Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Stepmother's Flower

After I posted my grandmother’s saft recipe, a friend and fellow gardener asked if I could translate a children’s book about flowers for her. I’m having such a good time with it! The book is called “Barnas flora: 21 blomsterfortellinger for barn.” It’s a book of folk tales about 21 different wildflowers – some of the wildflowers are familiar to me, some aren’t.

Some of the stories provide vivid imagery about the flower—creative ways to remember common names of flowers. The daisy is called prestekrage – priest’s ruff/collar. The story continues to say that some people call the flower “monks’s hair” because of the way monks shave their heads – bald on the top and fringes around the edge!

The story I keep coming back to is the story about the viola – the Stepmother’s flower. The story says: In many old folktales, there is a wicked stepmother. If you see a stepmother’s flower, you can see the resemblance between the wicked stepmother and her daughters. They sit round a fat bowl of porridge with a nice lump of butter in the middle. The stepmother sits at the bottom. She is big and wide and has the best place. In her eagerness to get the most porridge, she spilled some on her dress. On either side of her sit her two true daughters. They are a little smaller, but they have a good place around the porridge, too. They have spilled milk in front of their places. Opposite the stepmother sit the two skinny stepdaughters. They have only “this much” space at the porridge bowl. They haven’t received any butter or milk to spill on themselves. They have good manners and receive only a little drop to satisfy their hungry stomachs.

I don’t think I’ll look at a viola/violet in the same way ever again!

Friday, July 30, 2010

X Marks the Spot

I live in the city – in one of those beautiful old neighborhoods with tree lined streets. The trees are a treasure, providing shade for both the streets and the homes and making it cooler on the hot summer days. In the fall, the Maples put on a spectacular show of yellows, oranges, and reds. We also have a few old Elms – survivors of Dutch Elm disease. And, on the next block, neighbors (and the DNR) are watching the Ash trees for signs of Emerald Ash Borer. A few blocks away, Crabapple trees line an entire block, making for an intoxicating Spring walk.

I’m always sad when I see a blaze orange X on a tree, because unlike the legendary pirate maps where X marks the spot for buried treasure, these Xes mean the treasured tree is marked for removal. Last year, a neighbor lost three mature Oaks. Part of one came down in a Spring storm. Apparently, they all were unsafe and needed to be removed. Today, I saw an X on both an Oak and an Ash. They’ll be replaced, but it will be another generation who will get to enjoy their shade.

Some neighbors have discussed the folly of “monoculture” trees. If one tree becomes diseased, it will most likely spread to other trees of the same kind, ultimately decimating the tree population. I guess I can see both sides of this one. On one hand, using one species creates a uniform look and feel. On the other, diversity prevents being wiped out – in investing and in landscaping.

What’s happening with trees where you live?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Beautiful Bouquets

There’s nothing like a bouquet of fresh flowers to pick up your spirits.

One of the reasons I love the flower gardens here at Auntie K’s is they provide cut flowers throughout the growing season for bouquets. I enjoy taking a bouquet of fresh flowers to a dinner, or friend in the hospital, or to my office. I like having fresh flowers at home, too! People seem to like getting the bouquets as much as I like putting them together. I collect vases and jars at garage sales and save all my glass containers instead of recycling them so I can give the bouquets without having the recipient or me worry about the vase. I also pick up ribbon if it’s on sale to dress up the neck of the jars cum vases.

A few years ago, I received a bouquet that included a hosta leaf, which I thought was both beautiful and creative. Why include only the blossoms from the garden when beautiful greenery abounds as well?! I’ve been including them in bouquets ever since.

This year, the spring bouquets included tulips, trollius, iris, lilac, bleeding heart, anemone, chives, polemonium, and centaurea. Roses, poppies, peonies, lilies, and sprigs of salvia were featured in early summer bouquets. Now, I’m using the coneflowers – white and purple (I lost the golden ones to a mite), rudbeckia, roses, sprigs of Russian sage, and garden phlox. Later in the year, the asters get added to the mix.

The roses are in full bloom again and I think they’ll make a great foundation for a couple of bouquets.

p.s. I had a mishap with my computer earlier in the week and don’t have the ability right now to post photos. Hopefully, I’ll get things figured out in a couple of days and can post photos again.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Note to Self

Typically when I say this phrase, it’s because I want to remind myself of something I don’t want to repeat, like “Note to self, don’t plant all 6 zucchinis that come in the 6 pack.” (Why do they even sell zucchinis in 6 packs?) Or, “Note to self, sitting at a Little League double header in the midday sun with no sunscreen is a bad idea.”

But, I was talking with a colleague the other day, and she was taking notes about what she wanted to repeat in her veggie garden next year! And, she’s keeping notes now instead of at the end of the season, which is when I typically take stock of what went well and what didn’t go so well in my own gardens.

So, I decided to give it a try. I found a notebook, plopped myself in the Adirondack chair, and took some notes about what I wanted to repeat (and not repeat) next year. Here are a few things on the list:

  • Plant more tomatoes—and plant them in the rose garden. I planted tomatoes in pots this year to give the spot in the veggie garden a rest and they are bearing, but not abundantly. The potted tomatoes are in the rose garden now, and they like it.

  • Plant squash and cucumbers. I love cucumbers and squash and didn’t plant either this year. What was I thinking?!

  • Plant more monarda and ratibida. I saw a stand of monarda earlier this year in a variety of colors and heights and really want to give something like that a whirl. And, I fell in love with the tall delicate ratibida this year and want to put it in a couple more gardens.

  • Build a screen for the front walk garden. The front walk curves around the side of the house and the garden ends at the curve. But, you can see all the way to the compost bin and a decorative screen would prevent that and keep the focus on the garden.

Does anybody else keep a notebook during the growing season about what they want to repeat next year? If so, what's on your list?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

What am I going to do with all these Zucchini?

Or cucumbers, or radishes, or fill in your bumper crop here. It happens. You think, “Oh, these tiny little plants (or seeds) won’t all make it. I’ll just put them all in.” And, now, you’ve got more zucchini (or whatever) than you (and all your neighbors) can use!

At dinner the other night, Linda made zucchini stuffing to go with the chicken. She was encouraging people to take either some fresh zucchini or a bag of shredded zucchini. And, when everyone had taken what they wanted, there was still a lot of zucchini left. She looked at us and asked, “What am I going to do with all these Zucchini?!” Susie and I came up with several ideas: Zucchini bread, Zucchini dressing, chocolate cake. Our ideas were met with silence.

Then, I remembered the blurb I saw many years ago on the Weather Channel promoting “Sneak a Zucchini onto your neighbor’s porch” night in a town on the east coast. I thought that was a very clever way to celebrate and share the bounty of the garden! So, I suggested it as an option. She laughed. And, then reminded me that all her neighbors also had bumper crops of Zucchini.

I Googled the “sneak a zucchini” night and came up with lots of hits! Apparently, it’s now celebrated every August 8th. (We’ve had unusually warm weather in our part of the country this year, so everything is a couple of weeks early.)

Those are my ideas for zucchini. If you’ve got other ideas about what to do with too many zucchini (or radishes or whatever), post a comment.

Monday, July 26, 2010


I have a thing for birdbaths. I like the classic shape as well as more unusual shapes. And, although, I’m not a huge fan of the cute statues that have a basin for water, I do enjoy a gargoyle or other creature spewing water in a fountain. There are five birdbaths here in the gardens. Three are classic pedestal and basin models and two are shallow ground basins.

But, I discovered recently that the beautiful glazed bath I bought last year may not get a lot of use because it’s too slippery for the birds to grip onto! I did notice that it seemed to be getting less use than the other baths in the gardens. Birds apparently like a grittier surface, which explains why they like the rough stone models better. I added some stones to the glazed bath yesterday when I filled it to give some grip-ability for the birds.

The other thing I learned about birdbaths is that a birdbath isn’t just a bath, but a source of drinking water for birds! So, even though my glazed bath may not get used for bathing, birds may sit on the rim and sip from it. This is a good reason to keep the water in the baths clean and fresh. In hot weather, algae can build up quickly, and mosquitoes can breed in standing water.

Birds love the sound of splashing water, so, adding a fountain is a sure way to attract birds to your garden. I don’t have a fountain yet, but am looking for just the right one. In the meantime, I’m going to add to the birdbath collection.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Learning about Honey (and Bees)

My maternal grandmother ate honey every day. If she didn’t have it on her toast in the morning, she’d stir a spoonful into a cup of tea in the afternoon or she’d drizzle it on a scoop (or two) of ice cream before bed. She swore it kept her healthy.

Much to her chagrin, I never got the honey love—maybe because I ate it only when I was sick and it became a bad association for me. Add to that an allergy to bee stings, and honey has been one of those foods I’ve just never been that interested in. Until yesterday.

I went to the Minneapolis Farmers Market (a little late when it was SUPER crowded) and talked to the guy at the Ames Farm Honey booth about bees and honey. They specialize in single source honey – meaning their honey is “collected over a specific time period from a unique geographical location from a single hive.” (Most honey we get in grocery stores is blended honey—honey that comes from a variety of flowers.) They have over 300 hives in 17 locations around central and southern Minnesota. I had been wondering what the honey from the Anise Hyssop in my garden would taste like. The guy told me I’d need to have a whole lotta hyssop (like an acre) to figure that out.

I learned that the bees from Ames Farm stay in Minnesota—even in the winter—where they stay huddled around the queen in the hive. Who knew?! The bees don’t get loaned out to other states. He hasn’t experienced colony collapse disorder.

I found it fascinating and well worth braving the crowds for. I didn’t purchase any honey yesterday, but was tempted, and there’s still a lot of summer left! So, it could happen.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

For Everything There is a Season

The retired music director at my church refused to play Christmas carols during Advent. “It’s not Christmas until December 25th and we need to honor the seasons,” he would say. (Christmastide in the church runs from December 25th to Epiphany on January 6th.)

Earlier this week, I heard a news story about people being robbed at Apple stores. I was confused about this since even early apples aren’t in season for another month. The news story continued and mentioned iPhones and iPods. Only then, did I realize the news was about Apple computer stores and not local apple orchards. (Context is everything, right?!)

A friend won’t eat tomatoes in restaurants saying, “Even though it’s tomato season somewhere, it’s not tomato season here.” (Even when it is tomato season here, he doesn’t eat tomatoes in restaurants unless he knows the tomatoes are local.) For years, my friend, Betsy and I call each other when the first tomatoes come in – because it means “fresh” BLTs.

This week (and maybe next week, too) is the jackpot week if you’re a berry fan, like I am. Strawberries, Raspberries, and Blueberries are all in season now. Depending on the variety, strawberries start in June and can go through the summer. Raspberry season starts in late June and runs through late July. Blueberries start mid-July and run through mid-August.

Because we can get all the fruits and veggies we want in the grocery store all year, we have lost, I think, the rhythm of the seasons. We have lost the wild anticipation of the first strawberry or BLT or apple or ear of sweet corn.

I don’t know that I’d urge or exhort everyone to forego bananas or peaches or raspberries in November. But, maybe notice what’s available at your local farm stands or Farmers Markets from week to week. Pay attention to the fruits and veggies you can buy today that you couldn’t buy last week, because, everything does have a season.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Farmers’ Markets

Earlier in the week, I posted about CSAs, a good way to get fruits and veggies during the summer if you don’t have your own garden or want to supplement what you’re growing. But, what if you’re not convinced you’ll be able to eat or use everything in your packet every week and don’t subscribe to a CSA? Well, how about a Farmers’ Market?

At a Farmers’ Market, you can buy as much or as little produce as you like. You can supplement or augment the bounty of your own garden. You can go every week, or once a month. In addition to produce, some Markets also have bread, meat, eggs, cheese, honey, and plants! Some Markets, like the Mill City Market, are all organic. Some, like the Midtown Market, are all local. Many now accept EBT (Food Stamps) providing access to fresh produce to lower income folks.

Many Farmers’ Markets are open weekend mornings with varying hours – most are from 6am to 1pm. But, some are choosing times that are accessible by non-early birds.

The Minneapolis Farmers Market is open downtown on Nicollet Mall Thursdays from 6 am to 6pm! They’re also on the Mall Saturdays from 8am to 3pm. I’m embarrassed to admit I had no idea the main Minneapolis Farmers Market at the North Lyndale Av location is open EVERY day from April to mid-November and not just weekend mornings.

The Midtown Farmer’s Market is open Tuesdays (3:30pm to 7:30pm) and Saturdays (8am to 1pm). And, the Village Farmer’s Market opened in my neighborhood this month on Mondays from 3 to 7pm.

So, if you thought you had to sign up for more veggies than you could eat in a week or get up at the crack of dawn on a weekend to get fresh produce, think again! Here’s a link to the Minnesota Farmers Market Association so you can find a Market in your neighborhood.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Compost Pile -- July

Garden blogs, like gardens, evolve. I’ve been talking with people about little things they do or ideas they have for the garden. I’ve also been reading magazines and culling a few ideas from those. But, most of the ideas wouldn’t fill an entire post, so until now, they’ve just been rolling around in my brain, or in the folder of good ideas. So, I’m starting the Compost Pile. And, once a month, I’ll share the good ideas others have thrown out.

Coffee Filters. A colleague mentioned that she and her mother use coffee filters instead of (or sometimes in conjunction with) pebbles at the bottom of pots. They hold the soil in and let the water through! Very clever!

Cupcake tin liners. The August issue of Martha Stewart mentions a use for cupcake tin liners I think is super creative. She makes an x in the bottom with an xacto knife and uses them upside down to protect summer drinks from bugs. (The x makes a nifty hole for a straw.) If you’re like me and use gigantic cups outside when you’re gardening, a coffee filter may be a better fit!

Last year’s leaves. A friend saves her leaves from the fall and then uses them through the year as mulch. I was skeptical, but tried it this year myself, and, I’m sold. I put paper down first, then the mooshed up leaves. I did end up topping it off with a little cypress or cedar mulch to keep the leaves from flying around. Cost savings and soil enriching. How can you go wrong?!

Okay. That’s the Compost Pile for July. If you have a nifty idea for the garden you’d like to share, send it along! August is right around the corner.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


I can’t believe I haven’t written about CSAs before this. Since almost every person I’ve bumped into in the last week has mentioned their CSA, today seems like the right time to do it.

CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. Local farms sell weekly shares and deliver in-season fruits and vegetables through the growing season to the subscribers. Typically, there’s a centralized drop-off/pick-up point. It’s not exactly like Simon/Coborn’s Delivers. In-season means that you get peas early, beans and cabbages and beets about this time of year, and root vegetables like potatoes, carrots, and onions later in the year. You could still be getting raspberries or blueberries, too. But, it also means that you’re not going to get broccoli every week of the growing season.

The reason CSAs have been such a topic of conversation in the last week is everyone is wondering what to do with some of the produce! Not everybody is used to cooking beets or red cabbage or Brussels Sprouts. So, it’s a challenge to come up with recipes for the weekly bounty. (Some of the CSAs I’ve heard about do provide recipes for the produce they grow—a huge bonus, I think.)

The Land Stewardship Project provides both a list of CSAs in Minnesota and some questions to consider when choosing a CSA.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Images of Grass and the Prairie

I’ve been thinking about grass and grasses this summer—lawns and prairies—ornamentals and natives. I’m not a huge fan of lawns. They’re a lot of work. And, there’s a lot of pressure to match your neighbor’s lawn height. People have told me that gardening is more work than a lawn, but when I see people on their hands and knees digging dandelions and pulling quack grass and crab grass and pieces of clover and violets, I think they’re wrong. In a garden, once pulled the weeds, you’re done! In a lawn, you still have to get out the mower.

When we planted the community garden, the city had not yet cut the grass on the knoll and it was between knee and thigh high. As I carried plants (and later buckets of water) from my car to the garden, I imagined pioneers in long pants and dresses walking along side covered wagons in grass of a similar height.

The view from my office overlooks a highway embankment and ramp. The embankment is covered with various grasses and prairie plants (monarda, ratibida, rudbeckia, oxeye daisies, bergamot, and knapweed). The colors and textures are mesmerizing some afternoons. The grass and plants are waist tall in places on the embankment. The same plants and grasses fill the fields on the way to the community garden by the office. The aroma from the grasses and wildflowers is intoxicating. I couldn’t imagine being a pioneer walking through grasses and flowers this tall. It would be almost like swimming in Jello – lots of effort.

A friend and her daughter just returned from DeSmet, South Dakota, where they were visiting the home of Laura Ingalls Wilder—complete with stay in a covered wagon. In one photo, the daughter is standing in a field of waist high wildflowers in period dress. It’s exactly what I had imagined.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Is a Tomato a Fruit or a Vegetable?

I went grocery shopping yesterday and got some tomatoes. (The Sweet 100s are getting ripe here, but the Early Girls and the Romas are still green.) And, after the storm and having no electricity for 12 hours, I wasn’t willing to fight the crowds at the Farmers Market.

The check out guy and the young man bagging the groceries began a lively conversation about a tomato being a fruit. The check out guy asked, “Why is this (a potato) a vegetable, and this (a tomato) a fruit?” The bagger responded, “A tomato is a fruit because it has seeds.” I mentioned that the tomato and potato are both in the same family – adding to their confusion. Then, the man behind me in line said, “Peppers have seeds, and they’re vegetables.” “Same thing with cucumbers,” I added.

Turns out, according to the Oxford Dictionary, the confusion arises because botanists/scientists classify it as a fruit and cooks classify it as a vegetable. Here’s part of their definition: “Scientifically speaking, a tomato is definitely a fruit. True fruits are developed from the ovary in the base of the flower, and contain the seeds of the plant (though cultivated forms may be seedless).” Think raspberries and blueberries. Cooks consider the tomato a vegetable because it is savory rather than sweet.

Click this link for the full definition. And, the next time you're in the grocery store or at the Farmers Market buying tomatoes and a discussion breaks out about whether a tomato is a fruit or a vegetable, you'll be able to say, "Depends on who you're talking to!"

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Sunroom as Beach House

I recently re-arranged the furniture in the sunroom. The new arrangement gave me room for the antique book shelves I schlepped across the Atlantic last summer from Norway. It’s so much cozier now that I spend almost all my at-home time in this one room. In the winter, the favored room is the living room because of the fireplace. But, in the summer, the sunroom reigns supreme. I have my morning coffee there and spend long evenings reading there and have spent several nights on the daybed there taking advantage of the cool breeze.

And, when the power went out last night because of severe storms and tornadoes, the sunroom was where Monty and I retreated to with the flashlight, battery-operated clock, cell phone, jug of iced tea and paperback murder mystery. With windows on three sides, it was both the coolest place and the lightest place to be. It reminded me of the summers our extended family would spend at the summer house in Smithtown, New York.

At Smithtown, we’d spend our days at the beach and then after dinner grown-ups played cards by kerosene lamp and kids would read books and tell stories by flashlight on the sleeping porch. Yesterday, I weeded and planted and watered in the bright sun and then read a paperback murder mystery by flashlight in the sunroom.

My grandfather bought the house for my grandmother when they were newlyweds! It had no electricity or indoor plumbing for a long time. Electricity arrived before I did. I remember my mom and aunt cooking on a hotplate. Plumbing didn’t arrive until the early 70s. We fought about who had the honor of the “first flush.” (My cousin, Karin, won. She’s the oldest, she argued.)

The power came back on this morning – almost exactly twelve hours after it went out. So, I don’t have to finish my murder mystery by flashlight, and I can use the computer to tell the story!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Sticks and Stones

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about garden objects and garden art. While I was on vacation, I brought up the topic with my neighbor, Sheila, who has a great garden. She quoted a friend of hers, who said, “There’s a fine line between whimsy and trash. Don’t cross it!” I think that sums up my trepidation about using garden objects in my own garden. Will my whimsy be someone else’s trash?!

So, I have chosen my objects carefully and have used them sparingly. While walking through the gardens last night, I noticed that most of the objects are stones or made of tree branches! Some I’ve purchased, most have been gifts.

This cute little birdhouse was in the yard when I bought the house! It was tucked in behind a long row of mature hostas. I’ve moved it around this year and think it’s finally found a home in the Natives Garden.

When Smith and Hawkins closed their store in St Paul, I got three of these wonderful willow structures. I’ve used them mostly for protecting plants from bunnies than for vines or sheer art and have this one in the Peony Garden for now.

My first stone piece was this statue. It was a wedding gift from my family to honor my grandmother, whose favorite activity as a child was to hide in the garden and read. She’s moved around too, and I think has found a good spot with the Rosa Magnifica by the front walk.

This “peace” stone is a mystery. It showed up in the garden in the spring of 2008. Nobody has confessed to leaving it. That spring, it moved from place to place for weeks! I moved it last summer to the shady boulevard garden, where it has remained.

Blessings came from a friend. It’s placed in the front walk garden so I see it when I leave the house.

I found this heart of stone in Betsy’s rock pile when I was gathering stones for the wall. Audrey brought two more stone hearts back from the North Shore. One is in the hosta on the hill, the other is in the corner garden.

I’m not sure what it says about me that my objects are mostly stone and sticks. They do speak to me at some level and feel right in the garden. And, so far, nobody has said they’re trashy. Whew!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Knot Gardens

The gardens here at Auntie K’s are by no means formal. Everything has a casual feel without being completely disorderly. In fact, that was a comment one of the neighbors made the first year I started digging up lawn and replacing it with gardens. “It looks nice—not messy at all!” I don’t know what his conception of a garden was, but apparently unkempt figured prominently.

I’ve always had a fascination for knot gardens, the epitome of formal gardens, and I’ve had six pots of ornamental allium sitting around for a while, waiting for a home. So, I’ve been thinking that when I move things around a little more, I’ll have an empty section of boulevard that would be big enough for a small knot garden. (I’m going to need a few more pots of allium, but think I can swing that.) I’ll also need a companion plant, and I’m thinking cerastium.

Martha Stewart, the goddess of overachievers everywhere, planted a massive herb garden back in the late 1980s in 9 knots and wrote about it in her book “Martha Stewart’s Gardening.” The other day, I found a sticky note on the design page for that garden, and some notes about how to alter the plantings to fit the gardens at the St Paul house!

I don’t know if I’ll use any of the designs on this page, but the shape of the garden fits the boulevard space I have available. The internet is a great resource for designs, and there are books with pages and page of designs, so I won’t lack for ideas. The hard part will be choosing just the right one! If you have an idea for a knot garden pattern, send it my way!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Garden Blogger's Bloom Day -- July 15

Last month, one of the garden blogs I follow mentioned Garden Bloggers Bloom Day. I was too late to participate last month, but can this month (and every 15th of the month during the growing season). The premise is to post photos of what’s blooming in the garden on this particular day. May Dreams Garden hosts, and provides a list of participating garden blogs.

Here’s what’s blooming in Auntie K’s Garden today: One of my favorite monarda—Grand Marshall.

The lovely and buttery Julia Child Rose

These Lace Cap Hydrangea weren’t there when the house was built in 1916, but my understanding is that they went in shortly after that. They’ve come up every year since and try to creep into the path. I try to keep them in check. There are a few blooms left on the coreopsis, too.

The volunteers in the garden this year include both this lovely cosmos (near the lamb’s ear) and the sunflower (courtesy of squirrels or birds from the feeders).

Most of the natives have started to pop, too: Purple Coneflower, White Swan Coneflower

Rudbeckia, Purple Garden Phlox, Russian Sage

And, my new favorite Ratibida with the Anise Hyssop.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Growth Spurt

Both of my nephews are on Little League teams. It’s the highlight of my spring to go and watch them play. (I keep score, too, which adds to my experience.) On my younger nephew’s team, the boys are still the same height and weight. But, on my older nephew’s team, some boys have had a growth spurt. This means that even though they’re all 12 year olds, some of them are almost a head taller than others and weigh a few pounds more.

I know you’re wondering what Little Leaguers have to do with gardening. Well. Some of the roses in Auntie K’s Garden have had a HUGE growth spurt in the last few days. Yikes! I went out to do the Japanese Beetle check the other morning and had to bend some canes gently toward me because they are now taller than I am! These new canes are three feet taller than the rest of the plant. I’m sure that when I checked the night before I didn’t have to bend them! (I know the boys will be taller than I am one of these days, too. They’re almost there now!)

Not all of the roses have had this growth spurt. I bought three bare root Liptons at the same time. Two have spurted; one has not. I bought three Magnificas at the same time and only one has spurted. Go figure. Julia Child, Crown Princess Margrethe, and Graham Thomas are all still “normal” sized. Some of the wild roses have suckered (I’m leaving them) but have not shot canes wildly into the stratosphere.

I don’t know what causes the growth spurt in some roses and not in others. The two Liptons that have sprouted are in the Fragrant Garden and are now at window height. So, when the flower buds open in a few days, the sunroom will smell fantastic!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Beetles and Mildew and Slugs, Oh My . . .

It’s been a tough year for plants. Slugs came with the rainy weather and attacked the hosta. Hot, humid weather followed the rain and powdery mildew appeared on some of the plants. (It was my favorite Monarda in my garden.) Now, the Japanese beetles have arrived – chewing on raspberries and roses (and everything else) from Afton to Wayzata.

And, if that’s not enough to deal with, I discovered a peculiar growth on my Harvest Moon coneflower Sunday morning. I took it to the master gardeners, who said it’s either the eriophyid mite, or the aster yellows virus. If it is the aster yellows virus, the remedy is to dig up the plant and not replace the plant in that location this year. If it’s the microscopic mite, I can treat the plant with a miticide. I dug up the entire plant because all of the cones were affected, and won’t put another coneflower in that spot this year.

I learned that the aster yellows virus is spread by leafhoppers, which are plant-sucking bugs rather than plant-chewing bugs (like the Japanese Beetle). Think mosquito for plants. And, because leafhoppers hop, they can spread the virus from plant to plant.

So, in addition to the daily watering and weeding, I’m on pest patrol – drowning beetles in soapy water, checking hosta for slugs, and spritzing the flowers from the aster family with the miticide (only weekly, though).

What’s bugging your garden?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Gardening Garb

Shorts or long pants; tank top, t-shirt or long sleeves; hat or bareheaded; sandals or sneakers; gloves? I was surprised during my stay-cation in the garden how frequently the topic of gardening garb came up! One neighbor said no matter how hot it is she wears long pants (or at least Capri length pants) because it gives her a little more protection on her knees. Another gardener wears long pants and long sleeves and sneakers to protect her not only from the sun but also from bugs. Others prefer shorts and tanks and sandals.

I have (and wear regularly) the same gardening skort I’ve worn since 1984. Last year, I found two holes in the backside and wore them anyhow with a long t-shirt over the top. This year, I patched them and can wear a shorter top with them. I never used to wear gloves, but after seeing Betsy’s gloves earlier this year, I bought a pair and haven’t taken them off since. I love them. My dermatologist recommended a hat—to provide some protection for my nose—and last year I got one. I don’t always remember to put it on.

My garden footwear depends on what I’m doing. Sandals are okay for weeding, watering, or cutting flowers. Sneakers (or my sloggers) are for planting. Steel-toed boots are a must for tilling. I got a pair of short top gardening boots from my sister earlier this year and can’t wait to try them out!

I guess the recap is that some of us have sort of a gardening uniform and others play it by ear and mix and match. What are you wearing in the garden?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Minnesota Landscape Arboretum – Field Trip #3

Remember the scene in the movie “Sound of Music” where Liesl and her boyfriend get caught in the garden by a surprise storm and they end up in the gazebo? That was what happened last Monday, when a friend and I went out to the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. Well, without the dancing and singing. Before the deluge, we did manage to get in some garden viewing.

We were greeted just off the parking lot by Patrick Dougherty’s latest willow creation – Uff da Palace. I had seen photos of it during the building process from the Arboretum, but seeing it in person was breathtaking. Inside the visitor center, we saw photos of other installations/sculptures by Dougherty and I was blown away.

This whimsical salad table on the plaza at the visitor center made us hungry, so we headed inside for lunch. After lunch, we started our garden tour. We got to see the entrance garden, the terrace garden, the perennial garden, the herb garden, and some of the rose garden before the downpour started in earnest and we took refuge in the rose garden’s gazebo – with a dozen or so other visitors. We were in the gazebo for about 45 minutes before the rain let up enough for us to make a break for the visitor center, where we discovered the tour we’d signed up for had been canceled due to the weather.

I think this visit taught me that I can approach visiting the Arboretum the same way I approach visiting the State Fair – go often, for short visits, at different times of the day – rather than doing one marathon day. You can then linger in a particular garden rather than feeling pressured to see everything in one visit.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Gee, That’s Fun to Say!

My neighbor, Karen, and I were walking to the coffee shop the other morning. We needed a little caffeine boost before we started a mega-weeding project for another of our neighbors. On the way, we passed some moss roses, or portulaca. Karen told me a story about how her nephew REALLY likes to say “portulaca” because it’s so fun! I thought that was a good story and told her that I had been saying the word ratibida almost all day on Tuesday after having purchased one that morning. I couldn’t get the word (or the plant) out of my head! It was fun to say!

After our weeding project, I thought about the other botanical names that are fun to say. My list includes some plants and some plant families. Here goes: Ranunculus, Agapanthus, Taxus, Buxus, Oleander, Tiarella, Rhododendron, Plumbago, Polemonium, Anemone, Brassicaceae, and Solanaceae.

I found a web site that not only shows you the phonetic pronunciation for botanical names, it pronounces them for you when you click on a name! How cool is that?!
Note: The site includes pronunciations for plants only – not plant families.

Do you have a plant name that’s fun to say?! Post a comment and let me know!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Foxglove and other plants that won’t make an appearance in my garden

I think Foxglove is one of those “love it or hate it” plants. I haven’t met anyone yet who was neutral about it. I’m on the “hate it” end of the spectrum. I think it’s partly because the flowers look like open mouths with speckled tongues, which is a little creepy.

And, if I needed another reason to exclude it from my garden, I got it last year when I attended a book event with Amy Stewart for her book “Wicked Plants – The weed that killed Lincoln’s mother & other botanical atrocities.” It was part of the long list of plants that are dangerous or deadly. (The botanical name for Foxglove is Digitalis.)

Datura – also in Amy’s book – is another plant that won’t make an appearance in Auntie K’s Garden. It’s also known by the names moonflower, Jimson weed (Jamestown weed), devil’s trumpet, and thorn apple.

I’m sad that Monkshood (Acontium napellus) leads off the book as a “deadly” plant, because it was one I was hoping to add to my garden this year. But, I just can’t bring myself to add something that might inadvertently injure someone and/or make them ill or kill them.

Poison gardens have gained popularity in recent years. Amy Stewart has one that was mentioned in a New York Times article last year. Most of them are fenced or gated – like the one at Alnwick, in England.

Am I being too cautious? How do you feel about having poisonous, hallucinogenic, or deadly plants in your garden?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

I’m Just a Girl who can’t say No . . . to Plants

I need one of those cardboard signs that says “Will Work for Plants.” Seriously. Maybe I could add it to my Garden Emergency Kit. I buy plants, don’t get me wrong, and swap them, too. But just as frequently, I work for them.

Most recently, I’ve been weeding for a neighbor whose garden fell into some disrepair when she became ill earlier this year. In return, she said I could divide what I liked for my own garden. Quite a generous offer considering the beautiful plants she has. One autumn, I helped another friend re-do a garden, which also had fallen into disrepair, and took home several lovely peonies for an afternoon’s labor. And, the summer a friend had surgery, I weeded her tomato garden (12 x 20 in case you think I’m being wimpy) and got some great hostas and salvia.

My favorite “work for plants” project this year has been working with the Shady Sisters – my friends in Wayzata who are selling plants from their lovely and well established gardens. I’m learning a lot working with them and becoming more confident in my abilities.

I like working for plants. Typically, the person I’m helping, knows quite a bit about how the plants have performed, which helps me place them in my garden. And, sometimes, I get plants that are unfamiliar to me – blue ice sedum, cerastium, red geranium, and turtlehead to name a few. It’s a fun way to expand my plant repertoire.

So. If you’ve got a garden project and need some help, you know where I am. I’ll bring my tools and my sign.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


One of my favorite things is to listen to the birds. They are just getting going when Monty and I head out for our first walk of the day. And, they’re active in the gardens at the feeders and the baths all day. Over the years, I’ve gotten good at recognizing their calls and voices. But, I can’t always distinguish a happy chirp from an alarm chirp. The main reason I don’t wear an iPod in the garden like some gardeners do is because I like to hear the birds while I’m working.

Some birds, like the Cardinal and the Chickadee, are here all year. Others, like the Red-Winged Blackbird and the Oriole, are here for only a short while. For me, the first time I hear the call of the Red-Winged Blackbird marks the official beginning of spring. I haven’t heard the Blue Jay for a couple of years but did hear one a couple of weeks ago. I couldn’t spot it and haven’t seen them at any of the feeders, yet.

I hear the Robins most when I’m planting and weeding. I wonder if it’s because I sometimes unearth some worms. The sparrows and chickadees seem to be around more when I’m watering. One day, a sparrow hopped right into a bath as I was filling it. And, there are always a few that sit under the sprinkler—chirping the entire time.

Is there a bird whose call you don’t recognize? I found a cool website called BirdJam, where you can listen to bird calls to help match birds with their songs. What birds are visiting your gardens?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Lake Harriet Rose Garden and Peace Garden – Field Trip #2

I wasn’t ready to go home after my visit to Eloise Butler, so I drove the parkways and headed over to Lake Harriet to see the rose gardens and the Peace Garden. I don’t remember ever having seen the perennial/annual gardens there, but they’ve been there since 1963, so either I was very focused on the roses on previous visits and skipped the perennials altogether, or visited at a time the gardens didn’t impress me.

This year, however, the perennials and annuals impressed me much more than the roses did. I didn’t see anything in these gardens that I added to my wish list, though. Sadly, almost all of the roses were infested with Japanese beetles. Eeew. One of the things I love about roses is the names. I saw Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen), Betty White, Ole, and Lena! Some of the roses were fragrant, but they weren’t that pretty to look at because of the beetles. So sad. Only one of the fountains was working and I did take advantage of the splashes to cool myself off.

The highlight of this visit was the Peace Garden, where I made my first ever peace crane! The sculpture “The Spirit of Peace” provides origami paper and instructions on bronze plates for creating the cranes. I saw people of all ages and heard several languages as we all walked around the sculpture and folded our cranes. I didn’t remember to take photos while I was there, but another blogger visited earlier this year and did take photos. I would make this visit again in a heartbeat.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden and Bird Sanctuary – Field Trip #1

If you can’t stand the heat, go on a field trip. I tried working in the garden yesterday, honest. It was one of those days, though, where making breakfast made you sweat buckets. So, I decided to get out of the kitchen and my garden since I really wasn’t up for perma-sweat two days in a row. I packed a picnic and went on a couple of field trips.

First stop – Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden and Bird Sanctuary. It’s close, and as I said in an earlier post, I haven’t been there since the third grade. Interestingly, two other women on the “History Tour” had the same comment!

I walked the garden twice – once on my own and once with a guide. I was surprised at how many more things I saw with the guide. Because everything is so far ahead this year, all of the woodland and wetland plants – including the Lady Slippers -- had already bloomed. The prairie, however, was just getting going! I saw a few plants I’d never seen before and am considering adding to my gardens.

Prairie coneflower is the first on my plant wish list. I thought these flowers looked like delicate ballerinas. Their cone is more thimble shaped than cone shaped and the petals drape gracefully rather than protrude stiffly from the cone. Lead plant is the second plant I’m considering. It has interesting foliage and the flowers seemed iridescent moving from deep purple bases to orange tips. The third plant on my wish list is chicory! Yes – the plant whose root was/is used as a coffee substitute. The flower is very much like the annual bachelor button and can get as tall as 3 ½ feet. The pale blue is a fantastic contrast to the yellows and pinks in the prairie right now.

I’m definitely going back to this garden – and I’m not going to wait 40 years to do it.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Productive Day in the Garden

Day Two of the Stay-cation was much more productive than Day One—even though we had temps in the 90s with dewpoints in the 70s. People were wondering whether this was Minnesota or Florida. My game plan was to work in the shade as much as possible for as long as possible and quit when it got unbearable.

I got two more monarda “Marshall’s Delight” planted in the Fragrant garden and moved the last “Magnifica” from the west side of the house to the Fragrant garden. I had gotten one Marshall’s Delight last year and I love the height and color of it. Adding the Magnifica gives me five roses in the garden and a deeper rose color to play off the monarda.

I added a juniper on the west hill. It’s tiny, but adds a different color and texture to the hill. The biggest part of that job was building up the rock wall to hold the soil.

After a passer-by (apparently a regular) asked Friday, “Are you ever going to plant these hostas?” I figured that should be my next project. So, I got the hostas planted on the west side of the front walk and moved the trollius in for some texture and color.

In the evening, I got the last rain barrel installed and stopped up the leaks on two others to get ready for the rain we were expecting (and did get this morning). There’s still more to do, so I’m feeling grateful for a few more days off. I think I’ll wait on the stone steps until the humidity drops, and will stick with planting and weeding until then.

Hope everybody has a safe and happy Fourth of July!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

My Canning Pantry

Every time I go to the basement to empty the dehumidifier into the sump pump well, I walk through the canning pantry. It’s two rooms, actually, lined with shelves floor to ceiling designed to store the bounty and abundance of the year’s harvest so the family could enjoy potatoes, tomatoes, pickles, onions, jams and jellies through the winter (and possibly to the time when crops started yielding and fruits started bearing again in the spring).

I know it sounds sort of dorky, but I like that the house has a canning pantry. I like living in a place that reminds me on a regular basis to “plan ahead” and to not waste. I don’t know the first thing about canning, so, right now, it’s more like a canning pantry in waiting -- the shelves in one room are empty and I’ve stored paint on the shelves in the other room. But, I am sure I can learn how to can and make jam. My dad has pickled some peppers and tomatoes in recent years. And, my neighbor, Pat, makes spectacular raspberry jam. Betsy makes salsa and tomatoes. So, I’ve got some good teachers around.

My goal is to start small – with salsa. The tomatoes and peppers and onions are coming in really well. And, Betsy has a good recipe. Next year, I hope that the berries bear enough that I can make jam. And, then, I’d like to try making “saft,” a berry juice to mix with water for a very refreshing beverage. Tante Mie made the best saft ever. Raspberry/Currant was my favorite. I found a recipe for saft that my grandmother had written when she was in “Husmor skole” and think I’ll use that one.

I can’t wait to have something other than paint on the shelves in the canning pantry. If anyone has tips/tricks for canning or is willing to give me a lesson or two later in the year, you know where I am!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Hooligans in the Garden

Filing a Destruction of Property report is not exactly how I imagined starting my “stay-cation” in the gardens. But, unfortunately, that is what I have to do this morning. Last night, vandals – teens, probably – ran through the neighborhood pulling up plants, decapitating some plants, and tipping over potted plants and lawn furniture. Most of the targets were older folks, who will be devastated when they see their beloved plants completely destroyed.

In my yard, vandals tipped over the Adirondack chair, birdbaths, wheelbarrow, and all the potted plants. One potted tomato was rolled down the hill and landed on the sidewalk. A few perennials were stomped on in the process, but I believe they will come back next year. These things were well within my property and the vandals had to come into my yard to perform this brazen act making my ire even greater. On our way home, I found Monty’s water bowl smashed in the middle of the street.

My first reaction was anger, but when I saw the peonies ripped out of the ground and the decapitated hydrangeas, I cried. I just don’t understand the complete lack of respect – not only for personal property, but also for creation.

So. I am off to the Police Station to file my report. Then, I will come home to the gardens and continue planting.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Another Way to Recycle Your Cardboard and Newspaper

I’m not a huge fan of landscape fabric. I’ve already posted about my opposition to plastic in the garden, but I’m actually opposed to most “permanent” forms of weed block and here’s why. Even though they block the weeds from coming up, they also block your plants from coming up/getting bigger. I saw this in a couple of gardens earlier this year. One gardener wondered why her peony looked so “sickly.” I noticed big lumps under the landscape fabric. “It’s not sickly, it’s trying like heck to survive and come up through this fabric!” We tore the fabric to let the misshapen peonies come up and looked around the garden for other plants confined by the fabric.

Weed seeds and tree seeds will still find their way on top of the landscape fabric and their roots will go right through the holes cleverly designed for water. Then, you have a mess, because you almost always tear the fabric when you remove the treelet that has rooted itself through the fabric.

The method of weed block I prefer is good, old-fashioned cardboard. I know it doesn’t sound very glamorous, but, it works. If you plan ahead, you can get the cardboard good and wet before you plant – with a good layer of leaves underneath to enrich the soil and a little compost on top to hasten the decomp of the cardboard. (It’s easier to get the shovel through that way, too.) When you get the area planted, put some mulch on top of the cardboard. I’ve done this on a couple of occasions. Sometimes, however, I don’t prep an entire area before I start plopping things in the ground. So, I put the leaves, cardboard (and mulch) down afterward. It’s a little more difficult because you’re working around the plants but still manageable.

If you don’t have cardboard, you can use newspaper. You need to use between 6 and 10 thicknesses of newspaper for this alternative to be effective. A couple of sheets won’t be enough to keep the grass and weeds down. Wet it thoroughly. It will help make the cardboard less stiff and more receptive to the mulch and it will help keep the newspapers from flying around until you get the mulch on.
Related Posts with Thumbnails