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June 30, 2005

My Summer Reading List

I have been trying to read Simon Schama’s book “Landscape and Memory” since the beginning of the year. I have checked out the book and renewed it so many times that it could practically drive home by itself.

A few weeks ago I finally gave up. I really do want to read it and I have every intention of doing so – just after summer.

I have officially switched over to summer fun reading. My shelf of books from the library are filled with goofy titles such as “Funny in Farsi”, “Confessions of a Shopaholic”, “True Brits”, “Cooking for Mr. Latte”, “Wacky Chicks”, and “Confessions of a Window Dresser.”

In other words, light, silly and just what I need to veg out. There are other books on the shelf including travel lit (always good for a summer with no major travel plans), books on writing and the requisite gardening tomes, even a biography or two.

But the books I’m really excited about are all the “next installments” in the mystery series I read. I’m on the waiting list for all of the below. In italics is the main character.

Elizabeth Peters – The Serpent in the Crow (Amelia Peabody) [have it in hand]
Nevada Barr – Hard Truth (Anna Pigeon) [ditto]
Jasper Fforde – The Big Over Easy (Thursday Next) [62 of 69]
Laurie R. King – The Locked Room (Mary Russell) [129 of 137]
Lee Child – One Shot (Jack Reacher) [193 of 230]
P.J. Tracey – Monkeywrench Gang [177 of 563]

I’ve been hooked on serial mystery novels since second grade when I cracked open my first Nancy Drew, “The Clue of the Black Keys.” From there I moved on to the Bobbsey Twins, the Happy Hollisters (I am still kicking myself for not grabbing a free complete set at a thrift store in Butte, Montana, in the late 1980s), the Secret Seven and Trixie Belden - and like Trixie, I was also secretly in love with Jim Frayne.

Later favorites have included Tony Hillerman’s Joe Leaphorn/Jim Chee series and Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael set. I also enjoyed Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone and Patricia Cornwall’s Kay Scarpetta, but they got to be too cloying or annoying, and I dropped them.

I think it’s important to support local authors as well. I used to read John Sandford but since I’ve had a child, his books are too gruesome for me. I love P.J. Tracy’s “Monkeewrench,” etc., and Erin Hart’s “Haunted Ground” and “Lake of Sorrows.”

So for now “The Lexus and the Olive Tree” and other more serious fare are just going to have to be returned to the library until the snow flies again. It’s summer, and I need chocolates for the brain!

Sweetness and Light or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bees

The only nonfiction book I’ve stuck with lately is “Sweetness and Light” by Hattie Ellis. This book is all about bees - their history, culture, cultivation, etc.

I wanted to read this book in order to learn how to attract more bees to my gardens. I’m concerned about the decrease in pollinators that has been occurring due to overuse of chemicals. While I know it wouldn’t be realistic to have a bee hive in the backyard, I’d like at least to have an ornamental skep, if only for show.

With all the flowers and plants in our backyard, you can imagine that it’s a magnet for all critters winged or crawly. And our son Graham is afraid of them all. He will screech if he sees a bee, ant or any other sort of flying thing. Box elder bugs, in particular, put him over the edge.

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The other night he wanted me to carry him the 20 feet from the sliding glass door to the willow furniture under the pergola, so he wouldn’t have to step over any ants. He doesn’t like to be out in the yard or garden much because of his fears, which can really limit our outside family time.

For all that we’ve tried reasoning with him (They’re more afraid of you than you are of them), flattery (But you’re so big and they’re so small!) and bribery (Just stay out by the fire a little longer and you can have another marshmallow), nothing seems to change his mind.

Then last night, in one of his Power Rangers/Transformer moments, he decided that he could transform into both a spider and a scorpion at the same time (See? This half of my body is a spider and this other half is a scorpion.) and that I could transform into both a bee and a butterfly. (I got to choose my animals.) We talked about the powers and abilities that each of these animals has and how they weren’t scary at all, but really cool.

So maybe, just maybe, through the amazing healing powers of the Power Rangers, we can bring Graham around to the joys and wonders of bugs. And he can spend more time outside chasing his best friend, Pont.

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Posted by maasx003 at 9:50 PM

June 27, 2005

Going Walkabout

In a perfect world, I would work in the garden every day for an hour or two. There certainly is enough work to do and I would enjoy it.

But with our busy schedules, that just isn’t possible. I’ve lowered my sights a bit (okay, a lot) and am aiming to just do a quick walkabout instead. That way at least I can try to keep tabs on what’s going on in the garden.

A perfect example of this happened last week. I walked past the stand of hollyhocks and lavender and thought, “Oh, aren’t these girls looking nice.” Then I walked past them again later and really took a look at the hollyhock leaves. What the heck!

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Upon closer inspection, I discovered scads of tiny green caterpillars skeltonizing the leaves. They were everywhere – on top of the leaves and underneath. Most were less than a half-inch long but others had grown to over an inch. My method of pest control? A satisfying squish. And I’m sure I’ll rot in caterpillar hell for it.

I did daily checks over the week to catch any of the critters that had escaped my first barrage. I’m pleased to say I think I’ve gotten them all. For now.

Weeding is another time to really pay attention to what’s going on with your plants. While you are in amongst the thick of things, keep your eyes open for infestations, missing leaf parts, wilted stems, etc. These will all provide clues as to the health of your plants.

I’m Hunting Wabbits. Be vewwy, vewwy quiet.

Going walkabout also tunes you into the “Wait, a minute!” moments. A few days ago, I looked out the window and noticed that the lone delphinium that made it through the winter was about ready to bloom. It carried two three-foot stalks, and I think it was the kind with a dark indigo exterior and a white “bee”. Gorgeous. I couldn’t wait.

So yesterday, as I was weeding, I realized, “Wait a minute. The delphinium is gone.” Kaput. Nada. Tot. Just a pile of chewed up stems were left.

Now, I can blame our puppy for a lot of things, but I do know that he is not a plant eater.

I looked around again and noticed that the stems of a clematis I had transferred to a nearby trellis were also snapped off, and all of the violet clumps in the vicinity were suspiciously lacking any leaves.

I had seen a little rabbit in that particular bed earlier this week and had even helped it get out of our fenced yard before the dogs found it. But it seems to be stupid enough to risk the fury of two dogs for the taste of my delicious plants.

Now what? A rabbit in our backyard is a fatality waiting to happen. Our whippets are genetically programmed to chase – and we have bagged up enough cold bunny bodies for the garbage to know how this will end.

Stay tuned.

What’s Happening in the Garden Now

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The roses are in full bloom. Take a look at these two lovelies: Cary Grant (I think) and a Mr. Lincoln bud. The Cary Grants practically glow at sunset. I was able to get out early this morning and give all the roses a second spraying.

If you need an attractive groundcover, consider using alpine strawberries. They have a gently rounding habit and produce tiny, tasty fruit.

The Mystery Plant

Okay, the “Nigra” hollyhock was pretty easy last week. This one should be a little more difficult.

Can you guess what this week’s mystery plant is?

Here’s What’s Blooming Now

Campanula glomerata
Lily
Veronica
Thyme
Alpine strawberry – and fruiting, too
Astilbe
Missouri primrose
Sedum
Hollyhock “Nigra”
Wisteria “Blue Moon”
Lavender “Hidcote”
Sweet William
Oxeye daisy
Penstemon “Husker Red”
Daylily
Salvia “May Night”
Indian blanket
Hosta
Nepeta “Walker’s Low”
Rose – “Carefree Wonder,” “William Baffin,” “Graham Thomas” and more
Geranium
Clematis

Garden Chores for the Week

Weed in the prairie garden. The clovers are taking over.

I started my slug traps with the cheapest beer Brian could buy. They have been after his new hosta. I’ll have to keep checking the traps and keep them topped off. Graham has already counted seven dead slugs in the traps.

Vegetable Garden

Some of the bush beans are doing very well, but I think Peter Rabbit may have found these as well. The climbing peas with edible pods should be in full production this week. They are a great snack when working in the garden. Just walk over, grab one off and chomp!

Posted by maasx003 at 8:46 PM

June 20, 2005

The Other “P” Envy

Graham - June 2005 008.jpg (One of my prized Graham Thomas Roses)

Graham and I took the puppers for a walk earlier this week, and we decided to stop by the house of our friend Becky. She is a current Master Gardener and an avid native plant grower. And a big thinker.

Becky eliminated all the turf on her large suburban lot by laying down newspapers and scads of wood chips. She started this process before I got to know her, and I remember thinking, “What is going on at THAT house?” as I would drive by.

Becky wasn’t home that evening, but Graham and I invited ourselves into her garden for a look-see anyway. (Sorry, Becky, if you are reading this. I promise we didn’t harm anything!)

Her front yard is a mass of native plants in full bloom. It was designed by a landscape architecture student who grouped large clusters of native plants together, rather than mix them all up as in a prairie.

Becky had received a grant from the City of Plymouth to purchase native plants as part of a watershed education program. The plants used were hundreds of teeny, tiny seedlings, most acquired from Landscape Alternatives or through the City. I know because I helped plant some of them one Sunday afternoon.

Her front yard overlooks French Park and receives full sun. Her plants love that. They have grown tremendously and are very healthy. The thing that amazed me most about her yard was the vast scale of her plantings. She had ajuga growing in a patch that seemed to be 10 by 10 feet, and it was gorgeous!

Her gardens are huge – massive plantings of variegated lysimachia, expansive areas of prairie smoke, and enormous sections of such wonderful stuff that I can’t remember it all. I have seen less plant stock in certain garden centers than what she has in a single patch.

While Graham ran ahead to count the number of ornamented bowling balls Becky has placed strategically for garden art, I walked with the dogs along the paths and started my mental “ooh, I want some of that list.” I couldn’t wait to come on by with a shovel! I had a serious case of plant envy.

But this weekend while I was working in my own garden, it struck me that the plants are always greener, more exciting and healthier in someone else’s yard than my own. True, Becky does have some plants that I have always hoped to add to my gardens, but the only way that will happen is if I get rid of some of my own.

My garden spaces are brimming with lovely stuff now, thank you very much, and unless I make room for new things, I can hardly add anything else.

So maybe my “p” envy will have to remain subliminal – just like the other kind!

Note: If you are planning to attend the Bright Beginnings Garden Tour (see the side bar) on Saturday, July 30, you will be able to my garden and Becky’s. And four more gardens to boot!

What’s Happening in the Garden Now

Let us rejoice and be exceedingly glad - I have finally planted those bloody cannas and all the other plants that have been awaiting my attentions. The little seedlings I started in April had grown to a respectable size, or at least big enough for them to thrive and for me not to be embarrassed to say I had started them.

I even added a flat of Profusion zinnias in “Orange” and “Fire” along the front of the beds for some summer-long color.

I like orange in the garden. I think it looks great against all the purple blooms of salvia, campanula glomerata and geraniums; the purple foliage of “Vera Jameson” sedum and “Husker Red” penstemon; and the silvery blues of “Elijah Blue” fescue and blue oat grass.

These zinnias are garden workhorses because they keep their blooms forever. I even use them in pots with coleus and lime green sweet potato vines. Now that’s a vivid combination!

This Thing Called Summer

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We finally had a wonderful summer weekend with temps in the mid 80s, lots of sun and relatively pleasant humidity. On Saturday afternoon, Brian took Graham to the Maple Grove pool so I could garden. (Thanks, dear).

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Graham loves this pool. It is completely family-oriented with the water never getting more than 3’6” deep. It has a gentle slide and a lazy river. It’s perfect for families with lots of little ones – or even just one little one.

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That evening we had our first bonfire in more than a month. While Brian took a well-deserved snooze by the fire, Graham and I buried our feet in the sandbox, delighting in the weight and warmth of the sand. He had never gone barefoot before and was a bit hesitant about it. I told him that as a little girl, I never wore shoes in the summer. He couldn’t quite figure that one out.

On Sunday we all slept in. Since it was Father’s Day, Brian chose the day’s activities: a return to the pool as a family later that morning with lunch at The Claddagh pub afterward.

It was a wonderful weekend with a nice mixture of summertime fun. At last!

The Mystery Plant

Congrats to Mia the Nature Nut who correctly answered Cimicifuga. She guessed “Brunette” for the variety since that is what she has, but mine is “Black Beauty.” Way to go!

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This is the plant I spent a small fortune for, only to have Olivia, our Dalmatian, run it into the ground an hour after I had planted it. Now that Olivia is gone, it’s Pont’s turn to run it into the ground. Some things never change, I guess.

Can you guess what this week’s mystery plant is?

Here’s What’s Blooming Now

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Alpine strawberry – and fruiting, too
Astilbe
Missouri primrose
Sedum
Hollyhock “Nigra”
Wisteria “Blue Moon”
Lavender “Hidcote”
Sweet William
Oxeye daisy
Penstemon “Husker Red”
Daylily
Salvia “May Night”
Indian blanket
Lupine
Hosta
Nepeta “Walker’s Low”
Honeysuckle
Rose – “Carefree Wonder,” “William Baffin,” “Graham Thomas” and more
Geranium
Columbine
Clematis

Garden Chores for the Week

Work on the vines – peas, clematis, wisteria and Concord grape. All have gotten out of hand with lack of attention and need some tying in.

Vegetable Garden

The climbing peas are almost four feet high and pods have started to set on the bush-type peas. The beans are up to about six inches now. The radishes have started to flower. It’s time to pull them out and do another sowing.

Posted by maasx003 at 7:03 PM

June 14, 2005

What’s in a Name?

A rose by any name still would smell as sweet and all that other stuff by that Shakespeare guy.

Gardeners buy plants for lots of different reasons. Sometimes we’ve seen a magazine photo of something so absolutely gorgeous that we just have to have it or we’re following a recommendation from a trusted friend.

For me, sometimes it’s the name alone that will get me hooked.

You’ve probably figured out that I’m a sucker for all things British, and if it’s Welsh in particular, all the better.

So you can imagine my delight a few years ago when I came across some pots of Welsh poppies, Meconopsis cambria, at Lilydale Gardens. All summer long their cheerful yellow faces reminded me of our great trips to Wales, and I was disappointed when I could not find them the next year.

But along came Artemisia “Powis Castle,” named after some spectacular gardens near Welshpool in Wales. Brian and I spent a lovely day exploring there a few years ago. So of course I had to have a plant with that name, if only for the memories. It’s a great looking plant but marginally hardy in Zone 4. It never lasts more than a year or two in Minnesota, no matter how I try to protect it with bags of leaves in the fall.

And then there’s Lavender “Hidcote.” We finally have established a nice little border edging of this lavender along the south side of the house. Now I want to visit the famous Hidcote Manor Garden in the North Cotswolds, to see where it all started.

Don’t forget Graham Thomas roses, a stunning yellow rose developed by David Austin and named for one of the great British gardening experts. We planted five of them a few years ago in honor of the birth of our son, Graham Kiloran Maas. They look fantastic amid the purple “Walker’s Low” nepeta.

I’m not the only one who has a thing for plant names. My friend Lisa is having a baby girl later this year. When I asked if she had a name picked out, Lisa said the baby will be called Thalia.

“Oh, like the daffodil,” I replied.

“Actually, we’ve always liked the name but now I find myself buying ‘Thalia’ daffodils each fall,” she said.

I think it’s a lovely name, but I know that by any other name, that baby would still be as sweet.

Lawn Care

Brian deserves special mention for all the care and attention he has spent rejuvenating our back yard. The combination of a frozen pond-like area which killed all the grass roots and the urinary attentions of two dogs did a number on our turf this year.

Brian spread topsoil, reseeded, spread more topsoil, seeded again, and finally cordoned off the area to keep Pont and his 35-mile-an-hour paws from kicking up any progress he made.

The lawn looks so much better now. He really did a great job. I think my days as gardening “expert” are numbered…

Time for Rhubarb

For most people, rhubarb has no middle ground. You either love or you hate it.

I’m in the “love it” faction. I have fond childhood memories of strolling through my neighborhood with a stick of rhubarb in one hand and a sugar-filled yellow Melmac mug in the other. I’d chew on the rhubarb stick a while and then roll it in the sugar before tasting another explosion of sweet and tart.

Midwesterners have a particularly fondness for rhubarb. Most church cookbooks are filled with recipes for rhubarb crisps, crumbles and crunches. Litchfield, North Dakota, population 200+ and the town adjacent to my hometown of LaMoure, took that devotion one step further and created a cookbook based solely on rhubarb, the Ritzy Rhubarb Secrets Cookbook, with proceeds going to city development. Rhubarb slush, muffins, breads, ice cream, relishes, you name it, there’s a recipe for it in here.

My rhubarb plants came from my mom and have survived several moves. They are slowly building up steam and soon will produce more stalks than I know what to do with. If your plants start to bolt and produce flower stalks, get rid of them.

Remember that to harvest a stalk, all you have to do is gently twist it at the base and pull. Cut off the rhubarb leaves and throw them in the compost pile. Don’t eat the leaves; they are mildly toxic. There’s an old saying that you should never harvest rhubarb after the Fourth of July. That’s pretty true since you want the plants to gather energy for the next year. But if you only need a few stalks, go ahead!

Here are a few of my favorite rhubarb recipes gathered through the years.


Rhubarb Delight

From my mom, Irene Dohn, my all-time favorite recipe.

4 cups rhubarb
1 cup sugar
1 TBS flour

Mix and put into a 9 x 13 pan. Mix the following and spread over the rhubarb:

½ cup cold butter
½ cup sugar
½ cup flour
½ cup oatmeal.

Bake in a 350 degree oven until rhubarb is done and crust is brown, about one hour. I recommend doubling the recipe but keeping it in a 9x13 pan.

Try it warm with vanilla ice cream!


Rhubarb Cake

From my co-worker Karen, a very easy crumb-style cake:

½ cup shortening
¾ cup brown sugar
¾ cup white sugar
1 egg
2 cups flour
1 tsp soda
¼ tsp salt
2 cups diced rhubarb

Mix all together and pour into a 9 x 13 cake pan.

Topping: ½ cup brown sugar, 1 TBS butter, and a dash of cinnamon. Mix other and sprinkle on the cake.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes.

As Karen says, “And that’s how easy it is.”

Rhubarb Chutney

This tastes great with an Indian-style chicken and rice meal.

3-1/2 to 4 cups rhubarb
2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
1 cup cider vinegar
1 TBS chopped lemon zest
1 cinnamon stick, about 4 inches long
1-inch-piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 cup golden raisins or dried cherries
¼ tsp salt
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

Combine the sugar, vinegar and lemon zest in a stainless-steel or other nonreactive saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring, until the sugar dissolves, 5 to 6 minutes. Add the rhubarb, cinnamon stick and ginger, raise the heat to medium and cook, stirring frequently, until the rhubarb is soft, about 4 minutes. Add the raisins, salt and walnuts. Cook for another 3 to 4 minutes.

Ladle the chutney into clean, dry jars with sealable lids, leaving ½ inch for expansion. Use a clean damp cloth to wipe the rims clean. Cover with a lid and then tip upside down for five minutes. After 5 minutes, right the jars again and let them cool over night. Check the lids for a complete seal. (This is the safe USDA 5-minute processing method.)

I have also used frozen, chopped rhubarb for each of these recipes. Freezing is a great way to deal with an overabundance of rhubarb, and the taste of warm rhubarb in the middle of winter will bring summer rushing back to you.

Posted by maasx003 at 11:08 PM

June 11, 2005

Vertical Gardening

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Building a garden is a lot like building a city: pretty soon you’ve run out of expansion space and the only place left to go is up.

Going vertical can add so much depth to your gardens. They allow you to use a number of different vines and to include structures that are both functional and attractive.

I admit I’m a little biased since I am loony for vines. We have a green chain link fence around our backyard so we don’t have to freeze our tails off on frigid Minnesota mornings when the dogs need to do their business outside. The fence is practical but not particularly aesthetically pleasing.

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To combat that, I am growing vines, vines and more vines up and along the fence both to disguise it and give us some privacy from our neighbors. In true suburban fashion, anything we do in our backyard is open for viewing by those surrounding us. While I can’t prevent the people on the hill behind us from looking down onto our property, I can shield our goings-on from the people next to us.

I have lost track of the number of clematis I have planted along the fence; my best guess right now would be 11 or 12. They provide an ever-changing tapestry of colorful red, white, burgundy and purple blooms from mid-May until the first snowfall and interesting seedheads beyond that.

Some of the clematis are better than others at covering the fence, which is why I’ve interplanted them with Dutchman’s pipe, Virginia creeper, annual morning glories and other vines. Dutchman’s pipe has been a disappointment. I’ve tried a number of different locations but I have yet to find the ideal location for this vine to really thrive. It was helpful the year I finally figured out NOT to cut it back in the fall because its new spring growth comes on old wood. It’s learning by trial and error, folks.

My most recent success has been the honeysuckle purchased last year for our thirteenth wedding anniversary. I planted it in full sun, and this year it has rewarded me with a wonderful display of bright coral and orange blooms. The hummingbirds are pretty excited about it, too. They have been coming to feed from it every night this week around dusk.

We are adding a few more arborvitae along our back fence to finish our goal of completely camouflaging it. Last summer I had planted a Clematis recta purpurea with purplish leaves hoping it would scramble along and fill in the gap between two banks of arborvitae. With the new arborvitae coming in, I had to move the clematis or lose it. I planted it next to the honeysuckle, hoping and planning for the day when the orange honeysuckle blossoms will rise above the purple clematis leaves as they grow together.

Vertical gardening can provide focal points to your garden, such as this arbor covered with a “William Baffin” rose on one side and a “Jackmanii” clematis on the other, in the true British fashion of mixing and matching roses and clematis. The goal would be to have both of them blooming at the same time so the hot pink rose and the velvety purple clematis would play off each other. But the rose has already started blooming, and I haven’t seen any buds on the clematis yet. Hmmm.

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I’m most proud of the “Blue Moon” wisteria (developed by the local Rice Creek Gardens) that we are training to grow over our 16’ x 16’ pergola. It is completely hardy to Zone 4 and produces fragrant bluish-purple blossoms twice each summer.

We planted the original vine at least five years ago over the arbor shown previously. When we did our house and garden remodel three years, we included the much-coveted pergola in the plan. At that time we dug up the wisteria in October and ditched it in a perennial bed, hoping that it would survive the winter.

Come spring, we planted the stalwart wisteria vine at the base of one of the pergola columns and started covering off-shoots with soil and compost to get them to root. This is a propagation technique known as layering that can be done with many different vines, including clematis.

Now we have wisteria vines in progress around all four posts and more layered shoots ready for transplanting. And the first buds have begun to appear.

If you are thinking of adding wisteria to your garden, make sure you have a very strong structure to support it as it will get very big and very heavy. When we were in Britain, we saw several wisteria vines whose main trunks were bigger than my upper arm. I can only hope!

Don’t forget annuals and vegetables for your vertical scheme. I started these hollyhocks (Alcea ‘nigra’) from seed last summer and planted them along the south side of our house where they are the happiest in full sun. Since hollyhocks are biennials, meaning they bloom every other year, they have finally set tremendous buds this season. I can’t wait to see them! I planted Lavender “Hidcote” in front of them to hide their skinny “ankles.” I’ll write more about the lavender in another posting.

We put the pergola in the area that had originally been my vegetable garden. I now do my intensive vegetable planting in two small, raised beds. To make the most of my limited space, I am growing “Sugar Snap” peas up a willow wigwam. They have an edible pod and the vines will grow to six feet. Last year, we grew a variety of scarlet runner beans along a bamboo teepee to create a hidey-hole for Graham. This year, I’m opting out of the teepee but I have started runner beans in a ring outside of the peas, hoping that the beans will use the peas to climb and will start to bear fruit when the peas have finished.

I almost forgot our “Concord” grapevine growing behind the compost bin. We had to move it as well when we moved the wisteria, so it is just starting to feel established. Last year it produced several bunches of grapes but not enough to make jam yet. When the ripening grapes are purple and have started to get a silvery “bloom” on them, pick them immediately, otherwise you will come out the next day to find the birds will have gotten them all.

I also started a number of different sweet peas and an Indian pea on a willow wigwam in our middle back perennial bed. These have been surprisingly slow to start since we have had very cool, moist weather conditions, just what sweet peas like. The Indian pea seed we purchased at a wonderful garden store outside of London in Fall 1999. I was able to save some seed from that which was set last year. Let’s see if 1. it germinates and 2. it holds true to its original form. It had a luscious peacock blue flower.

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What’s Happening in the Garden Now

Rain, rain and more rain. Sigh.

The Mystery Plant

Confession time: up until a recent comment from Kim, I really had no idea what that plant was. Brian wanted to post a photo and asked me to identify it, and all I could say was it was from the borage family. I got it from a neighbor who thought it was Virginia bluebells, a plant native to Minnesota. The flowers are similar but Virginia bluebells are an ephemeral, and when the plant was still in high bloom with enormous leaves in August, I knew it wasn’t that.

So thanks to Kim for directing me to search the web for comfrey to see if this was indeed the mystery plant. From the photos I saw and the descriptions I read, I’d say that was it.

Did you enjoy this little garden guessing game? If so, here is the mystery plant for this week to see if you can identify. Just leave a Comment at the end of this blog entry.

Here’s What’s Blooming Now

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Lavender “Hidcote”
Sweet William
Oxeye daisy
Penstemon “Husker Red”
Daylily
Salvia “May Night”
Pussytoes
Indian blanket
Lupine
Hosta
Iris – both Siberian and bearded
Nepeta “Walker’s Low” (the bees really like it!)
Honeysuckle
Thyme
Rose – “Carefree Wonder,” “William Baffin,” “Graham Thomas” and more
Perennial cornflower
Geranium
Columbine
Forget-me-nots
Clematis
Flax
Prairie smoke
Violets
Strawberries

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Garden Chores for the Week

Continue to weed.

Those cannas are still waiting for me…

Pot up plants for friends.

Vegetable Garden

I have loads of mint right now so I’m trying to use it in new ways. For my bag lunch on Friday, I added mint to a casual salad of tomato, cucumber and chive blossoms with a French vinaigrette and to my dessert honeydew. Yum!

I just ate two strawberries wet with rain. Double yum!

Posted by maasx003 at 8:16 AM

June 8, 2005

The Joys of Summer

(Note: For Internet novices, the bright orange text signifies a link to a photo. Just click on those with your mouse to see a photo!)

Summer in Minnesota is short so you have to make the most of it. We have a tendency to try to cram as much as possible into our free time - resulting in a weekend full of chores, projects and social obligations.

Last Sunday Graham woke up and asked, “Can we go on a picnic today?” Brian and I looked at each other and said, “Why not?”

I packed up a basket of sandwiches, chips, pickles and bottled water, and we drove to our favorite local park. Graham picked out a good-looking tree that had some shade, and we spread a blanket underneath it. Boom - instant picnic.

It was a perfect day, not too hot with just enough wind to keep the bugs off, and surprisingly quiet. After eating, Graham played on the climbers, discovered his prowess on the rings and went down the slide many times.

Our whole outing lasted little more than an hour but it changed the way we looked at the day. We still got a few chores and projects accomplished later but the focus was on working together to achieve them.

We slowed down to enjoy being together and being outdoors.

Isn’t that what summer should be all about?

Willow Furniture

One of Brian’s weekend chores was to seal all the willow furniture with a mixture of linseed oil and spirit of turpentine. This will help the furniture last longer amid the elements. All but two of these pieces were custom made for us by Shirley Schultz in Grantsburg, Wisconsin. Shirley does amazing work for very reasonable prices. The only kicker is you have to drive to her home in the woods to get it, more than 90 minutes from the metro area. Let me know if you’d like her contact information. We recommend her highly.

Wildlife Watch

We placed a thistle feeder for goldfinches outside of Graham’s bedroom window so he could have a front row seat to their antics. He enjoys watching them flit about and has been known to shriek at the top of his lungs, “COME HERE NOW!”

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Which causes both Brian and me drop everything to run to him at breakneck speed, only to discover that now there are TWO yellow birds at the feeder when before there was only ONE.

We’re pleased that he has enjoyed learning about all the different birds in our back yard, from mallards to "car-din-als" and hummingbirds to Mama Robin. He’s our little Nature Boy.

Tasty Summertime Treats

We’ve been trying to get more fruits and vegetables into Graham’s diet and have found smoothies to be the trick. The other night I included a ripe mango, frozen bananas, strawberries and both honeydew and cantaloupe melon in the mix along with vanilla yogurt. I whizzed it all up in the blender, poured a glass for Graham, and then threw a handful of fresh mint from the garden and whizzed it again for an adult version. It was sweet and refreshing and cool. The mint really added intensity to the flavor.

The great thing about smoothies is if you have more than you can drink, just pour the mixture into home made popsicle containers for delicious frozen snacks. My favorite so far is banana-mango.

Another thing I tried the other day was adding a sprinkle of chive blossoms to my lettuce salad. They give salad greens a bite and are pretty to boot.

Garden Chores This Week

- Fertilize and spray the roses
- Turn the compost bin and empty the contents of the “cooked” bin onto the perennial beds
- Plant green beans and calendulas
- Plant cannas and the “mystery tubers”
- Plant the final annuals I started from seed
- Cut back the remaining asters to create bushier, less floppy, plants
- Harvest rhubarb and make chutney?
- Attack the clover that is invading the prairie bed

Posted by maasx003 at 9:48 PM

June 5, 2005

Rites of Passage

(Note: For Internet novices, the bright orange text signifies a link to a photo. Just click on those with your mouse to see a photo!)

Some of the younger members of our family have recently achieved major milestones in their lives.

Last month, our nephew Aden graduated from basic training in the Navy. He has already begun his intelligence training in Pensacola where he will learn to be a cryptographer. We are very proud of him.

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Last weekend, our niece Elise graduated as one of a handful of valedictorians from a class of over 400 students. She has received a four-year, full tuition Wilson Scholarship, one of only six given to incoming freshman at Jamestown College, my alma mater. We are very proud of her.

Finally, at our home, our five-year-old son Graham moved up to an “up-down” bed, his description of a bunk bed. Why did it take so long? He still liked his old toddler bed and he still fit in it, so why make waves?

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Plus we were hesitant about a bunk bed, knowing how much of a fearless climber he is. We figured he’d be swan diving from the top onto his head every day. This bed has a futon couch for the lower sleeping unit so he can have a comfy seat for reading also. He made the transition very well and has followed our mandate that he can’t sleep on the top bunk until next year when he turns six. We are very proud of him as well.

What’s Happening in the Garden Now
Do you ever have those dreams where something is chasing you and no matter how hard you run, you know that eventually something will reach out and grab you? That’s exactly how I feel about the garden right now.

With all the moisture we’ve had, plus a long, cool growing season, the plant life in the gardens has exploded exponentially. The gardens look green and lush – and full of weeds, overgrown perennials and thug plants that are gradually encroaching on everything around them.

Any time I get into the garden for some clean up, for every single task I accomplish, I see 10 to 12 other things that need to get done.

And so I’m feeling panicked and frustrated and like something is chasing me. It’s hard to find time to garden with our busy lives and schedules. I’ve even taken a few days off work to spend among my plants.

This weekend Brian offered to take Graham to Camp Snoopy so I could have a large chunk of Saturday to garden. I made the most of it. I was up and out in the yard before7 a.m. and was able to dig out all the yarrow that has been taunting me every time I looked out the window.

Then it was indoors for Graham-time and Saturday morning chores. I was out again as soon Brian and Graham were backing down the driveway. Five minutes later, it started to sprinkle.

No big deal, I thought, I don’t melt. So I started gardening in earnest, trying to wrestle some control back from the invading campanula, field daisies, violets, anemones, and other pushy plants in the garden. I was slightly shielded by the neighbor’s trees over head and was making good progress.

Then the rain got a little bit harder and then harder again until I was completely soaked and had water pouring out of my gardening clogs. “It’s easier to weed when the soil is wet,” I rationalized, as I continued to work. “None of the neighbors will try to chat with you. The flowers’ colors are so much more vivid in the gloom.”

But I was cold and wet and frankly, a little miserable. My big epiphany came when I realized that I could go inside, dry off, have some lunch and then bitch about how I never have any time to garden, or I could just garden. Problem solved.

Then it became a matter of pride. I had been given a chunk of time in which to spend doing my favorite thing, and by golly, garden I would!

When the skies finally cleared, I went inside, peeled off the wet clothes, pulled on some dry ones, hopped into my Wellies and went out for another hour.

By the time I finally called it quits, I had accomplished a great deal and no longer feel so pressured. There is still much to be done but I’m feeling a little easier about it. For now!

Some Great Tips

I added lots of containers with annuals this year for more color in our garden living areas. I stink at container design so I chose the age-old process of stealing someone else’s ideas.

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This container combo comes from the front cover of the June 2005 edition of Garden Gate magazine. My friend Susan gave me a gift subscription, and it has already proved very helpful.

I picked up another great tip for container gardening from the BBC Gardener’s World magazine. Instead of using packing peanuts to fill up a big pot so you don’t have to use as much soil and it doesn’t get so heavy, use old potting containers. I have a huge collection of four-inch plastic pots and I turned them upside down in a graduated fashion to fill the bigger pots about halfway full and then added potting soil. Very slick and a great way to recycle your pots.

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Some of the container combos I did used plants that were freebies from other volunteer gardening projects. See last week’s blog on being a plant ho!

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Wildlife Sightings

Last night we were visited by a ruby throated humming bird which was feeding from the "Walkers Low" nepeta.

A robin has made her nest over the security light attached to our back wall. This morning we found the first broken eggshell.

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Prairie Question

When we planted our prairie garden with pre-packaged seed, I didn’t know much about prairie plants. Now that the garden is becoming established, I’m more than a little surprised to find that seed included Sweet William (definitely NOT a prairie plant) and lupine, which is more suited to the North Shore of Minnesota than the plains! Either way, I’m excited to have their blooms.

Here’s What’s Blooming Now

Iris – both Siberian and bearded
Allium
Johnny Jump Ups
Nepeta
Honeysuckle
Thyme
Rose
Perennial cornflower

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Wild Geranium

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Columbine

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Japanese anemone
Jacob’s ladder
Forget-me-nots
Geranium
Clematis
Tulips
Rue anemone
Flax
Prairie smoke
Violets
Bergenia
Creeping phlox
Strawberries

Garden Chores for the Week

Continue to weed.

Tie up the climbing clematis. Move one to the middle trellis to replace one that didn’t come back.

Bring out the hummingbird and oriole feeders.

Pot up plants for friends.

Vegetable Garden
I had a great salad the other day with fresh lettuces, radishes and chives from the garden, finished off with a single strawberry.

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Helping Hands

These dirty hands belong to my husband and son who worked together this past week to reseed the bare spots in the lawn.

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Can You Identify This Plant?

A new feature to this blog will be a photo of a plant that I will ask you to identify. Just leave a Comment below if you know this plant!

Posted by maasx003 at 11:09 AM