A Visit to Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, Sarasota

Bromeliads in a display case Marie Selby garden
What a great way to display bromeliads — in the world’s largest IKEA bookcase.

Like a lot of northerners, I like a winter escape—preferably to Florida. While it’s not always possible to get away, the past couple of winters my husband and I have taken a break from the snow, ice and potholes in St. Paul to spend some time in Sarasota, Florida. Whenever we are here, we visit the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens.

View of Sarasota Bay from Selby Gardens
No matter where you go in the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, Sarasota Bay is within view.

These gardens celebrate all things Florida, with lots of native plants, palms and brightly colored annuals, all arrayed along the shores of Sarasota Bay. Viewing the gardens with sailboats and water behind them is a good part of the fun. The gardens began as the estate of William and Marie Selby, who were among the residents flocking to Sarasota in the 1920s. Marie was the first woman to cross country by car! She loved Sarasota and she and William (a co-owner of the Selby Oil Co.) built a Spanish-style home and expansive gardens along the bay. When Marie died in 1971, she asked that the property become a botanic garden. The garden opened in 1975 and specializes in epiphytes, organisms that live on the surface of other plants.

Orchid at Marie Selby Gardens
Orchids were in bloom throughout the conservatory at the Marie Selby Gardens.

The gardens include a conservatory, with a huge collection of bromeliads and orchids, lots of mangroves, ferns and, of course, epiphytes as well as a huge banyan tree with a climbing structure nearby that is perfect for children (and adults) to climb on. Annual flowers are on display around the gardens and there is ample seating and winding paths to make the visit relaxing. The docent-led tours are informative and give visitors great context for visiting the garden.

Many years, the garden hosts an exhibition of a well-known artist’s work that is connected to gardening. This year, the exhibit is Andy Warhol: Flowers in the Factory and focuses on nature as an inspiration in the work of many pop artists. Warhol-inspired works are displayed around the garden and the exhibit gives viewers a compact history of Warhol and his compatriots. A highlight for me was the exhibit of several prints called Flowers, which Warhol created in 1964. To make the prints, he started with a photograph he saw in Modern Photography magazine (taken by someone else). He stripped out the detail and colors from the photo, then added more back, creating a fascinating series of floral prints. Shades of Instagram!

The photographer who took the original photo, Patricia Caulfield, later sued Warhol for copyright infringement. The interesting thing is, Warhol built his career  on changing other iconic images, such as the Campbell Soup can and Marilyn Monroe.

If you are near Sarasota, the Marie Selby Botanic Gardens are well worth a visit.  Take the docent-led tour and stop by the cafe for a light lunch or a cup of coffee. It will make for a lovely day in a city that is rapidly becoming my favorite Florida getaway.

Yours truly enjoying the gardens. I agree completely with Warhol on the beauty of our land.


Quilts and Gardens Go Together

For the past three years, my cousin has been among the organizers of an unusual garden tour in Tracy, MN. The tour—officially the Tracy Area Garden Party—combines two art forms that often go together—quilting and gardening. Though I’ve made a few simple quilts, I’m decidedly no quilter, but many gardeners are also expert quilters and many quilters are also darn good gardeners.

Grandmother’s Garden quilt in a garden on the Tracy Garden Tour.

This year, I was able to visit Tracy for the tour and Jolynn (my cousin) took me around to see not only the six tour gardens, but to visit several other garden sites in the area as well as a terrific nursery that serves Tracy, Marshall and the rest of southwestern Minnesota. This year, the tour focused on gardens in Balaton, MN, about 20 miles west of Tracy. Balaton has a beautiful lake and two of the gardens were right on the water.

A comfy front porch with a sweet hydrangea and a pretty floral quilt on display.

On the tour, each of the gardens is decorated with quilts, which are positioned to show off the colors of both the quilt and the gardens. Sometimes the gardener is also the one displaying the quilts, but all of the quilters are from the area.

Susan Mitzner displayed the quilt at the top of this post, called Grandmother’s Flower Garden, over a fence near one of the flower borders at her rural Balaton farm. Susan pieced it with some help from her grandchildren and quilted it as well. Another quilt of hers  hung on a garden shed right behind a bed filled with peonies, lilies and other sun-loving flowers.

A few things I noticed about these southwestern Minnesota gardens:

  • A very, very small part of one of the gardens we visited in Balaton, MN.

    They are BIG! Many of the gardens we toured looked to be an acre or more in size, even those in town. Many were edged with garden beds with turf grass in the middle. Gardens of that size give the gardener the ability to use really big plants, which is a blessing. Mowing as much turf as some of the yards we saw have would require a riding mower or an army of teenagers looking to make money.

    With all the sun these gardens have, lilies thrived.
  • They are SUNNY! We visited one gorgeous garden (not on the tour this year, but in previous years) that I would call a shade garden. But all the others had lots and lots of sun. One had many, many oak trees, but still large swaths of sunny spaces. As a result, we saw some great-looking vegetable gardens—large and thriving. There also were lots of lilies and bee-balm in the gardens—both sun-loving plants.
  • I loved the way these quilts swayed in the breeze. Behind them, you can see one of the impressive vegetable gardens on the tour.
  • This teapot on a plate complemented the greenery around it.

    They were filled with CHARMING DETAILS. From large signs advertising “Balaton Specialties” to washboards to teacups filled with succulents to interestingly colored or shaped pots, the gardens included fun details that reflected the personalities of the gardeners.

My apologies to the quilter. I forgot to take a picture of the tag so I would know who made this gorgeous quilt, which was one of my favorites from the tour.

At the end of the tour, pie and ice cream was provided, courtesy of St. Mary’s Church in Tracy, which is known for its great pies. After an afternoon of touring gardens and admiring quilts, a slice of strawberry-rhubarb pie and ice cream was a real treat. The tour has been held three years in a row, and I’m hoping they do it again next year. I want to bring my sister, who is a quilter, along!

Softening the Edges of Your Garden

Monet's Grand Allee
Nasturtiums grow across the path.

In early August, I had a chance to visit the garden of impressionist painter Claude Monet at Giverny, France. We were visiting our youngest daughter, who was studying in Paris. Being so close, I had to visit one of the most famous gardens in the world.

The garden is lovely. (You can check out my gallery of photos here.) And, one of its most dramatic features is the Grande Allee, which means large path. Monet’s Grande Allee is edged with nasturtiums, which crawl across the path over the summer, sometimes covering the path in bloom. I love the look of plants flopping over the edge of a hard line, whether it’s a cement sidewalk or an 8-foot-wide path.

plants on sidewalk
It’s not exactly Monet’s garden, but I like the look of the plants growing over the sidewalk edge.

This year, I had good luck with my annuals near the front walk. I like the way they grow just a bit over the edge of the sidewalk, joining the garden and the walkway visually. The alyssum is a new type from Proven Winners called Blushing Princess, a sister plant to Snow Princesss, which has a white flower. Both plants are supposed to grow large and bushy. I had mixed results with Snow Princess in 2011, but Blushing Princess, which will be available in garden centers in 2013, performed well, sending its pink puffs of flowers over the edge of the walk. I think it got more sun than the Snow Princess did, and that may be why it grew so well.

The other plants are standard marigolds that I bought in mid-season at clearance prices. I did give them a good shot of fish emulsion when I planted them, and I’ve been diligent about deadheading.  As a result, they took off, despite the midsummer heat. Not everyone likes the scent of marigolds, but I do, and that’s another reason to plant them near the walk. Way in the back, near the steps, is a cosmos I planted from seed that is still in bloom in mid-October.

Photos from the MSHS State Fair Garden

'Daydream' roses
‘Daydream’ roses

I posted many of these shots on the MSHS Facebook fan page, but wanted to share them more broadly, too. A group of horticulture society volunteers work all summer to create and nurture this wonderful garden, which is located just south of the Horticulture Building on the Minnesota State Fairgrounds. Visit the garden, then come inside the hort building and say hello to the good folks of the Minnesota State Horticulture Society.

Steam Treatment

Walk through the Marjorie McNeely conservatory, warm and green.

Maybe it was because I’m at the end of a moderately miserable cold, but I really wanted to visit the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory at Como Park this week. Luckily, I had two meetings in the Twin Cities today, with a nice spot of time between them to go soak up the warm, humid air.

Even though the outside temperatures were mild for January (about 40 at midday), it felt wonderful to walk into the fern room and experience the sudden rush of warmth and humidity. My camera fogged up, so I had no choice but to settle down on a bench and just breath deeply. (My sinuses felt better already!) The sunken garden, one of my favorite parts of the conservatory, was closed as the conservatory crews took down the holiday display and put up the spring display — lots of bright, beautiful lilies, which may inspire a return trip.

Conservatory pool -- very Zen.

It was all green-on-green in the palm room and then I visited a room full of plants that produce the spices we love — an over-the-top-of-the-door vanilla vine, black pepper plant, ginger and other medicinal and useful plants. With a pool in the center, flanked by a statue of St. Francis, the room was calm and soothing. Francis is surrounded by Pothos, a common houseplant, that really thrives in the sun and humidity of the conservatory.

Calanthe grouville

Later, I wandered into the room where the winners of a the conservatory’s orchid contest were displayed. The smell was glorious on one side of the room; pungent on the other — at least to my nose — and all the orchids were showstoppers.

Soon it was time to head out to my next meeting. I left feeling refreshed and inspired.

Urban Gardening in St. Louis

More big cities seem to be realizing the value of plants and landscaping as a way to create more human-scaled, safer and more attractive environments. Last weekend, I toured the Citygarden Sculpture Garden along the Gateway Mall of St. Louis with two dozen garden writers as part of a regional Garden Writers Association meeting.

Gateway Archway and plantings.

St. Louis seemed especially vibrant and lively, which may have had something to do with the beloved Cardinals winning in the National League Championship Series, but it also could be due to private and government efforts to bring plants and landscaping into the city core. On the night before the official tour, I walked downtown to enjoy the pregame excitement. The Gateway Mall’s many tree-covered patios were filled with music, food and happy baseball fans. The medians along Market Street were lush with lantana, cannas and begonias. These are the work of a large group of individuals, companies and organizations united under the name Gateway Greening. Check out the website to see a list of plants. Wow!

The idea of a Gateway Mall started at the turn of the 19th Century when St. Louis was a thriving city. Bad times in the mid-20th Century left the area shabby and unfinished. Beginning in 1999, the city has responded to a revitalization of its downtown by creating a master plan (now much realized) for the long mall, which runs about 10 blocks between two major streets.

Citygarden: Plants, sculpture and water

Our tour focused on Citygarden, a three-acre sculpture garden, which was opened in 2009 and is a project of the Gateway Foundation, a private family-run foundation. The garden features sculpture by more than a dozen artists and it is completely open, meaning visitors can touch, lean on, walk through and otherwise explore the art.

Three aspects of the garden make it a magnet for community activities. First, the designers decided the area should have 50 percent shade coverage as soon as possible, a great idea given St. Louis’ wicked hot summers. To achieve that, many large trees were moved in and planted in a special medium. The garden is essentially one big planter. Trees were chosen for their ability to stand up to these conditions and include sugar maple, dogwood, and 17 Missouri native tree species. To provide shade, trees with large trunk diameters—up to 16 inches—were moved to the site.

These bunnies are not the ones destroying plants.

Secondly, the designers created meandering planters about 2 feet high that weave through the garden. From the above, they remind viewers of the curving rivers leading into the Mississippi near St. Louis. The planters are a perfect spot for folks to sit and enjoy a picnic lunch in the garden.  The gardeners have been careful to select plants that can handle the urban environment and the voracious rabbits that haunt downtown St. Louis.  (Apparently, the rally squirrel is not the only critter living near Busch Stadium.) Moreover, Citygarden backers have invested in care of the area, so those planters are regularly cleaned and when rabbits go after a particular plant, it is replaced with something less appealing to bunnies.

Finally, the planners added water, water and more water to the design, and the fountains are mostly open, allowing children and weary adults to indulge in a cool break from the day. Water, shade, flowers and a place to sit — what more could any downtown worker or resident ask for?

The garden has received several awards, including the Amanda Burden Award of Urban Land Institute. If you visit St. Louis, be sure to stroll through the garden to admire the sculpture and the power of urban gardening.

State Fair Gardens

bright yellow black eyed susans
Tall rudbeckia in the MSHS State Fair Garden

If you go to the Minnesota State Fair this weekend, be sure to stop by the Horticulture Building to admire the gardens that have been planted there. The Minnesota State Horticultural Society is responsible for several gardens on the southwest corner of the building, and they are gorgeous, providing a place to rest from the noise and excitement of the fair. While many volunteers and organizations contribute to the gardens, the mastermind and driving force behind them is Ron Dufour of the St. Anthony Park Garden Club.

smiling man in garden
Ron Dufour in the MSHS State Fair Garden he supervises.

Ron supervises the plant selection and design, then works with volunteers to put the finishing touches on the gardens just before the fair opens. I had a chance to talk with him at the fair last night and he noted that volunteers were working the night before the fair opened to get the gardens ready. All summer long, Ron stops at the garden on his way home from work to pull weeds or water the perennials. While he has training in horticulture, Ron has created the kind of garden most people could plant and maintain on their own, full of colorful shrubs, bright perennials, tall grasses and charming annuals.

Many of the plants are donated by nurseries and by individuals. Ron spends sometime every day during the fair at the garden, answering questions of the thousands of people that walk by his corner. The plants he gets asked about most are the gloriosa daisies. This Rudbeckia is an easy-care, short-lived perennial that readily reseeds. The ones at the fair have a deep red color at the center of the bloom, bright enough to attract attention even at the gaudy fairgrounds.

An Anniversary Visit to the Landscape Arboretum

To celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chanhassen, the staff and board of directors of the Minnesota State Horticulture Society toured the arb last Friday. The society played a key role in founding the arb back in the 1950s. Seeing the arboretum today, it’s hard to imagine the area as the field of corn and woods it must have been then.

The founders had a great vision for a research and display arboretum and that vision has been fully realized in the arb today. It’s artistically landscaped and provides an opportunity for northern gardeners to see plants that thrive in our climate. I’ve been a member of the arboretum for a few years and have taken one of the many classes the arb offers. (I’d love to take one on photography, but have not had a chance yet.) During the tour, I spent a lot of time in the rose area. (That’s a ‘Dainty Bess’ rose above and a ‘Charles Darwin’ English rose at right.)

Typical of enthusiastic gardeners in a large garden, we lost a few members of the group during the tour–not permanently, of course. But we gathered a few of the MSHS group for a photo. They are (from back to front): Linda and Glen Huebner, Malcolm Burleigh, Faye Duvall, Diane Duvall, Vicky Vogels, Rose Eggert, Tom McKusick, Lisa Williams-Hardman, and Brenda Harvieux.

Summer Visit to Squire House Gardens

black urn and fountain behind it
Squire House Gardens features a lovely strolling garden with a fountain.

Yesterday, I took a side trip on my way home from the Twin Cities to Afton, Minnesota, to visit Squire House Gardens, a garden center specializing in unusual plants and accessories for home and garden. I visited the store last December to talk with co-owner Martin Stern and designer Kathy Oss about creating holiday pots. The garden was lovely then, under a coating of new snow, but it’s even more impressive in summer.

flower with house in background
The garden center as seen from the formal garden.

Martin, who designs and maintains the gardens with his partner, Richard Meacock, and a small crew of gardeners, describes his style as “English, but not formal.” The paths in the garden intersect at right angles, but each bed is less formally planted with perennials, annuals and shrubs that bloom in sequence. The peonies and iris are done for the year, but a few lilies were beginning to bloom. In another week or two, the garden will be filled with blooms, according to Martin, with more bursts of bloom in late summer and fall. Martin uses art and pots to create focal points. (I loved the statue and bench below.) Martin frequently shares his design advice in Northern Gardener.

formal bench with statue above it
Take a rest on this bench and admire the garden.

If you are planning a short, scenic drive over the next few weeks, Afton’s a great place to visit. (They are having a Fourth of July celebration and parade.) My daughter, who was with me on the trip, enjoyed an iced tea in the local coffee shop, the Afton Bean while I visited the garden.

amsonia in late summer
Amsonia fluffs over the garden path. Martin’s gardens are lush and full.

Hydrangea Heaven

Lombard Street in San Francisco is probably one of the most recognizable streets in the United States. Its curves and switchbacks (added in 1922 to reduce the 27 percent grade on the block between Hyde and Leavenworth Streets) are filled with hydrangeas and other flowering plants. Last week, the hydrangeas were in full bloom, making the street a gardener’s heaven.

I walked up the street and then back down taking photos of the plants and the fabulous houses on this block. (Check out the vine in the photo at right.) I was joined by a large group of Italian tourists. Interestingly, and I suppose this reflects the rise of the Euro currency compared to the dollar, a casual observer would think most of the tourists in San Francisco last week were European.

I’m not sure which hydrangea varieties are planted on Lombard Street, and suspect many of them would not grow in the Midwest. Hydrangeas like a soft, moist climate (a la the Pacific Coast) but more hydrangeas have been hybridized in the past decade or so that are winter hardy in Minnesota. An article in the next issue of Northern Gardener, available about June 25, will describe 10 hydrangeas good for our area. I found this blue one in a private garden near Coit Tower, which I visited the same morning. The flowers are about the size of your hand and perfectly formed. Wow.