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April 30, 2005

The Perfect Garden

I have spent a lot of time lately just walking through the gardens, taking stock of what is coming up, what should be coming up and isn’t, and also asking, “What the heck is that?”

The long spring has allowed me to get a good start with early weeding, routine maintenance and even a major project of moving five Graham Thomas shrub roses.

I can see how the gardens are maturing and I’m really pleased at how things are pulling together. Each year at this time, I wonder, “Will this be the year when I finally get it right? Will the weather cooperate, offering just enough sun, rain and constant temperatures to provide ideal bloom conditions? Will I be able to keep up with the daily chores so the garden remains neat and tidy? Will the plant and flower combinations that I set in motion three years ago actually work?”

It’s kind of like the movie “The Perfect Storm,” a once-in-lifetime catastrophe of monstrous proportions. Except I want an ongoing occurrence of beautiful displays.

Gardening is like a three-legged stool: if one leg goes bum, the whole thing collapses. For all the planning and weeding and maintaining that I do, a really severe thunderstorm could come through and wash out an entire season of blooms or tear out new trees or wreak any manner of havoc in the gardens.

At that time, all a gardener can do is say, “Well, there’s always next year.”

But for now, I’m still rooting for my own perfect garden.

What’s happening in the garden now:

I started writing this more than a week ago but never quite got around to finishing it. When I had an hour of free time, I had the choice of either working in the garden or writing about working in the garden. You can guess what I chose.

The first daffodils have opened in the bed next to the driveway! More daffodils are on their way in that bed and several crocus set blooms and gone there as well.

The bergenia have begun to bloom along the window wells. I think they are the coolest plants with huge luscious leaves that remain green through the winter and stunning hot pink flowers to boot.

The magnolia trees are finished blooming. The rains that happened when they first began to open plus the downpour that dropped almost an inch last weekend really did the blossoms in.

The petasites or elephant ears have sent up their flowering stalks. They are crazy plants that first produce flowers that are pollinated by flies. When the flowers die back, the enormous leaves emerge.

Two of the three corydalis I planted last year have returned along the dry stream bed. I had been aching for them for two seasons before I finally broke down and purchased them. Every year one or two plants get under my skin until I just lose control and have to purchase them. Last year it was the corydalis and pulmonaria “Mrs. Moon.” I don’t know what they will be this year. Nothing has blipped on my radar screen yet.

The ferns have begun unfurling their tightly wound fronds in the woodland beds. I want to establish a great mixture of ferns in this area so in the hottest days of summer, I can sit along the rocks of the dry streambed and feel cool, breathing in the musky scent of fern.

I’ve noticed that several of the native plants, both woodland and prairie, that I purchased last year through a grant from the City of Plymouth made it through the winter. In the prairie so far I’ve seen tradescantia and prairie strawberries. The bird’s foot violets have begun blooming. In the woodland area along the dry streambed and down, I’ve seen ladyhair ferns, wild geranium, zigzag goldenrod and aromatic aster.

Three rhubarb shoots have emerged next to the compost bins. The original plants came from my mom’s garden in North Dakota 14 years ago. They were moved and ditched into the perennial beds when we did the garden remodel and spent a year there before I could move them to a sunny, permanent spot. Last year I had to beg enough rhubarb from a friend so I could make some crisps and other desserts – a sad state of things. Thing year I hope to put up some rhubarb chutney. I may even enter it into the State Fair.

Here’s what’s blooming now:
Turkish tulips
Violets
Daffodils
Crocus
Forsythia
Serviceberry
Wild prairie crocus
Squill
Hellebores
Bergenia
Flowering crabapple trees
Petasites
Creeping phlox
Strawberries

Garden chores for the week:
Continue to weed all the beds. Any weeds taken now are one less thing to worry about later in the season. Plus with the rain we’ve had, they pull out very easily.

Dig up the yarrow clump under the magnolia tree. I’ve had it with this plant. It does nothing for me or the garden and just keeps encroaching on everything else. I’ll pot it up and donate it to a plant sale at work.

Move the five Graham Thomas roses from along the fence to the fountain bed. They need more sunlight to truly thrive and I want to place them in a more prominent position in the garden. They are lovely David Austin roses from England and their yellow blooms have a sweet scent. You can guess why we purchased them.

Plant some sunflower seeds and tithonia in peat pots. Maybe these can fill in the gap left by the Graham Thomas roses.

Vegetable garden: Last weekend I quickly turned over the two raised beds next to the house and planted
• Mesclun
• Cherry Belle radish
• Prizehead lettuce
• Sugar Snap peas
• Burpeeana peas
• Wando peas
• Gourmet Blend lettuce in a bowl

The lettuces and radishes are in rows; the Burpeeana peas will grow up a willow teepee. I also planted sweet peas and an Indian pea to grow up another willow teepee in the center perennial bed

It felt great to get them in the ground. And it felt terrible when Pont trampled through both vegetable beds just 10 minutes later. Ahhh, well.

The radishes and lettuce in a bowl germinated within a week, thanks to some good rains.

Seed Starting Update

Verbena Bonariensis
• 4/16 - Two have finally germinated

Celosia “Forest Fire” – Lake Valley Seed for 1996
• 4/11 – Had to knock off the seed coating of one of the seedlings so the leaves could open.
• 4/13 – 8 more seeds
• 4/15 – 3 more seeds
• 4/16 - potted up four seedlings that had their second set of leaves.

Penstemon “Sensation Mix” – Unwins for 2004?
• 4/11 – One seed germinated. It looks a lot like the celosia seedlings.

Scabiosa atropurpurea “Cutflower Mix” – Unwins for 2004?
• 4/11 – Potted 7 plants into peat pots in their own tray. I should have done this a week ago. A few have gotten very leggy. The smallest ones transplanted the best. One that had its stem roughed up a bit has died.

Woodland wildflower alert
Last weekend when the Boy, the two dogs and I walked down to the park along Medicine Lake, I saw bloodroot and rue anemone in bloom in the woods along our walking path. I added both plants to my own woodland garden last season but have not seen either yet.

Family Plug

Brian attended Vikings mini-camp this past Friday and has been posting reports by position all weekend. And the photos are great. Check it out!

Posted by maasx003 at 5:59 PM

April 10, 2005

Hatching Day

Five years ago today, Master Graham Kiloran Maas was hatched. That’s right, hatched. In our family, all baby creatures are hatched, whether they be mammal, amphibian or dinosaur.

This preferred method of being born came about a few years ago when Graham got it in his head that he needed to be hatched each morning. A very elaborate process was developed which began with placing his four blankets, named Red, Blue, Green and White, in a different order over his tiny, tucked up body each day.

Then I had to drape myself over him and squeeze tightly while the “egg” began to shake and flex until it popped open. “Who are you today, Baby Egg?” I would ask.

“A baby kitten,” Graham would answer.

“Oh, a baby kitten,” I would reply, “just what I always wanted.” Then we would snuggle a bit and call each other Baby Kitten and Mama Kitten, and I would hope that this sweet, cuddly boy would never grow up.

Some days Graham was a baby kitten, others a baby duck or a baby puppy, but the routine was always the same: layering blankets followed by hatching and then snuggling.

His animal repertoire expanded as he grew older and learned new creatures, and recently, he’s been accessing other resources, such as “My Giant Book of The Animal Kingdom.” He has already mined the two pages of ocean animals, which included a squid, a dolphin and a humpback whale. Humpbacked whales are hatched. Who knew?

Lately, he’s been in the bird section of the book and I’m pleased to announce that I have already hatched a toucan, a hornbill and a crane this week. On Friday, Graham was a baby pheasant and I was able to find an old pheasant feather given to me in high school. He immediately stuck it into his shirt and told me his feathers were coming in.

When my folks arrived that afternoon, we all went out for dinner. Driving along in the minivan, we discussed his pheasant-hood. If he was Baby Pheasant, and I was Mama Pheasant and Daddy was Daddy Pheasant, did that mean my parents were Grandpa and Grandma Pheasant? That set him off into gales of laughter and me into the odd thought that we were a modern-day version of the Partridge Family and I began looking around for Shirley Jones, David Cassidy and Susan Dey to break into the chorus of “Come On, Get Happy.”

Today, on his fifth birthday, Graham woke up, marched into our bedroom and demanded that I come to his room to snuggle with him. As we curled up together, he asked, “Am I five today?”

Yes, you are,” I said.

“Am I taller already?” he demanded.

“Why, yes, you are,” I assured him.

He continued, “And what about my shadow? Is it taller, too?”

“Yes, even your shadow is bigger,” I told him. “Today, you are a big five-year-old boy, just what I always wanted.”

What’s happening in the garden now

mag_closeup.jpg

The two Magnolia “Merrill” trees have begun to bloom, with huge, fragrant, shell pinky blossoms adorning a completely bare tree. Both trees have more blossoms than last year. With rain projected for the evening and tomorrow, their show could be very short-lived. There are bees already buzzing around the blooms!

purple_crocus.jpg

Both the yellow spring crocus and purple wild prairie crocus are in bloom. I have very fond memories of picking ice cream buckets full of wild prairie crocus as a small girl in North Dakota. My mother and I would comb the hills surrounding St. Ansgar’s Lutheran church on a Saturday morning, sidestepping the cow pies while we picked.

Graham spotted the first yellow goldfinch of the season this afternoon. I placed a small bag of yarn clippings in the flowering crab tree outside his window for the neighborhood birds to use for their nests. It would be fun to see a nest with stripes of blue, green and white in it.

With temperatures in the low 70s this week, the perennials are popping up everywhere. The “Walker’s Low” nepeta around the fountain bed has come back very nicely, and the snake’s head fritallaria have appeared underneath the flowering crabs. Lots of daffodils are appearing, so we should have quite a display in about a month.

The emerging Turkish tulips are blanketing the dry stream bed area. Each year they multiply to form ever-larger clumps. Soon we should see their cheerful yellow, red and orange faces.

Garden Chores for the Week

• Still haven’t cut back the Jackmanii or Sweet Autumn clematis
• Plant peas around the teepee and lettuce in a bowl and in the ground
• Start fertilizing the azaleas and yews with MirAcid
• Start fertilizing the emerging bulbs
• Weed the prairie bed. Any grasses appearing now are turf plants trying to reestablish themselves, not prairie grasses which emerge later in the season.
• Identify which perennials to move or dig up
• Begin planning which annuals to put in containers. We purchased a gorgeous pair of copper pots at Smith & Hawken last weekend for the entrance to the pergola. For those pots, I’m thinking of using variegated cannas or purple miscanthus for the tall bits, and either an orangey begonia or coleus and some purply foliage plants. I’ve been combing the latest White Flower Farm catalog for ideas.
• Begin digging dandelions

Seed Starting Update

April 5 – Two more celosia have germinated. I thought one of the “Freckles” violas had germinated but it was just a piece of perlite that had gone green with algae or something. I think it was a way for the seed tray to say, “Psych!” to me.

April 10 – The scabiosa seedlings have developed their second set of leaves and need to be potted up. One plant is pushing up against the plastic cover over its head. It definitely needs to get moved.

The other seedlings? Zip. Zilch. Nada.

Big sigh….

Posted by maasx003 at 4:35 PM

April 3, 2005

Starting Seeds

Before Graham was born, Brian gave me a four-level grow light tower. I was thrilled because this would give me the opportunity to start lots of strange and exotic plants from seed. Just think of how magnificent our gardens would be with the influx of these wonderful plants! I couldn’t wait to get started. Everything I read said that starting seeds was so easy, anyone could do it

So I started such strange and exotic things as my own horticultural Holy Grail – the Meconopsis betonicifolia or blue Himalyan poppy. I saw them growing in Bodnant gardens in northern Wales in May 1995 and was transfixed. It had a flower so true blue, it almost vibrated. We purchased one at the onsite garden center to give to our bed and breakfast hostess but I knew I couldn’t carry one home to Minnesota.

We located some seeds online and early the next spring, wham-bam, I had germinated two entire trays of the seeds. Tiny shoots were popping up everywhere and I was so proud. Then I was so disappointed. Both trays suddenly succumbed to damping off or some other problem. Maybe I over watered, maybe I under watered, but whatever ever the cause, both trays were gone.

Then Graham came along and the grow light tower went dormant until last year. Every week or so from early March until early May, I started seeds in successive waves: dark purple Sweet William, cherry pink and orange Profusion zinnias, fluorescent green nicotiana, aromatic basil, and at least five different kinds of morning glory, including Heavenly Blue, my favorite.

The thing I forgot to consider is that with every tray of seeds, you have to prick out each seedling and pot it up into a larger pot. Soon I had more trays of seedlings than my four grow lights could handle, and I had to move some to a card table in the sun room. Then I needed more card tables and the sun room began to look like a Bachman’s annex.

Some of the seedlings did just fine in the sunlight coming through the south-facing windows, but others just plateaued or stalled out. When it came time to plant all these teeny-tiny plants, it took so long I had to take a vacation day to finish it. Some plants moped along all summer before finally achieving any sort of bloom; it seemed hardly worth my time in the beginning to get them started.

So I had a new strategy for this spring: only grow a few plant varieties so they would get equal and adequate time under the grow lights to produce a plant worth putting into the garden. I can purchase the annuals, vegetables and herbs I really want at any number of garden centers for a reasonable price. And the plants are truly ready to go.

Great idea. And I pretty much forgot all about actually implementing it until my friend Shana threw down the gauntlet in mid-March when she announced that she had already started her seeds. The race was on.

So on March 14, I started six varieties:

1. Verbena bonariensis
2. Celosia “Forest Fire”
3. Nicotiana “Lime Green”
4. Viola “Freckles”
5. Penstemon “Sensation Mix”
6. Scabiosa atropurpurea “Cutflower Mix”

By March 20, three of the Scabiosa had germinated and six more had sprouted by March 26. Today most are at least an inch tall.

I checked and misted the tray every day but it took until April 1 for another variety to germinate: three Celosia have sprouted.

I’ll keep track of the seeds’ progress and will let you know if my new strategy has worked. Remember, anyone can start seeds but only a gardener can produce a useful plant. Let’s see how I do.

What’s happening in the garden now:
Mama and Daddy Mallard have returned to the yard. Two years ago they had a nest in the front bed among the emerging crocus and hatched out seven ducklings. The day after the babies hatched, the entire family was gone, off to find a more watery home. Last year they made a nest in the backyard underneath an arborvitae but none of the eggs hatched. This weekend they made a reconnaissance around the back yard searching for the best spot, but hopefully they got a beakful of doggy smell and decided to move back to the front yard.

We have blooms again! Today two snowdrops suddenly appeared in the front bed under the silver maple. Graham helped to spot three other shoots coming up through the leaves. They seem late this year. I know we’ve had blooms in mid-March before, but the snow cover must have kept them down.

The chives have taken off and we should be able to have the first fresh herb and cheese omelet of the season this week. Yum!

The hellebores that had sheltered under a bag of leaves have lifted their branches several inches above the ground. I think I can the flower buds emerging close to the ground.

The bergenia leaves that looked completely dead this winter have miraculously turned green and healthy again.

Garden chores for the week:
• Take the burlap off the dwarf Alberta spruce and wisteria trees
• Cut back the Jackmanii and Sweet Autumn clematis
• Lift bags of leaves from some of the less-tender perennials
• Remove matted leaves from the corners of the lawn, perennial beds and other areas where they were trapped
• Whack back the rudbeckia from under the maple so the snowdrops can be seen better
• Plant lettuce?

Links of the Week

Get over and check out our Dog Blog. We did some fun Frisbee activities this past weekend and Brian has posted some photos there. Enjoy!

And if you didn't hear about Brian's April Fools Joke that he pulled on Vikings fan you best read about it. He duped hundreds and hundreds of Vikings fans this past Thursday.

Posted by maasx003 at 7:27 PM