Thursday, December 30, 2010

Colorado dreaming

It may be called a children's garden but this scene at the Gardens on Spring Creek captivates adults as well. Love the painted pots as heads on the scarecrows.

If I still lived in northern Colorado, I'd be heading over to the Gardens on Spring Creek in Fort Collins to get tickets to a presentation by Lauren Springer Ogden, author of "The Undaunted Garden: Planting for Weather-Resilient Beauty." (She also is the namesake of 'Lauren's Grape' poppy. The stunning single purple flower first popped up in her garden.)

My copy at home.
"Undaunted Garden" recently has been revised and updated -- I have a copy of the first edition and it is one of my go-to books for inspiration. How can you not appreciate an author who talks about surveying a garden pummeled by hail after a few stiff drinks? (Substitute deer damage for hail damage and you'll see what I mean.)

The presentation on Jan. 22 is a fundraiser for the Gardens on Spring Creek, which, thanks to friends Kevin and Mary, we visited last August. It's still very much a work in progress, but I was impressed with things so far. Its 18 acres include a Children's Garden, Entry Garden, and the Lauren Springer Odgen Garden. The Garden of Eatin' has a spiffy outdoor kitchen for cooking classes.

I've never had the chance to hear Springer Odgen speak, but if her talks are anything like her book, it would be well worth it. If you're in the area, go. And then let me know what you think.

Giant watering cans mark the entrance to the Children's Garden.

Espaliered apple trees screen part of the outdoor kitchen.

The pavilion's green roof sports a variety of plants.

I want some of this. It may be marginally hardy here, but I think it's worth a try.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

In lieu of The Seventh Day ...

It snowed most of the day on Dec. 21. These dried hops blossoms 
wear hoods of snowflakes.

... we give you The Twenty-first Day. 

Between studying for finals and whatnot, Dec. 7 came and went without me picking up the camera. To make amends, we're subbing in photos taken on Dec. 21. Take a peek into our world in the slide show at top right.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Winter solstice

On the shortest day of the year, we unburied the fire pit and stoked a fire to bring some light into the dark. (The snow finally stopped falling after about a foot. On top of what we already have.)

We stayed warm with sips of Jagermeister from the makeshift bar. No problem keeping it cold here.

And were greeted with some blue skies the next day.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Meet the relatives

Poinsettias fill the benches at Anderson's Greenhouse & Florist in Two Harbors. It was fun to walk among them during the greenhouse's
annual open house last Sunday. 

The poinsettia, Euphorbia pulcherrima, a symbol of the holiday season (above), and cushion spurge, Euphorbia polychroma, a gardenworthy perennial (below), share a genus, but are very different plants. Like some people I know, it's hard to believe they come from the same gene pool, but they do. Go to former NPR reporter Ketzel Levine's discussion of Euphorbia here.

If you're looking for a poinsettia to dress up your home, check out Anderson's Greenhouse & Florist in Two Harbors.

Euphorbia polychroma from the mid-May garden.

Friday, December 3, 2010

This is what gardening looks like in December

A snowy harvest of parsnips. These are 'Gladiator'.

The snow fell early this year. It started falling before all of the parsnips were pulled from the ground. But, hey, what's a little snow in a Minnesota garden?

So, on a day when temperatures hovered in the mid-teens, it was time to shovel back the snow and harvest parsnips before the ground froze solid. I came home from class to find the resident head gardener, with his faithful companion close by, digging and pulling the pale roots from the ground.

Two trays full of parsnips were brought inside for cleaning and storing in the refrigerator; a bunch also went to Scott, who was hard at work installing an air exchanger in the house. A short row was left in the ground, topped with some straw mulch, to overwinter until spring.

We love parsnips -- sauted, gratined or souped, parsnips are a good bet to fill the void come winter. For dinner Wednesday night, several nice-sized roots were topped, tailed, peeled and sliced into a pan with some melted butter. Seasoned with salt and pepper, they cooked gently until tender and were a tasty side to the breaded pork chops. 

Talk about timing. Even in December, it can be a matter of a few hours from harvest to supper. Brilliant! 


Friday, November 19, 2010

Window Box Week

This is the window box Angela worked on the day I was there.
Here's the vision: Window boxes and pots full of greenery outside every home and business in town from now through the holidays and into March. It's not such a crazy proposition when you listen to Angela Stocke, the creative brains behind Angela's Bella Flora in Duluth.

The sign welcomes visitors.
Angela wants to create a winter container movement. We live in a part of the world where it's mostly cold and snowy from November through March -- a window box arrangement on the porch or outside the front door can help take the edge off until spring.

I learned some of the finer points of outdoor window box design at one of Angela's demonstrations during the recent Window Box Week celebration at her shop. Here's how she built the box with the bird and the flame willow in the photo at the top of the post. It took her less than 45 minutes to pull it off.

 A bird's nest is tucked into the bottom of the window box.

Start with a base of greenery using a variety of traditional greens such as spruce, pine and balsam. The display is meant to be viewed from one side so build up the back so you have a background against which color and do-dads can strut their stuff. Mix up the texture with other greens such as Port Orford cedar and yellow incense cedar that are more wispy and lacy. Add some leafy branches of boxwood and seeded eucalyptus. All are stuck into water-saturated blocks of floral foam in the bottom of the box. The greenery hides the foam.
Angela works on a second window box.

Angela had decided on a color palette of orange and pink for this box so she added branches of pepperberry and some fake orangy persimmons. The pink blossoms on the right are protea, a tropical plant that Angela is experimenting with in cold-weather window boxes. She expects it will dry in place and look good for several months.

The bird perches on flame willow that Angela buys from a farm in Wisconsin. The stems are flexible and malleable. She stuck some on either side of the box, bent them toward each other and used a wire wrapped with brown tape to hold them together. (The bird hides the connection.) 

The final touch was a bird's nest with eggs tucked into the foliage. A surprise, Angela said, for people who take the time to look a little deeper into the arrangement.

1. Choose a color palette. Sticking to a palette keeps you on track and allows you to collect various tchotchkes over the years to add to your design scheme. That also keeps the budget in check because you're not buying all new stuff every year.

2. Look at what you have in your own yard and garden. Maybe you can build a base with stuff you have for free and then spend a few dollars on pepperberry or variegated boxwood or sparkly balls or sticks. Add and subtract items so the display doesn't shout Christmas or Hanukkah around Valentine's Day.

3. Use standard floral foam and make sure it's super-soaked. Put the foam on top of the water in a bucket and let the water slowly fill all the pores in the foam. Don't force it.

4. These boxes are meant for cold-weather display. Use wood or plastic containers. Once everything has frozen in place, you won't need to water. And the display will last for months.

Those are brown magnolia leaves among the evergreens. This box is a nice balance of humble (readily available conifers) and Hollywood (sparkly balls).

Pheasant feathers and huge sugar pine cones are easy companions in this box on display outside the store. The cones don't come cheap -- almost 6 bucks for one -- but they are impressive.

Shoppers examine the fresh greens and other natural wares.

This simple crate brims with evergreens and glittery purple stems and balls.

 Don't stop with boxes. How about a hanging basket?

Or a simple swag?Sweet!

I'm inspired. The silly dog and I will be out gathering supplies. I think I can do something fun with that lingonberry we're growing.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Two reasons why we cage trees and shrubs

 1. This doe about to enter the yard.

 2. And this doe already in the vegetable garden, trying to snack on the remains inside the pepper house.

Both were midmorning visitors on Tuesday.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Winter ...

... has arrived in the form of 6 inches or so of heavy, wet snow.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Seventh Day November is here

The lush summer garden is gone, but there's still much to enjoy in the November garden. Take a peek in the slide show at top right.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Karen cooks Kale and Cannellini Soup

 Kale and Cannellini Soup from Bon Appetit magazine. The kale, carrots and garlic are from the garden. To prepare the kale, use a sharp knife and cut on either side of the center rib. Discard the rib and give the leaves a rough chop.

True. I am not making this up. I made a pot of Kale and Cannellini Soup for supper this weekend. From scratch. With minimal coaching from the resident chef.

And it was delicious.

The kale is a variety called 'Nero de Toscana'. It has thick, puckered leaves that seem to get sturdier as the days get colder. You could probably harvest it in the snow -- assuming you could keep the deer off it. An old bed sheet protects the crop now.

The recipe is from November's Bon Appetit magazine. Note that you make the Beans with Kale first -- you get enough to make an appetizer one day and the soup another day. The recipe is easy to follow and doesn't require any fancy techniques or equipment. We didn't have any Italian seasoning on hand so I subbed in some thyme and basil. Instead of toasted baguette slices, we had extra Parmesan cheese to garnish the soup and crackers on the side. And we did without the final drizzle of truffle oil.

This is not a wimpy soup. It has depth and substance and flavor. There were no leftovers.

This is how the kale looked in September.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Good eating on a blustery fall evening

Boeuf Bourguignon Before: The day's harvest included (clockwise from left) parsley and thyme for the bouquet garni and peppers for salad; Purple Haze and Nelson carrots, yellow and red onions; Austrian Crescent potatoes; small yellow onions for braising. 

Boeuf Bourguignon After: The main dish was accompanied by steamed Austrian Crescent potatoes, garden salad, a freshly-baked baguette and peaches and cream for dessert.

Several weeks back we enjoyed a visit from family from Illinois. The day they arrived was cold, windy and wet, and the resident chef made the perfect call by preparing Boeuf Bourguignon to welcome them for their weekend stay. He loosely followed Julia Child's recipe in "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" doing what good cooks naturally do, adapting the recipe to suit their own tastes and available ingredients. Child says in the cookbook, "as is the case with most famous dishes, there are more ways than one to arrive at a good boeuf bourguignon. Carefully done, and perfectly flavored, it is certainly one of the most delicious dishes concocted by man ..." Amen to that.

It's cold and gray today and I'm remembering how delicious that meal was -- good food prepared with garden vegetables harvested only hours earlier, a simple table setting with tealights and small bouquets of sedum and parsley, plenty of red wine and good conversation. It doesn't get much better than that.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Update: The Great Black Walnut Experiment

The black walnut seedlings were planted Sept. 7 to give them a chance to put down roots before winter. No soil amendments necessary.

Just barely up.
Last November we planted 14 pots of black walnuts. Having never tried to grow black walnuts before, we kept our expectations realistic. Information from the Extension Service suggested that maybe half (seven) would germinate. Well, we didn't hit the halfway mark, but we still feel pretty darn good that three did germinate.

Starting to flush.
None of the pots were coddled. They were left out in the snow and cold all winter to satisfy their stratification needs. As temperatures warmed in the spring, we checked to make sure the pots didn't dry out, but that was it. By the end of May you could see the seedlings -- hunched over but ready to pop and grow.

The three seedlings.
Black walnut (Juglans nigra) is interesting partly because it is an allelopathic plant. (Definition alert: Allelopathy refers to the ability of some plants to produce toxic substances that can affect other nearby plants. It's one way to beat competition for space, light, etc.) Black walnut produces juglone, a chemical that can be toxic to certain sensitive plants such as tomatoes. The West Virginia University Extension Service has a list of plants that are sensitive to juglone and some that are tolerant.

By July the three seedlings were green and sturdy. In September, they were ready for planting.

We chose sites back along the nature trail, put them in the ground and caged them to give them a better chance at survival. The rest is up to them.

Just planted on Sept. 7.

Now, the leaves have dropped and without the cage, you'd be hard-pressed to locate the seedling.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Seventh Day October

Dakota leads the way from the stream back to the house on an unseasonably warm Oct. 7. 
We've entered a new season, and already it feels like it's slipping away. Autumn won't wait; you have to be ready to get the most pleasure out of the changing colors and the extraordinary light. Choosing plants at sillydoggarden includes consideration of fall color. You'll see some of our choices in the slide show/album. And you'll see some of the borrowed landscape that adds so much depth to the garden this time of year. As always, check it out in the sidebar at top right.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Night visitor

Caught redhanded! A raccoon made a bold, but unsuccessful, attempt on a birdfeeder on a recent night.

The silly dog was first to notice the raccoon on the deck the other night. Out on the final-before-bedtime pee, Dakota stepped out the side door, stopped, turned toward the deck and stuck his nose in the air. Something was amiss, he seemed to be saying. Then I heard the thumping.

Suspecting raccoons, I got Dakota back in the house and then got the camera. Sure enough, there was one, balancing on the deck railing with his back to the house. A feeder full of sunflower seeds dangled above him. He seemed to be in no hurry to leave, so I snapped a few photos, took Dakota out front to do his business and then took another look. Still there. Still there an hour later. Are we that scary?

Raccoons can be trouble in the garden. They'll eat the goldfish in the pond and feast on the corn. In fact, the first raccoons we saw this year was just as the corn was ready to harvest. Coincidence? I think not.

Fortunately, we had the motion-detecting sprinklers to protect the corn harvest. And we have Dakota to alert us to trouble the rest of the time.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Worth it on every level

Saturday morning there were 21 open flowers and 6 fat buds about to burst on this potted brugmansia. I left a second, bigger potted brug to take a temperature hit and it will move directly to its winter location without a sunny stopover. 

It's not easy growing tender beauties such as brugmansia where winter temperatures dip way, way below freezing and spring doesn't really get under way until May. But then you get a flush of bloom like the one this week and all the hassle is worth it.

This potted brugmansia came in one or two weeks ago when the weather forecast made it clear we were flirting with damaging temperatures. It bloomed earlier this summer and had just set another round of buds. The plant typically drives me crazy -- the foliage always tends toward the chloratic side no matter how much fertilizer I give it, and inside it drops most of its leaves into a messy pile on the floor. The leaves that remain are a magnet for spider mites. But it MUST come in for the winter or die so I haul it in (it's heavy!) and let it go dormant by not watering, cutting it back a smidge and putting it in the dark closet under the stairs. And it will get there, and stay there until next April or so, after these flowers are gone.

Meanwhile, it makes a statement in a corner of the dining room. The fragrance reminds me of a load of laundry fresh in from the clothesline. It's especially nice at night when the blossoms fully open and the fragrance wafts throughout the main living area. 

I love this plant. I can't imagine my home without it.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Touring (and a small rant)

Michael Tonder creates impressive sculptures from glass that otherwise would find its way into a landfill. Last weekend, his work became a temporary sculpture garden on the shore of Thomas Lake.

This week, autumn is showing her spectacular side with a bounty of colors that shimmer in the sunshine. It's a great time to do a little touring along the North Shore, and the Crossing Borders Art Tour is a great excuse for getting out and about.

For 10 days a group of artists from Duluth to Grand Portage open their studios to the public and you can meet the people behind the pottery, metalwork, woodturning, weaving and more. We visited several of the studios last weekend and feasted our eyes on all the beautiful things ... except there were no plant-pots or other specific garden-related gear.

This seems to me to be a wasted opportunity. Especially when it comes to pots. I saw many, many beautiful pottery pieces on my tour -- some probably could be used in the garden -- but nothing that said "plant me." I asked one of the potters why I was seeing only plates, bowls and mugs but no planters. Was it competition from mass marketers? Was it economically silly for an artist to produce planters when the plates and bowls sold so well? He agreed that it probably had something to do with the economics of producing a planter. He pointed out that a reasonably-sized planter takes up the same amount of valuable real estate inside the kiln that several smaller pieces take up. And he'd have to charge more for the planter than the smaller pieces. But the less-expensive, smaller pieces are more likely to sell. So, at the end of the day, he doesn't see the market supporting him making planters when there are so many nice-looking pots coming from places such as Vietnam.

His argument makes sense, but it doesn't completely persuade me. I'd love to see local artists do some cool pots that would be appropriate to plant in or use as cachepots. These wouldn't be the workhorses of container gardening, but there are certain plants or certain locations that deserve something with a little extra kick. Any ideas where I can find some?

P.S. The Crossing Borders studio tour and sale continues through Sunday. For information, see

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Seventh Day September (finally!)

It's mostly annuals, including cosmos, alyssum, salvia, kale, celosia, bacopa, peppers, squash and marigolds, in this bed in the backyard.

Already, Sept. 7 seems like eons ago. Change happens fast in the fall, and we're seeing the rich golds, reds and browns of autumn (more on that later). Putting together this album is a good reminder of why I try to spend time in the garden every day. There's always something going on that wasn't there the day before.  

Friday, September 10, 2010

Patience, please

The main computer at sillydoggarden -- you know, the one with all the images! -- is down and may be out for the count. So, until that situation is resolved, posting will be limited. Seventh Day Project: September is in the camera, but it will be a few days before it gets uploaded.

Meanwhile, Leslie Land has a nice post on cimicifuga -- it's a favorite here, too. And I can vouch for the scent. I was just out setting up the scarecrows to guard the corn (raccoons have been out and about) and the fragrance was wafting through the back yard. Very nice!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

It's not always about the garden ...

... sometimes it's about the silly dog.

A hot, hot day is the perfect day to give Dakota a bath.  Whewww ... now he smells better!

Change on the wing

 Those tiny flecks against the sky are nighthawks, which really aren't hawks at all.

A small flock of nighthawks passed over sillydoggarden on Sunday. On their way to South America, the birds swooped and turned and counter-turned, all the while catching flying insects in their mouths. You can't tell by my miserable photo attempt, but they have white bands on their wings that are visible in flight. A change in season is imminent. Can the hummingbird migration be far behind?

The Star Tribune writes about nighthawks here. And John Latimer describes watching them as they move south.