Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Lazy Composter

I am an enthusiastic composter. I compost everything possible—all year—which, in Minnesota is no mean feat. I schlep my veggie leavings and spent bouquets to the compost pile when it’s 95 and when it’s 25 below. I compost egg shells and banana peels, things a lot of composters shy away from because they take a long time to decompose. I fret that I don’t have more space for composting because I see all the coffee grounds in shops and at work just going to the garbage when they could be going to someone’s garden. I keep my green to brown ratio about right most of the time by keeping a bag or two of leaves nearby.

But, I am also a lazy composter. I water when I can, which is easier in the winter because I can scoop snow in there. In the growing season, though, the hose doesn’t go all the way back there, so I try to haul a 5 gallon bucket out there once in a while, but I don't always remember to do it. And, I never, and I really do mean never, turn my compost pile.

People will tell you it’s super important to turn your compost because it gets all the microbes working and mixes your brown/green ratio and hastens decomposition, which is pretty much what compost is about. But, I’ve never done it. At the St Paul house, I had a great compost area and could get to the good stuff pretty easily by shoving the new stuff to one side and then to the other. But, here in the city, I have a black plastic bin with a lid on the top and a “door” at the bottom, which makes getting to the good stuff darned near impossible.

I’m telling you this because one of the things I plan to do on my summer vacation is turn the compost. I have to. I want the good stuff, and the only way I can get to it is take the new stuff out (on a tarp) until the good stuff appears. Then, I’ll shovel the good stuff into the wheelbarrow and haul it around the gardens. When it’s gone, I’ll put the new stuff back in and toss some leaves on top. In a couple more years, I’ll probably “rinse and repeat.” But, that’s a long way off.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Birds, Bees, and Butterflies

I was watering the other morning and noticed that all of my companions were Bs. There were bees on the lavender—not the 747 type bumblebees that look so heavy you wonder how they buzz about—but regular bees. I wish I knew more about bees and wasn’t allergic to their stings. I might try having a hive just to see what the honey would taste like from the flowers in and near my gardens. I imagine the lavender and anise hyssop would make a tasty treat. I try to keep the water at the ground so I don’t splatter them as they collect their pollen and nectar.

Tiny sparrows and chickadees had found perches on the tomato cages in the rose gardens and they were chirping loudly about something. It couldn’t have been about the feeders because they were full of seed. They don’t mind getting sprinkled with water, but the tomatoes do, so I resisted the temptation to turn their way with the water. I did fill the birdbaths, and some hopped from their perches to the water.

When I got to the Natives Garden, a Monarch butterfly was hovering by the Echinacea. It looked like it wanted to land, but didn’t. It fluttered, instead, to the Monarda where it did land—but only for a moment. I stopped watering to watch where it would go next, and it did go back to the Echinacea. The orange and black was striking against the pink. Eventually, it moved to another garden and I continued my watering—grateful for having had such delightful visitors.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Botanical Names and Common Names

“What’s that?” a neighbor asked the other day. “It’s a Lychnis Chalcedonia,” I answered, enthusiastically. She laughed and asked, “No, I mean, what’s its real name?!” I paused, thinking I had already told her the real name. She sensed my hesitation and asked, “What’s its street name?!” “Oh,” I said, “It’s a Maltese Cross.”

Even though I’m a language geek, I used to think that people who used botanical names for plants were snobs or show offs. After taking a botany class, however, I learned that botanical names provide a universal method of communication. I learned that common names vary from region to region, but botanical names are the same worldwide. An example is Aegopodium, which is called Snow on the Mountain, Bishop’s Weed, Gout Weed, and Ground Elder depending on the region you’re in. A guy told me Saturday he called Mondara “Firecracker flower” because they were blooming at the Fourth of July and they looked like exploding fireworks. Up to then, the only common name I’ve heard for Monarda is “bee balm.”

On the worldwide front, my aunt and I were “talking plants” last summer while I was visiting her in Norway, and she wanted to know if we had any Hortensia in the US. I didn’t recognize the name and asked if she could point it out to me. Turns out, the common name for Hydrangea in Norwegian is Hortensia.

So, if you stop by Auntie K’s Garden and ask what something is, I’ll likely use the botanical name for a plant rather than the or a common name.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Plant Coaches

I spent the day yesterday at the Shady Sisters Gardens. Earlier in the year, Linda invited me to come on Saturdays of their sale weekends to help them sell plants. In return, I’d get to take home a few plants for my day’s labor! Who could say no to that?!

I felt a little intimidated at first, because in addition to the plants I knew, there were just as many plants I was unfamiliar with—like the Japanese Butterbur plant, the root beer plant, and Angelica herb—not to mention hundreds of hosta varieties. But, the sisters are knowledgeable and helped me learn about the plants and how to talk about them. Now, I’m comfortable enough with all the plants to help people decide if the plant is right for their particular situation.

I enjoy my days at the sisters’ gardens. I’m learning and teaching—or coaching as one woman put it yesterday. “You’re plant coaches,” she told us. “You know, like ‘life coaches’, only for plants.” Gail and I both laughed, but the more I thought about it, I think “plant coach” is a really good description. We can tell people about a plant’s growth habit, light preferences, and moisture requirements, and they decide whether to take the plant home with them – even though their conditions might not be ideal for the plant.

We’ve got only one more sale left this summer – in August – which seems like an eternity from now. But, I’m sure there will be other opportunities for coaching (and for being coached) between now and then.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Summer Vacation Plans in Two Lists

I’m starting to plan my summer vacation, which starts the 2nd of July. Like most people, I typically spend my vacation traveling with my family or having family visit me. Once in a while, I travel alone to a favorite spot. This year, though, I’m going to do something I’ve never done before. I’m going to stay home—in the garden!

My plan is to get done the long list of things to plant, move, mulch, and weed. I also want to try to get in the stone steps from the sidewalk to the water spigot. And, if there are stones leftover, I’ll use them for a path between the Hosta hill and the Azalea garden.

I’ve started another list for my vacation, too – a list of gardens and garden centers to visit! I’m sure I haven’t been to Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden since I was in 3rd grade. I think the last time I visited the Conservatory at Como Park was 15 years ago – and it’s practically in my backyard. The Rose Gardens at Lake Harriet are also on the list – as is the neighboring Peace Garden. It was winter the last time I was at the Arboretum, and I love it in summer, so that’s on the list, too. And, a friend recommended Noerenberg Gardens in Wayzata – a garden I’ve never visited before.

Two more places I’ve never been are Ambergate Gardens (near the Arboretum) and Gertens, in Inver Grove Heights. I’ve been told for a long time they are “must sees.”

So. Vacation plans are shaping up. It feels like I’ve got a good mix of projects and field trips planned. If you’ve got a favorite garden or garden center I should visit, and it’s within an hour’s drive of the cities, post a comment and let me know.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Plant Rescue

Some people bring home strays. I bring home plants. I have a really difficult time passing by a plant that’s being discarded. If I see a plants on the sidewalk or side of the road or in the alley that have been discarded by a gardener who needed to thin things out, it’s Auntie K to the rescue. (Confession. I have passed by a few buckets of snow on the mountain.)

Last summer, my neighbor was committing what she called planticide. She thought she had WAY too many rudbeckia, so she was digging them up and leaving them on the sidewalk – to die. Luckily, I got there in time. I stuck them in pots with a little compost and gave them a little water. I used some of them in my garden and my friend, Dayna, found a home for the rest.

Betsy had 4 buckets of iris heading for the compost when I came for a visit last fall. I brought them home and wintered them over. Some didn’t even make it into the ground, but they all bloomed this year. Again, I kept a few, but when a neighbor admired them, I dug them up and gave her a few.

My friends know about my plant rescue habit and now sometimes even bring me things, including a rose (Rosa Magnifica) last fall that looked more dead than alive. I stuck it in a sunny spot and within a week, it was putting out new growth. Not everything makes it. I had a couple of pinks that looked okay for a week or so, and then bit the dust. But, most rescues do make it. And, I’ve gotten a lot of lovely additions to the garden through plant rescue, so, I don’t plan to stop anytime soon.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Garden Emergency Kit

In Minnesota, everyone knows what a Winter Emergency Car Kit is and most folks I know carry one starting about Thanksgiving time and put it away about Easter time. I got my first Winter Emergency Car Kit as a Christmas gift one year! Don’t laugh. My mom wanted to make sure I’d be prepared in case my jalopy didn’t make it from point A to point B.

The gift/kit contained jumper cables, a flashlight, an empty 3 lb coffee can with a roll of toilet paper inside, a Tupperware container containing a box of stick matches and some candles, an old enameled coffee cup and some camping dishes in case I needed to melt snow, a blanket, mittens, lock de-icer, and a small shovel to dig my car out of a snow bank, if needed.

During the gardening season, I load up the Explorer with what I call my Garden Emergency Kit! Sounds crazy, I know, but you never know when you’re going to be asked to help dig something out, snip something off, or help move something from point A to point B. My kit contains a shovel, a set of shears (a back up pair and not my expensive ones), a trowel, gloves, socks, sneakers, garden boots, and a couple bottles of water. I also keep a small tarp, a couple of those cardboard flats, and a short stack of pots – just in case.

Anybody else travel with a Garden Emergency Kit during the growing season? If so, what’s in your kit?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Herbs on the Move

I like to use fresh herbs and used to plant a lot of them—not just variety but quantity. I’d plant Rosemary, Thyme, Parsley (curly and flat leafed) Cilantro, Basil, Sage, Tarragon, Dill, Chamomile, Mint, Lovage, Lavender, Chives, Fennel, Hyssop, and Bergamot.

Sometimes, I’d plant them in with the veggies, sometimes in their own spot close to my kitchen door, and one year, I tried planting them a strawberry pot at the suggestion of one of our local nurseries.

They did great in with the veggies, but I sort of forgot about them because they weren’t in my daily path. And, when they were in the plot close to the kitchen, the neighborhood cats seemed to use it as their sandbox. I could never keep the strawberry pot watered thoroughly enough, and the herbs died within weeks. Sigh.

I decided to plant the chives, hyssop, bergamot, and mint in with the flowers in the fragrant garden. It’s sunny and they like it there. I may need to move the chives again, however, because Monty thinks it’s his personal duty to keep them “watered.”

And, I’m taking a cue from my aunt on the rest of the herbs. Last year when I was in Norway, she had a big glazed pot of just a few herbs – thyme, parsley, and rosemary in a sunny spot on the patio. She said she’d bring the pot in the cellar for the winter and everything did fine. So, this spring, I found a big glazed pot and planted just a few herbs – the ones I really use frequently – and stuck them in. My plan is to take the glazed pot inside in the fall and keep the herbs going through the winter. I had luck wintering over my scented geraniums in glazed pots last year, so I’m hopeful about the herbs. I'll keep you posted.

What’s working in your herb garden?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

From Holding Beds to Foster Gardens

By the time the first frost arrived last fall, I had some plants that still needed permanent homes. There just wasn’t enough time to get the ground prepared and get the plants in before the ground was too hard to work. I needed a spot--fast. So, I went to “Plan B.” I used the raised vegetable beds, which had already been cleaned out and were ready for winter. These beds became the winter home for my “leftover” plants. Winter turned into spring, and spring was almost summer by the time I had returned both holding beds to veggie beds!

My friend, Betsy, offered part of her veggie garden to her church as a holding bed a couple years ago. She hauled the plants from the church to her garden and gave them a temporary home (and lots of care) until the church chose a new design for their gardens. Last spring, we potted everything back up and she hauled them back to the church. Because Betsy’s veggie garden was holding plants not for Betsy, but for someone else, it became sort of a foster garden!

Over the weekend, I learned that one of my neighbors will need to leave her home and the garden she loves so well. The neighbor who is serving as the caretaker for the gardens right now told me I could take a few things if I wanted them and had space. I took a couple prairie natives. Remembering the sadness I had leaving the gardens at the St Paul house, I offered a section of boulevard as a holding bed for the plants the neighbor would like to take with her, but doesn’t have a spot for right now. She could come back when she was settled and take her plants to their new home.

We have storage lockers and PODs for our stuff and we have foster programs for children and pets, but when I did a Google search for foster garden, the only hits were for the botanical garden in Hawaii. Is this a wacky idea or one whose time has come?

Monday, June 21, 2010

Reflections on the First Day of Summer

When I was a kid, the first day of summer was something we looked forward to with great eagerness – even though school had been over for a couple of weeks by the time summer officially arrived. It meant wearing shorts (something we weren’t allowed to do in school) and long days of playing outside with our friends. We hardly remembered to come inside to eat! And, it meant school was a l-o-n-g way off.

Even though the first day of summer doesn’t have the same meaning for me today, I do love the long days in the gardens—even on weekdays. The sun is already coming up when Monty and I take our early morning walk. I’ve weeded and watered some mornings at 5:30. I can plant until 9pm without the use of a miner’s helmet. And, on weekends, I still forget to come inside to eat.

Rather than having the first day of school as the “long way off” marker, I now think about the “first frost date.” When I was a kid, summer days seemed endless. Now, I am aware that the days will grow shorter again – at first imperceptibly – but then more noticeably. But, for now we have long days and I plan to enjoy each one as I did when I was younger – outside – for as long as I can.

Happy solstice, everyone!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Garden MENtors

Most gardeners I know got the gardening bug from their mothers or grandmothers. My mother, however, has the brownest thumb going and neither of my grandmothers had gardens to speak of. As I sit here on Father’s Day, I realize that I got the gardening bug from men! So, it seems like a good day to honor my three garden MENtors.

My father was the one in our family who had the vegetable garden in the summers. The taste of those fresh tomatoes on warm summer mornings when we had our breakfasts outside still lingers. Mmmmmmm. We had terrible soil at our house in Wayzata, but it didn’t deter him from planting tomatoes, radishes, beets, and even corn one year. We still have “tomato wars” every summer! His favorite is the big Beefsteak, although he’s discovered a new favorite in recent years – the Juliet. I have a memory of tomatoes and cucumbers being Fed-exed one year because of an overabundance for one of us and crop failure for the other.

By the time I got to junior high, I had met Pa Jondahl, who had the biggest vegetable garden I’d ever seen AND he grew roses. I learned a lot from him over the years, and as a wedding gift he came to the St Paul house and tilled up a plot for a vegetable garden and brought some of my favorite raspberries so I could have them in my own garden. Pa Jondahl was also the one who told me that my blueberries needed to have s-e-x before I’d get berries.

As an adult, I met Steve Danielson, a good friend, and great landscape designer. He taught me that there’s more to great design than curb appeal, which is seen mostly by people driving or walking by your house. Steve’s designs take into account what you see from the inside of your house, sitting and standing from all rooms. I remember moving empty pots around the yard at the St Paul house and sticking shovels, garden forks, and other implements in the ground to emulate future plantings and then running in the house from room to room imagining what the plants would look like! It was a time consuming process, but well worth it.

Pa Jondahl is gardening in heaven now, but Pops and Steve are here, sharing their gardening passion with the rest of us. Happy Father’s Day to you all, and thank you, for the gardening gifts and love of the earth you’ve given to me.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

To Feed or Not to Feed

My Saturday morning routine is to take Monty for a walk, start the coffee, then water all the house plants and fill the bird feeders. By the time I’m done with the plants and the birds, the coffee is ready and depending on the season, I can take a stroll around the gardens with my coffee and see what’s what or sit in the sunroom and read the paper and watch the birds come to the feeders. Unfortunately, the birds aren’t the only ones coming to the feeders – squirrels come, too. And they’re seed hogs. So, I’m in a quandary – to feed or not to feed.

I know there are some who would say I shouldn’t feed the birds at all – especially in an urban setting like mine because it encourages vermin. “Before you know it, your house and all the ones near you will be crawling with mice.” They warn. So far, that hasn’t happened, and I’ve lived in a house crawling with mice, so I do know the signs. But, there’s something lovely and restful about watching birds come to the feeders and I am loathe to stop feeding them. I just want the squirrels to stop getting all the food!

I don’t currently have squirrel baffles/guards on the feeders, and frankly am a little skeptical. At the St Paul house, I did use a 4 inch diameter piece of PVC pipe to deter the squirrels, but that was for a platform like feeder and not for the shepherd’s hook’s I now have. Has anyone deterred squirrels with any success? If so, are you willing to share your secret?!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Guerrilla Gardening

If Guerrilla Gardeners had a motto, I think it would be Grace Hopper’s quote, “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission.” Guerrilla Gardeners, you see, garden on someone else’s land – without their permission! They “take over” a plot of abandoned or neglected land and turn it into something beautiful or life-giving. Some Guerrilla Gardening I’ve heard about (and have been invited to participate in) happens at night. But, that’s really hard work and more and more, I’m hearing about Guerrilla Gardening projects taking place in broad daylight. Gasp!

Guerrilla Gardening – and Guerrilla Gardeners are getting more press, too. There are a couple of Facebook pages Guerrilla Gardening and On Guerrilla Gardening. And, just this week there was an article in the St. Paul paper. I laughed when I read about the woman who threw “seed bombs” from her bike. She’s a real-life Miss Rumphius! (The article includes the “seed bomb” recipe.) I’m sure the triangle of earth between freeway entrances by my church was the target of seed bombs last year. Late in the summer, it was bursting with beautiful sunflowers. Right now, however, the space is looking pretty bleak. Hmmmm.

Speaking of seed bombs, I would say that Johnny Appleseed qualifies as Guerrilla Gardener, although he was sowing his seeds long before the term was coined in the early 1970s. (Appleseed’s name does appear in the Wikipedia article about Guerrilla Gardening!)

Earlier this year, I started following a blog about Guerrilla Gardening in Minneapolis. I’m worried about the blogger, though, because she hasn’t posted in a couple of months. I drove by the Basilica the other day and saw the roses she photographed in her last post. It did make my heart break.

So, fellow gardeners, how ‘bout it?! Got any gumption for guerrilla gardening? Anyone out there willing to ask forgiveness rather than get permission? Tell me your stories.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Community Gardens

In my friend, Annie’s neighborhood, neighbors are using the space where a house used to be to grow food. In a neighborhood by the University, neighbors have planted perennials in a formerly bare and uncared for place. And, in more and more schools, teachers and members of the community are helping to plant gardens so kids can both learn about growing food and get fresh vegetables in their diets.

I have been aware of community gardens for food production for a couple of years. A friend of mine has a plot in a community garden near where we work. We walk over there at lunch sometimes to weed or water. He talks about the garden association that oversees the plots and provides the infrastructure (water, wheelbarrows, mowers). And, this year, I went to the kick off meeting for him because he was out of town. It was really interesting to find out that there are hundreds of people who are passionate about growing their own food but don’t have the space in their own yards and therefore use community gardens!

In May, I was among the folks in my neighborhood who dug and planted a “beautification” community garden. I was not part of the planning, but understand we worked with the city and community garden organizers to determine the scope and location of the project. (I just showed up for the grunt work.) The plants are small now, but next year, people who drive by this particular spot will be greeted by waves of native prairie flowers and grasses!

I got a note from one of the Vacation Bible School teachers at the church a month or so ago asking if they could use the garden plots at the church to teach the kids about vegetables! Of course! So, they planted the garden together before school let out and in August when they have VBS, the kids will harvest the goodies they planted. I think it’s so cool the teachers wanted to do this!

Have I piqued your interest in Community Gardening? If so, there’s a great web site called Gardening Matters that can give you lots of information. And, if you want to see the number of community gardens in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, click the map! Wow.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


The city of Minneapolis offers a class on creating rain gardens and planting natives in your yard. I took it last year, not expecting much, frankly. I was pleasantly surprised not only by the quality of the content but also by the credentials of the presenter. I didn’t elect to plant a rain garden – I’m using rain barrels instead – but I did elect to plant some natives in all of my gardens and all natives in two of my gardens, including coneflowers, rudbekia, liatris, asters, monarda, and anise hyssop. The colors are fabulous and they attract birds, butterflies, and bees.

“What’s a Native?!” you ask. Well. A native is a plant that has its origins in your region. These are typically great plants because they will thrive with very little care. (Trust me on this one.) And, they’re typically resistant to pests. I don’t know a lot about natives in other regions, but in my region, the natives are an awesome way to get the water way down deep into the earth, which is where we want the water to go.

The most fascinating piece of information I learned from the rain garden workshop was that roots of native prairie plants are on average twice the depth as their height above ground. This means that if you have a plant that’s two feet tall, the roots will be at least four feet deep! And, a portion of the roots die off every year, leaving straw-like tubes for the water to run into, getting the water deep into the earth, reducing both runoff and erosion! How cool is that?!

And, lest you think that only prairie plants are native to Minnesota, here’s a list of natives for prairie, meadow, woodlands and wetlands from the University of Minnesota Extension service.

Boulevard Gardening

Living in the city, I have a small yard, which limits the amount of gardening I can do “in” my yard. But, living on the corner, I have eight sections of “boulevard” available for gardening. The “boulevard” is the section of grass between the sidewalk and the street. Where I live, I own the boulevard, but the city has an easement and can do work on utilities in the boulevard without having to repair or replace my plants. So, my personal rule about boulevard gardening is, “Don’t use expensive or unique plants.” Another rule is to pick plants that can tolerate the salt from winter snow emergencies.

I’ve planted mostly native perennials in my boulevard gardens, as have many of my neighbors, but I’ve noticed that some folks are planting food in their boulevards! One woman has strawberries in a section of boulevard. She says the cat keeps the birds away. Another person has lettuce, beans, peas, and tomatoes in the boulevard. I can’t decide how I feel about this. I’m all for growing your own food. But, I can’t help thinking about the dogs that are walking by peeing on everything. Yuck.

I like walking in neighborhoods where people have planted their boulevards. It’s interesting to see what plants people use and how they design their spaces. I think it’s much more interesting than walking by plain lawn. If you live in the city and are interested in planting on your boulevard, there’s a nifty publication published by the Sustainable Resources Center’s Urban Lands Program that describes the benefits of boulevard gardening as well as the plant height regulations and some other do’s and don’ts.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Plants Have Families, Too

People frequently talk about family resemblance—eye color, hair color, height, shape, etc. It’s no different in my own family. My second-cousin, Winnie, is the spitting image of my grandmother. My father and his cousin HÃ¥kon could be twins. My nephew looks very much like my father did when he was a child. We even have similar mannerisms. Last summer, at a little league game, my sister said about my nephew, “Look at that, he’s standing just like everyone else in our family.” I hadn’t thought about it before, but she was right. He was standing exactly the way my father and grandmother stood.

Plants have families, too, and therefore family resemblances and characteristics. I’d known for a long time, for example, that almost all plants with square stems and fragrant leaves are from the mint family. Until I took a botany class last summer, however, I did not know that carrots are a member of the parsley family or that potatoes and tomatoes are in the same family.

Who cares, right?! Well. Knowing a plant’s family can help you figure out growth habits and sun preferences. And, if you have a vegetable garden, knowing that potatoes and tomatoes are in the same family (they’re both nightshades, incidentally) is imperative for proper crop rotation. Rotating crops (a three-year cycle is ideal) ensures the soil gets replenished and any pests lingering in the soil won’t find a host.

Both tomatoes and potatoes are heavy feeders and are prone to fungal diseases and pests. If you didn't know about the "family resemblance," you might think you were rotating properly and inadvertently deplete the soil further and potentially encourage the fungal disease and pests common to this plant family.

I took the class because I wanted to get better at plant identification. I’m better now but wouldn’t consider myself an expert and frequently refer to the text from the class to help me figure things out. If you’re interested in becoming better at plant identification and/or understanding the characteristics of particular plant families, I recommend the text, “Botany in a Day—The Patterns Method of Plant Identification” by Thomas J Elpel.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Edelweiss and other Garden Songs

I planted some Edelweiss in the rock wall by my lilac, and every time I walk by there, I burst into song. I can’t help it! It’s Pavlovian: See the Edelweiss, Sing the Song. Crazy, right? I could be, but when a neighbor asked what it was and I told her, she also burst into song! So, it’s contagious! I can see the Edelweiss from my chair in the sunroom, and since it was raining yesterday and I couldn't be outside, I was inside brainstorming Garden songs! (Mostly so I could get Edelweiss out of my head.) Here’s my list. I grouped them loosely.

Songs with the word Garden in the Title
Octopus’ Garden in the Sea – The Beatles
Garden Party – Ricky Nelson
Garden Song – Pete Seeger
I Never Promised you a Rose Garden – Lynn Anderson

Songs with Herbs or Fruit in the Title
Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme – Simon & Garfunkel
Don't sit under the Apple Tree – The Andrews Sisters
Strawberry Fields – The Beatles
Blueberry Hill – Fats Domino
Raspberry Beret – Prince
I Heard it Through the Grapevine – Marvin Gaye

Songs with Flowers in the Title
Where have all the Flowers Gone – Peter, Paul, and Mary
Edelweiss – from the Sound of Music
The Days of Wine and Roses – Andy Williams
The Rose – Bette Midler
Lo How a Rose e’er Blooming
Roses are Red, My Love – Bobby Vinton
Tiptoe through the Tulips – Tiny Tim
A White Sport Coat and a Pink Carnation – Marty Robbins
The Holly and the Ivy
Willow Weep for Me – Chad and Jeremy

Songs with Rain in the Title
Singin’ in the Rain – Gene Kelley
Rainy Days and Mondays – Karen Carpenter
Raindrops keep falling on my head – Burt Bacharach or BJ Thomas
I’m Just a Little Black Rain Cloud – Winnie the Pooh
Rain King – Counting Crows
A Day without Rain – Enya
Early Morning Rain – Judy Collins
I Made it Through the Rain – Barry Manilow

Songs with Sun in the Title
Here Comes the Sun – George Harrison
Good Day Sunshine – The Beatles
You are the Sunshine of my Life – Stevie Wonder
Sunshine on my Shoulders – John Denver
Canticle of the Sun – Marty Haugen

Songs with a Season in the Title
Four Seasons – Vivaldi
I Love Paris in the Springtime – Frank Sinatra
Summertime – Ella Fitzgerald
Lazy Hazy Crazy Days of Summer – Nat King Cole
Summer Wind – Frank Sinatra
Summer Samba – Patricia Barber
Autumn Leaves – Patricia Barber
Autumn in New York
Winter Wonderland
In the Bleak Mid-Winter

Random Garden Related Songs
Windy – The Association
I'm Looking over a Four Leaf Clover
Inch worm – Muppets
I love you a bushel and a peck
Tupelo Honey – Van Morrison

Add your own if I’ve missed any of your favorites. And, if you come to visit Auntie K’s Garden, I dare you to walk by the Edelweiss without bursting into song!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Hedge Trimming? Think A and V

When you hear the word “hedge,” do you picture a thick, opaque, lush evergreen wall? Me, too. Unfortunately, the hedges I’ve seen lately are more transparent than opaque – more leggy than lush. One hedge I saw recently looked like a row of lollipops—stick on the bottom, full on the top. I’m sure you’ve seen them. And, the saddest thing is that these leggy, transparent hedges are totally preventable. All they need is some proper trimming.

I’m always using tricks and tips to help me remember things, and the one I use for hedge trimming is a “Do/Don’t” tip. AV. A comes before V. Do comes before Don’t. When trimming your hedges, do think the letter A and don’t think the letter V. Trimming the hedge more like an A than a V lets more light get to the whole hedge—giving you the lush, opaque hedge of your dreams. Trimming in the shape of a V allows light to get to the topmost growth, but the V shades the bottom of the hedge, and in no time, you get the leggy lollipop look. Note: The illustration is from “The Book of Outdoor Gardening” by Workman Publishing.

A hedge that has reached lollipop status may never recover its once lush self. But, a hedge that’s lacy could rebound. If you want to see fantastic examples of lush hedges, make a trip to the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. There’s not a leggy one in the bunch. It’s worth the drive to check them out!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Hard to Grow Cilantro

I have adopted my friend Sally’s rule that if something comes into your consciousness or life three times, you must pay attention. That happened last night with Cilantro. Yep. The herb. A few weeks ago, I read a post in The Garden Buzz about how persnickety cilantro is to grow. My friend, Jen, came for dinner earlier in the week (black bean nachos). She brought cilantro for the nachos and we talked about it as we wandered around the gardens. She, too, mentioned that she’d heard cilantro was hard to grow!

Last year, I helped plan and plant a salsa garden at the church. It was a community effort of planning, planting, watering, and harvesting. We planted tomatoes, onions, peppers, and cilantro and we had bumper crops of everything—including cilantro. In August, we made salsa from our harvest and people brought their favorite salsa recipes. (We had a salsa band, too.) It was SUPER fun! Later in the year, I harvested the cilantro seeds (coriander), sat on the front step, and packaged them for the church’s fall plant swap. They went like hot-cakes!

And, that brings us to last night. Dayna and I were hanging out by the grill and I noticed a parsley like leaf in the fragrant garden. So, I picked it and popped it in my mouth. It wasn’t parsley – it was cilantro! Growing where I hadn’t planted it! Looking around, we saw two or three other little cilantro plants coming up! We concluded that some seeds from last fall’s sorting adventure must have gotten loose and sown themselves in two of my gardens!

I’m not sure, yet, what I am supposed to take away from this trio of cilantro conversations. Maybe I’m supposed to add cilantro to my list of favorite volunteers. Maybe it’s that cilantro isn’t that hard to grow after all. Maybe it’s an omen that my lupine seed sorting from the other night will yield a bumper crop of lupines next year. I’m going to keep my eyes, mind, and heart open to the possibilities.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

My Favorite Volunteer

I spent almost all day in my gardens yesterday and it felt really good. My to-do list was (and still is) long, and, I abandoned it almost right away to deal with the things that were really bugging me – like the peony bed – and the hostas on the hill that were being taken over by grass.

And, all day long, I was surprised at the volunteers I had! I don’t mean volunteers in terms of people stopping by to help dig holes or bust up some sod. I mean volunteers in terms of plants that are growing in the garden that I didn’t plant!

I got rid of some volunteers – thistle and buckthorn – both of which seem to pop up at the bottom of the sunny hill every year. But I left most of them. There were pansies in the big shade garden (left over from a pot of pansies I had there last summer). Lilly of the Valley showed up on the Hosta Hill – not entirely surprising since they originated in the Azalea garden just across the path. And, there were primroses in the Native garden – a complete surprise since I don’t have primroses anywhere. My neighbor, Audrey, has primroses, but they are a long way from my Native garden.

A neighbor stopped by while I was moving the lavender from the fragrant garden to the sunny hill. (I’m really pleased with how it turned out and will post about it later in the week.) She pointed to a plant on the hill and asked, “Aren’t you going to pull that weed?” “No,” I replied. “I know it looks like a weed, but it’s a sunflower – planted by the wind, birds, or squirrels – and I always leave them.” “Oh!” she said. “I love sunflowers! I’m glad I didn’t pull it for you.” I’m glad, too, because of all the volunteers in the garden, the sunflower is my favorite.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Your Lupines or Your Life!

Monty Python’s character, Dennis Moore, robs the rich of their lupines. There’s a “Lupine Express” stagecoach and in part two of the skit he flies into a ballroom and yells, “Your lupines or your life,” and the ball goers pull lupines from their undergarments to hand over to the hapless Moore. They are very funny skits.

I think I was introduced to lupines on the north shore of Lake Superior in the early 1990s. They were blooming in ditches all along Highway 61 and the blue waves were mesmerizing. I had to stop numerous times to soak in their beauty. Miss Rumphius, a children’s picture book by Barbara Cooney, is about “the lupine lady,” who beautifies the world by sowing lupine seeds wherever she goes. The illustrations are beautiful and remind me of the lupine laden ditches on Lake Superior. And, when I was in Norway last August, lupines lined the road on our section of the island. Some of them were as tall as I am!

I have never been successful at growing lupines in any of my gardens. I have tried seed and seedlings on south facing slopes (rumored to be the favorite spot of lupines). I was thrilled earlier this spring to see the finger-like foliage sprouting out of the ground, only to be devastated the next day when the rabbits had eaten the tender shoots right down to the ground. I mentioned this to my friend, Gail, who has a bumper crop of lupines in her garden, and she gave me a shopping bag filled seed pods. I removed the last seed from the last pod last night and now have a cup and a half of lupine seeds, which I intend to sow, Miss Rumphius style, on the south facing slope. I’ll have to wait until next year to see if they take, but I’m a patient gardener. And, with any luck at all, my little corner of the world will be more beautiful because of the lupines.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Raspberries in the Rain

Up to now, I’ve posted about flowers. But, the raspberries are starting to form, and I can’t wait until I get to taste the first tart berry of the season. Plus, it’s raining this morning, so, it seems like the perfect time to post about raspberries.

What does rain have to do with raspberries?! Pa Jondahl said that in addition to a sunny location, raspberries need water – lots of water. “Give ‘em lots of water, and just when you think you’ve given them enough, give ‘em a little more,” he’d advise.

I planted my raspberries last summer – extras from Betsy’s garden. Most of them made it, but only a few will bear fruit this year. But, I’m a patient gardener and know that in a few years, I will have more raspberries than I can eat in a season, which means JAM! Yay!

I’m not alone in my love of raspberries. Many of my neighbors – and all of the neighbors directly adjacent to me – have raspberries. Audrey’s are growing among her lilac hedge. Mary’s are growing in only part sun and she has a bumper crop. (They’ll get more sun this year since a neighbor’s giant birch came out.) But, the most popular spot for raspberries in the city is in the small strip of earth between the garage and the alley. Barb, Patrick, Hans, and John all have raspberries growing in this space. I think this works, as odd as it sounds, because they all get lots of sun (and warmth from the alley) and they get the water that runs off the garage roof!

So, the raspberries are appreciating the rain this morning – even if we aren’t. I’ll keep you posted on the raspberry patch in Auntie K’s Garden. It’s going to be an exciting year!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Peony Fun Facts

Yesterday, on a day when I posted about my peony bed overhaul, I was asked to bring a bouquet of peonies to church. I thought that would be a neat trick since we’d had two days of rain and most of the peonies were already spent. “That’s fine,” Sally said. “We want to have the bouquet show all phases, if we can.” So, early yesterday morning, I went out and cut buds, new blossoms, full bloom, past bloom, and empty calyx.

We put the bouquet on the table in the middle of the worship space and then Sally asked people what they saw. Depending on where they were sitting, they a bud or a bloom, or an empty calyx in both pink and white.

I learned some things about peonies yesterday that I never had known before, so I’m going to share them here. Maybe you knew these facts already, maybe not!

  • Peonies have been cultivated in China for 2000 years—for their flowers and tuberous roots.
  • They’ve been cultivated in home gardens for 600 years.
  • Clumps of peonies can last for 50 years.
  • The peony is among the most requested image for tattoos (along with koi fish)!
  • Peonies are the symbol of wealth, luck, and happiness.
  • Ants are attracted to peony buds for the sweet nectar and are not required for plant growth.

People told stories about having gotten divisions of peonies from their grandparents, parents, or friends. They also talked about rescuing peonies from yards not cared for. I left feeling a little more motivated to clean up the peony bed (and plant the peonies I got from my sister last week).

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Peony Bed Needs an Overhaul

I’m so thrilled that my fragrant garden came together exactly as I imagined, because my Peony Bed did not. I was playing with color and texture, trying to keep everything in this bed with round flowers. It’s not a complete disaster, but it does need a serious overhaul.

What’s Working? The peonies work. Thank goodness. Or, I'd need to re-name the bed, too! Most of them bloomed this year. (I planted them late in September, 2008 and had hoped they would bloom last year, but they didn’t.) The Knautia Macedonia is definitely a keeper. I saw this in someone’s garden last year and fell instantly in love with the raspberry colored, scabiosa-like blossoms. And I think the Artemesia, Silver Mound is working. The low silvery mounds echo the shape of the Knautia and provide a different texture than the foliage of the Peonies and Knautia.

What’s Not? The old-fashioned lace cap hydrangea. Blech. What was I thinking? (I was thinking the shape of the flower would echo the Knautia and the Peonies.) But, the woody stems don’t work in this herbaceous bed. Lamb’s ear. The ones I planted in another sunny garden stayed small and lovely. The ones in the Peony Bed are taking over. Yuck.

So. I think the lesson I learned here is to keep it simple. I may add some hosta lancifolia after I get rid of the hydrangea and the lamb’s ear, but will place the clumps and leave them for a day or two in their intended locations before planting them permanently.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Plant Markers

If I buy a plant at a nursery, I typically stick the informational tag that comes with the plant in the ground with the plant—especially if I buy a plant in the fall, because it helps me identify where a plant “should” be in the spring. I’ve noticed, though, that the markers don’t just help me, they help the neighbors and other visitors to Auntie K’s Gardens. They’re looking at the name of the plant and whether the plant would work in their gardens.

But, if I get a plant at a swap or from a friend, it doesn’t come with an informational tag. In those cases, I improvise my plant markers. Sometimes, I’ll use a stick or a stone to mark the location of the plant. That helps me figure out if a plant survives the winter, but it doesn’t do much else. (And, nobody else knows my rock/stick system.)

One day last week, a visitor asked what something was. “You should have these marked, so people know what they are!” He was right. I probably should. But, there are a lot of plants to mark, and there are lots of markers to choose from.

I’ve used the wooden markers before. The ink runs (even the permanent marker). And, the wood doesn’t last very long. I like the look of the metal plant markers, but they’re expensive and sometimes it’s hard to read the “engraved” print/handwriting. So, here are a couple of ideas for plant markers using things you might have at home.

Plastic Cutlery. I first saw this type of plant marker a few years ago in a neighbor’s garden. Use a Sharpie permanent marker to write the plant name on the handle and stick the business end of the cutlery into the ground. Ta da! This works best with knives and forks. I haven’t had a lot of luck with spoons.

Mini Blinds. I learned about using/re-using mini-blinds as plant markers from Betsy. Remove the strings of your broken blinds and cut them into 6 or 8 inch lengths so one end is flat and the other has a 45 degree angle. Again, use the Sharpie to write on the blind and stick the angled end into the ground!

Just two ideas for re-using stuff that might otherwise be heading for the landfill. How do you mark your plants?

Friday, June 4, 2010

Creature Feature

When I was a kid, “Creature Feature” was a fun and spooky way to spend rainy Saturday afternoons. The neighborhood kids would gather in the Newmans’ basement, pile on the couch, and see who could NOT jump when Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, or Lon Chaney appeared on screen. I almost always jumped.

These days, Creature Feature is about the strange and wonderful creatures that show up in and around Auntie K’s Garden. Living in the city, I don’t have deer, like many friends do. But, there are still some interesting encounters with creatures of all kinds.

Last summer, I had a hawk that visited one of my birdbaths on a regular basis. I’ve seen it in the neighborhood this year, but have not seen it at the birdbath.

Bunnies are standard in city gardens, but the other morning, there were SIX bunnies in the yard. Thankfully, I have put cages around the things they like to chomp on the most. I know this sounds mean, but I’d like for the hawk to thin the bunny population instead of taking the song birds.

I was sitting on the front steps a few weeks ago and felt something swoop close to my head – not a bird, but a bat! I’m not afraid of bats (sorry Bela) because they eat lots of mosquitoes, but I'm not sure I want to put up a bat house for them.

I’m sure you’ve heard the question, “Why did the chicken cross the road?” But, my question is, “Why does the duck sit on the roof?!” For the last two years, a male mallard has taken up residence on the roof of my neighbor’s house. This year, he has been sitting on two roofs. It’s quite peculiar!

And, then there’s the wild turkey who likes to race cars down the street in the afternoons. He always turns down the alley at some point, but it’s quite entertaining for the block or so that he runs next to the car.!

Those are some of the creatures in and near Auntie K’s Garden. Who – or what – is visiting your gardens?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

My Fragrant Garden

The cubed shrubs and landscape rock I removed a few years ago were directly below/in front of my sunroom windows—a perfect place for fragrant things, whose scents I imagined wafting indoors on summer afternoons.

So, I put together a list of fragrant plants I loved and started planning – and planting. I used Sir Thomas Lipton roses, Crown Princess Margrethe roses, Munstead lavender, Artemesia Silver Mound, Monarda ( a few varieties, including bergamot), and Anise Hyssop. I also used scented geraniums in glazed pots so I could take them inside in the winter.

The Artemesia (also called wormwood) reminds me of the beach. Its feathery foliage is the fragrant part of this plant. It doesn’t have a flower. Monarda (also called Bee Balm) havs a variety of scents. Again, the leaves are the fragrant part. Bergamot (a monarda) has the scent of Earl Grey tea. I love this one. Its flower is pale periwinkle. The Anise Hyssop smells like licorice. It’s in the mint family (as are the monarda) and has purple spikes of flowers, which the bees love.

The other day I was sitting in the sunroom with my glass of iced tea thinking I must have brushed up against the Lipton roses because the scent was so close. I smelled my work shirt, which did not carry the scent of the roses. I took another sip of tea and another deep breath and realized the scent was coming through the open windows from the garden—exactly as I had imagined!

I love it when a plan comes together!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Groundcovers for Shady Spaces

This is Part Two of the Groundcovers post. Yesterday, I listed groundcovers for sunny spaces. Today’s list is for shady spaces.

Moneywort. Also known as Creeping Jenny. I've seen it in chartreuse and plain green. This one is a ground hugging groundcover. My neighbor has both of these and the chartreuse one changes color depending how much shade it gets.

Vinca. Also known as periwinkle or creeping myrtle. This evergreen groundcover gets about 6 inches tall and has a small purple flower. I’ve seen it in both plain green and variegated leaf varieties. Vinca thrives in drier soils and does well under trees or decks.

Ajuga. This one is a creeper, too, and has coppery purple leaf. It does get spikes of blue/purple flowers. It’s sometimes called bugleweed and can be invasive. I’ve seen this do really well in contained spaces.

Pachysandra. This groundcover has been a favorite of mine since I was introduced to it when I lived on Long Island. It is a neat, uniform, evergreen groundcover that gets a small white flower. It’s a member of the boxwood family and prefers shady, well-drained soils. In our climate, you need to protect it from winter winds by using marsh hay. It spreads by rhizomes. But, you can propagate it by taking cuttings and rooting those.

Wild Ginger. This is a deciduous ground cover and has a broader leaf than the other plants mentioned. It does really well in part to deep shade.

Sweet Woodruff. I love this deciduous groundcover. It has bright green, persistent foliage and small, white flowers. It’s fragrant and prefers moist, well-drained soils in medium to deep shade.

Some folks like groundcovers, some don’t. Even though the name implies that they’ll cover the ground, people are surprised when the plants do their job and then want to rip them out. I think the key is to know the habit of the one you want to use and make sure it’s right for your situation.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Groundcovers for Sunny Spaces

I’m getting a lot of questions this season about groundcovers. People want to fill in spaces between plants or eliminate their grass or grow something under a tree where the grass is already sparse. Some groundcovers are sun lovers while others prefer shady spots. Some are slow growers and some will take off quickly. When I pulled together my list of favorites for sun and shade, I realized it was a lot to cover in one post. So, I’m going to split it up. Today’s list is sunny spaces. Tomorrow’s is shady spaces.

Dragon’s blood sedum. I have neighbors who have trouble with this one, but it’s thriving in my garden. It’s a very low growing groundcover (about 2inches tall) and has green leaves small red to maroon flowers.

Creeping thyme. I started a few plugs on the sunny hill last year and really like the way it’s growing. It’s a short grower with small spikes of purple flowers. There are lots of varieties, so pick the one right for your situation. (Don’t pick a taller growing one to use between stepping stones, for example.) The thing I like best about this one is that it’s fragrant.

Cerastium. This is a groundcover with silver-gray leaves and a small white flower. It’ll get about 6 inches tall. Cerastium’s a fast grower and loves full sun. I put some in my garden a few weeks ago and am hoping it takes over the sunny hill.

Strawberries. Sounds crazy, I know. But, more and more people are considering strawberries as a groundcover. A few gardeners in my neighborhood are doing this and it’s working well for them. The bonus is that you get yummy fruit mid-summer!

There are lots more groundcovers for sunny spaces I haven’t mentioned (creeping phlox, anyone?!). If I’ve left your favorite off the list, let me know!
Related Posts with Thumbnails