As a garden writer, I read a lot of gardening blogs and articles by other writers and landscape designers and I have to say, I’m finding them increasingly annoying and depressing. So much judgment and negativity—who died and made us the arbiters of all things right and tasteful?
Without naming the writer and being a jerk when I’m trying to write about why it’s important to not be a jerk, let me just say that recently I read a blog post that pushed me over the edge. It was a short piece, posted by a writer who had a day off so she rented a bike in a nearby town and peddled around looking at gardens.
It was a beautiful blue-sky day, but she really couldn’t enjoy it because most of the homes she biked past were landscaped with predictable perennials, particularly KnockOut® roses and catmint (Nepeta). The fact that most of the roses were RED only accentuated the humdrum nature of the plants in her mind, and she posted a few pictures to bolster her point with “sophisticated” readers like us. Ugh. How can this sort of thing be helpful to anyone?
Sure, experienced gardeners or those with the good fortune to have an impermeable force field of self-esteem might read snobby comments like that and think: “To hell with her, I love my KnockOut roses.” But for many mortals trying to garden, it’s no fun to read something written by someone who is supposedly in the know that basically says you have bad taste if you plant certain things (or allow them to be planted by a landscaper) and you ought to know better. This kind of senseless garden bullying isn’t helpful or inspiring and needs to stop.
A Matter of Taste
I will confess right now that I am guilty of garden snobbery. I have written disparaging things about annual geraniums, dusty miller and other plants I don’t like. Thinking about it now, I can’t imagine how I ever thought that might be useful to anyone. Please accept my sincere apology for behaving like such a self-important turd.
But don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that garden writers should only write nice things about plants. On the contrary, plants that perform poorly are absolutely fair game. It’s our job to spill the beans on crappy plants that don’t bloom well, fail to be as hardy as advertised or are riddled with diseases they’re supposed to be able to resist. And there’s nothing wrong with pointing out that certain plants are being used an awful lot and suggesting alternatives. That’s information that people can use. But slamming plants based on personal preference, or nattering on about how sophisticated gardeners would never have this or that “over-planted” plant in their gardens, is on par with shaming high school classmates over their choice of jeans.
Let’s face it. Whether you’re a professional or a novice, when it comes right down to it, plant picks and gardening styles are always about personal taste. Like most gardeners, I plant what I like, and what is given to me and what I find by the side of the road with a “Free” sign on it. I know and respect many local landscape designers, and I do follow some of their advice, but I don’t want to hire one of them to reimagine my yard for me. Then, I would be living with their taste, not mine. I like the crowded, overgrown gardens I have imagined for myself and I ignore the finger-waggers who question my taste level. You should too.
A slightly different version of this post appeared recently in Northern Gardener magazine.
As you might have already guessed from the infrequency of my posts lately, the hardest thing about being a garden blogger is actually sitting down to write something in the summer. Winter is no problem. If you’re not into winter sports (and I am most definitely not) there’s nothing else to do here in Minnesota when it’s crazy-ass cold. But during our reasonably nice five months of each year, it’s hard not to spend every extra moment outdoors. Lately, I’ve been going to every garden tour I can find, large and small, and I’ve seen some beautiful, odd, innovative, lovingly tended and over-the-top landscapes. So I thought I’d share some photos. Here goes:
This year’s Tangletown Garden Tour, hosted by local Tangletown Gardens, included a stop at co-owner Scott Endres’ house, which showcased his design sensibilities and penchant for using unusual and colorful plants in fun and elegant ways.
The front porch—
And now the backyard—
Okay, so this wasn’t on any tour. But my friend Kathleen and I saw it on the way to the tour, so here it is. Wow!
A few pretty plant combos.
Photos just can’t do justice to a garden we saw in Highland Park. The couple has been gardening on four city lots for more than 40 years and their gardens are clearly tended with loving care. Vegetables, perennials, a formal area with boxwood hedges and a gorgeous wisteria archway—it was breathtaking.
I am severely allergic to bee venom, so I’ve always been careful when gardening to stay out of the flower beds during the times of day when bees are most active. Sadly, that’s been easy to do this year because there are no bees in my garden, save for some tiny, tiny bees that my grandma used to call “sweat bees.” There are no honeybees or bumblebees, just a lot of large scary-looking brown wasps that, like cockroaches, look as though they could survive an apocalypse.
Perhaps we are on the brink of one now. As gardeners, we see changes in nature up close in ways that others don’t. I can tell you (and I’m sure you have plenty of stories, too) that seven years ago our gardens were filled with bees and butterflies. In that short time, both have all but disappeared. Many of the gardeners I know are saying the same thing and, without exception, our talks reflect a growing mix of sadness and worry about the future. It’s one thing to read an article about how vital pollinators are to food production and quite another to walk out the back door to find normally bountiful tomato, cucumber and squash plants nearly devoid of fruit. Leaves for dinner again, anyone?
If you have ever thought about getting into beekeeping, now is the time to start. Ordinances vary by city and state, but in Minneapolis, beekeeping has been legal since 2009 and it really took off this year in May when the Minneapolis City Council approved an ordinance making it easier for urban beekeepers to get permits. Ever since then, more and more bee boxes have been buzzing on rooftops across the city, including some at high-profile locales such as Minneapolis City Hall, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and Weisman Art Museum.
Under the new ordinance, would-be beekeepers still need to get permission from the city to keep bees. But hives can now be installed on rooftops taller than one story without approval from neighboring property owners. This is a significant change from the previous ordinance that required beekeepers to get permission from 80 percent of the neighbors within 250 feet. (To put that in perspective, in densely packed downtown, that could mean having to collect over 100 signatures.)
Honeybees are not aggressive, and backyard hives can be managed safely by trained homeowners. But rooftops are an attractive option for urban bees and their keepers because bees tend to fly up and out when exiting their boxes, lessening interaction with people down below, says Becky Masterman, who co-coordinates the Bee Squad with fellow beekeeper Jody Gerdts. Started by University of Minnesota bee expert Marla Spivak in 2010, the Bee Squad (http://beelab.umn.edu/BeeSquad/) aims to help foster healthy bee communities in the Twin Cities through education, training and data collection on the health of urban colonies.
Citizen beekeepers to the rescue
The Bee Squad’s most high-profile program is called Hive to Bottle, which allows homeowners and organizations to keep bees without having to install and manage the hives themselves if they would prefer not to. Hives at City Hall, the Weisman and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts are all taken care of by the Bee Squad. Those who want to manage their own hives can receive at-home training from a Bee Squad mentor through the Home Apiary Help program. Or, for a lesser fee, homeowners can attend training sessions at the Mentoring Apiary on the University’s St. Paul campus. (Additional information on both programs can be found here: (http://beelab.umn.edu/BeeSquad/beekeepers/index.htm.)
If you’re asking yourself whether you really need training to keep bees, the answer is yes. Masterman explains: “Keeping bees is really hard. It is both an art and a science, and there is no way to learn to do it right from a book or a weekend class. It really helps to have somebody next to you watching and guiding you as you learn.” So, for the sake of the bees, and yourself and your neighbors, please take the time to understand what you’re doing before rushing into beekeeping.
I’m late, late, late with a post on new plants coming out this year. Sorry about that. It keeps slipping my mind because it’s still quite cold and rainy here in Minnesota even though we’re well into June now, so going to the garden center hasn’t been high on my list. I do think I’ll go this weekend, though, and here are some of the new things this year that I’m planning to try if I can find them.
Oso Happy® Smoothie Rose (Rosa Oso Happy Smoothie ‘Zlesak Poly3’ PPAF)
Bred by David Zlesak, a Minnesota-based plant breeder, hort professor and all around wonderful guy, Oso Happy Smoothie almost seems too good to be true. But it isn’t, and I know because I’m one of the lucky writers who got to test this Proven Winners introduction in my gardens last summer. Hardy, THORNLESS and resistant to black spot, this diminutive rose grows to 3 feet tall and offers up bright pink single blooms from June until frost. Mine still looked fantastic at Halloween, planted in a protected spot near the house. Sadly, the rabbits ate it over the winter and now I need a new one that I will definitely fence this fall. Full sun. Zones 4 – 9.
Brunnera ‘Sea Heart’ (Brunnera macrophylla ‘Sea Heart’)
Plants Nouveau is behind this pretty new brunnera, which their website touts as “Like ‘Jack Frost’, but on steroids’, which sounds creepy, honestly. But they go on to explain that in a side-by-side test with ‘Jack Frost’, ‘Sea Hart’ flowered longer and better handled the heat and humidity. Sounds good, and the pink and blue blooms look lovely, too. I’ll always make room for brunneras. Full sun to full shade. Zones 4 to 8.
Heuchera Little Cutie™ Series
Terra Nova Nurseries introduced its mini coral bells series, Little Cutie, exclusively last summer. So I’m calling these plants new in 2013 because they are now much more widely available. The series includes seven petite, new heucheras, all bred for their outstanding colors, including ‘Blondie’, ‘Coco’, ‘Frost’, Ginger Snap’, Peppermint’, ‘Sugar Berry’ and ‘Sweet Tart’. Drought-tolerant and easy going as long as they’re planted in well-drained soil, these Little Cutie coral bells look best when grown in rock gardens or spots where they won’t get lost among larger plants. They also make great container plants, providing you heel them in before winter. Full sun to part shade. Zones 4 to 9 (depending on the variety).
Hibiscus ‘Midnight Marvel’
I added hardy hibiscus to my gardens a few years back and they never fail to stop passersby who want to know, “What are those beautiful, exotic-looking plants?” ‘Midnight Marvel’ from Walters Gardens kicks things up a notch with this hibiscus, which grows to 48 inches tall and offers dark black-burgundy foliage with gorgeous red blooms that last from mid-summer to fall. Full sun. Zones 4 – 9.
Wisteria ‘Betty Matthews’ (Wisteria macrostachya ‘Betty Matthews’ Summer Cascade)
I stupidly bought a Japanese wisteria years ago that never blooms and will likely never, ever bloom in our climate. So I’m going to euthanize the poor thing in a couple of weeks and replace it with this new variety from Bailey Nursery. Touted as being fragrant and more reliably cold hardy than other wisterias, ‘Betty Mathews’ has showy, dark-lavender blooms that are said to appear on new growth in early June. Once the flowers fade, cool-looking seedpods form in late summer and last into winter. Heck, I’ll try it. Full sun. Zones 4 – 8.
Pros weigh in on the best plants and gardening practices for our changing climate.
Extreme Gardening, that’s the name of the reality TV show someone really ought to make about what it’s like to be a northern gardener. We’re already well known for our ability to cope with short growing seasons while making sensible, hardy plant choices and coping with dreadful-sounding issues like frost heave and snow mold. Now, climate trends indicate that we must add excessive heat, humidity, drought and torrential “rain events” to our list of things to think about before putting trowel to dirt. Surely all of that adds up to enough adversity, struggle and tears to make a successful show, right?
As you no doubt have noticed, our climate is changing. In January, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that 2012 was the world’s 10th warmest year since 1880. Closer to home, 2012 was the warmest on record for the United States and the third warmest for Minnesota. But increasing average temperatures are not the only climate trend affecting our region. According to University of Minnesota Climatologist Mark Seeley, the average number of days with a high dew point in also increasing, and we are also experiencing changes in the amount and type of rainfall we get.
Annual precipitation has increased over the last several decades and is expected to continue to do so. Heavy rain that sometimes leads to flooding is becoming more common. Yet between these events, we are experiencing long periods of drought. Complicating matters further is the rate at which changes are happening, Seeley says. Because it is possible temperatures may rise faster than we, or nature, can adapt.Read More»
I admit it. I have Home and Garden Show envy. I read blog posts by gardeners all over the world who talk about the innovative gardening products and to-die-for plants they just saw at their local Home and Garden Show. (Most of them post great photos, too, so I don’t think they’re lying.) Inevitably, their exuberance makes me feel excited about going to Minneapolis’ Home and Garden Show, which is ridiculous because I already know that our local show is totally lame. Lame, lame, lame! Year after year, I go because I get free tickets with a garden magazine I subscribe to. And every year I walk away complaining about how lame it is that people have to pay $11 per ticket, $13 at the door, to walk around a hot, windowless arena packed solid with trade show booths offering the same array of stuff: granite countertops, gutters, expensive kitchen gadgets, hideous bathtub and shower inserts, outdoor gazebos, patio furniture, flooring and hot tubs. So many hot tubs—$16,000 hot tubs.
Seriously, they should pay people to attend this event. Or at least let people in for free: the hope being that once they’re inside folks will buy some mini doughnuts and cheese curds followed by copious amounts of beer. Enough beer to, say, allow them to throw down a credit card for a hot tub as big as a Volkswagen. “Ah, who the hell cares where we’ll put it, honey. Let’s just get it!”
Okay, if you’re not a local, you’re probably thinking: “Hey, it’s not like anyone is holding a gun to people’s heads to make them go to this home show thing.” But you’re wrong. There is a gun, and it’s called winter. In Minnesota, by the time March rolls around, most of us would pay any amount of money to go anywhere to see anything different than what we’ve been looking at for five months indoors. Add the word “garden” to the name of the event, and you’ve got yourself a crowd. Even people that don’t give a hoot about plants will fork over cash just to see something ALIVE, maybe smell some dirt, see some flowers. We are a desperate lot.
But therein lies the problem. There ain’t much Garden in our Home and Garden Show. Yes, there are some interesting gardening talks given by local gardening gurus, as well as some of my fellow master gardeners. But those are usually off in some airless side room far from the arena’s main floor. To see actual plants you have to thread your way through countertops and hot tubs and super-absorbant sponges to get to one small area in the back of the arena where mostly lesser-known landscape design firms have their displays. Some years are better than others. This year, though, was just plain weird. For reasons I am completely unable to fathom, there seemed to be some kind of TV show theme to the booths. This would have been bizarre no matter what, but why Fantasy Island, Miami Vice and Gilligan’s Island? Did the organizers of this event swear off TV in the 1980s? Are the TV shows of my adolescence already so kitschy they’ve actually become cool?
Were people worried that visitors would be bored looking at some dumb, old plants outside the context of a TV theme? I don’t get it. Do you?
So, tell me. Do you have a good garden show in your city? If so, please email me a photo so I can live vicariously through you. Or, hey, maybe I’ll send them to next year’s local planning committee. They could use some ideas.