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.
“I think my garden looks great in winter, especially after a fresh snowfall.” That’s what Cindy, a reader in Wisconsin, said in an email she sent to me last week. As proof, she attached this magical, postcard-worthy photo of her yard.
As you can see, she is absolutely right, and I wrote her back right away to say so, and to ask permission to post the photo on my blog. Cindy wasn’t trying to boast. I think she just wanted to remind me that there’s more to winter than smashed ornamental grasses, buried outdoor furniture and yellow snow. And she did concede that, “It’s a little easier to landscape for winter in the country than in the city,” which it is for a variety of reasons.
Still, while urban dwellers like me aren’t likely to experience the kind of snowy backyard wonderland that our more outlying counterparts do, her kind note did motivate me to try to see more beauty in what has so far been a pretty ass-kickingly tough winter. So, let’s not focus on the loveliness of my own backyard, which includes this focal point by the driveway.
Instead, behold this amazingly cool Christmas tree made of sphagnum moss and potted orchids and bromeliads that I saw at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum last week.
Outside at the arboretum and down by the lake near my house, there are these sights to behold.
Back inside where it’s warm, there’s fern frost on the bathroom window.
And a kitty sleeping on the dining room table in the sun.
I know it’s just January and there is much, much more winter to go. But I’m feeling unusually gloomy about all the cold and gray/white everywhere. So rather than stew, I spent some time looking at photos of gardens I’ve visited over the last couple of years. Seeing all those plants and blue sky cheered me right up. And I hope it helps you, too, if you’ve got a bit of the winter blues.
So, come on, then. Let’s go on a garden tour!
Ah, spring is coming. Whew!
Many, many thanks to everyone who took the time to send kind notes and words of wisdom after reading my last blog post about my broken teeth. I’ve already put some of your suggestions into practice and, I have to say, I’m feeling a little bit more relaxed already. In fact, I got the idea for this post the other day while sipping tea and looking out the window at the heaps of snow and ice in our backyard rather than running all around doing whatever it is I do all the time.
Yes, fellow gardeners, as the magazines tell us, tis the season for enjoying all that “winter interest” we’ve created by following advice to plant things like colorful red-twigged dogwoods and unusual evergreens in a landscape bedazzled with sturdy structures and planters overflowing with cute pinecones and twigs and whatnot. Everything looks so lovely in those glossy photo spreads. But we who garden in parts of the country where actual snow falls, not just a fairy dusting but, say, 10 inches or so, fairly often, followed by icy rain and slush, know the truth about winter interest. In the absence of photo stylists, props and camera crews, it simply doesn’t exist.
Don’t get me wrong; snowy gardens are beautiful, just not in the way magazines portray them. But let’s pretend for a minute that there is a magazine willing to run a winter story that tells it like it is. Articles could offer tips on things like how to spread fresh snow around the yard to obscure all those frozen yellow dog pee circles. A short sidebar might be: “3 Strategies For Chipping Frozen Poo From Snowbanks.” I’m sure a lot of us could submit photos that readers could relate to. Here are some of mine, and I’ve even written captions.
Have you got some “winter interest” photos to share? If so, please email them to me and I’ll post them!
We have two big, old oak trees in our yard and every fall, up until a few years ago, we would spend our October and early November weekends raking and bagging and raking and bagging until our hands blistered. Then, we would drag all those bags, bursting with leaves, to the curb to be hauled away. Every now and then, I noticed that someone would pull over, load our bags of leaves into their car and drive off. Why in the world would they want our leaves? I wondered. I soon found out.
For gardeners, or anyone with a lawn, really, fallen leaves are nutrient-rich, soil-building treasure—and they’re free! According to Mark Keaton, staff chair for the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, fallen leaves contain 50 to 80 percent of the nutrients trees extract from the soil during a growing season. They’re a particularly good source of nitrogen, offering anywhere from 1 to about 2 ½ percent nitrogen as they decompose.
What in the heck does that mean? Okay, figure that if a tree’s leaves offered 2 percent nitrogen it would take 100 pounds of dried leaves per 1,000 square feet to provide 2 pounds of nitrogen.That’s all the nitrogen 1,000 square feet of turf grass should need for a year, and it’s also about the right amount for a garden bed of that size, too.
But that’s not all. Research conducted by Alexander Kowalewski at Michigan State University has shown that using maple and oak leaves as mulch can help control dandelions in Kentucky bluegrass. Seriously! Go here to read that study. Unlike past studies in which leaves may have contained some pesticide residues, researchers at Michigan State used only pesticide-free leaves in their tests. And that reminds me to point out that it’s a good idea to avoid using anything but pesticide-free leaf mulch on gardens where edibles are grown.
The only hitch in this free fertilizer, and possibly weed killer, bonanza is that you need to mulch (which pretty much means shred) the leaves before you spread them on your lawn or garden. Whole leaves tend to mat down and hold moisture, causing mold and rot issues. Maple leaves are among the worst offenders because they’re so flat. Oak leaves are wavier, so they don’t mat down as thickly, which is good. But it’s still better to mulch all of the leaves you want to spread on your lawn or garden. Leaves break down faster when they’re mulched into small pieces, and they need to break down in order to make the nitrogen they offer available in the soil.
You don’t need any sort of fancy machine to mulch leaves. A regular old, cheap lawnmower will do just fine. You can watch this video we made at our house to demonstrate how to mulch leaves with a mower. Or you can just read the instructions I’ve written in the post below.Read More»
Show me your garden and I shall tell you what you are.
— Alfred Austin
I don’t know enough about the English poet Alfred Austin to understand why he thought he could divine who, or more precisely, “what”, someone was simply by looking at their garden. But he makes an interesting point. Having toured many more gardens than I usually do this summer, I’ve really been struck by the vast differences in the look and feel of people’s yards.
Modern straight lines vs. curving cottage beds, shady oases vs. sun-drenched plots for edibles and brightly colored perennials, cherubs and ornate statuary vs. gnomes and silly flamingos. And probably not surprisingly, a near tie between the number of gardeners who like plant tags and the ability to see the soil between each plant and those who would never consider plant tags and prefer a more wild, overlapping look.
What would Austin make of this? “What” are these people? Does orderly equal neatnik, control freak or professional organizer while wild signifies some kind of messy, disheveled, devil-may-care personality? Maybe. But that seems too simple since, once you get to know most people, they often turn out to be much more complicated than they first appeared. He must have meant something more. Might we consider how each gardener’s parents and grandparents gardened? Where they grew up? Whether they need to grow food to put food on the table?Read More»
It’s a good thing shrubs can’t talk because, boy, if they could, some of them would have some mighty hateful words for their tenders.
I go on walks a lot, so I see shrubs all the time that have been scalped, sheared and otherwise dismembered in all manner of ways. But this sad lineup really took my breath away. I’m sure this gardener means well and has trimmed and denuded these shrubs for years in an attempt to keep them in a neat, hedge-like formation.
As you can see, though, things aren’t working out as planned and he’s (I’ve seen him at work) ended up with bare sticks topped with foliage that looks like unruly hair pieces rather than lush shrubs. What did he do wrong? Well, too much to explain well here without making your eyes glaze over. So, instead, let me give you some links to a few good resources that explain pruning in understandable, easy-to-follow terms.
Too often I hear garden gurus say pruning is easy, blah, blah, blah. What? I’m here to tell you that that’s just not true. Sure, once you get the hang of pruning things get easier and easier. But understanding the best ways to prune different types of shrubs and trees takes time to learn, and you learn even more by experience. The most important thing to remember is that you want to maintain a shrub’s natural shape as best you can. So comparisons to “haircuts” are off the mark.
I hope these links are helpful.
Virginia Cooperative Extension: This publication offers good descriptions and illustrations.
University of Missouri Extension: Check out the explanation of different tools.
University of Minnesota Extension: Good info. on pruning trees and shrubs.
Utah State University Extension: Very helpful 5-minute video.
Both posts are on “twisted logic,” the weird reality that a lot of gardening advice that’s so wrong actually sounds so right.
Go here to read both posts. If you’re short on time, just read to the second post, which talks about how much landscape fabric sucks and the folly of wrapping evergreens for winter. Honestly, if you’re going to mummify evergreens every winter, wouldn’t it be wiser to just go with some nice shrubs?
And while we’re on the topic of evergreens, what could possibly be the point of the burlap-wrapping strategy in the picture above? I’m so mystified, I just started a new blog category called “What In Tarnation?” My much-missed grandma Daisy used to say that when she thought something was “pert near crazy” and I figure I’ll carry on her tradition.
Everyone talks about spring being the best time to plant trees and that is true, usually. But fall is also a great time for tree planting as long as you don’t choose birch, firs, oaks and most fruit trees. Those do best when they get a spring start for reasons that are not really understood, though some think it has something to do with tree’s root systems. Trees with a large taproot that grows deep into the soil — rather than a network of finer roots closer to the surface — should not be planted in the fall, they say.
I’ll just add that my own completely unscientific research confirms that birch do better when planted in the spring. I have three birch trees, well, two now. The survivors were planted in the spring and the dead one was planted in the fall. It kicked the bucket in less than two years, which is when I Googled to find out what was up and discovered that I probably sentenced the poor thing to an early death by snapping it up at a fall plant sale and putting it in the ground.Read More»
This time of year, many homeowners and county forestry departments move quickly to remove dead, dying, and diseased trees. Years ago it was common practice to pull stumps, but now grinding is a more popular strategy.
Grinding is nice because the stump is gone and the surrounding area goes unscathed for the most part. The only problem is that if the stump is not fully removed, there can be a lot of dead wood left in the ground. As it decays, microbes in the soil will multiply rapidly to feed on the decaying matter. This increase in microbes causes more and more nitrogen to be used up, temporarily depriving grass and other plants of the nutrients they need. Keep an eye on this and fertilize if need be.
If a stump is not ground out deeply enough, you can hasten the decomposition process by removing as much of the bark, grindings, and sawdust as possible. You can also try adding additional nitrogen to the area, which will help speed up decomposition and reduce the amount of yellowing and stunted growth on surrounding plants. Even with added nitrogen, though, it is unlikely that grass will grow well in that spot for several years.