Sneak Peak at Spring Garden Trends

Citrus green, bright pink and clean white make for a pretty spring table.
Citrus green, bright pink and clean white make for a pretty spring table.

Yesterday I attended an event for bloggers at Bachman’s Spring Idea House in Minneapolis and got a sneak peak at what will be in stores this spring. It was great fun to meet several fashion, lifestyle and photography bloggers, as well as seeing the colors and ideas for home and garden decor in action.

In a word: think “fresh.” Also, “pink.”

Karen Bachman Thull led us through the house, a 1920s beauty that was built by Arthur Bachman Sr., a son of one of Bachman’s founders.  Three times a year, Bachman’s re-designs the rooms in the house — furniture, paint, the whole she-bang — and opens the house to the public. This year, the house is open every day until April 19. It’s $5 to tour the house and, if you are someone who enjoys decor or is just hungry for spring, it’s well-worth a visit.

Lots of the decor was done in a fresh, bright combination of citrus green, bright pink and white. The combination works great in containers, in table decorations and in the furniture in the airy sunroom and living room of the house. Karen noted that this combination is dynamite as long as you do not add another color. If you put in a blue, a purple, an orange — it falls apart. The look goes from fresh to garish in a minute. I have a pair of bright green containers and plan to try this combination in them this summer.

This self-watering planter holds herbs in pots.
This self-watering planter holds herbs in pots.

Another garden trend worth noting is the improved vertical gardening trend. I’ve been a bit cool on most vertical gardening systems because they require so much watering — some of them are basically gutters mounted on a frame. Bachman’s is selling a couple of self-watering systems now. A sweet window box containing herbs was on display in the idea house kitchen and a massive, multi-part living wall of foliage was in the yoga room upstairs. The wall you see in the photo below contains six of the wall garden systems. Fully loaded with plants and water, each system weighs about 60 pounds. The way the systems work is that each plant is in a pot. A wicking device inside the system pulls water from the troughs to the plants.

This dramatic wall of foliage includes six self-watering systems and a whole lot of plants!
This dramatic wall of foliage includes six self-watering systems and a whole lot of plants!

Karen told me that the kitchen system would only need to be refilled about once a month. If you want to try vertical gardening, self watering is the way to go.

The house also features several forced branches of spring blooms. I think more northern gardeners should try forcing branches in the spring — it’s a great way to bring color into the house. Other garden trends noted in the house are increased interest in terrariums and air plants.

I also really loved this arrangement of snow boots outside the house. Everything is a container this spring!

These boots were made for planting.
These boots were made for planting.


What Will You See in Garden Centers in 2013?

Plant head with shadesYes, it’s only August, but for owners and buyers from independent garden centers, it’s time to think about spring. Tuesday I had a chance to visit the Independent Garden Centers Show in Chicago, where more than 1,000 vendors brought what they think will be hot-sellers at garden centers in 2013.

There were lots of plants and tools, of course, but many of the items fell into the arena of garden decor — pots, fountains, artwork. Here’s my non-scientific, once-around-the-vendor-floor assessment of what you will be seeing in garden centers in 2013.

Bright colors. Tangerine is the color of the year for 2012, and that bright, cheerful hue, along with bright blue, cherry red and sunny yellow were everywhere in containers, watering cans and flower pots.

Vertical gardenVertical gardening. I’ve seen a few large vertical gardening installations over the past couple of years, but mostly in public spaces, because of the relatively high cost of putting them in. But vendors are figuring out how to make these more affordable for garden centers and their customers. There were several companies selling the interior liners for the grow boxes and a number showing ways to use them. For the home gardener, this little window filled with oxyalis was cute.

Portable water gardens. I’ve been looking for one of these for my garden, and it looks like next spring, I’ll have no trouble finding it! Large water features are fabulous and add so much sound and texture to a garden, but for many gardeners they are like Sally in the movie When Harry Met Sally: high maintenance.

Gossip benchMore than plants. Garden centers have figured out that younger consumers especially want ideas and experiences when they visit garden centers — not just rows of plants. The folks at Monrovia had a fun display of ways to use a few simple groundcovers and baskets to create fairy gardens, one vendor was giving out sampels of pies that centers could bake up and sell whole or by the piece to their customers, garden art and furniture was everywhere especially things with an antique look. I loved this little gossip bench for the garden in an aged looking metal.

Petra Maison, gardengirl designerAnother favorite were these garden work clothes by GardenGirl USA, created by Swedish designer (and gardener) Petra Maison. I met Petra, seen wearing one of her outfits in the photo, and loved the cute designs, soft colors and obvious functionality. The clothes are made of extra heavy denim (you know how much work they will get) and are  fitted out with pockets perfect for gardeners — one for your pruner, one for the cell phone and a couple of other slots for tools. I’m thrilled that they carry skorts — a look that I really like, but you can’t find in stores as much in the past.

Look for these — and lots of other fun stuff — in independent garden centers next year.

Add Scent and Sound for a Great Garden

horse trough water fountain
A small stock tank becomes a water feature with the addition of a whimsical fountain.

This past weekend, I had a chance to visit about a dozen gardens on three tours: the Hennepin County Master Gardeners Learning Tour, the Red Wing Arts Association tour, and the Northfield Garden Club annual tour.

One point struck me strongly at all three tours: Gardens are not just visual. We experience them with all our senses: sight, sound, touch, smell — and, if you grow edibles, taste. To be truly comfortable and evocative, a garden must include sounds, smells and textures as well as pretty colors and dramatic design.

I wrote about Meleah Maynard’s garden over on the new Notes from Northern Gardener blog from MSHS. What I noticed when I first entered this urban space was the sound of water and the tweeting of birds. Meleah and her husband, Mike Hoium, have created a shady refuge with many small water features: tubs with fountains in them, bird baths, bubbling urns. The sound of the water is soothing and its presence attracts birds to the yard.

Waterfall in Northfield garden
This waterfall in a Northfield garden added sound and a soothing feeling to the space.

All of the gardens I visited had some type of water feature: a fountain, a pond, a small waterfall, a bubbler. Some were formal looking, others informal or even whimsical, all brought an extra dimension to the garden. The Red Wing tour was even more fun because of the addition of musicians in the garden — I loved these accordion players!

Accordion player
What a great garden tour idea — musicians!

Water and sound are wonderful, but scent makes a garden even more memorable. Fragrant lilies, herbs, other plants that smell sweet, pungent, sharp or even a little stinky give a garden another layer of experience for visitors. Terry Yockey, whose garden was on the Red Wing tour, has an entire section of her large garden devoted to scent. I left her place with a pocketful of leaves from herbs, shrubs and perennials — each with a different smell. Some acrid, some sweet, some pungent, some floral—each scent creates a mood in the garden. Long ago, I read that scent, unlike sound or sight, produces the strongest memories in humans. I believe that’s true based on how certain suntan lotions bring back recollections of long ago trips to the beach. Make your garden more memorable with scent.

How do you add sound and scent to your garden?

More Lessons from Garden Tours

Path in gardenI posted over the weekend about the Hudson, Wis., Artful Garden tour, which included a variety of large and small gardens and different garden styles. On Sunday, I attended the South St. Paul Garden Tour, a one-day event with eight  private gardens (and one public) open to the public. The gardens illustrated many of the basic concepts of garden design and demonstrated how to put them into practice in your own yard. Here are four lessons I took away from my afternoon in South St. Paul.

Make a path. Gardens are meant for wandering. You want visitors (and the gardener) to be able to get from one garden space to the next easily. This photo was taken in a two-tiered urban lot that was immaculately designed. It had a Japanese aesthetic, I thought, and it felt very comfortable and soothing, in part due the the paths that led you around the garden.

Plant big. Big plants, like this fabulous giant Japanese butterbur (Petasites Japonicus), have impact. They cover a lot of territory, giving a grounded feeling to parts of the garden. This one is in a back corner where it disguises some utility areas and acts as an exclamation point in that section of the garden.

Hypertoufa container with rocks


Use texture. Yes, plants can provide texture with their leaf shapes, prickles or downy coverings. But sticks, rocks and sculptural elements also add textural contrast. This hypertoufa container of rocks adds a different dimension than it would filled with fluffy annuals or spiny succulents. It’s especially interesting next to the twig arbor leading to the lower section of this garden.

Have fun! Why not hang a bird cage in the garden and put a black-eyed Susan vine in it? Or how about putting mannequin heads with caps on them in a shrub? Antiques make great additions to gardens because they have a patina and texture of their own.

Here’s a photo gallery with more shots from the South St. Paul tour, including some of the fun elements I saw. What are some of your best ideas from garden tours?

Garden Trends 2012

Not sure what this daylily is called, but the color will be hot in 2012.

At this time of year, there’s plenty of discussion about what’s hot, what’s new and which trends will influence gardening this year. Some of the trends are fun, if superficial. Expect to see even more hot orange flowers now that Tangerine Tango is the color of the year. More gardeners are also playing with succulents and a few are heading back to the 70s with terrariums. (We’ll have an article on terrariums in Northern Gardener later in 2012.)

But beyond what looks good and what is fashionable, gardens reflect some underlying social shifts. For instance, interest in food gardening continues to be on the rise, including among young people, who traditionally are nongardeners. (According to a Garden Writers Association trend report, 59 percent of homeowners are now growing some food.) Whether trend watchers call them Urban Knights or The New Beginners, these are folks who want to eat healthy and to know what they are eating. They are concerned about food miles, eating seasonally and growing really tasty, clean food. To help these young gardeners, you’ll see even more information about small-space gardening and plants that are easy to grow as well as organic methods and heirloom seeds. Renee’s Garden Seeds, for example, recently introduced “Easy to Grow Seed Collections,” one for a container kitchen garden and one for a colorful kitchen garden.

Another trend can be loosely called concern for the earth. After growing food, the issues homeowners want information about most included earth-friendly gardening (49 percent) and native plants (41 percent). Planting for butterflies, bees and birds — pollinators — is motivating plant selections by more gardeners and more gardeners are committing to heirloom plants and organic methods.

Another not-exactly-surprising change is that more gardeners are seeking information about growing plants on the Internet. About 25 percent of gardeners turn to the web for information. (Only 8 percent turn to garden blogs!)

In many ways, these are continuations of trends from as far back as 2008. I’m excited about all these trends (even the terrariums!) so it’s an good time to be a gardener.

Garden Tours 2011: Raining Ideas

I’ve been on four garden tours so far this summer, and despite rain falling on every tour, the gardens looked lush and beautiful. Tours give me ideas for my own garden as well as for stories for the magazine, plus it’s fun to walk around and see how differently people create spaces in their gardens.

Here are some trends I noticed while walking around in the rain this summer.

Three yards full of exciting plants made for a park-like experience.

Neighborly Gardens.  Northern Gardener ran a feature on two neighbors in Minneapolis who garden, if not exactly together, in collaboration in the  March/April 2011 issue. I saw a couple of examples of side-by-side gardens while touring this year. Certainly the most impressive example were these two hosta gardens in Rochester, which were part of the annual MSHS Garden Tour. The backyards on this street (I think there may have been three yards involved, though only two were technically on the tour) felt like a public park as the yards blended together with similar plants and a shared style. This must present some challenges, in terms of sublimating your personal desires for a shared look, but it’s also a case where one plus one equals about 10.

I believe that is a hydrangea amid the boxwood -- amazing!

Pruning Matters.  Gardens are as much about shape and texture as they are about color, so get out those loppers and prune. Clearly, many of the gardeners on the tours I attended are not afraid to trim a branch or cut an overgrown shrub back — way back. One of the best examples of the power of pruning is the fabulous garden of Ted Bair and Harvey Filister in Minneapolis, which was part of the Tangletown Art and Garden Tour a couple of weeks ago. This yard has Wow! Factor like very few others, with its stone paths and bridges, enormous koi, shape and texture galore. Ted’s the pruner, and he’s not afraid to keep plants small when it suits his design purposes. Many plants can take a firm pruning and look better for it. Prune bravely!

These birds were in at least three gardens I visited, but I liked the placement in this garden best.

Use Art Sparingly, and Well.  There is a fine line between art that is a dramatic focal point and something that is just too much. Many of the gardens on the tours rode that line closely, but didn’t cross it. I really like metal art in a garden because it’s a natural material. I also like art that is hidden for visitors to discover. My favorite example of that was a large (like almost life-size) alligator sculpture that was partially buried in the ground in one garden on the Bright Gardens for Fraser tour in St. Paul. Discovering it was both a surprise and amusing. Gardens do not need to be stuffy.

A stream runs through a hilly garden.




Water Works.  Almost all the gardens I visited had at least a small water feature to bring motion and sound into the garden. Few were as impressive as the one at Erica and Dan Tallman’s garden on the Northfield Garden Tour. The water tumbled down a steep slope in the Tallman’s backyard, complementing the natural setting around it as well as the plants. The Tallmans installed this themselves, which is even more impressive.

My thanks to all the gardeners who opened their spaces to visitors, sharing their hard work and ideas.

Short-Season Gardening

In bloom: lupines, peonies, daylilies, zinnias, among others.

The growing season where I live would never be considered long. Even in a year with an unusually early spring, like 2010, the season is no more than five months long. And, with a later spring, like this year, we’re lucky to get four full months of good gardening in.

But on a recent trip to the North Shore of Minnesota, I was struck about how intense a much shorter growing season is. Driving up Highway 61 from Duluth to Grand Marais and then Grand Portage, my husband and I noticed the vast numbers of lupines in the ditches. This prompted choruses of the Monty Python classic song, “Dennis Moore, Dennis Moore,” in which the inept Robin Hood demands lupines for tribute, but it also struck me as late for lupines to be in bloom.  Mine usually bloom in early June.

Salvia, yellow roses, peonies, spirea, irises, and (I think) bachelor buttons.

When we got to Grand Marais, the city’s gardens were in full, glorious bloom – with all the plants that have bloomed in my garden since late May blooming simultaneously. Instead of a series of blooms, from lupines to peonies to roses to spirea to daylilies to lilies, all the blooms were out together. The front yard garden in the photo is one example of many that I saw, wildly in bloom as if May, June, July were one month.

This must present challenges to gardeners, both practically and emotionally. Not only do they have to anticipate how their flowers will look together, once they have all bloomed – then what? My guess is fall color and a long, gray winter. Luckily, they have those big views of Lake Superior for solace.

Gardeners Up North, as we Minnesotans say, must relish every moment of the season. Seeing their short-season gardens led me to cherish our longer short season even more.


Planting Container Masterpieces on KARE

Michelle, Belinda, and Bobby

If you enjoy container gardening, be sure to tune into Grow with KARE, locally on channel 11, at 6 p.m. Friday and at 9 a.m. Saturday, to watch Michelle Mero Riedel talk with Belinda Jensen and Bobby Jensen about container gardening.

This appearance was prompted by an article called “10 Container Masterpieces,” that ran in the November/December issue of Northern Gardener. In it, Michelle designed, photographed and described 10 gorgeous container combinations. She also gave some really smart tips for planting and maintaining container gardens. My favorite: Bigger containers are almost always better — both for design impact and for keeping plants healthy.

The article was inspiring, and it inspired my friends, Larry and Julie, to give  “masterpieces” to some of their friends for Christmas. Just yesterday, I picked up my plants to make container No. 1 (click on the PDF to see it). What a great gift idea!

Color Trends in the Garden

Photo courtesy of Ball Horticultural Inc.

My first garden column of the year appears in the St. Cloud Times today. I’ve been doing a garden column during the season for the Times for two years and really enjoy it. Back at the beginning of my career — we even used typewriters when I started! — I was a reporter at the Times, so it’s always fun to re-connect.

This week’s column is on color trends in the garden. Like clothing and home decor, gardens are subject to styles and trends. This year, the trend toward vegetable gardening continues, especially as gas and food prices are rising. In ornamental gardening, the colors coral or orange and black are everywhere.

One of the hottest plants of the summer is the black petunia above, called ‘Black Velvet’. The color is genuinely black, as opposed to a deep purple. I’ll be curious to see how it looks in the garden since black absorbs color rather than reflecting it. It’s often paired with white delicate white plants in photos I’ve seen of it, which might be a way to keep it bright.

For more about color trends and some specific plants to consider, check out the column.

Three Garden Trends for 2011

Earlier this week, I had a chance to attend the Northern Green Expo, the annual educational event for members of the Minnesota Nursery and Landscape Association. It’s a great event for hearing about new products and garden trends.  National trend-watchers have spotted some larger trends, including a greater sense of purpose about gardening and a move toward mixing edible plants in ornamental gardens — a great idea, though I haven’t seen much beyond Swiss chard in these gardens.

The folks at the Green Expo offered a few other trends to look for at garden-centers this year.

1. Succulents everywhere. Drought-tolerant and sculptural, succulent plants are showing up in container gardens, either as an accent or as the main focus of the container. You’ll see a wide assortment of succulents in small pots at nurseries this spring.

2. Blooms that pop. More and more of the newer flowers, especially the petunias and calibrachoas, have two-toned or multicolored blooms. Streaked, with center eyes, or fading from light to dark at the center, these plants look striking in containers, hanging baskets or window boxes.

3. Pre-made gardens. One nurseryman — a real plant expert — told me more and more of his customers want a set of containers rather than a flower bed around their patios and other outdoor living spaces. Gardens are too much work, they figure. I would dispute that contention: Containers require more water and more care than any garden I have. But, there you have it. It’s what folks think, so expect to see more finished mixed pots, too.