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.

campfire

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.

 

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!

Why I Love Farmers’ Markets

Logan Square market
The vegetables were piled high at the Logan Square Farmers’ Market.

My daughters grew up going to the Northfield Farmers’ Market. It was a highlight of many Friday mornings and often involved a bike ride, our baskets filled with vegetables on the way home and a treat from Martha’s Eats and Treats. So, it was no surprise when my eldest, now a Chicago-based editor, said, “I want you and Dad to come to my farmers’ market when you visit.”

Kale
Kale burgers, anyone?

So on the Sunday before Labor Day, we ventured out on the Blue Line to Logan Square and her farmers’ market.

Here’s the great thing about farmers’ markets: Each one is unique to its neighborhood and customers, and at the same time, they all have the same comfortable, welcoming feeling.  The Northfield farmers’ markets (we really have two) don’t feature kale burgers or a wide array of flavored tofus and sauces to sample, and I don’t think any of the jam purveyors here would charge $9 a jar, but both the very hip, very urban Logan Square market and our decidedly small-town markets are relaxed and cheerful. They both have farmers eager to show you what they’ve grown and artisans proud of the food they’ve made whether it’s a ruggedly shaped loaf of bread, an apple butter made of apples and apples only (we bought three jars) or those aforementioned tofu squares. The vendors come farther to go to the Logan market — many from Michigan and Indiana — but they bring with them the same enthusiasm for beautifully displayed beets, bunches of kale, buckets of tomatoes and sharing what they’ve grown.

Farmers’ markets are also wonderful places for socializing and connecting with your community. In Northfield, I know several of the vendors and almost always meet a friend or acquaintance at the market. At Logan, my husband and I sat on a park bench while our daughter finished her weekly produce shopping and struck up a conversation with a young mother, who grew up nearby. It turns out she attended the University of Minnesota and had even visited one of the colleges in Northfield — “That was too rural for me,” she said.

minmusician
Tiny guitarist performs.

The people watching can’t be beat either. In Northfield, we have regular musicians at both the Friday and Saturday markets, and while they might be a tad more musically proficient than this little solo performer at Logan, they take the same joy sharing their talents. Farmers’ markets are places filled with dogs (labs in Northfield, pugs in Logan) and kids (more kids in Northfield, more dogs in Logan). They’re places to wander on a Saturday morning or Sunday afternoon, to visit with folks you’ve just met and those you’re known for decades.

They’re nourishing places, and not just because of the kale.

 

Group Therapy for Gloomy Gardeners

minihostas

I had big plans for this weekend — big plans that involved cutting back plants, setting up raised beds and other outdoor gardening chores. Most of them are on hold now because of our relentless winter and this week’s spring storm that dumped several inches of snow and a real bad mood on most of Minnesota.

minihostas
You can grow hostas in containers with the new mini types.

It’s time for some group therapy — and fortunately, the Northfield Public Library has two wonderful programs scheduled to get us through this miserable spring. On Tuesday, Gregg Peterson, president of the Minnesota Hosta Society, will talk about “Hostas: No Longer the Green and White Plant that Grandma Had Around the Tree.” There are dozens of new hosta varieties introduced each year, and hostas now come in sizes from mini to massive. If you garden in shade, part-shade or anything less than full sun, hostas can add low-maintenance interest to your garden. Gregg’s talk will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 16, at the Library Meeting Room.

sven roses
‘Sven’, one of the U of M’s newer varieties, is a great rose for northern gardens.

On Wednesday, April 24, the library will present another garden program. This one features Jim Beardsley of the Minnesota Rose Society. He’ll be talking about growing hardy roses in Minnesota. Many new roses are being developed that do well in our climate — even this year’s climate — and are well worth planting in Minnesota. In addition, old-fashioned roses often do well in Minnesota. Jim is a Master Rosarian and an accredited rose judge for the American Rose Society. Jim’s talk also begins at 7 p.m. in the Library Meeting Room.

With the cold temperatures, it may be three weeks (or more) before many of us will be able to really work in our gardens.  So, let’s band together and fight off the gloom with some garden talk.

 

Rice County Hort Day: A Gardener’s Education

I don’t remember when I first started going to the Rice County Horticulture Day, but it’s been awhile, and in many ways, attending that annual event was the start of my real education as a gardener. I grew plants long before I started going to the hort day, of course, and I killed a lot of them along the way.  I’ve had a lot of “ah-ha” moments at hort day — moments that prevented more plant killing and increased the joy that I get from gardening.

vendors at mg
Vendors sold jewelry, plants and other things at the Rice County Hort Day.

At last year’s event, Mike Heger’s talk about Heucheras shined a lot of light on why some heucheras flourish in the North and some languish. (It has to do with which species they are bred from.) At an earlier hort day, Mark Seeley gave a frightening talk about climate change that reinforced my sense that gardeners need to protect their little corners of the earth, for everyone’s sake.  One of my favorite presentations of all time was Terry Yockey’s talk on gardening for fragrance — grow plants for all your senses, she said.

This year, promises to be another fantastic day, and if you have not signed up yet, be sure to download the form  and mail it in. Here’s what’s on tap:

The theme is “Garden Magic,” and the event will be held again at Buntrock Commons at St. Olaf College in Northfield. The presentations start at 9 a.m, with Bruce Rohl’s talk about new varieties of peonies (“Not Your Mother’s Peonies”). Bruce runs Aspelund Peony Gardens in Kenyon and is up-to-date on what’s new in one of my favorite old-fashioned plants.

gardeners at mg event
Gardeners picked up great information at the 2012 Rice County Horticulture Day.

The magic continues at 10 a.m. with a presentation Fairy Gardening by Anna Risen of Tonkadale Gardens.  Anna has been designing fairy gardens for outdoor gardens or indoor containers for six years and knows how to bring the fantasy to life.

After lunch, one of the real stars of Minnesota horticulture, David Zlesak, will talk about Success with Roses. David breeds shrub roses and mini-roses for northern climates. I had the pleasure of testing one of his roses in summer 2012. Called Oso Happy® ‘Smoothie’, this rose bloomed and bloomed, practically into November. If you like roses, you won’t want to miss his talk.

The program ends with a talk on What’s New in Gardening, from Mark Armstead, a retailer and grower for Linder’s Garden Center. mark has been watching trends for 25 years and will tell you what’s in, what’s out and what’s new in plants and design.

In addition to the program, there will be coffee, a box lunch (no more tussling with students for lunch!), prize drawings, a silent auction and vendors.

To sign up, download the form here.