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November 26, 2005

Too Much Information

To paraphrase the incomparable Sting and The Police, “I’ve got too much gardening information running through my brain.”

Now that the outdoor gardening season is almost officially over, it’s time for the indoor one. For me, that means catching up on a backlog of gardening magazines, checking out books from the library and setting down my thoughts and ideas for the next year.

I’m envious of gardeners who can gather all this information in a cohesive and efficient manner. I have friends with gardening databases who can produce print outs of all the plants put into a particular bed, where they were purchased and the success of each.

Other friends have gardening journals filled with little sketches and notes detailing changes to their gardens through the years.

Me? I have lovely journals that were given as gifts that only have one or two pages filled. I have stacks of magazines with little sticky notes attached, marking particularly interesting articles or suggestions for my own beds. Nearby are half-filled legal pads with lists of plants to try for 2001 and 2002, drawings of where to place the liatris that need to be divided, names of books to request from the library and on and on.

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Last month as we drove to the Wisconsin Dells for our fall vacation, I started a new system for my BBC Gardener’s World magazines. When I found an interesting article, I put a tape flag on top of the page and I wrote the page number of the article and a brief description onto a lined post it note which I put on the front inside page of the magazine. I then wrote down that same information on a legal pad which I will eventually type into the computer.

This way, when I pick up the magazine again, I can just look at the post it note to see what I found interesting in it. We’ll see if this Great Idea works any better than any of the other information gathering systems I’ve come up with.

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But how to combine all these notes, drawings and lists collected through the years? At this point, my only idea is to start some documents in the computer compiling similar data and then put the print outs in a three-ring binder.

Wait, did I mention my collection of three-ring binders? I have binders containing all my old Master Gardening resources, landscape plans of completed projects, receipts, plant tags organized by year and garden area and articles I’ve clipped from newspapers and other sources.

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I’ve got too much information, running through my brain…


Okay, not really.

Every year I try to ripen the last tomatoes of the season indoors. I read accounts of people who tear up the entire tomato plant and hang it upside down in the greenhouse or cold cellar. Or wrap each tomato individually in newspaper to enjoy a tasty homegrown tomato in their BLTs months after everyone else has been purchasing the red cardboard versions in the grocery store.

Maybe it’s my technique. I just picked the last tomatoes which seemed to have a chance of ripening and put them on a plate in a sunny part of the kitchen.

Some of the tomatoes ripened while others have acquired a white fuzzy beard of mold. Others seem to have stalled out and are doing nothing.

But just because the tomato looks red doesn’t mean it tastes good. The one red cherry tomato I popped into my mouth today held but a shadow of the rich flavor that occurs in high summer when it feels like you are eating a little piece of the sun.

So I’m going to toss the entire plate of tomatoes and cancel my experiment in spite of my limited success.

And start dreaming about next season’s tomatoes – rich and juicy and warm from the sun…


After our first real snowfall this week, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas….

At least Pont liked running in it. And the dogs do have winter coats they wear when walked outside. Whippets have little body fat so winter coats are essential in The Tundra. Here is Pont sporting his:

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And Glynis with hers. Yes, she also sports booties as her feet do not take the snow well.

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And least you think the dogs are wimps, they enjoy running on the frozen lake nearby. One can often see Glynis race the occasional snowmobile. You then see an astonished snowmobiler slow to take a look at what kind of animal can run alongside his sled at 40 mph. Usually looking like a snow shark as the photos below indicate:



Turkey Chili

What to do with all that left-over turkey? This year I’m going to adapt my favorite chili recipe by substituting turkey for part of the meat. Give it a try!

Dave’s Chili (from the StarTribune, Nov. 8, 2001) – my version

1 lb bulk hot Italian sausage
½ lb ground beef (or left over turkey)
½ lb ground pork (or left over turkey)
2 jalapenos – one red, one green – seeded and chopped
1-14 ½ oz can dized tomatoes in juice, undrained
1-6 oz can tomato paste
1-3/4 cup water
1 TBS chili powder
1 tsp onion powder
½ tsp ground coriander
½ tsp ground white pepper
½ tsp cayenne pepper
1 -15oz can pinto beans, rinsed and drained
1-1/2 tsp salt

Garnishes such as tortilla chips, diced tomatoes, avocados, onion, cilantro and shredded cheese.

Cook meats in Dutch oven over medium-high heat until browned, about 10 minutes; drain fat. Stir in chiles and cook 3 minutes longer.

Stir in tomatoes and liquid, tomato paste, water and spices. Heat to boiling; reduce heat and simmer, covered 15 minutes. Stir in beans and season to taste with salt. Ladle into bowls and serve with garnishes.

What I’m Reading

In the middle of: “Sahara” by Michael Palin, the former Monty Python member. It’s a warm way to get through our recent snowfall.

Listening to: “Blue Shoe” by Anne LaMott

Graham’s current favorite: “Bears” by Dagmar Fertl, Michelle Reddy & Erik D. Stoops

Remaining Garden Chores

Throw the cordyline in the compost bin.

Cut back the last roses and verbena bonarienses.

When the ground finally freezes, throw bags of leaves onto the tender stuff.

Wrap burlap around the dwarf Alberta Spruce and wisteria trees.

Pack the canna, four o’clock and sweet potato tubers in sawdust for the winter and store them someplace in the house that won’t be too hot or too cold.

Today’s Grahamism

"How you make money is just look on the floor."

At the Thanksgiving table, Graham stated, "Mommy, your job is to serve the pie."

When told that Charlie Brown's Christmas special was 40 years old, just like Mommy, Graham asked, "What is this? The ancient movie of God?"

Click to see Graham in action at a indoor playground.

Posted by maasx003 at 1:05 PM

November 20, 2005

Last Bouquet of the Season

Each fall I indulge in a semi-maudlin practice of gathering the “last bouquet of the season” – a combination of whatever is still blooming at the time. Some years I have done this in the first hours of a blizzard, clipping sweet peas and Russian sage and asters.

This year Mother Nature threw me a sucker punch. I kept delaying my final bouquet because the mild weather kept the annuals blooming on and on. Why cut back the last orange Profusion zinnias when they were still producing great blooms?

Even after a little cold snap that brought the zinnias down, the roses kept blooming and again I delayed.

Finally there came freezing rain and I could wait no longer. There wasn’t much left to gather, but I had my eye on two Graham Thomas rose buds. The first, and most promising, bud was thick and I figured that it would bloom soon when brought indoors.

Wrong. The rain had frozen solid around it and the bud snapped off in my fingers as I grasped it. I still brought it in, along with the other bud which I held low on the stem before cutting. It, too, was frozen solid but it sprang back to life when it thawed.

So here are the final fruits of my gardening season: two tired-looking rosebuds that did not achieve all that they promised.

Amaryllis Update

A few weeks ago, I included my friend Susan’s instructions on how to get amaryllis to bloom again. I truly wanted to follow her directions to the letter, hoping for success, but my best laid plans died on the vine.

Here’s what I did: when the weather started getting cooler, I brought my amaryllis pots into the garage and promptly forgot about them. Well, I didn’t actually forget about them since I walked past them every day for almost two months. I just didn’t deal with them.

Eventually their strappy leaves turned yellow, then brown and then shriveled up. Since I wasn’t watering the pots, the soil dried out.

Over the long Veteran’s Day weekend, I finally popped the bulbs out of each pot, brushed off all the old soil, cut back the leaves and roots, and repotted them into fresh soil in a variety of different containers. The bulbs ranged in size from a large walnut to one which is as big as a soft ball. I watered them and put them in the sunny south-facing window of Brian’s home office.

When I checked on them today, the soft ball-sized one had already started to push up new growth.

I’ll keep you posted on their progress. Out of 11 bulbs, at least one of them is bound to bloom again, right?


Last week I posted a photo of the wonderful plants I put in copper pots in front of the pergola. I incorrectly identified them as phormium. They are not. They are actually cordyline. My apologies.

The hard frost finally broke these plants down as well.

Pumpkin Pie Cookies

This seasonal cookie was posted on a parenting website by Techmom10. They could be a tasty substitution for the real thing.

Pumpkin Pie Cookies

1-1/2 cup butter, margarine or butter-flavored shortening (or a combo)
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 can (15oz) pumpkin
1 Tbs ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground cloves
1-1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
¾ tsp salt

Grease cookie sheets and preheat the oven to 350. Mix butter and sugar until fluffy. Add pumpkin, spices, eggs and vanilla; mix well. Sift dry ingredients together and add to pumpkin mix – add slowly and mix thoroughly by hand. Drop by tablespoonfuls onto cookie sheets and bake 10 to 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Note: dough will be sticky and wet but will retain shapes if you want to make pumpkins or other fun shapes. Try using a greased cookie cutter as a guide for spreading the dough – at least ½ inch thick. Makes 3 to several dozen cookies, depending on the size and shape.

What I’m Reading

In the middle of: “Pomegranate Soup” by Marsha Mehran. A tale of the magical powers of cooking done by three Iranian women in rural Ireland. It reminds me of “Like Water for Chocolate.”

Still in the queue: “Sahara” by Michael Palin. The former Monty Python member has written a number of delightful travel tales. I’ve actually started it but other books keep coming due at the library before I can finish it.

Listening to: “Blue Shoe” by Anne LaMott

Graham’s current favorite: “Sharks! Strange and Wonderful” by Laurence Pringle

Garden Chores for the Week

Throw the cordyline in the compost bin.

Cut back the last roses and verbena bonarienses.

When the ground finally freezes, throw bags of leaves onto the tender stuff.

Today’s Grahamism

"See these lines on my hands? They’re vines."

"A Great Reef Shark is almost eight feet long. That’s almost as big as Dad."

"Bananas are the seeds of broccoli."

"Did you know that the Chinese are nocturnal?"

Click to see Graham in action at a recent gymnastics practice.

Posted by maasx003 at 7:23 PM

November 11, 2005

The Minnesota Tip versus the North Dakota Shuffle

When I was growing up in North Dakota, my mother was renown across LaMoure county for her rose garden. During late June and early August, we got used to people driving slowly past our house for a look at the two beds with formed a sort of ying-yang shape on either side of the front sidewalk.


These beds held nearly 30 hybrid tea rose bushes from shades of softest yellow to rich wine red. The most fragrant were a pink variety, probably “Peace.” My favorites were the yellow roses and still are today.

Mom was generous with her roses, and brides-to-be often came by the day before their weddings to pick up petals to throw down the church aisle. If someone actually stopped her car to take a closer look at the roses, she most likely left with a bouquet in hand, the rose stems resting in wet paper towels wrapped up in tin foil. When we visited our grandparents in west-central North Dakota and north-central South Dakota in the summer, arrangements held in quart jars always came along.


Mom was kind of a fanatic about caring for her bushes. Although she often bemoaned her lack of time to sprinkle this systemic bug killer or apply that fertilizer, she always dug her banana peels and eggshells into the ground underneath the bushes, her method of direct composting.

When fall came, we kids hated those rose bushes.

To keep roses alive through frigid North Dakota winters, they had to be covered. Not just any special covering would do, it had to be done Mom’s way. I have vivid recollections of raking leaves and leaves and leaves. I can’t remember if we bagged them or left them loose but we would mound the leaves up around the roses until they were two to three feet high.

Then Mom would throw black plastic tarps over the enormous leaf piles, would string of web of twine across them and tie them down onto wooden stakes. In spring the whole shebang would have to be untied, rolled up and disposed of leaves.

When I first started gardening, I wanted to include roses in my beds but I didn’t want to do it Mom’s way in the fall. If a rose didn’t make it through the winter, I would just replace it.

I read about the Minnesota tip method for covering roses for the winter, but the idea of digging up all the rose bushes and burying them in a trench seemed way too complicated for me. Who wants to work that hard?

I went for the other method of winter care: cutting the canes back to about 10 inches and covering them with soil and leaves. At first I used the soil left over from my pots, but that didn’t work so well as that soil was compacted and held together by roots.

Then I tried digging up soil from around the bushes but worried about damaging roots late in the season. Next I dug soil from the vegetable garden but that just seemed counterproductive.

One year Brian suggested using some leftover bags of topsoil and Eureka! it all made sense. Topsoil is cheap, easy to transport in a 40-pound bag and helps regenerate tired soil.

And then Eurkea! – another brainstorm. One summer I had a long chat with a woman who had her own landscaping business. She directed me to mulch my rose bushes only with well-rotted manure. Roses are heavy feeders, and they thrive on the manure.

I never actually got around to doing that but the light bulb clicked on that fall when it came time to cover the roses. “Wait a minute,” I thought. “Why not cover them with manure? That way the roses are ready to go in the spring when I never remember to fertilize them?”

I’ve been doing it that way ever since. I revised the leaves portion of the process as well. Now I take a bag of leaves that my neighbors have willingly donated and divide it into two bags. I fluff the leaves out to all the corners of the bag so it forms a big blanket. I throw it over the roses when the ground finally freezes.

This method would probably not get endorsed by the American Horticultural Society, but it’s fast and easy, and I have never lost a rose bush.

So to those proponents of the Minnesota Tip, I give you the North Dakota Shuffle:

1. Push all the mulch away from the base of the rose bush.
2. Cut all canes back to about 10 inches and dispose of the canes. Good sanitation is very important if you have black spot so try to pick up and throw away any diseased leaves. You don’t want the spores to remain on the ground, ready to wreak havoc next year.

Note: Cutting the canes back can hard to do if they are still producing buds that seem like they will bloom soon. You can cut the buds to see if they will bloom indoors. This year, I left the canes with buds intact but still covered their lower stems with soil. If they can make it to full bloom, great. If not, I’ll just cut them back to the soil line.

3. Mound well-rotted manure or compost up over the canes. I purchase manure at Home Depot for around a buck a bag.
4. Cover the manure with an inch or two of topsoil. This is not really necessary but it will help keep the manure in place if it rains. Again, I purchase topsoil at Home Depot for around a buck a bag.
5. When the ground finally freezes, throw a half-filled bag of leaves over the mound.

And that’s it.

I use this method with my hybrid tea roses and miniature roses. I also cover my “Nearly Wild” and “William Baffin” roses, even though they are hardy to Zone 4. The “Carefree Wonders” I leave to their own devices.

With an organized plan of attack, it should only take me about an hour to cover a little over 15 rose bushes.

Click on Jackie to to see how she does it.

The Other Potato Harvest

Remember the “Yukon Gold” potatoes that I harvested from my compost bin? Well, I found these big beauties in some of my containers when I was dumping them out. The sweet potato vines set tubers, some of them enormous. Does anyone have any experience overwintering sweet potato tubers to use in next year’s pots? Let me know by leaving a Comment at the end of this entry.

The biggest of the sweet potatoes came from a pot that was nearly two feet tall. I’m almost tempted to try to grow an eating variety in a big pot to see if it would produce anything fit for the table. I’ll have to ponder that over the winter....

Canna Harvest

These canna tubers came from a single tuber that had been grown in that same two-foot pot. I have five more cannas to dig up yet. I’d like to overwinter these tubers for next year as well. I’ll have to do some research on how to do this. I don’t have a cold cellar, would the refrigerator work?

Magnolia Magic

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Our “Merriill” magnolia trees are five years old now, and they have begun to produce a lavish display in early spring. The tips of this tree outside our back door are plump with buds for next spring.

Phormium Provide Fall Container Interest

I have been very pleased with the phormium that I put in the copper pots in front of the pergola. They added color, structure and height to the containers. The added bonus has been how well they’ve stood up in the fall. They have maintained their structure even as the days have gotten colder, and we’ve had one cold snap. I’ll bet if we lived in Zone 5, I could leave them out all winter. I’d even consider bringing them for the winter to try as houseplants, but I really am not interested in caring for plants during the cold months. I need a break!

Timing is Everything

Some of my plants are a little confused.

Last March I was given a bulb garden as a birthday gift. After it finished blooming, I stuck it outside next to the house and promptly forgot about it.

As I was clearing out the gardens last weekend, I noticed that one of the hyacinths was attempting to bloom. I’m going to bring it in and start watering. Who knows what could happen?

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Christmas Cactus

I have never had much success with Christmas cactus. Brian gave me one more than 10 years ago, and it has struggled along, never doing very well. The past two years, however, somehow I figured out the right care regime, and it has grown tremendously. I had noticed lots of buds on it in September, and by mid-October, it had hit full bloom.

The plant is looking a bit sad now and I’m concerned about the color and texture of its stems. I hope this wasn’t its last hurrah!

What I’m Reading

In the middle of: “Funny in Farsi: Growing up Iranian in America” by Firoozeh Dumas, a humorous tale of a young girl’s Americanization.

Still in the queue: “Sahara” by Michael Palin. The former Monty Python member has written a number of delightful travel tales.

Listening to: A variety of Christmas CDs, from big band and bluegrass to B.B. King and Celtic.

Graham’s current favorite: “Hungry, Hungry Sharks” by Joanna Cole.

Here’s What’s Blooming Now

Not much since we finally had a killing frost. Here are the hardy gang who still remain:

Toad Lily
Lavender “Hidcote”
Nicotiana – all shapes, colors and sizes
Verbena bonariensis
Alpine strawberry – and fruiting, too

Garden Chores for the Week

Repot the amaryllis.

Finish cutting back the dead stuff.

Power wash all the containers before putting them away.

Harvest any runner bean seed that may still be clinging on the teepee.

Dig canna tubers, wash and store them.

Divide bags of leaves into two in preparation for putting them over roses and tender perennials when the ground freezes.

Water all gardens with newly planted bulbs if we don’t get rain this week. The ground is very dry.

Today’s Grahamism

"Were there spiders back long ago when only the presidents were alive?"

"Did you know that some people think that the Chinese and the Japanese are the same because they both end in “ese”?"

Posted by maasx003 at 6:32 PM

November 6, 2005

Keeping a Clean Garden

During the past few weeks, one of my volunteers and I have been emailing back and forth about my gardens – he asking if I had all my bulbs in or had cut back my perennials yet and me providing a litany of excuses for why not: we went out of town over MEA weekend, then we were preparing for a Halloween party the weekend after, I got sick, and with daylight savings time, it’s pitch black by the time I get home from work….and on and on.

I admit that part of my delay tactics has been simple laziness. The weather has been unseasonably gorgeous, and the gardens still look lovely. Why should I mess with success?

And it’s true – the gardens are truly lovely this time of year. The green leaves have changed to a riot of colors.

Some colors have been unexpected, like the hot colors of this creeping sedum.

The bergenia are also providing a vivid edging display.

Even the green maidenhair fern has shown her fall colors.

But the cooler tones mixed with burgundy also look great in fall, especially with a mix of textures.

Finally, the volunteer wrote, “Why don’t you just forget about cutting everything back and leave it over the winter?

Ahh, there lies the rub. The eternal question of “Should I cut everything back in the fall or just leave it until spring?”

There are many reasons supporting either platform. If you leave everything up in the fall, you provide winter interest to an otherwise dreary landscape. I have wonderful memories of snow falling on “Autumn Joy” sedum, leaving little pillow shapes floating above the ground. Seed heads from grasses and native plants such as purple coneflower provide food sources for birds and animals. Leaving perennials in place also helps with winter protection. The structural stems capture snow and provide another insulating blanket over tender crowns.

I do leave some plants up each year, including upright grasses such as “Karl Forester” feather reed grass, which doesn’t flop over the minute a heavy snowfall occurs. And I will leave up the grass bed because it does provide interest in an otherwise arctic-looking front yard.

But for the most part, I cut everything back. I like a tidy garden at the end of fall. I like knowing that I won’t have piles of half-rotting leaves to paw through when the first tender bulbs appear. I like the warm feeling inside knowing that I will enter the holiday season and the dark months of winter with all my garden ducks in a row, with no niggling thoughts of unfinished business.

I definitely cut back the beds along the driveway because all too soon they will be covered in drifts from the snow blower. There aren’t any upright grasses that can remain standing amid several feet of snow.

My first bulbs appear in these beds, sometimes even as early as mid-March if the feisty snowdrops can push their way through the layer of ice and snow that remains. I want to give them the best possible odds to be seen in all their glory, foretelling winter’s doom.

So this afternoon I will pull on the Hunter wellies that I bought in Wales and head back outdoors for another round of chopping back, putting my gardens into their tidy beds for winter.

Prairie Garden

This week, Brian mowed the prairie garden down, the suburban version of a “burn.” We have a few lily bulbs to naturalize in there and then I will spread a few bags of topsoil and manure over the seeds that have dropped. The soil in this bed is terrible, just a light dusting of topsoil over heavily compacted clay. I’m trying to build it up a little each year. I don’t want it too rich, as prairie plants often thrive in poor soils, but I do want it better than it is now.




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And Brian developed a sure fire method to planting hundreds of bulbs in record time. He come up with this after we found our soil to be compacted into concrete due to heavy machinery during a home remodel phase. This method works great. Watch Brian plant some bulbs in the video below.

Click on Brian to watch him plant two bulbs in 15-seconds...

Lost and Found

One of the last perennials to bloom late in the season is the toad lily. Several years ago, Arla Carmichial, the head gardener at Noerenberg Gardens, gave me a clump. I was pleased with how nicely it spread throughout my shade gardens. Toad lilies can be disappointing because they are very frost-intolerant. You can have a huge patch of them, dripping with bursting buds, and blooms and the next day they are all gone, victim of a hard frost.

With last year’s funny winter, I lost a number of perennials in my shade garden, including, I thought, my toad lily patch.

But yesterday, as I was cutting back the hosta, I found one survivor. Whew!

What I’m Reading

Just finished: “One Shot” by Lee Child. Another satisfying read in the Jack Reacher series.

Next in the queue: “Sahara” by Michael Palin. The former Monty Python member has written a number of delightful travel tales.

Listening to: “Seldom Disappointed” by Tony Hillerman. After listening to his memoirs, I’d like to return to his books.

Graham’s current favorite: “1001 Things to Spot in the Sea” by Katie Daynes.

Here’s What’s Blooming Now

Toad Lily
“My Favorite” mum – lavender, red and coral
Nicotiana – all shapes, colors and sizes
Verbena bonariensis
Nasturtium “Peach Melba” and others
Hydrangea “Annabelle”
Alpine strawberry – and fruiting, too

Garden Chores for the Week

Repot the amaryllis.

Finish cutting back the dead stuff.

Cover the roses.

Vegetable Garden

I finally ripped up the tomatoes. The dogs would pick them off the vine and play with them in the yard. And eat them. I covered that bed with a few inches of compost so I can be ready to plant peas early in the spring.

There are still some purply lettuces growing amid the calendula.

If I would have been smart, and had more room, I would have put in some lettuces in August. They love the cool weather.

And I finally harvested the “Yukon Gold” potatoes that were growing in the compost bin. Look at these beauties! They will make a tasty salad or maybe a savory baked omelet or frittata. I may have to bury some potatoes in my compost bin every year!

Today’s Grahamism

"When does the teacher go to the bathroom?"

"Did you know that biggest whale in the world is the blue whale? It’s 99 inches long. Or is that 99 pounds?"

"I’m going to be a doctor when I grow up, just like my dad. I don’t want to be a movie maker any more. All they do is make movies and more movies and no one brings them presents."

Posted by maasx003 at 1:26 PM