What!? A USDA Zone 6 Plant Thrives in Minnesota?

Hey, it’s back! Labeled USDA Zone 6 hardy, this hyssop survived winter in my zone 4 garden.

Pictured above is an anise hyssop that I planted last summer for a little color with absolutely no hopes that it would survive the winter.  Yet, come April, it was sprouting its pretty chartreuse leaves and getting ready for another season of bloom.

The plant is ‘Golden Jubilee’ anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum ‘Golden Jubilee’), a 2003 All-American Selections winner that has pretty purple bottlebrush flowers and is very attractive to bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. It’s listed as being hardy to USDA Zone 6 on the tag it came with, though I’ve found several other sources that says it is zone 5 hardy. (For reference, I live in zone 4, which covers the southern two-thirds or so of Minnesota.) Even if it was zone 5, I would not have expected it to survive the winter of 2016-17 because of the lack of snow cover. We did have a warm winter overall, but the temperature sunk to below -20 F in December, which should have been cold enough to ice even a zone 5 plant.

This is what it looks like in the summer. Photo courtesy of All-America Selections.

But like all politics, all weather—and all gardening—is local. In my garden, this plant faces south. I live in the urban heat island of St. Paul. The plant lies within 5 feet of the foundation of my house, which may emanate some heat. The extremely cold days in December came right after a snow storm, so the plant’s roots had some cover during the worst of the winter. Clearly, the local conditions were warm enough to get it through the winter.

It may also be that the zone 6 rating given the plant by this grower is conservative. That’s one thing to keep in mind when choosing plants—zone ratings are as much art as science and some companies are conservative in their ratings while others are more optimistic. Your local conditions may be warmer or cooler than the averages for your zone, too. Choose plants not exclusively by the numbers but by the local conditions.  I bought the anise hyssop plants later in the summer. They were on sale and I expected they would be annuals. This brings to mind a good rule for gardeners who want to “push their zone.” Never choose a plant you can’t afford to lose.

Whether it was luck, a warm winter or a too-conservative rating, I’m happy to have this cheerful plant back for another year.

 

The Before Pictures

Here’s what our yard looks like today. Keep in mind, these photos were take in early April—one of the least attractive months in Minnesota.

The front yard is pretty plain. We may change the entry area so this is on the back burner for at least a year.
The front side yard needs a lot of work and I may turn this into a space with all shrubs and perennials and a path to the back gate. That poor arborvitae has already been moved to a safer spot. It looks so bad because it’s right next to a vent that shoots hot, damp air out all winter. My bad. I didn’t think about what that vent was for when I planted the shrub last fall.
Out the back door we have a nice patio. This area is now fenced in. The spot between the patio and alley is going to be an area for edibles mostly. I’d like to put a nice vine or climbing rose on the garage, but am not sure the area gets enough sun.
Another view of the patio and garage. Figuring out what to do with yard unmentionables, such as recycling cans and hoses from the sump pump (behind the can) will be one of our first tasks.
New trees in what will likely be a shrub and perennial border. This shows the entrance to the secluded part of the garden — at least it will be secluded when things fill in better!

As you can see, I have my work cut out for me and not much space to work in! Any suggestions on what to do?

Welcome to My (New) Northern Garden

After 17 years in one house and nearly 30 years in lovely Northfield, Minnesota, I’ve moved. My husband is now semi-retired and for a variety of reasons, we decided to move to St. Paul. Last May, we sold our house (and garden!) and moved to a bungalow in the city.

The last sunset I saw in my Northfield garden. This hill is one reason we looked for a smaller, flatter lot! I do miss the ponds, though.

Our new garden is smaller and flatter than our previous garden—both attributes I was seeking—and it is pretty much a blank slate. It is a work in progress, and I’m hoping to use this blog as a journal of our new garden as well as a place to share information on gardening in the North.

In our first year in the house, we did some of the big projects, mostly removing an old one-car garage, building a two-car garage and extending the brick patio that came with the house to connect to the new garage and the alley. We’ve added fences, too. In terms of plants, we removed one tree (roots threatening the foundation) and planted five more, plus a few shrubs. I’ve swapped out some perennials I don’t like (mostly daylilies and hostas) for a few I do, and I have likely ordered way too many plants for this coming season.

I know it takes at least three years to make a garden, and I’m counting this as year one.  My plan is to focus this year on designing and planting the two back garden spaces (more on those in later blog posts) and then figuring out the front next year.

It’s been a long while since I’ve posted to this blog, and many people say blogging is dead. But I’m not convinced. People still want more in-depth information than an Instagram photo or tweet can provide. The original purpose of blogs was to serve as a shared journal — and that’s what I hope this blog will be for the next few years—a shared journal of my adventures in my new northern garden. Thanks for stopping by!

 

 

Minnesota Garden Tour Season Begins!

The joke about Minnesota, largely true, is that it has two seasons: Winter and road construction. For gardeners, however, there is another season to look forward to: Garden tour season!

tourFrom late June through early August, there are dozens of garden tours around the state. You can find a large list of tours at the MSHS website, and I’m still picking out which tours to attend. In the past, I’ve attended great tours put on by the Hennepin County Master Gardeners, Tangletown Gardens, and lots of great local garden club tours. Last year, my garden was even part of the Northfield Garden Tour, which gave me a renewed respect and appreciation for gardeners who open their yards and gardens to visitors.

The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum has wonderful containers. Behind this one is the Morgan Terrace, where tour goers will enjoy a post-tour meal.
The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum has wonderful containers. Behind this one is the Morgan Terrace, where tour goers will enjoy a post-tour meal.
One tour I’ve not attended yet, but plan to soon, is the Minnesota Landscape Auxiliary Private Garden Tour, which will be held Sunday, July 10, and Tuesday and Wednesday, July 12-13. There are three departure times each day for this annual bus tour to some amazing private gardens in the Twin Cities.

This year, the four gardens on the tour include, according to the arb’s press release “a beautiful shade garden with 20 garden beds and ponds on almost an acre; a restored shoreline that is a natural habitat featuring native plants, a rock garden and shady woodland area; a colorful collection of gardens from decorative to kitchen plots that includes a special chicken house; and an environmental garden created to attract birds, mammals, amphibians and bees that showcases water features, fine art and natural wooden sculptures.”

The tour costs $60 or $55 per person (depending on the day) and includes travel on air-conditioned motor coaches and a delicious brunch on Sunday (champagne included!) or a garden-inspired lunch on the weekdays, served on the Morgan Terrace at the arb. Reservations are limited and half of the ticket price is tax- deductible, with proceeds benefiting the Auxiliary’s work at the arboretum. You can register (before June 30) either online or by calling 612-625-9865.

Now that’s a great sounding tour! Let me know which garden tours you like to attend each year. I go on several each year to look for gardens to profile in Northern Gardener.

Earliest Ever First Bloom

Iris reticulataSunday (March 13) I noticed this little Iris reticulata blooming in my front garden. This plant is often the first one to bloom in my Minnesota garden, and 2016 is the earliest ever for it to bloom.

In 2012, a notably warm spring, the plant bloomed on March 15. However, in many years, it is well into April before it blooms. Here are the bloom dates I have noted in the blog in the past:

2009 — April 16
2010 — March 25
2011 — April 4
2012 — March 15
2013 —  April 22
2014 — after April 20 (no exact date noted)
2015 — last year I dropped the ball and did not note when the iris bloomed.

As you can see, there has been almost six weeks in variation when the iris blooms. I’m actually hoping we get some cooler weather over the next couple of weeks—spring needs to slow down. One thing I remember from 2012 is that the fruit trees bloomed early. Later there was a freeze, causing devastation for apple growers around the state.

Is anything blooming in your garden yet?

 

 

 

Blooming in November?

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.

Process

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?