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?

Sneak Peak at Spring Garden Trends

Citrus green, bright pink and clean white make for a pretty spring table.
Citrus green, bright pink and clean white make for a pretty spring table.

Yesterday I attended an event for bloggers at Bachman’s Spring Idea House in Minneapolis and got a sneak peak at what will be in stores this spring. It was great fun to meet several fashion, lifestyle and photography bloggers, as well as seeing the colors and ideas for home and garden decor in action.

In a word: think “fresh.” Also, “pink.”

Karen Bachman Thull led us through the house, a 1920s beauty that was built by Arthur Bachman Sr., a son of one of Bachman’s founders.  Three times a year, Bachman’s re-designs the rooms in the house — furniture, paint, the whole she-bang — and opens the house to the public. This year, the house is open every day until April 19. It’s $5 to tour the house and, if you are someone who enjoys decor or is just hungry for spring, it’s well-worth a visit.

Lots of the decor was done in a fresh, bright combination of citrus green, bright pink and white. The combination works great in containers, in table decorations and in the furniture in the airy sunroom and living room of the house. Karen noted that this combination is dynamite as long as you do not add another color. If you put in a blue, a purple, an orange — it falls apart. The look goes from fresh to garish in a minute. I have a pair of bright green containers and plan to try this combination in them this summer.

This self-watering planter holds herbs in pots.
This self-watering planter holds herbs in pots.

Another garden trend worth noting is the improved vertical gardening trend. I’ve been a bit cool on most vertical gardening systems because they require so much watering — some of them are basically gutters mounted on a frame. Bachman’s is selling a couple of self-watering systems now. A sweet window box containing herbs was on display in the idea house kitchen and a massive, multi-part living wall of foliage was in the yoga room upstairs. The wall you see in the photo below contains six of the wall garden systems. Fully loaded with plants and water, each system weighs about 60 pounds. The way the systems work is that each plant is in a pot. A wicking device inside the system pulls water from the troughs to the plants.

This dramatic wall of foliage includes six self-watering systems and a whole lot of plants!
This dramatic wall of foliage includes six self-watering systems and a whole lot of plants!

Karen told me that the kitchen system would only need to be refilled about once a month. If you want to try vertical gardening, self watering is the way to go.

The house also features several forced branches of spring blooms. I think more northern gardeners should try forcing branches in the spring — it’s a great way to bring color into the house. Other garden trends noted in the house are increased interest in terrariums and air plants.

I also really loved this arrangement of snow boots outside the house. Everything is a container this spring!

These boots were made for planting.
These boots were made for planting.

 

Beauty in the Vegetable Garden

During these last cold days of winter (hope, hope, hope!), I’ve been taking refuge in the garden photos I took last summer. Among the images are many from vegetable gardens that are truly beautiful spaces as well as nourishing.

mixed lettuce bowlMy vegetable garden usually has the shabby chic look (or maybe just shabby), but I’ve found that lettuces planted in pots or window boxes can be very attractive, especially those with rose-tipped, ruffly foliage. But a couple of the gardens I visited last summer took vegetable gardening beauty well beyond that.

vertical cabbageThe vegetable garden at Squire House Gardens in Afton, for example, was lush, colorful and full of texture on the warm August afternoon when I stopped by. Planting green and purple cabbages together created a round contrast. Big ripe peppers hung from plants, like green ornaments, ready for plucking. A tall trellis covered in green beans created a produce wall at the back of the garden. The gardeners included a water feature and garden art, too, which encourage visitors to linger. Even the asparagus plants, long past their picking prime, added soft texture with their mature fronds.

Amy archwayEarlier in the summer, I visited the garden of Amy Andrychowicz, proprietor at the Get Busy Gardening blog. You can read all about Amy’s garden in the March/April issue of Northern Gardener, which will be out in about two weeks, but suffice it to say, she has a way with vegetables. The big arch covered with squash is like a grand entry to the garden, and she mixes annuals, such as nasturtiums among the vegetables to add color and encourage pollination. It’s a lovely garden and I was delighted to be able to write about it for Northern Gardener.

For more photos of vegetable garden prettiness, see the gallery below. What will you be planting in your vegetable garden this year?

Softening the Edges of Your Garden

Monet's Grand Allee
Nasturtiums grow across the path.

In early August, I had a chance to visit the garden of impressionist painter Claude Monet at Giverny, France. We were visiting our youngest daughter, who was studying in Paris. Being so close, I had to visit one of the most famous gardens in the world.

The garden is lovely. (You can check out my gallery of photos here.) And, one of its most dramatic features is the Grande Allee, which means large path. Monet’s Grande Allee is edged with nasturtiums, which crawl across the path over the summer, sometimes covering the path in bloom. I love the look of plants flopping over the edge of a hard line, whether it’s a cement sidewalk or an 8-foot-wide path.

plants on sidewalk
It’s not exactly Monet’s garden, but I like the look of the plants growing over the sidewalk edge.

This year, I had good luck with my annuals near the front walk. I like the way they grow just a bit over the edge of the sidewalk, joining the garden and the walkway visually. The alyssum is a new type from Proven Winners called Blushing Princess, a sister plant to Snow Princesss, which has a white flower. Both plants are supposed to grow large and bushy. I had mixed results with Snow Princess in 2011, but Blushing Princess, which will be available in garden centers in 2013, performed well, sending its pink puffs of flowers over the edge of the walk. I think it got more sun than the Snow Princess did, and that may be why it grew so well.

The other plants are standard marigolds that I bought in mid-season at clearance prices. I did give them a good shot of fish emulsion when I planted them, and I’ve been diligent about deadheading.  As a result, they took off, despite the midsummer heat. Not everyone likes the scent of marigolds, but I do, and that’s another reason to plant them near the walk. Way in the back, near the steps, is a cosmos I planted from seed that is still in bloom in mid-October.

Placing Garden Art

garden stakes between the plantsI like to buy garden art and ornaments from local artists. The works are often different from those you see in stores, and it’s more meaningful when you know where a piece comes from and who created it. In the past, I’ve bought a metal trellis from Jennifer Wolcott and two local gentlemen designed and assembled the pergola in my backyard.

A couple of weeks ago, I bought two glass garden stakes from Geralyn Thelen, who shows her work at the Northfield Riverwalk Market Fair on Saturdays. I’ve long admired the bright colors and luminous texture of Gerie’s jewelry, home decor and furniture. So when she created these stakes for the garden, I had to have one — or two.

I picked two slightly different stakes in colors that work well together and with my plants and house. Being design-challenged, it took a bit of moving around to figure out how to place them well.

I thought they would be a bright spot and focal point in my front door garden. So I put a stake with bright oranges and maroons behind this Autumn Joy sedum and in front of a dark maroon coleus I’m growing on trial this summer. (Fantastic plant, by the way, but more on that in a later post.) I like the surprise of the art between the plants, but in some ways the piece seems lost.

garden stake with short plantsTo try a different approach, I put the second one in a back bed near some orange impatiens and lamium under an ash tree. Because the plants are short, this stake seems to stand out more. The plants behind it are mostly done blooming, so the artwork becomes a slightly taller focal point in the bed.

Placing artwork and other structural elements in a bed takes some trial and error. In the September/October issue of Northern Gardener (which will be on newsstands soon), columnist Don Engebretson offers insights into why and how to place fountains, benches, arbors, sculpture and other nonplant elements. One of his main points is to put the objects in a bed — rather than sitting them out in the lawn by themselves.

In writing this post, I noticed Gerie has a photo of the stakes in a group of three. Might be another reason for a trip to the market!

What are some of your favorite ways to display art in the garden?

Add Scent and Sound for a Great Garden

horse trough water fountain
horse trough water fountain
A small stock tank becomes a water feature with the addition of a whimsical fountain.

This past weekend, I had a chance to visit about a dozen gardens on three tours: the Hennepin County Master Gardeners Learning Tour, the Red Wing Arts Association tour, and the Northfield Garden Club annual tour.

One point struck me strongly at all three tours: Gardens are not just visual. We experience them with all our senses: sight, sound, touch, smell — and, if you grow edibles, taste. To be truly comfortable and evocative, a garden must include sounds, smells and textures as well as pretty colors and dramatic design.

I wrote about Meleah Maynard’s garden over on the new Notes from Northern Gardener blog from MSHS. What I noticed when I first entered this urban space was the sound of water and the tweeting of birds. Meleah and her husband, Mike Hoium, have created a shady refuge with many small water features: tubs with fountains in them, bird baths, bubbling urns. The sound of the water is soothing and its presence attracts birds to the yard.

Waterfall in Northfield garden
This waterfall in a Northfield garden added sound and a soothing feeling to the space.

All of the gardens I visited had some type of water feature: a fountain, a pond, a small waterfall, a bubbler. Some were formal looking, others informal or even whimsical, all brought an extra dimension to the garden. The Red Wing tour was even more fun because of the addition of musicians in the garden — I loved these accordion players!

Accordion player
What a great garden tour idea — musicians!

Water and sound are wonderful, but scent makes a garden even more memorable. Fragrant lilies, herbs, other plants that smell sweet, pungent, sharp or even a little stinky give a garden another layer of experience for visitors. Terry Yockey, whose garden was on the Red Wing tour, has an entire section of her large garden devoted to scent. I left her place with a pocketful of leaves from herbs, shrubs and perennials — each with a different smell. Some acrid, some sweet, some pungent, some floral—each scent creates a mood in the garden. Long ago, I read that scent, unlike sound or sight, produces the strongest memories in humans. I believe that’s true based on how certain suntan lotions bring back recollections of long ago trips to the beach. Make your garden more memorable with scent.

How do you add sound and scent to your garden?

More Lessons from Garden Tours