—again, not bad, could be better. Of the 10 plants recommended for late summer, I have three (goldenrod, aster and ironweed). Here’s the list of plants, in case you would like to see how favorable your landscape is for Monarchs.

Other landscape features to include for Monarchs include:

  • No pesticide use
  • Grasses (I have lots of those)
  • One or more water source, such as a birdbath or a puddling spot
  • Let things go a bit in the fall. Do not be quick to clean up flower stalks, grasses or leaves that may provide overwintering sites for beneficial insects.

How welcoming is your landscape for Monarchs and other pollinators?

Posted in Bees, Meadow Project, Native Plants, Pollinator Gardening | 1 Comment