Lights, Camera…Garden?

Yesterday I attended the latest Minneapolis Home & Garden spring show at the Minneapolis Convention Center. While you can see lots of spas, windows, dip mixes and closet organizers, the show also includes plenty of ideas and inspiration for gardeners.

The theme of this year’s garden displays was the movies with gardens evoking Camelot, Rocky 2 and my favorite, the Lord of the Rings. This display by Natural Landscape Minnesota includes a hobbit hole, stone work and lots of interesting evergreens for texture. The display is just across the 1200 aisle from the Minnesota State Horticulture Society booth, where you can find an array of books, tools and garden gadgets. The hort society also has its usual fantastic selection of bulbs for sale in a room just outside the main hall. Be sure to check it out as well as the garden talks being given throughout the day.

I spotted two trends that seem to be growing. The first is the use of succulents in mixed displays for texture. I’m seeing more and more gardeners growing succulents on walls and in vertical displays, like this one from Wagners Greenhouse.

The other trend I’m watching is the idea of grafting multiple varieties of plants on a single stem. Grafting is not new, of course, but this apple tree from Bailey Nurseries includes three Minnesota varieties: ‘Honeycrisp’ on the bottom, ‘Sweet Sixteen’ in the middle, and Zestar® on the top. It’s grown as an espalier and because the varieties are different, they pollinate each other. Genius! Given its Minnesota heritage, it’s called ‘Hattrick’. The apple tree can be seen at the Linder’s display — well worth a visit for those who are interested in growing fruit in tight spaces.

The home show runs through Sunday and is a fun diversion for gardeners, DIYers and anyone planning a big garden or home project.

Cherry Protection Plan in Place

'Bali' cherry tree under wraps.

The ‘Bali’ cherry tree in our front yard is weighed down with hundreds of big, sour cherries. Birds love these cherries even more than people do, so some kind of protection is necessary if I want any cherry pie this summer. As I discovered the first couple of years we had the tree, the birds will clean it out in a single day the moment the cherries get ripe.

This covering is a jerryrigged affair involving a row cover and a couple of pieces of bird netting clipped together with my new favorite tool—spring-fired clamps, which I bought at the local big box and also used in my home-made greenhouse.

Also called ‘Evans’ cherry, ‘Bali’ is a dwarf tree, so it is not expected to get more than 10 to 15 feet tall. It’s a result of Canadian research and is considered one of the best fruit trees for northern gardens. Mine is about 6 feet tall at four years in the ground (planted from a tree in a 1 gallon pot). It’s a very healthy tree. I never spray it and only occasionally give it some fish emulsion fertilizer. The wire around the base is to protect the trunk from voles—my latest varmint threat. ‘Bali’ is known for its amazing production of cherries, with mature trees producing up to five 5-gallon pails of fruit each year.  Last year was the first year I harvested any cherries off the tree, and got more than 15 cups. This year, the branches are drooping under the big load of green cherries on them. Going by last year’s harvest date, I expect to pick them around the 15th of July.

The funny thing is, just as they did last year, the birds in our yard raised a huge ruckus after we put the cover on the tree. The squawking was deafening, which makes you wonder how much they know. They won’t starve, however. We have a bumper crop of highbush cranberries and lots of berries on the new cotoneaster I planted in our backyard. Let them eat berries!

The Deck Garden Today

Deck gardenMy sister sent me an updated photo of her deck garden. As you can see, even in this small space, they have herbs galore (parsley, three basil plants, and rosemary), and a couple of very nice looking tomatoes. The family has already had pesto a few times this summer. With the heat we’ve had the last couple of days, the plants should get even bigger in the next week or so.

I’ve also discovered another benefit of deck gardening in my own yard. I have a small window box on my deck that I planted greens in — mostly beets and chard. While the bunnies have been rampaging through my raised bed with lettuce and greens, they stay off the deck, so I’ll be eating deck-grown salad this week.

Vegetable Garden on the Deck? You Bet!

Squaring the boards up.
Squaring the boards up.

My sister and her husband have a large, sunny backyard, but they prefer to leave that space open for pickup football games and other neighborhood fun. (They have four children of their own and lots of little visitors.) So, when they decided they wanted to grow some vegetables, the solution was to build a deck-side garden. My brother-in-law, John, is an engineer, so he had no problem coming up with a good-looking, efficient design. It’s also easy enough to construct that you don’t have to be an engineer to build one. So, here’s John’s Deck Garden — and thanks to my sister, Elly, for sharing the photos. (By the way, these are larger photo files, so feel free to click on the thumbnails to get a closer look at what’s happening.)

Attaching boards to the supports.
Attaching boards to the supports.

John and Elly wanted a garden large enough to grow a couple of tomatoes, some basil and a few other herbs, so they decided to build a box 6 feet long by 2 feet wide. After buying 1-by-8 cedar boards for the sides, some 2-by-2 lumber for the support pieces and a piece of plywood for the bottom, John (with assistance from my dad) went to work. He cut the lumber to size, then used wood glue to attach the boards on top of the plywood bottom (top photo).  He started building the box, attaching the side pieces to the supports using deck screws. (This is where having two people working makes the job much easier.) He built it one layer at a time, so that the final box is about 22 inches deep.

2-by-2s raise the box off the deck.
2-by-2s raise the box off the deck.
Plenty of room for roots.
Plenty of room for roots.

Once the box was complete, John flipped it over and attached four strips of 2-by-2 to the bottom to raise the deck garden off of the deck. It’s not shown in the photo, but he also drilled some drainage holes in the bottom and lined the box with landscape fabric. The fabric helps the bed retain some moisture and the holes make sure it doesn’t retain too much.

Nothing beats fresh herbs right outside the kitchen door.
Nothing beats fresh herbs right outside the kitchen door.

With the box ready, John and Elly filled it with a mixture of top soil and compost and planted their tomato and herb starts. The photo at right was taken right after planting, and I’ve since heard that the plants are all doing well and the tomatoes have gotten big and already have blossoms. What a great way to raise vegetables in a small space!