Cruising the St. Croix for Plants

The foliage is the star with a 'Golden Spirit' smoke bush.

Gardeners in Minnesota tend to do a big percentage of their plant shopping on the three or four weekends around Mother’s Day. While it’s exciting to shop as the season is just getting going, I think June is really the best month for plant shopping. Many nurseries are holding sales then, and you get a chance to see how their plants have held up in real weather.

Friday, with its near perfect temperatures, seemed like a great day to take a spontaneous road trip to some distant nurseries. My first destination: Funkie Gardens, for years a plant lover’s haven in Prescott, Wis., which is now located near the William O’Brien State Park north of Marine on St. Croix.

A small part of the hosta area at Funkie Gardens.

Funkie Gardens is a plants-only nursery. You cannot buy grass-seed, a hose, or even mulch there — just plants. But the plants it offers are gorgeous and you will get plenty of knowledgeable advice about where to put your plant and how to take care of it. Funkie Gardens is known for its shade plant collection and there were hundreds of hosta in the wooded area behind the store as well as many woodland and shade-loving plants. The sunny area had a number of interesting plants, including a Baptisia called ‘Screaming Yellow’ and the smoke bush pictured above, which I ended up buying. Called ‘Golden Spirit’, this golden-lime smoke bush really stands out in a sunny bed. I’ve got a couple of possible spots for it.

The new location is about 13 miles north of Stillwater and Funkie Gardens is located next to Crabtree’s Garden Gate, a store that sells garden accessories,  Adirondack chairs and other doodads. Buck, the manager at Funkie, told me it’s been a great pairing so far since the plants and the accessories enhance rather than compete with each other.

'Super Hero', an Easy Elegance rose, at Sam Kedum's Nursery.

After stopping for a quick lunch on the River Market Community Co-op’s deck overlooking the St. Croix River in Stillwater, I headed down Highway 95/18 to Afton. I’ve visited and written about Squire House Gardens before and I stopped there partly because I wanted to take a photo of the lovely formal garden there for a story I’m working on. Whether you are a plant person or you like art and decor, Squire House is worth a stop. I found a simple water feature pump for a project that I’m planning to do next week there.

That's a variegated basil in the center of the pot -- wonderful fragrance and taste.

My final stop of the day was at Sam Kedum’s Nursery a few miles south of Hastings, just off of Highway 61. Sam Kedum’s is located on what I’m guessing is a former farmstead, and the nursery specializes in roses and other sun-loving plants. The nursery features you-pick fruits and vegetables in season as well as homemade preserves. It’s one of the few places where you can get Bob’s Custom Mix, a special organic fertilizer for flowering plants. I’ve wanted to test this for some time, so I bought a 10 pound bag for the annual bed in front of my house.

I put a few miles on the car, but a day of nursery-hopping is surprisingly satisfying — like a mini-vacation. Do you have any suggestions of nurseries worth a drive? I’d love to check them out.


I Needed a Plant Fix…

so I headed down to Donahue’s in Faribault to check out the new annuals for an article I’m writing.  In the world of clematis, Donahue’s is one of the top wholesale nurseries, but from mid-April through June, they have a lush and lovely retail store.

I came to photograph some of the new annuals, but got caught up looking at the container arrangements on display. My photos really do not do them justice, but they show some of the colors and combinations that will be everywhere this year.

Yellow is my favorite color, so this arrangement with a Nemesia called Sunstatia® Lemon, Sun Spun yellow petunia (a really pretty creamy yellow color) and the new Phantom petunia, which is black and yellow, caught my eye. It’s such a cheerful arrangement for the gloomy days we’ve been experiencing lately.

For a more sophisticated look, this combination of Charmed® Wine oxalis, Super Elfin ‘Lipstick’ impatiens, and Diamond Frost® euphorbia is a stunner. The earthy container adds a lot to this shade combination.

If you want to try one of the new coral-toned plants, this bright combination of ‘Papaya’ petunia and Juicy Fruits® Papaya nemesia would be easy to put together at home. For some reason, this combination says “Party!” to me.

This are just a few of the pots you can see at Donahue’s, and if you would like to make your own, this weekend is a good chance. Donahue’s is holding its “Potting Days,” today and tomorrow (Saturday) from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Bring in your favorite pot, pick out the plants you like, and the staff will help you pot it up. The potting soil is free as is the assistance from Donahue’s staff. The store will be closed Easter Sunday.


Just a side note: I don’t get paid by Donahue’s to write blog posts — I just like their stuff.




A Sea of Geraniums and Other Sights at Donahue's

img_4820This weekend is one of the biggest plant shopping weekends of the year and the folks at Donahue’s in Faribault are certainly ready for it. I visited Donahue’s earlier this week for a behind the scenes tour with Mary McIntyre Donahue, one of seven (or is it eight?) Donahue relatives currently involved in the massive greenhouse and clematis operation, about 10 blocks south of downtown Faribault. The family has another growing range and greenhouse complex near Montgomery, Minn., as well. I was tagging along with Rose Eggert, CEO of the Minnesota State Horticulture Society, and Tom McKusick, Northern Gardener publisher.

The photo at left is of one of the geranimum areas at the greenhouse and retail operation. In a few weeks, these will all be gone — gracing porches, decks and patios all over Minnesota. Of course, Donahue’s is known nationally for its clematis. These climbers are tricky to propagate but the Donahues have figured a way to get more of the cuttings to take. Their catalog includes dozens of varieties. The key with clematis is to keep their heads in the sun and their roots in the shade. Clematis need five to six hours of sun per day, but they like cool, damp soil for their roots. Donahue’s suggests planting annuals around them or a low-growing shrub nearby. Clematis also need support to climb and a litle patience from the gardener. It takes a few years to get a clematis to full size with lots of bloom. Finally, Mary settled that age-old argument: clem-at-us or cle-muh-tus. It’s the second one.

Thanks, Mary!
Thanks, Mary!

Naturally, three plant nerds could not leave the store without doing a little shopping. I took home some Supertunia petunias (Vista Bubblegum — a great variety), Sutera ‘Giant Snowflake’ for a trailer in my containers and a ‘Bee’s Jubilee’ clematis for the pergola in my backyard. This clematis is a bi-color with streaks of pinks and white and is said to attract bees.

Inside Look at Knecht's

Northern Gardener’s publisher, Tom McKusick, visited Northfield and Faribault last week, as part of his efforts to stay in touch with nursery and garden center owners around the Midwest. I joined Tom for a tour of Leif Knecht’s nursery. Leif’s a life-long Northfielder, graduate of St. Olaf College and self-taught plantsman, and he really knows his trees. We talked at length about the new disease resistant elm varieties, several of which Leif carries in the nursery and grows in his tree-growing ranges around the area. One of the big advantages for home gardeners of purchasing trees from a local nursery is that you can buy trees that have been grown in your climate. If it’s a good sized tree–and if you can afford it, I say plant ’em big–you know it has survived several winters in your area.

Leif and his crew also maintain display gardens on the nursery site, which helps buyers see how perennials, shrubs and trees can work together to create a landscape. They have a good-sized collection of hostas, too. After the tour, Tom and I grabbed lunch at Hogan Bros. before he headed off to Faribault to visit Donahue’s.

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.