Every Garden a Liberty Garden

Sunday marks the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, the end of what was then considered “the war to end all wars.” I have a personal interest in those sad and frightening days in November 1918, when the flu pandemic was sweeping through the world and Europe was in shambles. My grandmother was a very young graduate of St. Raphael’s School of Nursing in St. Cloud, Minnesota, in November 1918 (a photo of her class is below). Because all the doctors and experienced nurses were working nonstop dealing with flu patients, she was immediately sent to St. Cloud Hospital to deliver babies. (I’m sure the mothers-to-be were thrilled to see a 22-year-old there to help them through labor.)

So, when I was doing research for my book, I was especially interested in how gardeners responded during those years around the First World War and then later during World War II. Liberty Gardens – also called Victory Gardens – began in England in 1914 and came to the United States in 1917. A poor potato crop that year meant the military could not purchase enough food for troops, and President Woodrow Wilson and others encouraged home gardeners to join the fight and grow their own food. This would leave more commercially grown food for the troops and for distribution to people in Europe, some of whom were starving. Homegrown food also allowed railroads to be used to transport other goods and troops.

world war I garden poster
Posters and educational material encouraged home gardening during World War I.

The response was impressive, with all sorts of school and community gardens forming and home gardeners doing their bit. In 1917, 350 million pounds of food came from Liberty Gardens. Neighbors were encouraged to share land, tools and canning equipment. Seeds were precious commodities and instruction manuals (here’s one) gave explicit directions for garden location, soil amendment, how to sequence plantings, fighting pests and storing food for winter, both in the home and in community storage facilities. What’s striking about these manuals is that much of the information is still good (the pest stuff is a little chemical heavy for my taste)—and it’s given in brief, direct language. Buy seeds early. Space plants according to directions so you don’t waste seed. Plant cabbages 15 inches apart in rows 30 inches apart. Plant radishes and early lettuce between the rows. Dig potatoes on bright days and allow them to lay on the ground a few hours. Save next year’s seed from this year’s crop. Don’t waste anything. Help your country.

In World War II, the movement returned with Victory Gardens, community canning sites and other efforts to grow food to feed those on the home front. Some of those Victory Gardens are still in existence, such as Dowling Community Garden in Minneapolis. And, the idea of gardening in community or alone remains compelling. I don’t think its a surprise that in these times of vast technological change more young people are growing plants and food and many community gardens have waiting lists.

Every garden is liberating. Gardening gets us out of our heads and the social media din that surrounds many of us today. It’s something we do with our hands and senses. We smell the tang of marigolds; touch a tomato to feel its ripeness, hear the bees and birds that will flock to just about any garden. We taste the bitter leaves of argula or the tart cherries just picked in early July. We stretch our muscles while weeding and learn to spy the caterpillars and insects hiding in the soil and beneath the petals of flowers. We pay attention.  

Food gardening, particularly, liberates us to make decisions about what goes into our bodies and how we treat the plots of earth in our care. Gardening also connects communities, as anyone who has ever planted more than a couple of trees and some shrubs in the front yard knows. Nothing gets neighbors to stop for a chat like a front-yard tomato or a boulevard filled with pollinator plants.

Liberty Gardens started a long time ago, but it’s an attitude and a tradition we still need.

nursing students in white caps and gowns
St. Raphael’s School of Nursing class graduating in November 1918. My grandmother is back row, far right. Photo from St. Cloud Hospital School of Nursing Alumnae Association, downloaded via Minnesota Reflections.

 

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!

Welcome to My (New) Northern Garden

After 17 years in one house and nearly 30 years in lovely Northfield, Minnesota, I’ve moved. My husband is now semi-retired and for a variety of reasons, we decided to move to St. Paul. Last May, we sold our house (and garden!) and moved to a bungalow in the city.

The last sunset I saw in my Northfield garden. This hill is one reason we looked for a smaller, flatter lot! I do miss the ponds, though.

Our new garden is smaller and flatter than our previous garden—both attributes I was seeking—and it is pretty much a blank slate. It is a work in progress, and I’m hoping to use this blog as a journal of our new garden as well as a place to share information on gardening in the North.

In our first year in the house, we did some of the big projects, mostly removing an old one-car garage, building a two-car garage and extending the brick patio that came with the house to connect to the new garage and the alley. We’ve added fences, too. In terms of plants, we removed one tree (roots threatening the foundation) and planted five more, plus a few shrubs. I’ve swapped out some perennials I don’t like (mostly daylilies and hostas) for a few I do, and I have likely ordered way too many plants for this coming season.

I know it takes at least three years to make a garden, and I’m counting this as year one.  My plan is to focus this year on designing and planting the two back garden spaces (more on those in later blog posts) and then figuring out the front next year.

It’s been a long while since I’ve posted to this blog, and many people say blogging is dead. But I’m not convinced. People still want more in-depth information than an Instagram photo or tweet can provide. The original purpose of blogs was to serve as a shared journal — and that’s what I hope this blog will be for the next few years—a shared journal of my adventures in my new northern garden. Thanks for stopping by!

 

 

In Praise of the Como Conservatory

Winter Respite imageReaders of this blog know that I am a big fan of the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory at Como Park in St. Paul. During the coldest time of the year, I love to visit the conservatory to soak up the humidity and warmth as well as to admire the exotic plants.It’s a bit like taking a trip to the tropics, without leaving town.

This year happens to be the 100th anniversary of the conservatory at Como Park and so we decided to mark that event with an article in Northern Gardener. I was thrilled to be able to write this piece and show some of my photos of the conservatory. You can read the article online by clicking the image above, or you can see it in the January/February 2015 issue of Northern Gardener.

What’s your favorite way to get through the winter?

Garden Travel

The Dowager Queen looks out over Copenhagen's King's Garden.
The Dowager Queen looks out over Copenhagen’s King’s Garden.

My husband just completed a five month teaching assignment at Uppsala University in Uppsala, Sweden. While work and family obligations kept me from joining him, I did manage to visit a couple of times, and we did a lot of travel around Scandinavia and the Baltic. For me, travel often means visiting gardens.

We saw several wonderful gardens and it will probably take a few posts to digest it all. You can learn a lot about a country and its history and culture by visiting public gardens. Take Copenhagen, for example. Just walking around, it seemed clear that Copenhagen was a vibrant, artsy city with lots of bike traffic and trendy dining (expensive, to0). But it’s also a city that loves its gardens — after all, it is home to Tivoli Gardens, the park that inspired Walt Disney to create Disneyland.

We didn’t make it to Tivoli, but loved walking through two side-by-side garden refuges in the city center. King’s Garden is essentially the front yard to Rosenborg Slot (Rosenborg Castle), the 1606 fortress built by King Christian IV of Denmark. The park is meant for strolling, but it has several elements of interest to gardeners, especially the large formal garden, anchored at one end by the statue of the Dowager Queen Caroline Amalie, who was carrying a bouquet the day we visited.  For someone whose home garden is casual to the extreme, the boxwood hedges, perfectly aligned in a diamond pattern, with lavender and roses inside them, was impressive indeed. Sometimes order is relaxing.

The views are magnificent in the Copenhagen Botanical Garden.
The views are magnificent in the Copenhagen Botanical Garden.

Just across the street from King’s Garden  lies the Copenhagen Botanical Garden. This garden is part of the University of Copenhagen and functions as a research garden as well as a display garden. It also had a cute garden shop, which sold plants. (Unfortunately, you can’t bring those home on a plane!) Inside the garden gates are three museums and an enormous conservatory for tropical plants. The grounds are expansive and include a large rock garden, a pond, a variety of test and display gardens. The paths took you through sunny areas and deep shade and a wide range of soil types. The rock garden was especially impressive and I recognized many of the plants there as ones that would grow in our climate as well.

Below is a gallery of photos from the two gardens. Do you visit gardens when you travel?

 

 

 

 

Why I Love Farmers’ Markets

Logan Square market
The vegetables were piled high at the Logan Square Farmers’ Market.

My daughters grew up going to the Northfield Farmers’ Market. It was a highlight of many Friday mornings and often involved a bike ride, our baskets filled with vegetables on the way home and a treat from Martha’s Eats and Treats. So, it was no surprise when my eldest, now a Chicago-based editor, said, “I want you and Dad to come to my farmers’ market when you visit.”

Kale
Kale burgers, anyone?

So on the Sunday before Labor Day, we ventured out on the Blue Line to Logan Square and her farmers’ market.

Here’s the great thing about farmers’ markets: Each one is unique to its neighborhood and customers, and at the same time, they all have the same comfortable, welcoming feeling.  The Northfield farmers’ markets (we really have two) don’t feature kale burgers or a wide array of flavored tofus and sauces to sample, and I don’t think any of the jam purveyors here would charge $9 a jar, but both the very hip, very urban Logan Square market and our decidedly small-town markets are relaxed and cheerful. They both have farmers eager to show you what they’ve grown and artisans proud of the food they’ve made whether it’s a ruggedly shaped loaf of bread, an apple butter made of apples and apples only (we bought three jars) or those aforementioned tofu squares. The vendors come farther to go to the Logan market — many from Michigan and Indiana — but they bring with them the same enthusiasm for beautifully displayed beets, bunches of kale, buckets of tomatoes and sharing what they’ve grown.

Farmers’ markets are also wonderful places for socializing and connecting with your community. In Northfield, I know several of the vendors and almost always meet a friend or acquaintance at the market. At Logan, my husband and I sat on a park bench while our daughter finished her weekly produce shopping and struck up a conversation with a young mother, who grew up nearby. It turns out she attended the University of Minnesota and had even visited one of the colleges in Northfield — “That was too rural for me,” she said.

minmusician
Tiny guitarist performs.

The people watching can’t be beat either. In Northfield, we have regular musicians at both the Friday and Saturday markets, and while they might be a tad more musically proficient than this little solo performer at Logan, they take the same joy sharing their talents. Farmers’ markets are places filled with dogs (labs in Northfield, pugs in Logan) and kids (more kids in Northfield, more dogs in Logan). They’re places to wander on a Saturday morning or Sunday afternoon, to visit with folks you’ve just met and those you’re known for decades.

They’re nourishing places, and not just because of the kale.

 

Photo Gallery: Artful Gardens in Hudson, Wis.

DaisiesThe garden tour season has officially started, and today I took a trip over the border to Hudson, Wis., for what is billed as an Artful Garden Tour. The wonderful part about this tour was that whether the gardens featured artists or musicians, the six gardens themselves were carefully crafted works of art. The tour is sponsored by the Hudson Women’s Club and is held most years. Click on any image for a larger view.

Inspiring Community Gardeners

Three giving gardeners, from left, Maureen Adelman, MSHS Life Award winner, Chuck Levine, Bruce Bereford Educator’s Award winner, and Malcolm Burleigh, Bob Churilla Golden Rose Volunteer award winner.

What an inspiring Saturday I had, hearing story after story about the work of the winners of the Minnesota State Horticulture Society’s Awards. These are folks who understand the power of gardening in community—the power to build connections, to increase understanding, to teach youngsters and to create beauty and food to be shared with others.

The awards, which were presented at a luncheon at Bachman’s in Minneapolis, honor individuals, who teach, volunteer and lead, as well as groups, such as the Garden to Table program of the Eagan Resource Center, which uses its food gardens to reduce hunger and build connections; the Gay Straight Alliance of Blaine High School, which created a beautiful school garden–and a more inclusive school environment; and the Soil and Sunshine Club, which has been beautifying its far-flung communities for decades. Businesses, such as Wagner’s Greenhouse, which provides hundreds of plants for the MSHS Garden in a Box program, were also honored.

Several of the recipients spoke about how meaningful they found community gardening to be. As one said, “Gardening is just as much about growing community as it is growing food.”

Congratulations to all the winners!