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.


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!

Group Therapy for Gloomy Gardeners

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.

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.



Photo Gallery: Artful Gardens in Hudson, Wis.

DaisiesThe garden tour season has officially started, and today I took a trip over the border to Hudson, Wis., for what is billed as an Artful Garden Tour. The wonderful part about this tour was that whether the gardens featured artists or musicians, the six gardens themselves were carefully crafted works of art. The tour is sponsored by the Hudson Women’s Club and continues Sunday, from 1 to 4 p.m. You get your map and ticket at the Octagon House Museum, a historic home near downtown Hudson.  Cost is $12. Check out the photos in this gallery to see some of the gardens on the tour. Click on any image for a larger view.

What Gardeners Are Talking About: Buckthorn

On Saturday, I spent a couple of hours at the Northfield Home and Garden Show at a booth shared by the Northfield Garden Club and the University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardeners of Rice County. Going into the event, I was pretty sure that the most asked question would be about whether it was too early to mow or put down weed-and-feed on lawns. Nope. Many of the gardeners–especially those with larger or more rural properties—asked about buckthorn and what to do about it.

Buckthorn is a restricted noxious weed in Minnesota because of its invasive nature and its impact on wildlife habitats. Once buckthorn gets established, it takes over. There are two types: common buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica) and glossy buckthorn (Frangula alnus). Common buckthorn came to the U.S. from Europe in the 1800s and was used for a hedge in many landscapes. By the 1930s, its negative qualities were well-known and the nursery trade stopped selling it. The glossy buckthorn is particularly invasive around wetlands.

The best way to control buckthorn is to pull it while it is still small. According to the University of Minnesota, it will not resprout from roots underground. Small plants (under 3/8th inch diameter) can be dug or pulled, but for larger ones many buckthorn removal groups use a weed wench or root talon. (The garden club has one that they have used for buckthorn remvoal.) For really large plants, the recommended control method is to cut the trunk as close to the ground as possible and then immediately treat the stump by painting on an herbicide containing triclopyr. (Garlon is the brand name most often recommended.)

You can find detailed information on identifying and controlling buckthorn at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources website and at the U’s site. Getting rid of buckthorn can be a long process—homeowners must stay vigilant because the seeds can last five years in the ground. As you remove buckthorn, don’t forget to replant the area with a variety of native shrubs and trees that will attract birds and other wildlife. The DNR recommends plants like highbush American cranberry, nannyberry, serviceberry, chokecherry and gray dogwood.

Renegade Gardener and No-Lawn Lady in Northfield

Northfield gardeners will get a chance to hear two wildly original garden designers in the next few days. At tomorrow’s Home and Garden Business Showcase, Don Engebretson, a.k.a the Renegade Gardener and a design columnist for Northern Gardener, will speak three times on a variety of topics. He’ll be talking about common garden myths, cool plants and design for homeowners. (Click on the poster for more information on time and topic.) The show runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Northfield Arena.

On Tuesday, Evelyn Hadden, a Minnesota gardener whose love of no-lawn landscape has led to a website, a book and lots of speaking engagements, will be giving homeowners tips for getting rid of the grass. Her presentation is at the Northfield Public Library, beginning at 7 p.m., and is sponsored by the Friends and Foundation of the Northfield Public Library. Whether you want to just add more garden or banish grass entirely, Evelyn will have great ideas and examples to consider.

Plant Fashions for Spring 2012

The Lake Elmo Inn was packed for the Plant Fashion Show

I joined about 300 enthusiastic gardeners (a sell-out crowd) at the Lake Elmo Inn Event Center today for Spring at the Inn, a spring fashion show for plant geeks put together by the folks at the Minnesota State Horticulture Society. Walking the runway were hydrangeas, roses, ninebarks, phlox and an array of soon-to-be introduced plants developed by Minnesota-based Bailey Nurseries Inc. A who’s-who of Minnesota garden types were in attendance including representatives of Linders, Bachman’s, Wagners and Gertens greenhouses.

I’ll be writing a bit more about the plants that were shown later this week. You also can tune into Grow with KARE over the next two weeks. Bobby Jensen and Belinda Jensen were emcees at the event and will be highlighting some of their favorite plants on TV.

Vanilla Strawberry hydrangea (Bailey Nurseries photo)

Here are two that may make it into my garden this year. Vanilla Strawberry™ hydrangea is an upright 6 to 7 foot tall hydrangea that has huge multicolored blooms. The flowers start out a creamy white but slowly change to pink, then red. The blooms are gorgeous, but what sold me on this plant was that it has red stems, which gives it winter as well as summer interest.

I’m also considering a wisteria for the North. Called ‘Summer Cascade’, this hybrid of Kentucky wisteria is hardy to USDA Zone 3 and is covered with blooms. It can grow 20 feet and cover a trellis or pergola with beautiful, pendulous blooms. (I’ve seen the plant in trial gardens and it’s a wow!) The folks from Bailey said the plant may be in nurseries later this summer — although it is listed in other sources as not being widely available until 2013. This is one to watch for.


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.

A Day at the Fair

Fair visitors admire the MSHS garden and water feature at the fair.

I spent most of yesterday at the Minnesota State Fair, selling memberships at the Minnesota State Horticultural Society booth in the Horticulture building. With perfect weather outside, the fair was crammed with people and we had a busy day at both the merchandise and educational booths.

My fellow membership sales workers and I sold 75 percent more memberships Monday than were sold on this day a year ago. (Woo-hoo!)  The sun and warm temperatures may have had something to do with it, but I also think people who are interested in gardening realize the value of a hyperlocal (to use a new buzzword) organization committed to gardening in this climate. Northern Gardener is the only magazine devoted to gardening in USDA zones 3 and 4. In addition to the magazine, members get discounts at 130 nurseries around the state, free tickets to the Twin Cities home and garden shows, use of an extensive lending library and access to classes and events geared especially for northern gardeners. Fair-goers also get a $5 discount on membership as well as a nice-looking pruner, some fertilizer and a couple of booklets as a thank you gift.

But what about the Fair?

Minnesota humor in action: There are only two season in Minnesota—winter and road construction.

I did not stray too far from the Horticulture Building. I enjoyed a delicious peach-filled scone from the French Meadow Bakery just down Carnes Avenue from us, and purchased one of the Star-Tribune’s Minnesota T-shirts for my husband, who definitely sees Minnesota as having only two seasons – winter and road construction. Of course, I stopped at the gardens outside the horticulture building, which are shady and lovely even in the afternoon. The MSHS garden, cared for by volunteers from the St. Anthony Park Garden Club, benefited from all the rain we had this summer. The Joe-Pye weed, hibiscus and rudbeckia are enormous and the edging of Profusion zinnias is particularly cheery.

If you get to the fair this weekend, please stop by and see the garden!