Sunday, May 31, 2009

Baby, it's cold outside

The furnace kicked in again a little while ago keeping a cold, damp evening at bay. It may be June tomorrow but we had frost this morning followed by gloomy skies and rain. Most of the plants that wintered inside that I'd moved to the garage and then to the back deck and front walk went back into the garage last night. And the potted banana came into the dining room for what hopefully will be a short stay.

The shuffle is nothing new, but it does tend to make one grumpy. Schlepping potted plants from one location to another to avoid cold damage or worse tries one's patience. But then I remember the exuberant, fragrant, colorful, amazing plants I enjoy all summer and, well, what I can do but grab another couple of pots and tuck them in behind my car.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Career opportunity?

This is too good to pass up: Newspaper boxes turned into flower boxes. I've always been a fan of using nontraditional containers as pots. Follow the links here:

I love braublog!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Chair lifts

One of the great things about going to greenhouses and nurseries (besides loading up on cool plants) is the inspiration you can find. Here, two ideas to lift from two greenhouses -- both regarding chairs.

The first is from The Garden House in Solon Springs. Remove the seat from an old chair. Take a metal container such as a bucket and drill some drainage holes in it. Wedge the bucket into place where the seat would be. Plant the bucket with a colorful assortment of annuals; include a flowering vine such as this thunbergia to clamber up and over the back of the chair.

The second is from Winter Greenhouse. These metal chairs are fitted with seats fashioned from scotch or irish moss. (I spotted similar chairs, without the moss seats, in the front yard at Serendipity, the home and garden furnishings store on Superior Street in Duluth.) The table's lower shelf includes a selection of succulents growing in a mossy base. How cool is that?

Home is where ...

... you make it. This robin has made her home at The Garden House in Solon Springs. She has a nest behind some trellises and doesn't seem to mind the customer traffic between the perennial benches and the checkout.

Today. Bottled.

Today was one of those days that I need to keep with me. It was the kind of day I need to remember when everything just seems so grim. The day was special because of its simplicity.

Brian and I spent nearly all day in the garden. The weather was cool and gray; the neighborhood was quiet. I worked in the front yard; he was in the back. We were united in working the soil, but still had our own space. While he prepped the vegetable beds and planted potatoes, I weeded and edged the bed of ornamentals in the center of the lawn. There is something incredibly satisfying about getting the grass out of the sedum. And creating a sharp line between lawn and perennials. And knowing that (knock on wood) we'll be enjoying at least 10 varieties of potatoes next fall and winter.

Today was one of those days that I wish I could bottle and always have on hand.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Day trippin' to Wisconsin

The Garden House is loaded with annuals and hanging baskets.

I don't know how it happened, but two of my favorite greenhouses are in Wisconsin. Shortly after we moved to Minnesota, we heard about Winter Greenhouse in Winter, Wis. A few years ago, I learned about The Garden House in Solon Springs. Now Brian and I reserve a day each May to visit the two businesses.

Here's the routine: We're out of the house by 8:30 or 9 a.m. Stop at McDonald's in Superior for breakfast in the car. On to The Garden House, where I swoon over the colorful geraniums, annuals and fuchsia. I always seem to find something there that you don't find at most greenhouses. It's one of the few places that has cerinthe (also called honeywort) and night phlox 'midnight candy' (Zaluzianskya capensis). I grew the night phlox from seed several years ago (from the Select Seeds catalog) and was delighted to find it as a bedding plant last year at Garden House and again this year. The moniker 'midnight candy' is an apt description: the dainty purplish flowers are exceedingly fragrant in the evening.

We take our time in Solon Springs and continue on to Hayward and then Winter, stopping to let the silly dog stretch his legs and have a drink. At the greenhouse, we park at the far end of the lower parking lot where there is some shade. The silly dog stays in the truck and Brian and I hit the display gardens. The colors, the textures, the planting combinations -- the display gardens themselves are worth the drive, but we have plants to buy. It's worth taking a look at Winter's catalog before shopping; that helps keep the impulse buys to a minimum.

A path through the woodland display garden at Winter.

Part of the pond in Winter's sunny display garden.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The season's first meal

The tomatoes under the lights downstairs are merely tiny seedlings and the spinach outdoors is just starting to germinate, but we've already enjoyed the first bounty of the season.

Last fall, for whatever reason, not all of the parsnips got harvested. The creamy white root vegetables spent the winter underground, under a layer of straw, topped by the snow. When the ground thawed this spring, the straw was pulled back and the parsnips were ready for harvest. And, oh, what a beautiful harvest!

This was a week or so ago and we hadn't yet turned on the hoses. So we piled the parsnips into a plastic bag and carried them back to the stream at the back of our property for cleaning. Of course, the silly dog kept an eye on all the activity.

Now, full disclosure: I am not the cook in the family. Brian took a bunch of those parsnips, harvested an hour earlier, and sliced them lengthwise into a baking dish. He added some cream, Parmesan cheese and freshly snipped chives. (Chives are one of the earliest edibles in our garden.) Into the oven at about 350 degrees for an hour or so, or until the cream reduces. Yum! There were second helpings all around.

This outdoor storage, while unintended, worked well. Maybe we'll try it with carrots this fall.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Sipping on lilacs

I'm looking at the lilacs in my yard in a whole new way thanks to garden writer Leslie Land, who describes enjoying a bottle of lilac wine. I had no idea the shrub could be so versatile! (She also includes the recipe.)

Thursday, May 7, 2009

A week of rabbits

Living where I do, it's not uncommon to see the damage that rabbits do. This crocus, for instance, apparently was the blue-plate special for a cottontail.

But it's less common to actually see the critters that feasted on your beloved plants. This spring I was determined to have a nice crocus show; other years the show has been decimated by wildlife. So in addition to applications of milorganite and Plantskydd, we set a live trap in the crocus patch soon after seeing significant damage. It wasn't but a day or two later and we had our first victim. The bait of sunflower seeds worked like a charm. Let the relocation begin. We took the little guy to an undisclosed location far away from the garden and let him go.

And then, back home, we set the trap again. Just
in case. Two days later, another rabbit in the trap. Time for Relocation No. 2. (OK, the video's a bit lame but it gives you an idea of how fast these guys can move.)

The rabbits apparently had enough of the trap because the sightings over the next couple of days were on the other side of the yard. The silly dog would have none of this; he chased the bunnies through the compost area, behind the herb garden and down the trail our neighbors have cut through the woods. Fortunately, the rabbits are faster than the dog. No blood was shed. But this got me to thinking -- how fast can rabbits run? This comes from the Minnesota DNR web site:

"Cottontails have shorter legs than hares and rely on quick, dodging movements to escape predators. If chased, they usually circle within their territory. They can run up to 18 miles per hour and leap up to 15 feet. Eastern cottontails are not fond of water, but they can swim if necessary.

While hares have long ears, the cottontail's ears are shorter than its head. The cottontail has excellent hearing and can move its ears continuously to detect sounds.

The cottontail's eyes are set high on its head, and each eye can move more than half a circle. Both eyes together give the cottontail a 360-degree field of view. This full circle of vision helps the rabbit spot overhead predators such as hawks and owls."

Friday, May 1, 2009

Gardens on TV
A couple of weeks ago, Duluth horticulturist Tom Kasper offered 10 perennials he couldn't live without on the WDSE-TV program "Great Gardening." His list included:
  • Peonies
  • Allium
  • Monarda
  • Foxglove
  • Stargazer lily
  • Buddleia
  • Rudbeckia
  • Astilbe
  • Rodgersia
  • Bleeding heart
All worthy choices. But ... what about baptisia and amsonia and hardy geraniums? And primula? And catmint? And, in all honesty, don't your Top 10 lists tend to vary by season?

This week, "Great Gardening" is scheduled to discuss "Containers for Your Home." I always seem to miss the broadcast at 7 p.m. Thursdays on Channel 8 but usually manage to catch the rebroadcast at 5 p.m. Saturdays. Meanwhile, check out photos from the program's viewers. One quibble: It would be nice to have some caption info to give the photos context.

Seasonal delights
Spring is a long time coming up north. Case in point: Crocus. Elsewhere, the crocus are long gone; in my garden they're just starting to wind down.

It's been a good crocus year. The large flowering
crocus (Crocus vernus) that I planted in the grassy berm near the road maybe a dozen years ago was gorgeous this past week. It's a mix of Flower Record, Jeanne d'Arc, King of the Striped and Yellow Mammoth I bought from John Scheepers. I don't remember exactly how many bulbs I planted. Maybe 500, many of which have now naturalized. I do remember planting them. With a trowel and a dandelion digger. In tough, clay soil. I'm sure I didn't plant them all as deep as recommended. After you do a few hundred, there's a tendency to get a little sloppy.

But this year it was all worth it. I managed to keep the rabbits and deer at bay -- for the most part. Regular applications of milorganite and Plantskydd helped, but nothing is foolproof. The lesson here is to overplant because you're bound to lose some.

More crocus

Nearer the house, we've enjoyed the species crocus. They bloom earlier than the large flowering crocus and have a more delicate demeanor. For some reason, the rabbits haven't bothered them. This variety is C. tommasinianus roseus.

And here is C. tommasinianus.