Going to Garden School

Gardeners check out the silent auction items at the 2013 Rice County Horticulture Day.
Gardeners check out the silent auction items at the 2013 Rice County Horticulture Day.

Hort Days. Spring Flings. Garden Gatherings. Garden Fever. Whatever you call them, the assortment of garden schools being sponsored by Master Gardener groups, horticulture societies and garden clubs this time of year is huge. Only weather and mileage keep me from going to one every weekend. Here are a few favorites to consider, both near the Twin Cities and beyond.

I have to start with the local one here in Northfield, sponsored by the Rice County Master Gardeners. This year’s hort day will include three great speakers. The opening speaker is Eric Johnson, a designer, garden writer and columnist for Northern Gardener magazine, who will teach participants how to create garden art that is handmade, beautiful and not too expensive in his talk on DIY Garden Art. He’ll be followed by Dakota County Master Gardener Shari Mayer, a longtime herb enthusiast, who will talk about growing and preserving herbs. After lunch in the St. Olaf cafeteria, participants will hear from Karl Foord, a University of Minnesota Extension Educator on the role of bees in the pollination of fruit as well as threats to bee populations and what gardeners can do to help bees. The event costs $30, which includes lunch, a continental breakfast, handouts and a free sample of honey from local beekeeper Mike Feist. It will be held at Buntrock Commons on the campus of St. Olaf College in Northfield.

Bees and gardening for pollinators are on the agenda at several horticulture days this year.
Bees and gardening for pollinators are on the agenda at several horticulture days this year.

Last year, I also attended the Carver-Scott Master Gardeners Garden Fever event and thought it was fantastic. This year, the event will be Saturday, March 8, at Oak Ridge Hotel and Conference Center in Chaska. One of the keynoters is Emily Tepe, vegetable gardener and author, who recently wrote about onions for Northern Gardener, and Douglas Mensing, an ecologist. The theme is sustainable gardening. Some of the best parts of this hort day are the presentations by master gardeners from Carver-Scott counties. Here’s my favorite title for a presentation this year: “Help! My Garden is Having a Midlife Crisis.” I know the feeling. If you register by Friday, the event is $40. After that the price goes up to $45.

Another popular garden school is the East Metro/Washington County Master Gardeners Spring Fling, which will also be held March 8. Speakers include Debbie Lonnee of Bailey Nurseries on new plants, noted nurseryman Steve Kelley on shade gardening, Eric Johnson on vegetable gardening and author Kelly Norris on iris, among others. The $35 fee includes the seminars and lunch catered by Tinucci’s. The event will be held at Woodbury High School.

There are so many more garden schools around the state — I’ve heard great things about the programs in Grand Forks, Stearns County, West Otter Tail County and many others. A complete list of schools is available on the MSHS website. Find one near you!




Placing Garden Art

garden stakes between the plantsI like to buy garden art and ornaments from local artists. The works are often different from those you see in stores, and it’s more meaningful when you know where a piece comes from and who created it. In the past, I’ve bought a metal trellis from Jennifer Wolcott and two local gentlemen designed and assembled the pergola in my backyard.

A couple of weeks ago, I bought two glass garden stakes from Geralyn Thelen, who shows her work at the Northfield Riverwalk Market Fair on Saturdays. I’ve long admired the bright colors and luminous texture of Gerie’s jewelry, home decor and furniture. So when she created these stakes for the garden, I had to have one — or two.

I picked two slightly different stakes in colors that work well together and with my plants and house. Being design-challenged, it took a bit of moving around to figure out how to place them well.

I thought they would be a bright spot and focal point in my front door garden. So I put a stake with bright oranges and maroons behind this Autumn Joy sedum and in front of a dark maroon coleus I’m growing on trial this summer. (Fantastic plant, by the way, but more on that in a later post.) I like the surprise of the art between the plants, but in some ways the piece seems lost.

garden stake with short plantsTo try a different approach, I put the second one in a back bed near some orange impatiens and lamium under an ash tree. Because the plants are short, this stake seems to stand out more. The plants behind it are mostly done blooming, so the artwork becomes a slightly taller focal point in the bed.

Placing artwork and other structural elements in a bed takes some trial and error. In the September/October issue of Northern Gardener (which will be on newsstands soon), columnist Don Engebretson offers insights into why and how to place fountains, benches, arbors, sculpture and other nonplant elements. One of his main points is to put the objects in a bed — rather than sitting them out in the lawn by themselves.

In writing this post, I noticed Gerie has a photo of the stakes in a group of three. Might be another reason for a trip to the market!

What are some of your favorite ways to display art in the garden?

Winter Garden Decor — The Fun Variety

Mannequins in corner garden, dressed for winter. They look like they are waiting for the bus.

I was driving back from taking photos of some winter containers for an upcoming article, when I noticed these garden denizens along West 46th Street in south Minneapolis. What a cute idea — though the gardeners may have been overdressed for yesterday’s sunny February afternoon. Today, they are just right as the wind has picked up and temps have dropped.

Judging from the plants left standing, this looks like it would be a beautiful garden at all seasons of the year. What are your favorite garden decor ideas for winter?

Metal in Garden Art (and a Coupon)

I’ve been a fan of Jennifer Wolcott’s metal garden art since she designed the Book Heads Dancing located near the main entry of the Northfield Public Library back in 2008. I love the whimsy of her sculptures and the way the natural, hard metal contrasts with the flowing shapes. Her garden balls made of straps of metal always make me smile and they look wonderful in a perennial bed.

Last winter, I talked with Jennifer about designing a stand-alone trellis for a climbing rose. I did not want to have to attach the trellis to my house. And, of course, my request was for something “tasteful, not too expensive.” She liked the idea and designed several of these tall, triangular shaped trellis/obelisk garden pieces. I got first pick and have one placed right near the corner of my front yard bed. The rose and some stray morning glories are covering it now. (That’s a detail of it at right.)

But now the big offer! This weekend is Defeat of Jesse James Days in my hometown, Northfield, Minn. It’s gorgeous weather, so drive down and check out the art fair near the river downtown. It runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and tomorrow. Jennifer will be displaying her garden orbs, trellises and other sculptures there. Print out the coupon with this post (click on the image to make it big and printable) and you’ll get 10 percent off any purchases.

Garden Art in Public Places

During the recent America in Bloom competition, this sculpture was installed at the Northfield Public Library. Made by artist Jennifer Wolcott, the steel sculpture has the working title of Bookheads Dancing. In creating the piece, Wolcott walked all around the library looking for the right place to put the sculpture, and settled on this shady hosta garden near the Washington Street entry.

Placing art in a garden is tricky. It needs to complement the garden around it, without overwhelming the garden or being so small that the garden obscures the art. In a northern climate like ours, the art will be a dominant view in the garden for several months of the year. [While taking photos of the Wolcott piece, I found myself wishing (horrors!) that it were January so the sculpture would stand out more.] What I like about the Wolcott piece is it has many places for snow to rest, allowing the view of the work to change as seasons progress. This is a piece viewers would find intriguing even after it had been in place many years.

Northfield Note: I’m a member of the board of the Friends of the Library, which last night decided to offer partial funding for the purchase and permanent installation of the Wolcott sculpture. Others in the community are looking for additional support for the sculpture. If you would like to assist in funding the sculpture, contact Lynne Young at the library.