Minnesota Garden Tour Season Begins!

The joke about Minnesota, largely true, is that it has two seasons: Winter and road construction. For gardeners, however, there is another season to look forward to: Garden tour season!

tourFrom late June through early August, there are dozens of garden tours around the state. You can find a large list of tours at the MSHS website, and I’m still picking out which tours to attend. In the past, I’ve attended great tours put on by the Hennepin County Master Gardeners, Tangletown Gardens, and lots of great local garden club tours. Last year, my garden was even part of the Northfield Garden Tour, which gave me a renewed respect and appreciation for gardeners who open their yards and gardens to visitors.

The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum has wonderful containers. Behind this one is the Morgan Terrace, where tour goers will enjoy a post-tour meal.
The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum has wonderful containers. Behind this one is the Morgan Terrace, where tour goers will enjoy a post-tour meal.
One tour I’ve not attended yet, but plan to soon, is the Minnesota Landscape Auxiliary Private Garden Tour, which will be held Sunday, July 10, and Tuesday and Wednesday, July 12-13. There are three departure times each day for this annual bus tour to some amazing private gardens in the Twin Cities.

This year, the four gardens on the tour include, according to the arb’s press release “a beautiful shade garden with 20 garden beds and ponds on almost an acre; a restored shoreline that is a natural habitat featuring native plants, a rock garden and shady woodland area; a colorful collection of gardens from decorative to kitchen plots that includes a special chicken house; and an environmental garden created to attract birds, mammals, amphibians and bees that showcases water features, fine art and natural wooden sculptures.”

The tour costs $60 or $55 per person (depending on the day) and includes travel on air-conditioned motor coaches and a delicious brunch on Sunday (champagne included!) or a garden-inspired lunch on the weekdays, served on the Morgan Terrace at the arb. Reservations are limited and half of the ticket price is tax- deductible, with proceeds benefiting the Auxiliary’s work at the arboretum. You can register (before June 30) either online or by calling 612-625-9865.

Now that’s a great sounding tour! Let me know which garden tours you like to attend each year. I go on several each year to look for gardens to profile in Northern Gardener.

Macro Photography for Gardeners and Nature Lovers

A Gardener’s Reading, 29 of 30

By Alan L. Detrick (Timber Press, 2008)

Back in 2007, I had a chance to take a day-long photography course with Alan L. Detrick as part of a Garden Writer’s Association event in Kansas City. Even though I was using a point-and-shoot camera (I’m embarrassed to admit that!), Alan was a true gentleman and a fantastic teacher. He even liked some of my pictures, and he truly wanted all of us — editors and writers — to become better photographers.

A few months later, I bought a digital SLR and this book. Macro photography is essentially super closeups done with special lenses. Detrick walks readers through the reasons for taking macro photos, the equipment you’ll need, f-stops, histograms, and the basics of thinking about photos: light, angles, composition, background. Like a true photographer, Detrick believes you get better pictures by paying attention to what you do before you push the shutter rather than trying to adjust the photo on the computer.

The best part of the book are the dozens of photos Detrick has taken in his years of photographing gardens. Each one is accompanied by a lengthy caption explaining how it was taken, the equipment involved and why the photo worked. Often, the book includes side-by-side shots of the same image taken a different way to illustrate a technique or idea.

If you are interested in taking macro photos of plants and gardens, this is a great book. However, I will say that I’ve learned much more from taking short courses on photography from Detrick and from Donna Krischan than from any book. If you have room in your schedule and your budget for a course, that’s really the way to go to improve garden photos. In Minnesota, the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, the North House Folk School and photographer John Gregor are among those offering photo courses geared toward gardens and nature.

The Joy of Seed Catalogs

Each year, I get a basket full of seed catalogs, starting in November—barely after the garden is shut down for the season—and continuing into early January, with the biggest spike right around Christmas. On cold winter nights (and, yes, I have certainly had my fill of those!), it’s fun to page through the catalogs and imagine what could be grown in the garden come summer. Even though I do all my seed ordering online, I would never consider looking for seeds that way. It’s too much fun to fold down the page edges and flip from catalog to catalog while making my choices.

1897 catalog from Carrie Lippincott

It turns out dreaming about seeds and gardens through catalogs is a tradition in this country. During the Master Gardener training course I took in January, I enjoyed viewing an exhibition on seed catalogs that the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum has on display until April 3. The arb’s Anderson Library has one of the world’s largest collections of old seed catalogs, including 57,000 catalogs, and “Seed Stories: Catalogs of Life and Gardens in America,” showcases the artful covers of many of these catalogs.

Catalogs reflect not only changes in what people planted but also in how gardening was viewed by citizens. Catalogs from the Gilded Age, for example, boasted big, blows-y blooms,  while those from the World War II years not surprisingly gave gardening a patriotic air. The catalog above came out in 1897, and you cannot help but wonder if the imagery is rooted in Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado, which premiered a decade or so earlier.

One thing that intrigued me was the number of Minnesota-based catalogs, which reflects how localized seeds were back in the day. (The globalization of seed, specifically the number of garden seeds supplied through one affiliate of Monsanto has been a big issue among gardeners and garden bloggers.) I was also happy to see the number of women-owned seed companies. Carrie Lippincott, for example, was a Minneapolis woman who specialized in selling flower seed. She aimed her marketing at women (probably those with some money) with lovely drawings of children, flowers, and occasionally fairies.

If you are at the arb in the next few weeks, stop by the Reedy Gallery and enjoy these reflections on seed culture.