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?

New Plants for 2016: First Impressions

I’m one of those lucky garden writers who receives plants from several plant wholesalers to test before the plants are introduced to the public. The companies—Proven Winners and Bailey Nurseries this year—use feedback from writers (and many other plant testers) to make sure the plants will perform well in home gardens.

These are plants that you will likely see in nurseries and garden centers next year. Maybe I’m getting better at growing these new plants or maybe this is just a particularly good year for introductions, but the plants I tried this year were overwhelmingly great.

Here are five that you may want to look for next year.

Campfire bidens blooms weaved around Autumn Joy sedum in my garden in June.
Campfire bidens blooms weaved around Autumn Joy sedum in my garden in June.

Campfire™ Fireburst bidens was one of the most commented on plants when my garden was on a tour earlier this summer. The bright yellow and orange flowers add a dainty element to containers. The blooms were prolific and the plant bloomed most of the season. They took a bit of a break in August, but revived with some fertilizer and more attention to watering.

Holy Moly calibrachoa blended nicely with pink and green coleus. (Note to self: wash off pot before taking photos!)
Holy Moly calibrachoa blended nicely with pink and green coleus.

Superbells® Holy Moly™ calibrachoa is a cousin to Superbells® Cherry Star, which I loved for its bright pink and yellow petunia-like blooms. Holy Moly is predominantly yellow with red-pink accents. It is a prolific bloomer and looked fantastic in several containers. This calibrachoa is known for continuing to bloom even in the fall, and that certainly proved true in this warmer-than-average October. The plant took a break in September, but has been blooming away since then.

container with sedumAnother container plant I really liked was Lemon Coral™ sedum, a  short, chartreuse annual sedum. I used the plant in containers and it added a textural element as well as brightness. This sedum can handle part sun and is great for brightening up a shady corner. Some other garden bloggers have commented that the plant is a bit too aggressive, but I grew it only in containers and did not find that it took over. That may be because the containers were usually in part shade areas.

I’ve never been a huge fan of potentilla, but I really liked the look of the new First Editions® Lemon Meringue™ potentilla from Twin Cities-based Bailey Nurseries. The blooms on this plant look like tiny, yellow roses and the foliage is neat. The plant grows 2 to 3 feet tall and wide, making it a good option for smaller landscapes. Potentilla is completely hardy to northern climates and virtually maintenance free. This looks like a great addition to potentilla options.

divine imptiensThe last plant I’d like to recommend is not new per-se, but is a recent introduction for those who love impatiens but are concerned about downy mildew on impatiens. Northern Gardener Plant to Pick columnist Debbie Lonnee recommended the Divine series of New Guinea impatiens in her column. Since my garden was on a tour and I have a lot of shady spots, I bought an entire flat of them to use to brighten up parts of the garden. They were a bit slow to get going, but once they took off they were gorgeous. (For the tour, I grew some of them in containers, which got them to a bigger size faster, then planted them on the edge of some of my tree, shrub or perennial beds.) While the small frosts we’ve had recently, have nipped some of the Divine impatiens, many are still going strong.

Which plants did well in your garden this year?

Disclaimer: I was sent some of these plants for free, but am under no obligation to write about them and have no financial relationship with Proven Winners or Bailey Nurseries.

 

 

It’s Time for Some Pickling and Jamming

Fall seems to be rushing in here in Minnesota, which is all the more reason to preserve some of the garden harvest for enjoying over the winter.

This past weekend, I spent some time pickling and jamming, using vegetables from my own garden and a few I bought at the farmers’ market. Here’s the round up with links to all the recipes:

Pickled onions, bread and butter pickles, yellow tomato jam and a stray bottle of pickled red cabbage.
Pickled onions, bread and butter pickles, yellow tomato jam and a stray bottle of pickled red cabbage.

I’ve never pickled onions before, but both my Chicago daughter and our Northern Gardener Kitchen Garden columnist Rhonda Hayes tell me that they are all the rage on tacos, pulled pork and other foods that need a bit of zing. I had good luck this year growing these onions from Seed Savers Exchange. The mixture is super tart, but just right to brighten up a meaty sandwich.

I had half a head of red cabbage left from a salad I made so I decided to pickle that as well using the same method, but adding some raw ginger to the container. Ginger is a great companion to cabbage, adding a little heat to an otherwise bland vegetable.

Of course, I had to make a batch of Grandma Lahr’s Bread and Butter Pickles. Minnesotans like a sweeter pickle and these have just the right sweet-tart blend. I grew up eating these alongside a tuna or meat sandwich — yum!

Finally, I made a batch of this Yellow Tomato Jam, a sweet way to preserve the harvest. To me, this jam is like the first taste of fall because it has some of the spices of fall. If you like your tomatoes sweet, you may want to try this  recipe for a tomato peach pie!

The preserving is just starting here — my raspberries are ripening fast so I’ll be picking, freezing and eating them daily, and I have bunches of herbs to make into pesto and a sauce I call salty herb blend, which is great for putting in soups or on meats.

What are you preserving this fall (oops) summer?

From Garden Hats to Pot Feet: Stuff I’m Trying

One of the perks of my job is I get to try garden products and plants. I’ll review some of the plants I’m trying this year later, but here’s a run-down on three items that I’m giving a try.

Classic Sun Hat

This is serious sun protection.
This is serious sun protection.

During the Garden Bloggers Fling in Toronto in June, we visited Lee Valley Tools, which is a very classy, very practical store full of garden and home repair gear from tools to garden pots. The Lee Valley folks generously gave each blogger a $50 gift card and I used part of mine to buy this classic sun hat. Being a pale gal, I have a tendency to burn if I spend too much time in the yard, and I love the full coverage this hat gives. The 4-inch wide brim covers the back of my neck and the tip of my nose—both burn-prone areas. The cotton fabric should be easy to wash at the end of the season, and the hat is soft enough to crush into a bag or purse when I’m out and about. It has UV protection factor of 50, which means I will look flushed but not crimson at the end of a day in the garden.

PotRisers® pot feet

pot feet
You have to really look to see that this container is being lifted up.

I like to arrange pots on my front stoop, and I’ve got the cement stains to prove it. So, I was interested in trying Potrisers, which hold your containers about a half inch off the cement. The feet are basically a hard rubber/plastic material cut into larger or smaller squares. I used four of the smaller feet to hold up 12-inch pots filled with annuals. You really do not notice the feet, and they are significantly less expensive than some of the rolling or ornamental pot stands you see in garden centers. You do have to remember that the risers are there and when you move your pots, lift up first, but other than that, they are a great solution to the problem of stains on cement. One note: They are not recommended for surfaces made of vinyl or vinyl composite materials.

Drain Smart container disks

Courtesy drainsmart.com
Courtesy drainsmart.com

These disks are designed to replace gravel or other porous materials that gardeners place in the bottoms of their containers.  The disks have hard nylon loops on the bottom and a porous, plastic material on top. The loops hold the disk above the bottom of your container and the porous material allows water to run through, promoting better drainage and reducing the amount of potting soil that leaches out of the pot. I don’t like to fill my pots completely with potting soil (too expensive) so I modified the instructions on how to use the disks. For several years, I’ve used wadded up newspapers because they take up space in the container and can be composted. This year, I put the newspaper in the bottom as always, then added one of the disks on top of it. My containers have looked great this year. I will see how the disks look when I take my containers apart in a couple of months. My guess is they will be fine and can be saved for the next season.

Disclaimer: I received these products free of charge for review purposes, but am under no obligation to write about them and have no financial relationship with these companies.

 

 

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!