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.

In Praise of the Como Conservatory

Winter Respite imageReaders of this blog know that I am a big fan of the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory at Como Park in St. Paul. During the coldest time of the year, I love to visit the conservatory to soak up the humidity and warmth as well as to admire the exotic plants.It’s a bit like taking a trip to the tropics, without leaving town.

This year happens to be the 100th anniversary of the conservatory at Como Park and so we decided to mark that event with an article in Northern Gardener. I was thrilled to be able to write this piece and show some of my photos of the conservatory. You can read the article online by clicking the image above, or you can see it in the January/February issue of Northern Gardener.

What’s your favorite way to get through the winter?

Apple Overload

Sometimes — in the garden, in work, in home life — you just have to face that big task and DO IT! That was my situation on Sunday when I finally faced up to the massive pile of apples waiting to be processed.

The apples.
The apples.

To say this has been a good year for apples in Minnesota is an understatement. Everywhere, the apples have been prolific, perhaps due to our late but very wet spring or maybe (in my case) to my apple cider trick, which once again led to lots of pollination of my two apple trees.

Whatever the reason, I’ve been picking and processing for several weeks. I tried giving away some of the apples and had a few takers, but this plastic bin was still out front on Sunday morning. So, I started peeling and prepping and ended up with:

12 pints of applesauce;

4 baked, then frozen apple crisps;

4 apple pie fillings, now frozen, to which I will add crusts at the appropriate time.

My trees still have a few apples on them that are too high for me to pick, even with a very clever apple-picking device that my neighbor gave to me. I will pick those off the ground as they fall and either eat or dispose of the fruit.

More than two bankers' boxes of peels, cores and bad bits went to the compost pile.
More than two bankers’ boxes of peels, cores and bad bits went to the compost pile.

 

Parsley Paradise: Time to Preserve Herbs

Parsley, garlic, salt -- yum!
Parsley, garlic, salt — yum!

This year, I decided to edge some of my ornamental beds with parsley. I got the idea from The Wildlife-Friendly Garden.  The author suggested parsley be planted as a decoy plant to keep rabbits out of the vegetable garden. I haven’t see a lot of rabbits in the vegetable garden, so maybe it’s working. (I also haven’t seen a lot of chew marks on the parsley, either, so who knows?)

The result is, I have a LOT of parsley in my garden! I like parsley — it’s probably my favorite herb, but now I need to figure out what to do with it all.

I’ve been making pesto-like spreads from it, which I will freeze for addition to soups, sauces or vegetables during the winter. I also tried Margaret Roach’s approach of rolling the herbs into a log in a freezer bag. Then you can cut some of the herb roll off anytime you need it.

The other night, I decided to try a recipe from a new book I’m reviewing called Preserving by the Pint. This recipe involves chopping the parsley finely with garlic and salt and then setting it on a plate to dry. The idea is you will have a homemade spice mix to sprinkle on cooked dishes or in salad dressings. The garlic odor got a little strong in the house, so I had to set it out in the back porch. After 48 hours (the suggested drying time), it was still damp. I gave it a couple more days, but I think our August weather was too humid for outdoor drying. Time for Plan B.  I took the mix, added more parsley and some basil, a bit of olive oil and whirred it in the blender.

Plan B -- a delicious salty herby mixture.
Plan B — a delicious salty herby mixture.

I froze several packets of the salty herb mix for using in soups and on vegetables. Last night, I broke off about a teaspoon of it and added it to some cooked broccoli. It was incredible and added just the right bit of herb and salt to the vegetables.

What’s your favorite way to preserve herbs?

Review: Heirloom Gardening Pants

gardening pants
After six hours of gardening Sunday, the pants look good. I need a beer.

I don’t do a lot of product reviews, but when Duluth Trading Co. contacted me about reviewing their heirloom gardening pants, I said sure! First, it’s a local company. (The company started in Duluth, though it’s now based in Belleville, Wis.) Second, I’m already a customer so I was pretty sure the quality would be there, and I wouldn’t have to tell them, no, I’m not going to review your product because it stinks.

I started buying Duluth Trading Co. clothing about five years ago. The first purchase was strictly because I loved the humor in the catalog, with the jokes about avoiding plumber’s butt by purchasing their long-tailed T-shirts and buying just the right briefcase to meet with the “suits.” But the clothes live up to the hype — they are truly work clothes but they also look good. My go-to garden tour outfit is a Duluth Trading Co. skort (the one I have is no longer sold, but this is close) worn with a tank top and this plaid shirt. It’s a look that’s relatively put together but allows me to bend over to look at a plant or crouch to take a photo without embarrassing myself or others. I also have two of their canvas totes, which are tough and incredibly useful for someone who’s often hauling a computer and lots of paper around town.

The heirloom gardening pants arrived a couple of weeks ago and I’ve been putting them through their paces, planting, mulching, weeding and mowing. They’ve been through the wash at least four times and show no sign of shrinkage, though the color has mellowed a bit. That doesn’t bother me and I like that the blue color I chose matches the overalls that Tomato Guy wears on my MSHS T-shirt.

The knees are extra tough.
The knees are extra tough.

The heirloom gardening pants have a number of features that I really like.  They’ve  got a small pocket on the side of the leg that’s just the right size for holding your cellphone, so it’s accessible but won’t fall out. I frequently take pictures of plants while I’m working and I like to be able to take calls without having to run into the house. There are two other pockets, plus an elastic strap on the side of the other leg that you can use to hold your gloves or a tool. The knees have a  pouch that you can insert a pad into that is lined with a water-resistant fabric. One rainy day, I worked outside for a couple of hours in the pants and my knees were dry as could be. If you are a hard-core gardener, that’s a great feature. The elastic at the ankles is very nice for wet weather or extra weedy conditions.

Finally, I like the way these pants fit. For some reason, many pants for women are built as if we were all straight — you know, like men. So I often find that pants that fit my rear are biggish in the waist and are constantly slipping down. These pants have an elastic waist with a cinch belt, so you can tighten up the waist as tight as needed.

 

The Beauty of Late Fall

The Benefits of Outdoor Time — Plant Division

The research is pretty conclusive that spending time outdoors is good for people. The fresh air, the sunlight, the chance to connect with our natural surroundings are all good for physical and mental health. But time outdoors is good for plants, too, as my mother demonstrated this summer.

For a couple of years, she’s had a succulent dish that we put together. She was inspired by one of the articles in Northern Gardener. The dish has struggled a bit, partly because the plants in it had different watering needs. This summer, she decided to move the dish out to her back patio. The patio faces south, is somewhat protected from wind by the house and a privacy fence, and, of course, is open to natural rain.

Here’s what the succulent dish looked like a couple of weeks ago just before she moved it back into the house.

succulent dish 2013

 

 

Here’s the before shot: (You can see she lost a few plants, but the survivors are huge now.)

succulent before

 

I had a similar experience a few years ago when I put a hoya plant outdoors for the summer. The plant, which had never bloomed before, suddenly was spouting cool, waxy blooms. Interestingly, once it started blooming, it now blooms every year, near the end of the summer. I still put the plant outdoors and it is very happy.

In a recent article on herbs, Nancy Leasman calls these plants “commuters” because they travel in and out of the house. Do you have any commuter plants?