The Beauty of Late Fall

Milkweed pods have split open, sending seed out into the world.

We’ve had such a late fall this year that even though it is almost Halloween, we seem to have finally hit peak color where I live, just south of Minneapolis and St. Paul. While walking downtown today, I couldn’t help but notice the vibrant colors of the plantings at our beautiful Northfield Public Library. Bright red burning bush provided a colorful background for seedheads from coneflowers, fading roses and other plants. Near the steps, I spotted bright blue berries on on yellowing branches of Solomon’s seal.

The same kind of beauty can be seen around the ponds near our house. With slight fog and dimmed light, the grasses around the pond seem to be all texture, shades of gold, green and brown. Milkweed pods have burst open and are pushing their seed out into the world. In my home landscape, the ‘Matrona’ sedum are a deep russet color and their sturdy form contrasts with the nodding prairie dropseed, its shoots burdened with the weight of dozens of water droplets.

Yes, the weather is damp and chilly. But bundle up and take a walk. This may be the prettiest week of the fall.

The Benefits of Outdoor Time — Plant Division

The research is pretty conclusive that spending time outdoors is good for people. The fresh air, the sunlight, the chance to connect with our natural surroundings are all good for physical and mental health. But time outdoors is good for plants, too, as my mother demonstrated this summer.

For a couple of years, she’s had a succulent dish that we put together. She was inspired by one of the articles in Northern Gardener. The dish has struggled a bit, partly because the plants in it had different watering needs. This summer, she decided to move the dish out to her back patio. The patio faces south, is somewhat protected from wind by the house and a privacy fence, and, of course, is open to natural rain.

Here’s what the succulent dish looked like a couple of weeks ago just before she moved it back into the house.

succulent dish 2013



Here’s the before shot: (You can see she lost a few plants, but the survivors are huge now.)

succulent before


I had a similar experience a few years ago when I put a hoya plant outdoors for the summer. The plant, which had never bloomed before, suddenly was spouting cool, waxy blooms. Interestingly, once it started blooming, it now blooms every year, near the end of the summer. I still put the plant outdoors and it is very happy.

In a recent article on herbs, Nancy Leasman calls these plants “commuters” because they travel in and out of the house. Do you have any commuter plants?





Fun with Wildflower Photography

This past weekend, I took a class on wildflower photography at the North House Folk School in Grand Marais. I’ve wanted to take a class at the school for some time, and this course on using macro-lenses to photograph wildflowers on the North Shore seemed a perfect fit. Our instructor was Bryan Hansel, a local photographer who has taken some amazing images of the rugged beauty of the area around Grand Marais. We were a diverse group of photographers, from fellows who have been shooting for more than 50 years to relative newbies. This was my first time using a macro (closeup) lens, so I had a lot to learn, but what a great way to do it! Below is a gallery of some of the images I took.

Thanks Bryan and North House for a great experience!


Group Therapy for Gloomy Gardeners

I had big plans for this weekend — big plans that involved cutting back plants, setting up raised beds and other outdoor gardening chores. Most of them are on hold now because of our relentless winter and this week’s spring storm that dumped several inches of snow and a real bad mood on most of Minnesota.

You can grow hostas in containers with the new mini types.

It’s time for some group therapy — and fortunately, the Northfield Public Library has two wonderful programs scheduled to get us through this miserable spring. On Tuesday, Gregg Peterson, president of the Minnesota Hosta Society, will talk about “Hostas: No Longer the Green and White Plant that Grandma Had Around the Tree.” There are dozens of new hosta varieties introduced each year, and hostas now come in sizes from mini to massive. If you garden in shade, part-shade or anything less than full sun, hostas can add low-maintenance interest to your garden. Gregg’s talk will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 16, at the Library Meeting Room.

sven roses
‘Sven’, one of the U of M’s newer varieties, is a great rose for northern gardens.

On Wednesday, April 24, the library will present another garden program. This one features Jim Beardsley of the Minnesota Rose Society. He’ll be talking about growing hardy roses in Minnesota. Many new roses are being developed that do well in our climate — even this year’s climate — and are well worth planting in Minnesota. In addition, old-fashioned roses often do well in Minnesota. Jim is a Master Rosarian and an accredited rose judge for the American Rose Society. Jim’s talk also begins at 7 p.m. in the Library Meeting Room.

With the cold temperatures, it may be three weeks (or more) before many of us will be able to really work in our gardens.  So, let’s band together and fight off the gloom with some garden talk.


Is This a Normal March?

There are bulbs in there somewhere.

A year ago today, I posted a photo of my first bloom on 2012 — a pretty little Iris reticulata. The photo at left is what that space in the garden looks like today. It’s covered in about 6 inches of snow, with another few inches expected today and next week.

I don’t expect to see any blooms this year until mid-April, if then, given our colder than average March. I can’t hate the snow too much, though, because it will likely help with the drought we’re experiencing. Also, the longer it stays cold, the less likely we’ll have a repeat of last year’s March madness with fruit trees, including my poor cherry tree, blooming too early and then suffer frost in April.

Is this a normal March? It certainly feels closer to “normal” than some we have had in the past. But, these days, it’s not clear what normal is.



The Truth About Home and Garden Shows

tulipsOver this past weekend, I had a chance to attend the Chicago Flower and Garden Show, as part of a Garden Writers Association meeting. This is my second time at the show, and I really enjoy the colors, the flowers and the great information we garden writers are exposed to. (More on that in future posts.)

potted daffodil
Forced daffodil in pot.

But the truth about the gardens at home and garden shows is they are not real. Just like Hollywood starlets did not start out that thin or with that perfectly styled big hair, the flowers at these shows have been manipulated and tarted up. The plants are all in pots and they have been forced to bloom earlier and harder than they normally would with the addition of fertilizer and extra light. By the end of the shows, some look very sad. But to remember their glory, I’m putting up a picture of the flower garden I enjoyed the most, a fantastic collage of tulips.

As Roy Diblik, a very thoughtful nursery owner from Wisconsin noted, “they are entertainers. They’re in some pain out there, but they are putting on a show.”



Favorite Garden Photos of 2012

The pot has such great texture, and then there's that owl.
The pot has such great texture, and then there’s that owl.

Do you ever have that experience downloading photos where you go — wow! — I can’t believe I captured that image?  Garden tours often leave me with that sensation — though it’s more due to the beauty of the gardens than any skill I bring to the party. This year, I visited Monet’s Garden in France, where nearly every picture was lovely. Here are a few other favorites from 2012. Interestingly, several of them were take on the same day — June 23 — when I visited the Hudson Wis. Garden Tour. The light was perfect that day — a little overcast, but bright — and the gardens were gorgeous. What was the favorite photo you took in 2012?

Happy New Year!


This Holiday Decoration is for the Birds

finished project
Not perfect, but fun.

twig ballsSince the summer, when I went on a garden tour in Hudson, Wis. (a highly recommended tour) and saw these twig balls, I’ve been interested in making some kind of twig decor. You can buy them in many nurseries and garden centers, but I wanted to try my hand at making them. First I checked youtube, where I found one decent video, but when I tried to replicate the instructions, it was a complete fail. My twig circles kept boinging open.

orb with greeneryI gave up until I went to the Rice County Master Gardener holiday party, where one of the gardeners (Karen) showed me how she did the circles. Using large branches (willow or red twig dogwood work well), she lashed two branches together at the thick end using 18 gauge wire. The branches should be facing the opposite direction, so you have one very long branch, which is tied in the middle.  Then, bend the branches around so that they form a circle. You can twist them around each other and then lash the ends together, using wire. Make four circles using this method. The circles need to be very close in size. Then, fit the circles together to make an orb. You may need to use a bit more wire to keep everything together. My orb was not nearly as neat and shapely as Karen’s but it was an something close to an orb.

grapefruit ornamentI decided it might make an interesting outdoor ornament, if I dolled it up into a bird feeder. I started by adding greenery, which was pretty easy to wind into the twigs. Earlier this week, I watched a video from the Daily Connoisseur on making ornaments using dried citrus. This was very easy to do and cute. I took my dried grapefruit ornaments, added dental floss, so they could be hung from the orb, spread them with peanut butter (make sure the citrus slices are not too thin — one of mine broke during the peanut butter speading), then dipped them in bird seed. I also used a margarine tub top in the center of the feeder/orb. The top is also spread with peanut butter and covered with bird seed, and I used duck tape to attach the tub top to the branches in the center of the orb.

Covered with bird seedI added a thick holiday ribbon at the top of the orb so it could be hung from our maple tree out front. I’m not sure how long this will last and I plan to monitor it today because the wind is supposed to pick up. What fun projects have you done this holiday season?


Have You Got a Hole in Your Hedge?

Hedges are great additions to gardens, providing a green background to other plantings and screening out views you do not want to see, whether that is a utility area around your house or a neighbor’s yard. But they can be tricky to grow and keep looking neat and full at the same time.

Friday I attended a special event at Otten Bros. in Long Lake featuring Jamie Durie of HGTV’s The Outdoor Room with Jamie Durie. (Full disclosure: My ticket to the event was complimentary.) Jamie had a lot of good advice about designing human-scale spaces, but I thought this video clip on what to do if you have a hole your hedge was worth passing on. Bottom line: If you have a hole, make a bigger one!