A Rainy Garden Tour

IMG_5087Despite the steady — and very much needed — rain, a good crowd of gardeners attended the West End Neighbor’s Garden Tour in St. Paul today. My friend, Julie, and I were among those under their umbrellas ooh-ing and ahh-ing at the gardens. The West End is that area of St. Paul that borders along the Mississippi River and runs from downtown toward Lexington Parkway. Among the gardens on tour were those at Forepaugh’s Restaurant and the Alexander Ramsey House. But the gardens we enjoyed most were the home gardens, of which 13 were open to the public.

Early June is a tricky time to show a garden in Minnesota, but these gardeners were up to the task. We saw a bleeding heart the size of a big shrub and a plant I have never seen before called Centaurea montana or mountain bluet. The homeowner described it as a big bachelor’s button. Another garden included several tiers, each edged with dry laid stone.  Visitors entered the garden over a small bridge connected to the porch. One thing we noticed in all of the gardens (we visited three and walked by the Forepaugh’s garden) was the presence of pots full of succulents such as the whimsical pot in the photo.

State Fair Gardens

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.

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

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.

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 this statue and bench.) Martin will be sharing design advice in an upcoming issue of Northern Gardener.

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.

It's Garden Tour Time

Late June and July are the big months for garden tours in the Midwest. This weekend the Northfield Garden Club is hosting its annual tour, so I headed out early to check out the gardens. I made it to five of the seven gardens on the tour and came home full of ideas and inspiration.

At Judy and Jim Cedarburg’s garden (No. 6 on the Northfield tour), a small meadow of shasta daisies bloomed in a corner of the double-lot garden. Anyone with an area they don’t want to mow could add that kind of meadow, especially if you combined the daisies with ornamental grasses. The Cedarburgs have extensive perennial gardens and a big vegetable patch. They’ve been gardening in that spot for more than 40 years. If you visit, be sure to ask them about the huge oak they planted from an acorn.

Shirley and Bob Cox’s garden (No. 4 on the tour) is designed to attract birds. It includes all of the things birds need: shelter, water, food and cover. The Coxes use boulders throughout the garden to great effect.

If you are interested in attending the tour, you can get a ticket for $10 at any of the tour gardens (the president’s house at St. Olaf is where I started) or at Knecht’s Nurseries or Hodge-Podge Que Antiques downtown.

Gardening Like Monet

Not many of us can garden in the fashion of impressionist Claude Monet. Lacking the 5-acre garden, help from a full-time gardener and (most importantly) artistic genius, we instead look at Monet’s paintings, and sigh. There was a lot of sighing, and gasping, and general oohing and aahing at the Minneapolis Institute of Art this morning during photographer Derek Fell’s talk on Monet’s garden. The event was part of the MIA’s annual Art in Bloom, and the auditorium was packed with enthusiastic gardeners and art lovers.

In addition to photographing gardens, Fell designs them so he brings great knowledge and sympathy to his photographs of Monet’s garden. We’ve occasionally used his stock images in Northern Gardener. He recently completed a book on Monet called The Magic of Monet’s Garden: His Planting Plans and Color Harmonies.

At the MIA, he talked about how Monet used color and lines to create the depth and luminescence in his art. Some of these are techniques we regular gardeners can employ. For instance, in order to create the shimmer that impressionists are known for, Monet used white flowers or silver plants. But white shouldn’t be used in a clump, Fell said. A clump makes a hole in the garden; dotted throughout the garden, white plays off the other colors and brightens them. As Fell said (and he may have been quoting Monet), you’ve got to sprinkle it like salt and pepper. Monet used color harmonies throughout his garden. His plantings would be all in cool colors (such as in the painting above) or in hot colors. Cool harmonies include blues and purples, hot ones reds, oranges and yellows. Monet sometimes would plant beds of hot colored flowers in front of beds of cool colored flowers. From a certain angle, the cool behind the hot makes the bed look deeper. Monet also used only straight beds because he wanted to create deep perspective and a sense of walking into infinity.

His famous water garden took the opposite approach, according to Fell. That was a cup garden, where the visitor was called to introspection. Monet, like many smart gardeners, planted at least three of any of the water lilies he chose for his water gardens.

Monet’s interest in gardening grew from his painting. He gardened to create the kind of place he wanted to paint. In the process, he created the kind of garden many gardeners would like to visit.

A One Hour Tropical Vacation

img_1075.jpgimg_1092.jpgI was in St. Paul on business today, and one of the events I had scheduled was canceled. So, I found myself not far from Como Park with an hour to spare. Impulsively, I set out for the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory, the tropical garden in Como Park. It was just a few minutes after 10 a.m., the conservatory’s opening time, when I arrived and already the parking lot was nearly full. It makes sense. The weather lately has been cold and lousy. I’m not the only one who decided to take a one hour vacation to the tropics.

img_1070.jpgWhen I got in, the first thing I had to do was wait for my glasses to defrost after the rapid change in temperature and humidity between outside and the conservatory. It turns out the conservatory was hosting its annual Winter Flower Show in the Sunken Garden Room. You couldn’t help but relax and slow down when surrounded by this much beauty, breathing that soft, humid air.

img_1090.jpgimg_1113.jpgI was blown away by the azaleas that lined the room, mixed with Oriental lilies (pictured above right), cyclamen and amaryllis, among other flowers. The azalea flowers were enormous and each one seemed almost perfect. The top group of flowers in the photo at right actually comes from a tree that is in a pot about four feet below the floor of this display area. I talked with a very helpful volunteer named Maggie, who told me that the bushy azaleas in the main area also have thick trunks inside of them. The conservatory horticulturists keep them pruned tightly in order to encourage bloom for this annual show. I was feeling a bit sheepish about how wimpy my azaleas are in the spring, but Maggie told me not to make comparisons. The conservatory show features tropical azaleas, which are nothing like the Minnesota-hardy azaleas developed at the University of Minnesota.

img_1159.jpgimg_1130.jpgIn the main part of the conservatory, orchids are scattered among the palms and greenery. The conservatory keeps a large collection of orchids and sets them out when they are in bloom. I really liked the one at left. I was also fascinated by this Manila hemp plant. The scientific name is Musa textilis and it’s related to the banana family. The plant is known for its durable fibers, which are mainly used for making rope. That pink blossom that looks like its coming off of a cable is the plant’s flower.

img_1132.jpgAm I crazy, or does the flower look like something electrical?

img_1160.jpgMy spare hour was soon up, so I bid Maggie and the tropics good-bye. If you are thinking of visiting the conservatory, it’s open 10 to 4 everyday in the winter. The conservatory is free, though a sign politely asks for a $2 donation per adult. (Definitely, a bargain.) You can also visit the Como Zoo while there, and even have a bite in the park’s dining areas. It’s not exactly Bermuda, but on a frigid February day, it’s a real respite.