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April 23, 2006

Mother Love

Each night before I turn in for bed, I check in on Graham, pulling covers up over his out sprawled arms and legs, smoothing back a lock of hair and allowing the caress of a tender cheek to wipe away the day’s frustrations and cares – both his and mine.


Graham sleeping. (Click image for larger)

As I lean in to give him a good night kiss, I sniff deeply of that heady aroma of sleeping child – sweat and sunshine, shampoo and joy. And I know in the very marrow of my bones that This Child is Mine.

I’ve read that smell is the most potent of the senses, attaching itself to events so powerfully that even a faint whiff of a scent can bring back long-forgotten memories.

It also acts as a recognition device, a reinforcement of maternal process. Even the day after Graham was born, I could have chosen him from an array of other babies, just from his individual scent.

I think it’s an ancient response for women, going back to when we were simple primates. Have you ever noticed that when a baby is presented to a gaggle of women, almost the first thing each one of them will do when handed the child is to hold the baby close and take a deep sniff? We all laugh that we “just love the smell of new baby? but what we’re really doing is testing for recognition. We sniff and think, “Yep, this smells good but it’s not mine.?

That imprint of aroma is like olfactory DNA, something so unique and singular that it cannot be replicated. Every animal mother can tell her child from the all others in a herd, even when there are hundreds of them.

So at night, when mothers everywhere tuck their little ones in to bed, we can sleep in peace, too, because we know This Child is Mine.

A mother’s nose knows, and it’s never wrong.

Deep Purple

With all the chartreuse leaves popping out on trees and cheery yellow daffodils in bloom, a garden’s deeper purple flowers and foliage can make a welcome change.

This spring my gardens contain wild prairie crocus...


Wild prairie crocus. (Click image for larger)

...snake’s head fritillary...


Snake’s head fritillary. (Click image for larger)

...and grape hyacinth.


Grape hyacinth. (Click image for larger)

From emerging hosta shoots...


Hosta shoots. (Click image for larger)

...to the ruffled edges of “Plum Pudding? heuchera...


“Plum Pudding? heuchera. (Click image for larger)


...and the stalks of “Husker Red? pensetemon,


“Husker Red? pensetemon. (Click image for larger)

...purplish leaves also add color and form.

And don’t forget the punch provided by the bright fuschia of Turkish tulips...


Turkish tulips. (Click image for larger)

...and waxy-leaved bergenia.


Bergenia. (Click image for larger)


What I’m Reading

Browsing through: “Foliage: Dramatic and Subtle Leaves for the Garden? by David Joyce.

Listening to: “Dragonfly in Amber – Part 1? by Diana Gabaldon. Continuing the tale of romantic Scottish time travel.

Graham’s current favorite: “Owen & Mzee: the True Story of a Remarkable Friendship? by Isabella Hatkoff and “What Do Illustrators Do?? by Eileen Christelow.

Today’s Grahamisms

Graham and I were out running errands one night last week when it began to rain quite hard. We rushed from a store to the van, trying not to get wet. As I buckled him into his booster seat, most of my body still outside the van, Graham said, “Oh, the water makes everything sparkle, even your butt.?

While walking down to Big Park on Medicine Lake, Graham said, “I think the Seven Wonders of the World is wrong. Howler monkeys should be on that list because when they howl it can be heard for seven miles.? Then he demonstrated by hooting at the top of his lungs, startling a nearby walker.

Graham’s class has been studying art for the past two weeks, and every day he brings home artwork that he has done in the style of Claude Monet, Mary Cassatt and others. One day, he announced, “My favorite artist today is Andy Warthog.?

Posted by maasx003 at 12:44 PM | Books | Family | Gardens

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April 16, 2006

Spring Ephemerals

There is something rather bittersweet about the spring ephemerals. You wait all year for them and are delighted when they appear, knowing full well that they won’t last long.

I’m sure there are very specific guidelines on categorizing plants as ephemerals but I’m using my own loose interpretations here.

I would start out with the crocus, a cheerful spring bulb guaranteed to bring a smile to anyone’s face. They come in a variety of colors....


Purple crocus. (Click image for larger)

....and build dense clusters as they multiply.

Siberian squill also form cheerful clumps, creating a wash of blue color like a river or stream.


Siberian squill. (Click image for larger)

The woods are the perfect place to look for native spring ephemerals. The other day I took the dogs for a walk in nearby French Park. On our way back from the woods, I glanced into the brush edging the walking path and was astonished to see not one, but two clusters of bloodroot in bloom.


Bloodroot. (Click image for larger)

I must have been truly distracted on my way to the woods because I completely missed them, which was a pretty incredible feat considering how white the flowers are and how evident they are against their surroundings.

Bloodroot remind me of strange alien life forms whose bat-like wings surround them when it’s cold and open up with the warmth of the sun. Very cool.


Budding Bloodroot. (Click image for larger)

My astonishment continued the next morning when I stood with Graham in our driveway, waiting for the school bus. I glanced up into our woodland/dry streambed garden, and there was a single bloodroot in bloom.

I don’t remember planting it, even though I know I’ve wanted to add bloodroot to that bed for years. Obviously I did so last year!

I would even add trees to my list of spring ephemerals, in this case the magnolia species.

I’ve too much Dakota prairie in me to ever want to transform myself into a Southern belle, but if it would mean being able to enjoy the sights and scents of magnolia trees for more than just a few days, I would certainly consider it.

Our “Merrill? magnolia trees are seven years old now and have truly come into their own. Last week’s unseasonably early warm weather made the buds pop, and every day I came home from work to be greeted by even more blossoms.


The two magnolia. (Click image for larger)

The threat of rain concerned me because a hard rainfall can wipe out an entire tree’s blooms in an instant. But luckily, the rain never arrived, and we’ve been graced with glorious blooms for almost a week.

And the fragrance! Just step out of the house onto the deck, and you are instantly enveloped in a cloud of sweet smells, which travel all the way to the front yard. Working in the yard is certainly enhanced by this kind of aromatherapy.

The trees are uplit with landscape lights and are eerily beautiful at night, their delicate white blossoms glowing in the dark.

All these spring flowers are lovely but don’t last long, so you really have to stop to enjoy them while you can.

More Spring Photos

The hellebores continue to please me with their greenish, waxy-looking flowers. I planted three more last year.


Hellebores. (Click image for larger)

Since they are in Pont’s main flight path through the garden, it remains to be seen if they’ve survived.

Last fall I planted 96 “Czar Peter? tulips in the middle bed of the back gardens. They are coming up nicely, with an unusual purple stripe along their leaves.


Czar Peter leaf. (Click image for larger)

Taking Care of Business

In spring, my list of things to do grows longer by the minute, and Brian has to talk me down when I start to get that frantic look in my eyes. I could be outside every spare minute and still not get it all done. That really puts me in a panic when I let it get to me.

I’m still clearing out perennial beds, but I’m almost finished with that chore. I was able to cut back most of the clematis this weekend and got a start on pruning the shrub roses. But when I look around, I see the prairie garden to be weeded, the early vegetables to get planted, the wisteria to be pruned and on and on. Yikes!

Sometimes I feel smug that I’ve gotten so much done already, and it’s only mid-April. (Is it just me or did Spring come early this year?) And at other times, I’m just overwhelmed.

Today, I had to tell myself just to give it up and stay indoors to tend to mundane household chores (Lord, do I hate ironing). I could feel my internal gardening pressure rising as the sun came out. It was supposed to rain, dang it! When it’s pouring out, I can work indoors without any guilt.

There should be gardening therapy for people like me. Not a therapy where sick people do gardening to feel better. I’m talking about therapy for “people who garden too much? or wish they could garden more, something to help them feel better when they can’t.

Maybe I’ll add that to my list of things to do.

What I’m Reading

Browsing through: “Architectural Plants: What to grow and how to grow it? by Christine Shaw. Too bad most of the plants won’t survive in Zone 4.

Still listening to: “Outlander – Part 2? by Diana Gabaldon. Continuing the tale of romantic Scottish time travel. Two disks left!

Graham’s current favorite: “The Borrowers? by Mary Norton. Another children’s classic. And “Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late? by Mo Willems.

Today’s Grahamisms

While watching a silly cartoon in which Baby Bugs Bunny and Baby Daffy were building a “huge? castle, Graham said, “That's not the biggest castle I've ever seen. Actually I've never seen one but I know I will some day.? Too right, boyo.

“City Gardener,? Mom’s current favorite BBC gardening show was on. Graham watched for a while and then said, “You know, to make everything look really great, we need to paint the house green and add bricks all around the gardens. So get going.? Just what I need, a six-year-old design critic.

Posted by maasx003 at 3:59 PM | Books | Family | Gardens

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April 10, 2006

Happy Birthday, Graham!

Monday, April 10, our son Graham Kiloran turned six. He was born on a Monday, and it’s hard to believe that enough years have passed for that same day to come around again.

And it’s hard to believe that our tiny baby....


Graham at one day old. (Click image for larger)

....has grown into a big boy of six.


Graham with his BD cakes. (Click image for larger)

We held a small party this weekend for a mixture of old friends and new. The theme was superheroes and the eight boys (and one little sister) made their own capes, wrist bands and goggles. (Many thanks to my friend Wendy who shared her professional ideas and supplies.)


Flash greets everyone in the entry. (Click image for larger)



Making super hero wristbands. (Click image for larger)



Making super hero capes. (Click image for larger)


Games included Bad Guy Bowling and a race to save Superman’s life by gathering all the kryptonite that had fallen into our yard the night before when a meteorite whizzed overhead.


Super heroes hunt down kryptonite. (Click image for larger)



Our heroes located all the kryptonite. (Click image for larger)


Then there was a piñata, Spiderman cakes and opening presents – all in two hours. Whew!


At the Batman piñata. (Click image for larger)



Piñata opened! (Click image for larger)



Even time for gifts! (Click image for larger)



Dad & Graham play some chess. (Click image for larger)


And soon another year will zoom by and we’ll find ourselves at party number seven, wondering where the time went.

So here’s to you, my sweet babaloo. Happy, happy birthday.

We’re Back in the Garden, Baby!

The Maas family spent some time doing garden clean up this week, lifting leaves from the front perennial beds so the bulbs could come through.

Graham was my helper guy, gently pulling the matted leaves back to reveal yellow daffodil and crocus shoots. Each time he found one, he would shout, “Mom! Look! More garden treasure!? He was especially enamored with the tulip shoots declaring that they looked like candy with stripes of white, yellow and red.

At one point he told me, “We make a good team. You know how to garden and I know how to have fun.? Indeed. I thought they were one and the same.

Today Brian removed the bags of leaves that protected tender plants during the winter, and Graham helped with box elder bug extermination, his trusty squirt gun filled with soapy water. Any time he saw a box elder bug, he would shout, “Do you want to go to heaven??

He was quite proud of his efforts saying, “We are saving the gardens. Dad and me are shooting the box elders and you can get the slugs.?

More Signs of Spring

The goldfinches have ditched their drab gray winter coats for shades of yellow –from the softest cream to bright lemon.

The dogs no longer need their coats when we go for walks.

A bunch of asparagus was only 98 cents at Cub this week. As I was cooking it, Graham said, “I smell something stinky.?

I made my first chive omelet of the season.

Brian uncovered the willow furniture under the pergola.

What I’m Reading

Still reading: “John William Waterhouse? by Aubrey Noakes. A look at the Pre-Raphaelite painter and his work.

Listening to: “Outlander – Part 2? by Diana Gabaldon. Continuing the tale of romantic Scottish time travel.

Graham’s current favorite: “The Borrowers? by Mary Norton. Another children’s classic.

Today’s Grahamisms

"When Pont dies and is a dog angel, will he still be in the house but we just can’t see him? What if I walk through the house and trip over him?"

"When superheroes crash their cars, they get zero dollars back."

Posted by maasx003 at 4:08 PM | Books | Family | Gardens

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March 26, 2006

Are You Worthy?

I recently completed a long-overdue project: transferring all the names from my address book into a new one. The one old was papered with a mosaic of yellow Post-it notes – new names to add but there was no room and updates on current place holders. I couldn’t open it without a little paper fluttering out like a wounded butterfly.

I started at the very beginning and made my way from A to Z, meticulously copying names, addresses and telephone numbers. Technology crept in with the addition cell phone numbers and email addresses, when available.

I noted all the changes that had happened to my friends and family through the years. There were a lot of physical shifts as people moved up and on from apartment dwellers to homeowners. I must have worn an eraser clear through with some of the more transient folks who have moved from state to state. Some people’s addresses I transferred even though I knew they will have another new one in the next couple of months.

The life changes were more bittersweet with the inevitable deaths. I’ve lost several aunts and uncles in the past few years, and it was sad to have to eliminate an entire couple from my permanent record. Even though my grandfather has been dead since 1985 or 86, I kept his address. For some reason it’s important to me to remember the street number in the tiny town where he lived.

There were heartbreaking divorces to note, proud transitions from children to young adults with addresses of their own, and lots of joyful additions as friend added babies to their families.

My biggest concern was that, with all the Post-it note updates, I wouldn’t have enough room in the new address book. I somehow have lots of friends with last names beginning with M and N and who had to spill over into P in the old book.

So I tried to be ruthless. If someone wasn’t on my Christmas mailing list or I hadn’t been in contact in at least five years, he or she was gone. It was surprisingly easy. It made my mindful of the old Seinfeld episode when Elaine only had a small supply of contraceptive sponges, and each new man she met was judged “sponge-worthy? or not.

Was the woman I knew from community summer theatre back when I was a teenager address-book worthy? No. Was the acquaintance with whom I had lunch once or twice eight years ago worthy? No. And so on and so on.

When I was finished, my address book held only the names of the people with whom I want to remain in touch. It may not be frequently but if I want to call or drop a note, I can.

So if you receive my 2006 Christmas card or I call you out of the blue in a few weeks, consider yourself worthy.

I do.

More Signs of Spring

The redwing blackbirds are calling in the marshy places.

Pussy willows have appeared again along the path by the stream where I walk the dogs.

So has the goose poop. Bleh!

Easy Appetizers

I attended a gardening lunch this weekend – a great idea by the way and thanks for the invite, Rebecca – to which I brought the easiest of appetizers. The recipe came from the Desperation Dinners section of the Strib:

Just microwave 4 oz of cream cheese for 7 to 10 seconds and then stir in something to give it some taste. Serve with crackers or French bread slices. For savory spreads use two tablespoons of pesto, salsa, artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers or blue cheese. For a sweet spread for fruit or graham crackers, add ¼ cup crushed pineapple, fruit preserves or whole cranberry sauce. I used pesto and dried tomato pesto for two savory spreads and chutney for a sweet spread.

They tasted great and were incredibly easy to mix up. Give them a try. I recommend using whipped cream cheese over the brick, if possible.

What I’m Reading

In the middle of: “John William Waterhouse? by Aubrey Noakes. A look at the Pre-Raphaelite painter and his work.

Listening to: “Outlander – Part 2? by Diana Gabaldon. Continuing the tale of romantic Scottish current favorite: “The Box Car Children? by Gertrude Chandler Warner. A children’s classic.

Today’s Grahamisms

“Mom, you need hearing lessons. I never have to tell Dad something."

“I know how you hate slugs, Mom. When summer comes, you should spray them with soapy water. Dad and me, we hate boxelder bugs. They always come in the house. So this spring and fall, we’re going to spray them with soapy water and kill them. That’ll teach them a lesson.?

“Today we had a real weatherman from Channel 4 talk to us about weather and tornados. He said that we should think about being a weatherman some day but I’m going to be just like my father.?

“I know what to do when there’s a tornado. You go into the basement or the bathroom and you always stay away from the windows. The best place to go is the bathroom because there are pipes under the bathtubs that go way underground so if a tornado comes your house could blow away but the bathroom will stay.?

Posted by maasx003 at 5:11 PM | Books | Family | Gardens

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March 18, 2006

Winter Wonderland? Enough Already!

Such are the vagaries of gardening in the Upper Midwest: last Sunday morning, March 12, I spent a delightful time in the early spring garden.

I counted the blooming snowdrops under the front maple. They had arrived a week earlier than usual.

snowdrop.jpg

I lifted bags of leaves from the hellebores and took a peak. Imagine my surprise to find so many blossoms here as well. I keep forgetting that in warmer climes they bloom in December.

spring001.jpg

And I took a quick inventory of all the other bulbs that were starting to poke their way through the soil, including these early crocus and daffodils.

crocdaf.jpg

That was about 10 a.m. By 4:30 p.m. when I could finally get back in the garden and do some work, in this case cutting back some shaggy-looking grasses, the first little snowflakes appeared. And then there were more snowflakes and more snowflakes and more and more.

Monday morning brought our first and only true winter storm of the season. Then we had another big dump on Thursday. All my pretty little blooms and bulbs are now covered by two feet of snow.

The good news is that these early emergers are tough, and the snow will keep them well-insulated. Actually, the snow is starting to melt already.

We may receive more snow in March than in any other month, but at least you know that it won’t last. Soon these same plants will be uncovered again and they’ll be here to stay.

At last!

What I’m Reading

In the middle of: “Succession Planting for Year-Round Pleasure? by Christopher Lloyd. Just started: “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell? by Susanna Clarke, at Brian’s recommendation. And “Julie and Julia : 365 days, 524 recipes, 1 tiny apartment kitchen : how one girl risked her marriage, her job and her sanity to master the art of living? by Julie Powell. It’s a hoot!

Listening to: “The Secret History of the Pink Carnation? by Lauren Willig. The tales of a female spy in the vein of the Scarlet Pimpernell.

Graham’s current favorite: “No Flying in the House? by Betty Brock.

Today’s Grahamisms

After his St. Patrick’s Day Irish dance performance, Graham said, “When I was dancing, I felt like I had to scratch my hair but I knew I couldn’t do it on stage so I just kept on dancing.?

“I miss Sister Olivia (our dear, departed Dalamatian). I wonder where she is in heaven. Maybe if we threw water up in the air, we could see her.?

“Maybe I can get married when I’m 17.? (Mom says, Maybe not!)

Posted by maasx003 at 5:01 PM | Books | Family | Gardens

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March 15, 2006

All Irish Dance, All the Time

There is an amazing feeling when you watch your child perform on stage in front of hundreds of people, with apparently no fear in his or her body, just the joy of movement to music.

You look at that child and think, “Where did you get that poise, that comfort in your own self?? and hope that it will last through the inevitable gawky and uncomfortable years ahead.

We’ve had that pleasure twice in the past week and will have it a third time when Graham performs again with Rince na Chroi, his Irish dance school, as part of St. Patrick’s Day activities in St. Paul.

GK small dance.jpg

This is Graham’s second year of Irish dance, and he has performed in two major recitals and an Irish Fair. He has improved tremendously in the past year at this school. The teaching staff is excellent, and he is surrounded by young women who watch out for him during performances.

And these girls also know how to have fun.

He hasn’t quite figured out that he is only one of two boys in the entire school, and I hope he never does. On Sunday a boy of about 10 or 12 years performed with another school, and he was fantastic.

Together we watched the boy dance, and I told Graham that he could dance that well some day if he stuck with it. I think he was just relieved that he didn’t have to wear a kilt like a boy from a third school.

2006 Concordia Perf 007 small.jpg

On Sunday, several of the girls from Graham’s school were honored for having spent more than 10 years in Irish dance class. Dance doesn’t have a specific season like soccer or basketball. These girls are committed every week, practicing and performing year-round.

I hope Graham will continue to enjoy Irish dance so he can be that committed 10 years down the road.

Audio and Video Recaps of Recent Performances

March 13, 2006
March 12, 2005 Landmark Performance

Video Description: A video taken from the March 12, 2005 performance at the Landmark in St.Paul

Duration: 35 seconds

Date Last Updated: Feb 27, 2006

File Size: 1.62KB

Embedded Player: Use the player below to view!

Audio Description: The Rince na Chroi Irish Dancers rehearse for their March 5 performance at EM Pearson Theater, Concordia University, St. Paul. Music by Five Mile Chase & the Minnesota Police Pipe Band.

Duration: 10 minutes, 52 seconds

Date Last Updated: Friday 03 Mar 2006 09:29:44 PM CST

File Size: 2.55 MB

Embedded Player: Use the player below to listen in!

Daffodil Addendum

When I wrote about daffodils last week, I forgot to mention that you should keep daffodils separate in bouquets, not mixing them with any other kind of bloom, unless you give them special treatment.

Daffodils are toxic to deer, rabbits and squirrels. But they are also toxic to other cut flowers without special treatment. Place your cut daffodils in a separate water container for several hours or overnight. Recut their stems and add to your mixed floral vase using clean water.

I didn’t know about this special treatment until I took a gander at the website of the Daffodil Society of Minnesota. Check it out.

Bd 2006 002.jpg

The Little Pumpkin that Could

Somehow Graham’s little pumpkin plant that he potted up last Halloween is still hanging in, even setting blooms. Who knew?

2006 March 12 Landmark 002.jpg

What I’m Reading

In the middle of: “Success Planting for Year-Round Pleasure? by Christopher Lloyd. Just started: “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell? by Susanna Clarke, at Brian’s recommendation. And “Julie and Julia : 365 days, 524 recipes, 1 tiny apartment kitchen : how one girl risked her marriage, her job and her sanity to master the art of living? by Julie Powell. It’s a hoot!

Listening to: “The Secret History of the Pink Carnation? by Lauren Willig. The tales of a female spy in the vein of the Scarlet Pimpernell.

Graham’s current favorite: “No Flying in the House? by Betty Brock.

Today’s Grahamisms

Brian and Graham had a snow day on Monday, courtesy of this season’s only blizzard. By the afternoon the weather had settled down enough for them to run errands. They stopped at Caribou Coffee for refreshments. While Graham was sipping his hot chocolate, he said, “This is what I call a relaxing day.? Indeed.

Graham is learning about the rainforest in school. “There are two kinds of snakes: stricting ones and poisonous ones. The stricting ones squeeze you ‘til you’re dead.?

Posted by maasx003 at 5:59 PM | Books | Family | Gardens

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March 5, 2006

Signs of Spring

In the Upper Midwest, there’s something about making it to March that makes you feel like you’ve turned a corner to Spring. The days are longer and warmer, and if the air feels moist, there’s as much a chance of rain as snow.

In the last few days I’ve noticed a number of signs of Spring:

Sights

• For me, the most welcome and reliable sign of Spring is the seeing the first robin of the season. I first heard him, then saw him, in a flowering crab tree next to the garage, feasting on last year’s fruit. I usually see the first robin around my birthday, March 15, so this guy is almost two weeks early. A good omen?

• The trees are budding. Our “Merrill? magnolias have enormous furry buds, like a pussy willow on steroids, and the lilacs are plumping out as well.

• When I was delivering Meals on Wheels in St. Paul last week, the tulips in front of one client’s home were already peeking two inches out of the ground.

• One of the neighborhood kids was out on his bicycle yesterday, his winter cap tucked underneath his safety helmet.

Sounds

• The cardinals and other birds are putting on dramatic choral performances every morning, the avian version of “Hey, baby,? as they try to impress their womenfolk.

• As I took the pups for a walk yesterday, we were accompanied by the sounds of melting water rushing into the drains.

Smells

• There is an unmistakable whiff of thawing earth in the air, rich and moist and delicious. The flip of that is the unmistakable whiff of thawing dog poop that irresponsible dog owners left behind on their walks.

• The thyme that grows in the chinks of our stone garden walls has greened up. Crushing a few sprigs between my fingers brings the promise of summer.

Tastes

• During my walk yesterday, I was struck with an unexpected craving for radishes, one of the first spring vegetables. Bite into one and your mouth explodes with hot and peppery flavor. What a change from heavy winter food.

• The pumpkin soup I had planned to serve as a first course for a few girlfriends next weekend suddenly seems wrong. Wrong taste, wrong season, wrong, wrong, wrong. I might have to rethink that soup or find a way to brighten it up for spring.

These are simple little observations and totally subjective but for me they add up to the impending arrival of Spring. And not a moment too soon.

More Floral Value for Your Money

If any of you have been reading the blog for a while, you know I’m mad for daffodils. I love March because you can purchase inexpensive bunches of these cheery flowers to brighten up your world.

But even I was surprised at the deals this week at our local Cub grocery store. Five stems of daffodils were being sold at 10 for $10. Amazing! I purchased five bunches earlier in the week and went back on Saturday for 10 more.

Now I have a bouquet of 50 daffodils in one earthen jug on my dining room table – for only $10!

I’m not sure how long this offer will go on, but check it out!

What I’m Reading

In the middle of: “Success Planting for Year-Round Pleasure? by Christopher Lloyd. Just started: “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell? by Susanna Clarke, at Brian’s recommendation.

Listening to: “Outlander? by Diana Gabaldon. Romantic time travel in Scotland. What a combo!

Graham’s current favorite: “The Cricket in Times Square? by George Selden.

Posted by maasx003 at 8:04 AM | Books | Gardens

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February 15, 2006

Going for Gold

I read this morning that the USA received its first gold medal at the Winter Olympics. Gardeners don’t have such opportunities to win medals, but there are opportunities for competition.

We have done all our major landscaping projects with Dundee nursery, working with landscape architect Jay Siedschlaw. Last year Jay’s photos of our gardens were used as Dundees’ ads in Mpls.St.Paul magazine, which was rather fun to see.

magazine_ad_small.jpg

At the end of the season last year, Jay asked if we would work with him to enter our gardens in the Minnesota Nursery and Landscape Association’s annual Landscape Design competition.

Frankly, we didn’t feel our gardens were ready at that time, but this year we will gather photos and write text so we can enter. Any awards given go to the landscape firm which did the design, but we would feel like winners, too.

Check out this site to see which gardens/designers have won in previously years.

You make the call. Will we take home the gold?

A Royal Double-Take

I’m reading a book which features photos of the British royal family taken through the years by photographer Cecil Beaton.

One photograph from 1942, which shows the King, Queen and Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, made me look twice.

In the lower right-hand corner of the photo, seated on the edge of an armchair is a sixteen-year Princess Elizabeth. Is it just me or could she be my sister? I even showed the photo to Graham and asked, “Who does this lady look like?? and he said, “You, Mom!?

I’ve often thought the now-Queen Elizabeth looks like my aunt LaVerna. It must be the German ancestry that we share with the Queen.

Good genes and true breeding always tell!

A Second Flush

I always try to keep something blooming in the house during the dreary winter months. This year I’ve had tremendous success with a simple primrose I purchased from Cub Foods in January.

It has produced gorgeous coral flowers like the Eveready Bunny – it just keeps going and going and going. It bloomed solidly for almost a month, took a breather and has produced another set of flowers.

early mid feb dogs 002 small.jpg

I bought two pots of primroses for $4.00. The other plant, which had yellow flowers, petered out pretty quickly, but this little plant has proved to be a great value for the money.

Posted by maasx003 at 1:02 AM | Family | Gardens

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February 11, 2006

Let the Garden Games Begin!

Reading about all the extreme sports in the Olympics reminded me of a piece I wrote for the Minneapolis Star Tribune a few years ago.

Gardeners may not have luge or skeleton or snowboarding but we still have some serious fun.

So for your enjoyment, a Musings column from April 12, 2001…

Garden This!

The recent appearance of the XFL, the latest entrant in the X-treme sports arena, gave me an idea for the Home and Garden channel: X-treme gardening shows.

For me, gardening is a blood sport. A weeding session is not complete unless I’m bleeding from some cut or gash incurred in a tussle with an errant shrub or vine. The measure of a truly successful day is the number of Band-Aids I display at the end of it.

It took only a little imagination to dream up a perfect lineup for an evening’s viewing.

Starting at 7 p.m. with “Run for the Roses.? Two teams of lean, mean gardening machines compete in a series of physical challenges. In one event, team members would run an obstacle-course relay. Contestants carry a bag of cow manure up a steep slope, dodging small children and hurdling clay pots of different sizes on the way. As each competitor completed a leg, he or she would pass the 40-pound bovine baton to the next competitor. The winner would be the first team to cross the finish line.

Another event would be a test of speed, skill and manual dexterity. As the competitors race to be the first to plant 1,000 daffodil bulbs, viewers would grimace sympathetically as the repetitive-stress injuries accumulate. In the final event, a prune-off, two competitors wrestle a wild apple tree back into fine bearing form – using only a left-handed shears and a dull pruning saw! See the suckers fly as they hack, saw and snip the tree into submission! The winning team would receive an all-expenses-paid trip to the Chelsea Garden Show.

The 8 p.m. offering would feature gladiator-style hand-to-hand combat in a show called “Garden This!? At the bell, two warriors would enter a garden center from opposite ends with identical shopping lists of planting materials. They would dash around furiously to fill their carts and fend off their opponent. (Each, of course, wearing protective kneeling guards, wide-brimmed hats and thick leather gloves.)

Just imagine the commentary: “Here comes Diane from aisle seven. She’s closing in on Lucinda like a heat-seeking missile. There’s a hip check, a cart-ram, and yes! Diane has the Verbena bonarienses and she’s moving on. But look, Chet, Lucinda has drawn her Good Grips trowel and is lunging at Diane. Watch as Diane fends off that blow with her dibble. What pluck! Oooh, that had to smart. She should have just handed over the Purple Wave petunias quietly.?

This stylized Battle at Bachman’s would be prime-time pleasure for sure, but it wouldn’t be for the squeamish.

The final show would be the reality-based “Survivor: The Back Yard.? A motley crew would be thrown together to design and plant gorgeous perennial borders in that most hostile of environments: a Zone 4 suburban back yard with deep shade and clay soil. As passions and tempers fester among the hosta and heuchera, members of the Plumbago tribe would be voted off the island bed until only one survivor remained. The winner would get either $1 million or Smith & Hawken deck furniture, whichever is cheaper.

OK, OK, maybe this is a little extreme. But with such a short growing season, we scarred and battle-eager X-treme gardeners will do just about anything to get our fix.

What I’m Reading

In the middle of: “Cecil Beaton: The Royal Portraits? by Sir Roy Strong. Photos of the British royal family from the 1930s on.

Listening to: “Jewels of the Sun? by Nora Roberts. It’s fluff but I get to listen to Irish accents while driving to and from work.

Graham’s current favorite: He has moved on another series of chapter books – the “Horrible Harry? series by Suzy Kline.

Remaining Garden Chores

Start reading through those garden catalogs that are piling up and make some decisions!

Clean out my gardening tote. It’s filled with old plant tags, clods of dirt and other detritus.

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

While watching a commercial that ran during the Super Bowl in which a man walked obliviously down the street while NASCAR racers whizzed by, a baseball was hit toward the screen, and other sports activities occurred, Graham said, “Well, you sure don’t see that every day.?

Posted by maasx003 at 5:59 PM | Family | Gardens

Category "Gardens"

February 4, 2006

An Update on the Indoor Garden

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Despite my lack of attention (or perhaps because of it), my indoor garden is doing well.

The amaryllis bulbs that I repotted this fall after spending the summer outdoors are pushing up greenery. The bulb that was the size of a softball produced a massive display this week. There are a total of five different blooms on this stalk.

Of the other nine repotted bulbs, only one more has produced a flower stalk. I’ll be curious to see what color flower it sport. It should bloom in the next couple of weeks.

Graham’s pumpkin plant, however, has not been so successful.

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The seeds sprouted well and produced a good first flush of growth. But pumpkins just aren’t meant to be grown in a small pot indoors during the winter. We saved a few seeds from our Halloween jack o’lantern and will have to plant them this summer so Graham can get the full picture.

The “blooming garden? of bulbs that I brought in after spending the summer outdoors performed just as I expected: lousy. The tulips, daffodils and crocus all produced lots of foliage, but only a single hyacinth bloomed.

I knew I should have just thrown the whole thing into the compost heap when it finished blooming last spring, but it was fun to do a little experiment if I was right. I was.

Some of my favorite houseplants are these two begonia which I received from my mother when I had my first apartment, about 18 years ago. They were given to her by a little neighborhood lady who had the most amazing garden and indoor plants when I was growing up.

These begonia have dark green glossy leaves that form a nice mound. Some of the leaves have produced sports that split and curl back around themselves like a snail shell.

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Periodically the plants flower, sending out stalks up to two feet long covered with delicate white blooms that somehow remind me of bleeding heart.

So while I long to be outdoors puttering about in my gardens, my indoor one suits me just fine.

What I’m Reading

In the middle of: “Cooking for Mr. Latte: A Food Lover’s Courtship, with Recipes? by Amanda Hesser, a charming account of a food writer’s courtship of her future husband.

Listening to: “Heart of the Sea? by Nora Roberts. It’s fluff but I get to listen to Irish accents while driving to and from work.

Graham’s current favorite: He has moved on to the Stanley series by Jeff Brown, following the adventures of poor Stanley who gets flattened, turns invisible and finds a magic lamp.

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Remaining Garden Chores

Start reading through those garden catalogs that are piling up and make some decisions!

Clean out my gardening tote. It’s filled with old plant tags, clods of dirt and other detritus.

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

“Happy Valentine’s Day, Mom!?

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Posted by maasx003 at 5:16 PM | Gardens

Category "Books"

Category "Family"

Category "Gardens"

February 1, 2006

Weather Thou Goest…

The day after Christmas, I started my first gardening book of the winter reading season. I’ll discuss my epiphanies from Sir Roy Strong’s The Laskett at another time but from that book on, my waking thoughts have been filled with the garden – what worked last year, what didn’t; what should I be starting from seed this year; what new things should I try; and on and on.

This urge to get back outdoors and start plunging my hands into the dirt came to a screaming crescendo this week when the Minneapolis area experienced record-breaking temperatures. And I mean warm ones, not the typical 60 degrees below freezing stuff we usually get this time of year

On Friday, I went for a walk over lunch and it was 46 degrees out. In the positive. On January 27! What the heck!

It was so warm and wonderful out that I could smell the ground thawing. I swear my neighbor’s lawn is growing and soon he will have to mow. My bergenia are standing to attention, and I’ve seen several green plants in the garden beds.

Apparently we’re not the only ones experiencing unseasonable weather. Or maybe it’s going to become the “new? seasonable weather.

In the February 2006 issue of the BBC Gardeners’ World Magazine, British gardening guru Alan Titchmarsh addresses the fact that in England, gardeners are now growing more and more tropical plants – and leaving them outdoors without any need for winter protection. The Brits are experiencing wetter winters and longer, hotter, drier summers. He wrote:

Our gardens aren't what they were 25-years ago, and that's a fact. Don't worry, I'm not about to moan about falling standards and offer dire predictions about global warming, but there's no denying the seasons have shifted over the years, and gardeners have to adjust their cultivations to match them.

Now, I'm not one of those who believes Armageddon is on the way. It may be something to do with my innate optimism, but I don't think I have my head in the sand. Of course, we must do our bit to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and control the number of gases we pump out into the atmosphere, but our planet has warmed up before. There were warm tropical periods between the Earth's many ice ages and mini-ice ages, and they happened quite quickly. This is due, in part, to the fact that the earth wobbles on its axis, and when it wobbles nearer the sun we get warmer, when it wobbles away we get cooler. In short, climate change is natural. The real news would be if our climatic conditions remained static, but that wouldn't sell newspapers.

While I’m not about to start planting tropical plants as perennials, Brian and I have begun discussing pushing our zones. Which Zone 5 plants have we always wanted to plant but haven’t because they weren’t hardy here?

Maybe this is the year to include more hellebores and other borderline Zone 4 beauties. Whether (or weather) they survive or not, time will tell.

Garden Clean Up of a Different Sort

For Christmas this year, my wish list was very short: a teapot to replace a favorite one I had broken and a facial.

How does this relate to gardening? Considering that I garden from April to November in all kinds of sun and weather and dirt and grit, I know that by the time the gardening season is over, my face is a mess. It needs a tune up and a proper cleaning.

Brian presented me with a gift card for the “Ultimate Facial? at the Sanctuary SalonSpa in Eden Prairie, and I experienced the full luxurious treatment this weekend. From my head (scalp massage) to the tips of my toes (foot massage) and areas in between - a seaweed exfoliant on my back and shoulders (great for repairing the summer’s sun damage) and multiple facial masks and treatments, I felt pampered and prepared for the next gardening season.

If you live in the metro area, check out this spa. It’s a lovely way to treat yourself right. Go to Sanctuary Spa. Ask for Korynn for your treatments. She was very good.

Shameless Plug

I'm eagerly awaiting the release of a new CD by Edinburgh-born chanteuse/guitarist KT Tunstall. Her debut album Eye To The Telescope will released on February 7, 2006. The first simgle, Black Horse and the Cherry Tree, has been getting a lot of air play in the Twin Cities. Give her a listen!

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Another Shameless Plug

After my spa morning, Brian, Graham and I met our friends Hadi Anbar, his wife Soodi and their daughter Jaanon for lunch at Kabobi, the latest in Hadi’s stable of great restaurants. His other restaurants include Mission (the former Aquavit) and Atlas, both in downtown Minneapolis.

Kabobi serves food from their native Persia in a fast food setting but with real silverware and cloth napkins, an elegant touch. The food – kebabs and pita sandwiches – is very flavorful and a great value. It’s even kid-friendly, our biggest litmus test.

If you are ever in the Eden Prairie area, check it out.

Virtual Shopping Maas-Style

Brian and I have mastered a new kind of virtual shopping. When he is out and about with his cell phone, he will snap a picture of an item with the camera function and email it me.

For example, this fall I wanted to purchase a new camel hair winter coat. Brian went to the mall over his lunch hour, tracked down a couple of models and sent photos of them to me to choose from. We then had a brief phone conversation, and he purchased the one I wanted. Bada-bing, shopping over.

On Friday, Graham had a school release day. Brian stayed home with him, and they spent some time at a book store. Brian sent me an email message to me at work, asking if there were any books I wanted. I replied that I would love anything by Sir Roy Strong.

He sent me the following image for my approval, and it was waiting for me when I got home from work.

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Technology can be very, very good. And very, very efficient.

What I’m Reading

Just finished: The Laskett by Sir Roy Strong, an account of the efforts that he and his wife took to create the first new large formal garden in England since 1945. And A Dog Year: Twelve Months, Four Dogs, and Me by Jon Katz, a loving tribute to the author’s two Labradors and the Welsh Border Collies that he adopted.

In the middle of: Cooking for Mr. Latte: A Food Lover’s Courtship, with Recipes by Amanda Hesser, a charming account of a food writer’s courtship of her future husband.

Listening to: Just finished The Grave Maurice by Martha Grimes. Now on Heart of the Sea by Nora Roberts. It’s fluff but I get to listen to Irish accents while driving to and from work. Very nice.

Graham’s current favorite: Together, we are reading The Littles by John Peterson, one of my childhood favorites. Independently, he is burning through the Magic Treehouse series by Mary Pope Osborne. At his school, students are in a month-long reading challenge. Kindergarteners are to read 240 minutes over the next four weeks. Graham has already racked up more than 300 minutes in the first week. That’s my boy!

There has also been some recognition for Graham at his school recently. He also got this award of merit this past week.

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Remaining Garden Chores

Start reading through those garden catalogs that are piling up and make some decisions!

Clean out my gardening tote. It’s filled with old plant tags, clods of dirt and other detritus.

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

“I know what you call people who can’t see and people who can’t hear. But what do you call people who can’t smell??

Posted by maasx003 at 1:23 AM | Books | Family | Gardens

Category "Books"

Category "Family"

Category "Gardens"

December 18, 2005

A Tale of Two Christmas Trees

When we did our house remodel a few years ago, we gained a bank of windows in our great room that just begged for a big Christmas tree.

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This nine-foot artificial tree is pre-lit and covered with family mementoes and keepsakes from our travels including an ornament from our honeymoon at Glacier National Park, a metal building from Brian’s visit to Brussels and a Russian birch heart.

There are also plant and garden-related ornaments, some purchased at a garden store outside of London during our last visit. Blown glass carrots, peaches, hummingbirds and cardinals mingle with tiny pitchforks and spades. It may be winter but the garden is never far from my mind! Click here for a videocast of my favorite Xmas ornaments.

This tree is beautiful but Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without the scents of a real tree. So each year we purchase a tree just for Graham’s ornaments. These range from 101 Dalmatians and Bob the Builder to Scooby Doo and the Flash, a chronicle of his childhood toy progression. This year’s cool ornaments are a Star Wars storm trooper and R2D2 & C3PO. Not to mention this cool rocket ship which screams "we have a boy":

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His tree is the one we gather around on Christmas even to open presents, which makes it even more special.

Merry Christmas to you all!

Winter Wonderland

Our recent snowfalls have lent a holiday spirit to the gardens.

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Christmas Cookies

It is a well-known fact in my household that while I can do many things, baking cookies is just not one of them.

I never seem to trust the amount of time that the directions tell me to leave the cookies in the oven, so my cookies are always well done. Okay, over done.

When I told Brian that I wanted to bake Christmas cookies with Graham this weekend, he just laughed.

I want Graham to have “typical? childhood memories of baking home made Christmas cookies. So I cheat a little. I buy a tube of pre-made sugar cookie dough, roll it out and call it home made. Graham doesn’t know the difference. He just likes to spread LOTS of flour onto the granite island and cut out his favorite shapes.

His cookie cutters of choice do not have Christmas motifs. He likes to use an old, old set with the images of cartoon characters such as Tom and Jerry, Droopy dog and a duck. They must be from when my brother and sister were kids.

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We may or may not get around decorating the cookies. It doesn’t matter. The point is that we did a traditional Christmas activity together. And I’ve got pictures to prove it.

Afterwards, when Brian asked Graham how the cookies tasted, he said, “Crunchy.?

Some Christmas traditions never change.

Feeding my Inner Geek

Readers who love arcane information should look no further than the Dorling Kindersley Eyewitness Books series. With more than 130 titles on everything from “Africa? and “Amphibians? to “Weather? and “World War II,? these books provide a comprehensive, in-depth look at a single topic. The books are quality products, made with gorgeous photographs and high production values.

Graham and I both enjoy them. Between the two of us, we had a huge stack of them checked out from the library last week.

Sometimes a novel or autobiography just won’t fit my mood because I want to learn something new. The other night I finished “Watercolor? and on my bedside still await “Rocks and Minerals?, “Medieval Life? and “Crystal and Gem? for when that mood strikes again.

For younger readers, there’s a spin-off series called Eye Wonder – same great photos and production values – just a simpler focus.

And they’ve even made a few of the titles into videos and DVDs. As I type, Graham is watching “Oceans?. His other favorites are “Shark? and “Planet.? He’s even going to give “Shark? the book to his school buddy for Christmas.

Check them out at www.dk.com.

What I’m Reading

In the middle of: What do You Do All Day?? by Amy Scheibe, a childhood friend. It’s a funny and frank story of a stay home mom in Manhattan. Run out and buy a copy now! (Okay, so that was a shameless plug!)

Also: “Chewing the Cud? by Dick King-Smith, the autobiography of the author of “Babe: The Gallant Pig?which was made into the classic film by the same name.

Listening to: “The Blue Last? by Martha Grimes. Only about 10 minutes left!

Graham’s current favorite: “Captain Underpants and the Wrath of the Wicked Wedgie Woman" by Dav Pilkey. I couldn’t have made that up myself if I had tried.

Remaining Garden Chores

Clean out my gardening tote. It’s filled with old plant tags, clods of dirt and other detritus.

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

“What if the chickadee only said, ‘Dee-dee-dee-dee?’ Could it keep its old name??

“I want an easy job when I grow up. I’m going to take pictures of dinosaurs in museums.?

“I don’t need to write a letter to Santa. The elves have already made want I want.? How do you know that? “Oh, Mom, it’s a long story.?

When Graham and I came home from running errands one evening, we discovered that Glynis had eaten the remaining 10 squares in Graham’s chocolate calendar. I told him that dogs that eat chocolate can get really sick and even die. He walked over to where Glynis was lying on the couch, gave her a pat and a kiss and said, “Good bye, Glynis.? And then walked away.

Posted by maasx003 at 4:40 PM | Books | Family | Gardens

Category "Books"

Category "Family"

Category "Gardens"

Category "Videocast"

December 10, 2005

Countdown to Christmas

In a household with a five-year-old, counting the days down to Christmas takes on the meaning of ritual.

When I was a kid, we used the Advent calendar that my Aunt Betty gave us. It was kind of like a flannel board - a green Christmas tree appliquéd onto a red background. Everyday from Dec. 1 to 25, we would pin a tiny ornament onto the tree with the big yellow star saved until Christmas day.

A few years ago, my sister Juanita made copies of this cherished holiday keepsake and gave them to my brother and me. Juanita updated it by putting little pieces of Velcro on the ornaments.

This year it hangs in Graham’s room, and when he wakes up in the morning, he begins his daily calendar countdown.

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After the flannel calendar, he moves to the paper Advent calendar with a wildlife scene. Each day, he opens a little flap to reveal a tiny bird or woodland animal.

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Then he goes to the traditional green and red paper chain that he made at the beginning of the month to tear off a link.

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Finally, in the evening after dinner, he can eat the chocolate treat in the last calendar.

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What a sweet way to count down to Christmas!

Xmas Trees

In addition to counting down to Christmas, we celebrate with two, count 'em two, Christmas trees. I'll talk more about the trees and special ornaments in my next blog entry.

Christmas Tree One

Christmas Tree Two

The Seed Doesn't Fall Far From the Vine

During Graham's harvest party at school, he painted a jack o'lantern garden pot. A few weeks ago, he brought it home, planted with three pumpkin seeds. They have grown quickly, and he and Daddy measure them daily to chart their growth in an Excel spreadsheet.

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Finished!

This weekend with the temperatures in the mid-30s, I finally finished my outdoor gardening chores. I put 55 bags of leaves down on clematis vines, hellebores and hybrid tea roses.

I had been waiting for the ground to freeze, which took some time considering our warm November. There had been a few inches of snowfall so I might have missed some hellebores. I guess that will just have to be an experiment – did they really need winter cover or not?

Then I loosely wrapped the two dwarf Alberta spruce in lengths of burlap. This will prevent severe winter burn from the reflection of the sun off the snow.

The garden looks a little goofy now, with the burlapped trees and black bags of leaves all over, but I know that the tender stuff is snugly tucked in for the winter.

What I’m Reading

In the middle of: “What do You Do All Day?? by Amy Scheibe, a childhood friend. It’s a funny and frank story of a stay home mom in Manhattan. Run out and buy a copy now! (Okay, so that was a shameless plug!)

Listening to: “The Blue Last? by Martha Grimes. It’s been a while since I’ve either read or listened to one of the Richard Jury detective novels. It’s good to be back.

Graham’s current favorite: “Henry Huggins? by Beverly Cleary. A classic tale of an All-American boy and his dog.

Remaining Garden Chores

Clean out my gardening tote. It’s filled with old plant tags, clods of dirt and other detritus.

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

When told that his cousin Elise’s picture was in my college alumni magazine, Graham asked, “Why? Is she famous or something??

“What do you call people who live in Antarctica? Snowmen! I made that joke up by myself.?

Daddy, “I was the fastest kid at dodgeball.? Graham, “But remember, Dad, that was when you were young!?

When Graham noticed that our Christmas stockings were hung along the stair railing, he said, "But that’s not how stockings look in the cartoons.?

On our dog history, “Sister Olivia was Sister Glynis’ mommy so Sister Glynis is Pont’s mommy. And he thinks I’m his daddy.?

Posted by maasx003 at 6:00 PM | Books | Family | Gardens | Videocast

Category "Books"

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November 26, 2005

Too Much Information

To paraphrase the incomparable Sting and The Police, Ive got too much gardening information running through my brain.

Now that the outdoor gardening season is almost officially over, its 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.

Im 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 Gardeners 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. Well see if this Great Idea works any better than any of the other information gathering systems Ive 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 Ive clipped from newspapers and other sources.

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Ive got too much information, running through my brain

Tomato-rific

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 its 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 doesnt 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 Im going to toss the entire plate of tomatoes and cancel my experiment in spite of my limited success.

And start dreaming about next seasons tomatoes rich and juicy and warm from the sun

Snow

After our first real snowfall this week, its 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:

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Turkey Chili

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

Daves Chili (from the StarTribune, Nov. 8, 2001) my version

1 lb bulk hot Italian sausage
lb ground beef (or left over turkey)
lb ground pork (or left over turkey)
2 jalapenos one red, one green seeded and chopped
1-14 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
tsp ground coriander
tsp ground white pepper
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 Im Reading

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

Listening to: Blue Shoe by Anne LaMott

Grahams 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 oclock and sweet potato tubers in sawdust for the winter and store them someplace in the house that wont be too hot or too cold.

Todays 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 | Books | Family | Gardens | Videocast

Category "Gardens"

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 wasnt 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 Susans 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.

Heres what I did: when the weather started getting cooler, I brought my amaryllis pots into the garage and promptly forgot about them. Well, I didnt actually forget about them since I walked past them every day for almost two months. I just didnt deal with them.

Eventually their strappy leaves turned yellow, then brown and then shriveled up. Since I wasnt watering the pots, the soil dried out.

Over the long Veterans 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 Brians home office.

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

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

Correction

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
tsp ground cloves
1-1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
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 inch thick. Makes 3 to several dozen cookies, depending on the size and shape.

What Im 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. Ive actually started it but other books keep coming due at the library before I can finish it.

Listening to: Blue Shoe by Anne LaMott

Grahams 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.

Todays Grahamism

"See these lines on my hands? Theyre vines."

"A Great Reef Shark is almost eight feet long. Thats 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 | Gardens

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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.

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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.

roses002.jpg

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 Moms way. I have vivid recollections of raking leaves and leaves and leaves. I cant 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 didnt want to do it Moms way in the fall. If a rose didnt 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 didnt 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?

Ive 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 its 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 dont 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, Ill 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 thats 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 years 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. Im almost tempted to try to grow an eating variety in a big pot to see if it would produce anything fit for the table. Ill 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. Id like to overwinter these tubers for next year as well. Ill have to do some research on how to do this. I dont 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 theyve stood up in the fall. They have maintained their structure even as the days have gotten colder, and weve had one cold snap. Ill bet if we lived in Zone 5, I could leave them out all winter. Id 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. Im 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 Im concerned about the color and texture of its stems. I hope this wasnt its last hurrah!

What Im Reading

In the middle of: Funny in Farsi: Growing up Iranian in America by Firoozeh Dumas, a humorous tale of a young girls 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.

Grahams current favorite: Hungry, Hungry Sharks by Joanna Cole.

Heres Whats Blooming Now

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

Toad Lily
Calendula
Rose
Aster
Gaillarda
Lavender Hidcote
Mums
Nicotiana all shapes, colors and sizes
Verbena bonariensis
Alpine strawberry and fruiting, too
Sedum

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 dont get rain this week. The ground is very dry.

Todays 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 | Books | Gardens | Videocast

Category "Books"

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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, its 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 its 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 dont 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 doesnt 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 wont 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 arent 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 winters 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. Im trying to build it up a little each year. I dont want it too rich, as prairie plants often thrive in poor soils, but I do want it better than it is now.

Before

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After

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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 years 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 Im 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, Id like to return to his books.

Grahams current favorite: 1001 Things to Spot in the Sea by Katie Daynes.

Heres Whats Blooming Now

Toad Lily
Nepeta
Calendula
My Favorite mum lavender, red and coral
Rose
Nicotiana all shapes, colors and sizes
Verbena bonariensis
Nasturtium Peach Melba and others
Asters
Hydrangea Annabelle
Alpine strawberry and fruiting, too
Sedum

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!

Todays Grahamism

"When does the teacher go to the bathroom?"

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

"Im going to be a doctor when I grow up, just like my dad. I dont 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 | Books | Family | Gardens

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October 15, 2005

The Greatest Generation

In my work as the volunteer coordinator at the Minnesota Historical Society, I help to plan a recognition event for our volunteers each year. This year we chose the theme of Minnesotas Greatest Generation as a kick off for the Societys new project by the same name.

My coworkers and I like to dress up for the party to add a bit of fun for the volunteers. Last year we were lumberjacks; this year we dressed for the occasion by borrowing our fathers World War II uniforms and coming as Rosie the Riveter.

Dad was drafted in April 1945 at age 18 and spent a year in Japan after the bombing of Hiroshima. He was discharged in December 1946. Hes the guy in the bottom left hand portion of this photo.

As I wore his jacket during the event, everyone asked me about the different medals and patches along the sleeves and front. I knew that the rifle pin was for completing artillery training and that he had held the rank of staff sergeant in the Corps of Engineers.

Some of the volunteers who had also served during the war filled me in on the other patches, including a brief but heated debate over whether my dad deserved to wear two particular stripes down by the left wrist since he had not actually served for four years. That argument was cleared up when someone recognized that the patches were each for six months spent overseas. I can tell you I was pretty angry that someone was insinuating that my dad was a liar!

The whole thrust of the Societys Greatest Generations project is to gather the stories of those who were born during the Depression, came of age during WWII and went on to prosper during the boom afterward.

For me that night came the recognition that while I had some information about my parents lives during that time, I had better get going to gather more. This particularly came home for my supervisor as well.

Jeans father was in the Navy, which he chose over the Army because he didnt want to sleep in a tent! Jean knew that he had served in the South Pacific but had little other information. At some point in recent weeks, she told him about an exhibit of Pulitzer Prinze-wining photographs that was going to be on view at the History Center, including the famous image of the soldiers raising the flag at Iwo Jima.

I saw that happen, you know, he told her. Actually, she didnt know it and it floored her. Her father had never thought it worth mentioning that he had been aboard a supply ship off the shore of Iwo Jima and that he had cheered when he saw the flag go up.

So get out there and start asking your elderly family members questions about their lives. Write it all down or videotape it so future generations can know about the great events that shaped their lives.

You will be glad you did. Who knows what you could learn?

If you need help to get started, visit the Societys website for helpful tips at http://www.mnhs.org/people/mngg/stories/index.htm

A Few of My Favorite Tools

While Julie Andrews had long woolen mittens, snowflakes on eyelashes and schnitzel with noodles, I have my favorite spade, secateurs and gloves. View the videocast below as I dramatize my favorite tools for you!

A Through the Garden Gate Web Cam Moment:
:: Tools, Tools, Tools! :: View the videocast below as I dramatize my favorite tools for you.
Picture 2.jpg
Click photo or HERE to view the video

You can also view me in the following videocast as I walk you through my prairie garden:

Get Off your Asters

I tried something new this year by cutting back my asters in two successive efforts. At the end of June, I cut some of them back by a half to a third. Two weeks later, I cut back the others. This was to prevent them from getting so leggy, produce a fuller shape and get more blooms.

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While the plants were certainly less leggy, I dont think the blooms were increased, particularly not on the hot pink Alma Pottschke asters to the left of this photo.

mid october 001_small.jpg

While the results are mixed, I will probably do this again next year, if only to avoid staking the plants.

What Im Reading

In the middle of: A String in the Harp by Nancy Bond, a teen novel set in Wales.

Next in the queue: Pardonable Lies by Jacqueline Winspear. The latest in the Maisie Dobbs series about a young female British detective following WWI.

Listening to: The Serpents Tale by Sue Henry about a middle aged woman solving her friends murder.

Grahams current favorite: Any Calvin and Hobbes cartoon book. Graham has found his new anti-hero!

Heres Whats Blooming Now

Calendula
My Favorite mum lavender, red and coral
Rose
Morning glories
Nicotiana all shapes, colors and sizes
Verbena bonariensis
Nasturtium Peach Melba and others
Asters
Russian sage
Hydrangea Annabelle
Alpine strawberry and fruiting, too
Sedum

Garden Chores for the Week

Repot the amaryllis.

Start cutting back the dead stuff.

Vegetable Garden

Tomatoes are still trying to ripen on the vine.

Todays Grahamism

Do you think I will ever die? What makes you ask that, Graham? Well, what if a bad man shot me in the arm? Then wed take you to the doctor.

Which was immediately followed by, Do you know what my favorite number is? Its 15 because if you take away the 1, you have 5 and Im 5.

All leaves are green because they have chlorophyll, you know.

I had a bad dream last night. A meteor landed on earth and it was filled with dinosaurs. They came into our house and wanted to sleep in our beds. George Washington came and he was really mad at them. All of a sudden, the dinosaurs did something that made them go back into the meteor, and they returned to the asteroid belt. What did you dream about last night?

Posted by maasx003 at 6:29 PM | Books | Family | Gardens | Videocast | Work-Related

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October 9, 2005

Busy, Busy, Busy

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We have been running like crazy the last few weeks, and theres been no time to write. Any free time has been spent in the garden planting bulbs.

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Saturday evening, however, we enjoyed one of our last bonfires of the season. We toasted some marshmallows, listened to tunes and watched for the first stars of the evening. When Graham had had his fill of outside time, the two guys went inside to watch a Transformer movie while I stayed out to watch the fire die down.

fire.jpg

I grabbed a book and curled up on the willow couch in front of the fire, relishing a bit of time to myself. It was a lovely night brisk with the hint of the cold to come. Finally, around 9 p.m., I went in myself, knowing that Graham would be ready for bed soon.

I fell asleep on Grahams bed and woke up around 5:30 a.m., still in my jeans and fleece pull over and still smelling like smoke. If it didnt bother him, it didnt bother me either, and I went back to sleep.

It was a quiet evening, but just what we all needed. Somehow, amidst our busy schedules of work, obligations, play dates and lessons, quiet moments can happen, if we let them.

Big on Bulbs

Between this weekend and last, I have dug in nearly 500 bulbs, and I have more than 100 left. When we look at the bulb catalogs each summer, we are bedazzled by what we see and forget how much work it is to put the bulbs in.

We think, Oh, lets put 200 daffodils in that bed to add spring color, forgetting that means digging 200 holes to put each bulbs into. But come spring well have forgotten the repetitive stress injuries in our wrists, the sore spots in the palms of our hands from the pressure of the trowel and the cold and tired knees as we behold a sea of cheerful yellow faces.

And it will all be worth it.

Videocast Two: Watch My Tips on Planting Bulbs

Other Tips to Consider When Planting/Purchasing Bulbs

Plant in masses. Make a statement by planting at least 100 or 200 bulbs in a bed.

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If you are planting daffodils, clump them in groups of 3, 5, 7 or 9 randomly around your bed to make them look natural. Tulips are more formal so they can be planted out in rows.

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Buy bulbs from a reputable firm. We purchase most of our bulbs from White Flower Farm.

Daffodils give you more for your money as they come back year after year and form large clumps. And deer leave them alone. Tulips make a lovely show the first year or two and then they peter out. That works, too, if youre willing to consider them as annuals and dig them up and replace them every year.

Dont forget less common bulbs such as snowdrops, fritallaria, allium or even smaller, species tulips which naturalize. My snowdrops typically begin blooming in mid-March, long before anything else is blooming.

Say it Aint So

This weekend I received my first seed catalog from Thompson & Morgan. This is like receiving a Christmas catalog in mid-July. I havent even put this garden put to bed yet, and somebody wants me to plan my garden for next year? Sheesh!

Mazel Tov! Mazel Tov!

A few weeks ago, I attended the wedding of my friend Dvora. She had started as a student volunteer with the Minnesota Historical Society when she was 14, went off to study in England after high school graduation and stayed in touch as she pursued her college education.

This summer, a matchmaker found her a partner in a young man named Mendel from Brooklyn, and the wedding was set for a few months following.

This was my first Jewish wedding, let alone a Hasidic one, and I was fascinated by the ceremony and celebrations that are so different from a traditional Christian one.

When my co-worker Wendy and I arrived at Landmark Center in St. Paul, we paid our respects to Dvora and her mother Chana. The bridal couple is treated as a king and queen on their wedding day, and Dvora was, indeed, seated on dais above everyone who approached her. She looked so lovely and happy.

Only the women were in attendance but soon Mendel and the men arrived. The women were asked to move to the left side of the room as the men took over the right-hand side. Mendel veiled Dvora, and then everyone left her and her parents alone for some time together.

The guests trickled down to Rice Park where the chuppa was waiting. Eventually, Dvora was led to the area by her parents, and she circled Mendel seven times underneath the chuppa. Then began the ceremony with blessings from many rabbis.

Following the service, Dvora and Mendel went off to have their first meal together as a married couple and to break the fast they had maintained all day. Wendy and I returned to Landmark Center to find our dinner table, seated with the other women. The tables for the men and women were separated by a large fabric wall.

Soon after we finished our salads, Mendel and Dvora appeared, and Mendel was spirited to his side of the room. The dancing began, lead by an amazing pianist on an electric keyboard who kept the room rocking.

Dvora was quickly encircled by concentric rings of women of all ages. As she would choose someone to dance with individually, the rings would break and reform with the movement never stopping. I thought, This is how women have been dancing and celebrating for thousands of years.

Because of the dividing curtain, we couldnt see how the men were dancing, but at one point, the curtain parted somehow. I saw men on each others shoulders, dancing as we were.

Eventually the dancing stopped, and dinner was served. Our table was filled with interesting women who provided me with explanations for some of the rituals I didnt understand.

And then the dancing began again and seemed determined to go on all night. Wendy and I managed another dance with Dvora before we made our good byes and headed home. It was well past 10 p.m. on a Monday night, and we had to go to work the next morning.

Attending this wedding was an event I am unlikely to experience again. It gave me insight into Dvoras world and allowed me to experience her values and beliefs in way I hadnt imagined.

The overall feeling I came away with was the joy that was felt by everyone dancing, and the modesty and dignity of those around me. Ive been to some wedding receptions that have left me feeling uncomfortable and embarrassed by the behavior of the wedding party and guests.

At Dvoras reception, there was no silly chicken dance, no raunchy garter fling or demeaning groping of the bride and her attendants by a blind folded groom. And there certainly wasnt the impending feeling of doom in wondering who the drunken bridesmaid would go home with that night.

There was none of that icky stuff that night just dignity and joy.

May Dvora and Mendel have a long and joyful life together.

Mazel Tov!

What Im Reading

Just finished: Locked Rooms by Laurie R. King. The long-awaited sequel in the Mary Russell series. A pleasure, as always.

In the middle of: a shlocky romance Im too embarrassed to even mention. Everybody needs a little brain candy now and then, right?

Next in the queue: Pardonable Lies by Jacqueline Winspear. The latest in the Maisie Dobbs series about a young female British detective following WWI.

Listening to: Cuba, an anthology of spicy Latin music.

Grahams current favorite: The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog by Mo Willems. If you are lucky, some day maybe you can hear him read it to you, acting out all the parts. Its a stitch.

The Mystery Plant

Last weeks plant was an Alaska Nasturtium blossom. Can you guess the plant this week?

Heres Whats Blooming Now

2005_Garden_010 005_small.jpg

Calendula
Sunflowers
My Favorite mum lavender, red and coral
Rose

2005_Garden_010 007_small.jpg

Comfrey
Morning glories
Nicotiana all shapes, colors and sizes
Verbena bonariensis
Nasturtium Peach Melba and others
Asters
Russian sage
Hydrangea Annabelle
Alpine strawberry and fruiting, too
Sedum
Zinnia

Garden Chores for the Week

Finish planting bulbs.

Repot the amaryllis.

Vegetable Garden

We missed the big frost so even though I brought in any reddish tomatoes, there are still more on the vine.

Todays Grahamism

Following Ponts return home from the vet following his snip snip, Im going to give Pont a kiss to help him feel better.

Sunday Dance Practice

Each Sunday my husband (when he is free) transports Graham to St. Paul for dance practice. This gives me a bit of peace and time to work in the garden. Here is what it looks like at Graham's practice:

Note: You can see all my videocasts at my Moblog site.

Posted by maasx003 at 1:42 PM | Books | Family | Gardens | Videocast

Category "Books"

Category "Family"

Category "Gardens"

Category "Videocast"

September 24, 2005

Sick Time

Ive been out sick most of this week with my annual September sinus infection, an occurrence that occurs with the same regularity as the swallows returning to San Juan Capistrano.

This infection knocks me out, leaving me as tired as a baby. I spent one morning sleeping and in the afternoon, made my way to the chaise lounge under the pergola. There I managed enough energy to turn the pages of my book.

I lounged for a couple of hours, warmed by the sun, surrounded by my beautiful fall blooms. As I sat there, it registered that Ive been wanting to do nothing more than this all summer: just lay back, rest and enjoy the gardens.

Im just sorry it took an illness to get me to slow down and enjoy the fruits of our labors. Theres got to be a message in there somewhere but my brain is too fuzzy to figure it out.

Happy Birthday, Pont!


This weekend marks the first birthday of Pont, our male whippet. While his reign of destruction while growing out of puppyhood has left a long laundry list of chewed up socks, books, toys, sofa pillows and coffee tables, were still glad to have brought him into our family. Graham picked out some presents for him including a new Flying Squirrel Frisbee and sang Happy Birthday to him when he woke up.

Listen to a First-hand Account of Surviving Katrina

Pop over to my husband Brians blog to listen to his interview with The Pope, the New Orleans Saints Fan of the Year who rode out the levee burst with his son on the roof of his house. Harrowing stuff. From his podcast page, simply click on the play button of the embedded sound player and choose Viking Underground Podcast Sixteen.

A Shameless Book Plug

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The next time you are at the book store, pick up my friend Amy Scheibes new book, What Do You Do All Day? that she began writing while on maternity leave with her son two years ago.

Publishers Weekly gave her the following review: Scheibe's hilarious debut is rife with wry observationsWith a light touch and a sparkling plot, Scheibe takes on the conundrums-and beauty-of motherhood for driven yet nurturing women.

Amy is smart, funny and in touch with what working mothers are feeling today. Again, check it out.

Something New

My husband has been raising the bar for sports bloggers everywhere. He has been delving into podcasting, mobile blogging, and videocasting. I was getting jealous so he finally decided that I should start doing some of that as well.

We put our collective minds together and came up with the idea of having me do short videocasts each week. You will actually get to see and hear me in action as we discuss something new each week. This week, I let you know how to defend your gardens against slugs.

To view this videocast, the very first one for Through the Garden Gate, you just need to slide over to my Moblog site. You'll notice a hot link on the right side of this page near the top called "My Moblog Site: Video/Audio Supplements".

Once there, you will see the video and all you need to do is click on the play button. I hope you like them. Next week, I'll show you how to properly plant bulbs.

Why We Use a Tree Care Service

When we purchased our house 14 years ago, it came with five flowering crab trees along the north side of our property. Each spring they started out looking lovely with lush green foliage but by mid-summer, the leaves had turned bright orange-yellow and spotty and were dropping off.

The culprit was cedar-apple rust, a fungus (Gymnosporangium), which alternates between Eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) and mostly apple and crabapple trees. The rust is particularly bad during wet springs.

There are two things you can do prevent rust: remove the hosts or apply fungicides. Since removing all the cedars in the wide radius around our house is unrealistic, that leaves a chemical solution. Okay, I thought of a third thing: plant trees that are disease-resistant. But our trees were already in place so that wasnt an option.

I remember trying to apply the fungicide by myself one year but shortly after that I became pregnant with Graham and avoided all garden chemicals, even for a few years after he was born.

Eventually we hit on the idea of hiring a tree service to spray for rust. Take a look at the difference between an untreated flowering crabtree from the neighborhood and then one of our treated trees.

In addition to the obvious aesthetics of a tree with healthy, glossy leaves, massive defoliation year after year will weaken a tree.

Weve also used a tree service to provide deep root fertilization for trees stressed by the heavy construction equipment used during our remodeling project and to provide professional pruning.

There are some gardening maintenance projects that should just be done by professionals. The service may be expensive but for the health of your trees, its worth it.

Amaryllis Care

Each Christmas, I find myself purchasing an amaryllis bulb at Target. They offer a great deal a big, healthy bulb for only $5. I have given them away for presents to Grahams teachers, and they also make a great hostess gift.

I seem to have developed quite a collection of them through the years but have had little success in getting them to bloom again.

With care, amaryllis can provide years of holiday blooms but you need to follow a specific regimen to get them to bloom again. Ive got the easy part down pat: bring them outside in the summer to give them as much sunlight as possible so they can gather energy back in the bulb. But after that, even though Ive read article after article on how to do it, Im just not doing something right.

I asked my friend and fellow gardener Susan for her proven methods of getting her amaryllis to bloom year after year:

One, take the bulb out of the pot, wash the roots and start the dormant stage by putting it in the basement for six to eight weeks. Then re-pot the bulb with fresh soil.

I prefer to leave them in a pot with fresh soil, in the cool, dim area of the basement, and keep them fairly dry. Let the leaves die down, then cut leaves off. Start the forcing period about six to eight weeks before you want bloom. When leaves appear, bring them up the light, water and watch them take off.

The real key is to re-pot them, in a deep but small pot, with about 2" of soil around the bulb. Keep the bulb raised in the pot, so soil does not touch the neck. If that does not work, put them out in the summer, feed and encourage new leaves. That feeds the bulb. Then try again!

Ill keep you posted through the next couple months to see if I can reach my goal of amaryllis blooms for Christmas without buying more bulbs at Target!

Whats That Buzz?

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Our prairie garden is attracting thousands of busy honey bees. If you stand still, the buzz of all those golden wings is not deafening, but certainly loud. Somewhere around here is a hive that is going to have some scrumptious honey this year, thanks to us!

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What Im Reading

Just finished: Confessions of a Slacker Wife by Muffy Mead-Ferro. I highly recommend it.

In the middle of: Snobs by Julian Fellowes, who won the Best Original Screenplay Academy Award for Gosford Park.

Next in the queue: Locked Rooms: A Mary Russell novel by Laurie R. King. The latest in the series about Sherlock Holmes young mystery-solving wife.

Listening to: Monty Pythons Spamalot the original Broadway cast recording. Hilarious musical retelling of one of the greatest films ever made, Monty Pythons Holy Grail.

Grahams current favorite: My Kindergarten by Rosemary Wells. A lovely look at a kindergartners first year.

The Mystery Plant

Was that tricky? Last weeks plant was a canna seedhead. Can you guess the plant this week?

Heres Whats Blooming Now

Calendula
Sunflowers
Sweet Autumn clematis
My Favorite mum lavender, red and coral
Rose
Scabiosa
Campanula Blue Clips
Comfrey
Ligularia Othello
Canna
Morning glories
Nicotiana all shapes, colors and sizes
Verbena bonariensis
Native monarda
A lobelia that is blue but was labeled Cardinal Lobelia when I bought it. Surprise!
Nasturtium Peach Melba and others
Rudbeckia Goldsturm
Phlox David
Asters
Russian sage
Hydrangea Annabelle
Coreopsis Moonbeam
Joe Pye Weed
Purple coneflower
Butterfly weed
Veronica
Thyme
Alpine strawberry and fruiting, too
Sedum
Indian blanket
Nepeta Walkers Low

Garden Chores for the Week

Keep up with the wisteria vines, slug traps and pot watering.

Start planting bulbs.

Make an appointment to get the lawn aerated?

Vegetable Garden

Lots of green tomatoes but not many reds. I had to purchase a tomato to make a BLT this week. Gasp!

Todays Grahamisms

During the severe thunderstorm that the Twin Cities experienced this week, Graham gave me minute by minute updates of the storms progress:

"Mom! Mom! The winds fellsity is up to 40 miles an hour!"

"Mom! Mom! Its hailing!"

"Mom! Mom! The guy said the storm is heading toward Oakdale. Aunt Lori and Uncle Mike are in DANGER!!!"

On being presented with a chocolate doughnut covered in red, white and blue sprinkles, Graham asked, Is this an American doughnut?

Posted by maasx003 at 4:27 PM | Books | Family | Gardens | Videocast

Category "Books"

Category "Gardens"

September 18, 2005

Reading About Reading

There have been two constants in my 40 years of life: the love of my family and my love of books. I cant recall a time in my life when I didnt have at least one book started and others stacked somewhere, waiting for me.

Even as a tiny girl, I was enamored with books. I had my own library card at age five and would trek the few blocks uptown on the days when the monthly bookmobile would arrive from the neighboring town. The library and bus driver both knew my name and as the years would go on, they would set books aside that they knew I would enjoy.

I considered a career as a librarian until my school librarian informed me, Just because you get to handle all the books, doesnt mean you get to read them. Well, that burst my bubble and helped to realign my career choices.

I know that there are others out there as passionate about books as me, but Id never come across someone who wrote so concisely about Book Love until this summer. Somehow I stumbled upon a recommendation for Anna Quindlens How Reading Changed My Life. Catchy title, I thought, and put it on my reserve list.

It arrived in time for our vacation, and although it is a slim volume of only 84 pages, including book lists at the end, it perfectly captured the way I feel about books. Reading through, I found myself placing post it notes in the margin and itching to make my own comments. I think I will have to purchase a copy for myself so I can return again and again to the bits that resonated within me.

Here are some of them

There was certainly no talk of comfort and joy, of the lively subculture of those who forever fall asleep with a book open on our bedside tables, whether bought or borrowed. Of those of who comprise the real clan of the book, who read not to judge the reading of others but to take the measure of ourselves. Of those of us who read because we love it more than anything, who feel about bookstores the way some people feel about jewelers.

As Alberto Manguel writes in his wonderful A History of Reading, I could perhaps live without writing. I dont think I could live without reading.

Perhaps it is true that at base we readers are dissatisfied people, yeaning to be elsewhere, to live vicariously through words in a way we cannot live directly through life. Perhaps we are the worlds great nomads, if only in our mindsBooks are the plane, and the train, and the road. They are the destination, and the journey. They are home.

If you experience Book Love in all its forms, I encourage you to get a copy of How Reading Changed My Life. You will feel like you have come home.

Rediscovering a Long, Lost Love

With Graham taking the bus to school each day, my trips to and from St. Paul are again solo flights. For the first time in five years, I can listen to books on tape, something I used to do voraciously pre-baby. I figure if I cant actually sit and read a book in my leisure time, I can at least drive and listen to one.

Hitting the Limit

I discovered something interesting the other day at the library there is actually a limit of books you can check out. Graham and I were at the self-checkout counter, swiping barcodes across the reader when the screen flashed, Limit Reached.

Huh? Who knew?

Between Grahams books and movies and my books, music CDs and books on tape, we had a grand total of 100 books checked out; with more we wanted but could not take home.

So we took action into our own hands and got Graham his very own library card. I admit I got a little lump in my throat to see how gingerly (tenderly?) he carried his card around the library, trying to decide if any books he saw were card-worthy.

And of course, he decided he would only check out those books that he chose, not the ones I thought he would like, so Im not sure that having his own card will make a difference to our check out limit just yet.

Graham the Reader

Graham has become quite the reader, and we are tremendously proud of him. One of our favorite series right now is We Both Read. The books have a unique concept: parents read the left-hand page, and kids read the right-hand page. The childrens text is a condensed version of the parents and each highlights specific new vocabulary words.

Graham really likes nonfiction books about nature, so he is enjoying the books About Bugs, About the Rain Forest, and About the Sea. My internal fact-loving geekness rejoices in this, especially when he can make connections between something he has read and something he observes in his daily life.

What Im Reading

Just finished: Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl. Loved it. If you are foodie, you will enjoy the descriptions of the meals she ate while she was a food critic with the New York Times.

In the middle of: True Brits: A tour of Great Britain in all its bog-snorkeling, shin-kicking and cheese-rolling glory by J. R. Daeschner. An American author tracks down eccentric British traditions and takes part in the activities. Its not a great book but it feeds my love for all things British.

Next in the queue: Confessions of a Slacker Wife by Muffy Mead-Ferro. Loved her Confessions of a Slacker Mom and I cant renew it any more.

Listening to: A Year in the Merde by Stephen Clarke. A funny fictional account of a Brit businessman working in Paris. Added bonus of being able to listen to both British and French accents.

Grahams current favorite: Dont Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems. A hoot!

The First Weeks of School

Graham loves riding the bus each morning and enjoys his days at school. He is learning how to weigh and measure, make comparisons and finger paint with chocolate pudding. The previously-mentioned lump in the throat returned this weekend when I heard him recite the Pledge of Allegiance. I imagined him standing in his classroom with his little hand over his heart, intoning and to the Republic, for Richard Stands along with 21 other little kids.

The Mystery Plant

The scabiosa or pincushion plant was pretty easy to identify. Can you guess the plant this week?

Heres Whats Blooming Now

2005_September 001 small.jpg

Calendula
Sunflowers
Goldenrod
Heart-leaved aster Minnesota native plant
Jack in the Pulpit seeds
Four oclocks
Sweet Autumn clematis
My Favorite mum lavender
Rose
Scabiosa
Campanula Blue Clips
Comfrey
Ligularia Othello
Canna
Morning glories
Nicotiana all shapes, colors and sizes
Verbena bonariensis
Native monarda
A lobelia that is blue but was labeled Cardinal Lobelia when I bought it. Surprise!
Nasturtium Peach Melba and others
Rudbeckia Goldsturm
Phlox David
Asters
Russian sage
Hydrangea Annabelle
Coreopsis Moonbeam
Joe Pye Weed
Purple coneflower
Butterfly weed
Veronica
Thyme
Alpine strawberry and fruiting, too
Sedum
Indian blanket
Nepeta Walkers Low
Daylily

Garden Chores for the Week

2005_September 007 small.jpg

Keep up with the wisteria vines, slug traps and pot watering. Deadheading, too. Ive been avoiding it for too long.

Start gearing up for planting bulbs; hundreds should be arriving in the mail this week from White Flower Farm tulips, daffodils and more. And I purchased allium from the City of Plymouth.

Vegetable Garden

The tomatoes are continuing to produce madly.

Todays Grahamisms

Rock and roll is awesome! (Who is this child and where did he learn the word awesome?)

Posted by maasx003 at 1:24 PM | Books | Gardens

Category "Gardens"

September 11, 2005

Back in the Saddle

Our vacation days were filled with walks in the woods, trips to the park, a visit to the State Fair, more Cold Stone ice cream than anyone cares to admit, as much reading as possible, nights by the fire and lots and lots of movies.

It was a good time to regroup as a family before Graham embarked on his next adventure.

The First Day of School

We made it through the first day. There were fewer tears (mine) than I reckoned. My biggest concern was getting him on the bus and having him find his friend Wyatt who lives up the street. Once I could see through the windows that Graham was seated with Wyatt, then the tears could come, if only briefly. Graham marched up onto the bus as though his life wasn't changing at all but I could feel every step as he walked away from us.

When he returned, he was full of smiles and chatter on the day, which he shared over a Bomb Pop. He said he wanted to go back the next day. Were taking that as a good sign.

Noerenberg Gardens

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During our vacation, Graham and I visited Noerenberg Gardens, a gorgeous public garden on the shore of Lake Minnetonka. It is part of the Hennepin County Parks system.

I have volunteered at the gardens every spring for the past six years (I got rained out this year) to help get the new plants in. I like to visit it a few times during the summer to check on the progress of the little plugs I helped put in.

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Graham likes to visit the gardens so he can sit on the gazebo and watch the boats as they go by. This year, since we visited in the fall, we were surprised to find conkers, or horse chestnuts. Graham knows conkers from a British childrens video.

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The gardens contain an interesting mix of perennials, annuals, vines and edibles. Head Gardener Arla Carmichiel is nationally-known for her innovative designs. Plus she is probably one of the sweetest, most soft-spoken persons alive.

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We ran into her following our trip to the garden when we stopped at Kelley and Kelley Nursery, which is owned by her husband Steve. The nursery is worth the trip to Long Lake. I highly recommend both the gardens and the nursery for a grand day out.

The World is a Little Less Bright Today

Yesterday, my sisters father-in-law, Dr. Clare Hocking, passed away. Doc was a dignified man who always had a smile and a gruff word to share. He will be missed.

Whats Happening in the Garden Now

The autumn garden is about ready to explode. The Sweet Autumn clematis has gone from just a few little blooms to a fragrant ribbon of sweet-smelling stars that goes on for nearly 30 feet.

The asters that I cut back to produce thicker, sturdier plants are poised to bloom next. They havent needed staking so far so maybe this technique was successful.

The prairie garden is dotted with purple asters and yellow goldenrod
, just perfect for the beginning of the Vikings season. Go Vikes!

I think Ive identified by my brown mystery butterfly: a great spangled fritillary.

Seed Starting Revisited

Check out these lovely bronze-colored sunflowers! Im glad something I started from seed last spring turned out.

The Mystery Plant

The previous plant was Tithonia or Mexican sunflower. I started it from seed this spring and Ill start more next year. Its between four and five feet tall like a zinnia on steroids and a great addition for the back of the border. Can you guess the plant this week?

Canning

September 2005 033 small.jpg

I also got some canning done over vacation. Our kitchen was filled with the aroma of cukes, brine, dill, and other smells that bring back memories for Brian of his grandmother's canning efforts when he was growing up.

He and I have canning down to a fine science, utilizing a turkey burner outside. I prepare the cannings and Brian boils them outside. The turkey burner was a great idea that Brian thought of last year....no more burned out stove tops!

Heres Whats Blooming Now

2005_Garden_009 007.jpg

Sweet Autumn clematis
My Favorite mum lavender
Rose
Scabiosa
Campanula Blue Clips
Comfrey
Ligularia Othello
Canna
Morning glories
Nicotiana all shapes, colors and sizes
Verbena bonariensis
Native monarda
A lobelia that is blue but was labeled Cardinal Lobelia when I bought it. Surprise!
Nasturtium Peach Melba and others
Rudbeckia Goldsturm
Phlox David
Asters
Russian sage
Hydrangea Annabelle
Coreopsis Moonbeam
Joe Pye Weed
Purple coneflower
Butterfly weed
Veronica
Thyme
Alpine strawberry and fruiting, too
Sedum
Indian blanket
Nepeta Walkers Low

Garden Chores for the Week

Keep up with the wisteria vines, slug traps and pot watering.

Vegetable Garden

The tomatoes are continuing to produce madly.

The Concorde grape vine had a few clusters of fruit a few weeks ago but the raccoons and birds must have gotten them.

Todays Grahamisms

"Mom, why didnt you hear me when I was calling for you? I think its because your curly hair covers your ears."

"Mama, when is your birthday? Its in March, dear. Oh, yeah, and at your next birthday, youll be 21, right?" (Look out, ladies. Hes going to be a charmer!)

Posted by maasx003 at 7:29 PM | Gardens

Category "Gardens"

August 24, 2005

Hi Lily, Hi Lo

Note: The Maas family is taking a well-deserved break and will be in a non-blogging status until after Sept. 8. After this entry, my blog is officially on hiatus. See you in a few weeks!

Just in case there are folks out there who think Im an obsessive gardener, I want to set the record straight: obsessive gardening is a shared responsibility in my marriage.

Every once in a while, Brian will latch on to a plant or species and decide that we have to have it for our garden. Quite often they are wonderful additions to our perennial beds, and then he can walk around with a smirk and say, Whos the master gardener now?

The latest bee in his britches is Orienpet lilies, a cross between Oriental and Trumpet Lilies. These lovelies produce very fragrant blooms on tall some up to 96 stalks. Of course, theyre not cheap.

We found some available through the Friends School of Minnesota annual bulb sale and will purchase several Silk Road bulbs which promise huge white flowers with deep intensely crimson-pink throats, carried on an enormous inflorescence with many well-spaced secondary buds for extended blooming time. All this, and its very fragrant.

We will plant these behind the pergola to screen out the compost bin. Watch for photos late next summer.

We also planted some Asiatic garden lilies this past week and they are in full bloom at the moment as seen below. This one is called Centerfold. I wonder why my husband picked that one out?

2005_Garden_008 001 small.jpg

Whats Happening in the Garden Now

The September-like weather has continued, and it has been cool enough to finally have bonfires again with friends gathered round.

The Mystery Plant

Last weeks plant was Physotegia, as many of you guessed, although what variety, I have no idea. Can you guess the plant this week?

Heres Whats Blooming Now:
:: Puppy Pont ::
No, Pont is not blooming but he is a beautiful puppy!
2005_Garden_008 002 thumb.jpg
Click photo or HERE to view larger image

Globe thistle Ligularia Othello Canna Morning glories Nicotiana all shapes, colors and sizes Wisteria Verbena bonariensis Cardinal Lobelia Native monarda A lobelia that is blue but was labeled Cardinal Lobelia when I bought it. Surprise! Nasturtium Peach Melba and others Rudbeckia Goldsturm Rose Lithrum Physotegia Phlox David Asters Liatris Russian sage Hydrangea Annabelle Coreopsis Moonbeam Campanula Blue Clips and others Joe Pye Weed Purple coneflower Butterfly weed Veronica Thyme Alpine strawberry and fruiting, too Astilbe Sedum Daylily Indian blanket Hosta Nepeta Walkers Low Clematis

Garden Chores for the Week:
:: It Never, Ever Ends :
It is time for a vacation!
2005_Garden_008 007 thumb.jpg
Click photo or HERE to view larger image

Keep up with the wisteria vines, slug traps and pot watering.

Relax and enjoy it all, especially since well be on vacation!

Vegetable Garden

I have been neglecting the vegetable garden of late so its time to give it a little attention.

The tomato crop will explode this week. We have lots of BLTs ahead of us. Yum!

Sound Beta Testing

Click to hear night sounds from my garden. You'll hear my fountain in the background as well.

Todays Grahamisms

"You know, Mama has done a pretty good job of raising me so far, but Daddy, you have done so much better!"

"Jackie? Your name is Jackie? Oh, I forgot you had a last name."

Posted by maasx003 at 8:33 PM | Gardens

Category "Gardens"

August 21, 2005

The Gunnera is Always Greener

A few weeks ago I had lunch with my friend Sue who had visited Scotland with her husband in June. She brought photos so we two addicted Anglophiles could have good chat and a sigh over them.

Sue stayed at some lovely places both in the categories of stunning country estate and charming bed and breakfast. While I was eager to see pictures of the homes exteriors and decorating schemes, I wanted photos of the gardens.

And such gardens. Long sweeping borders, babbling brooks edged by candelabra primrose (candelabra primrose!!), and exotic plants such as a blooming handkerchief tree. Ahh, me.

Every time I look at photos of British gardens, I ask myself, Why am I living in Minnesota when I could be gardening year-round in a nation that is as obsessed with gardening as me?

My current British gardening fixation is gunnera a plant that produces leaves that can grow to five feet across. I know that gunnera would never survive our frigid winters nor would I have a wetlands place for it nor would the enormous size of it fit the scale of our garden.

None of that matters. I just want one.

Night Scents

I was out deadheading the other night when the most beautiful scent stopped me in my tracks. I sniffed my way around the garden until I located the culprit the glorious phlox David.

This plant has pleased me in a number of different ways: the big white clusters of flowers extend garden viewing into the evening, and its honeyed fragrance is lovely.

Nicotiana also produces scent at night, and I have at least four different colors of it blooming across the garden, thanks to its prolific seed and tendency to self-sow.

World Music

I have Sirius satellite radio in my minivan, and I have become addicted to the Latin/World Music station. Nothing gets my energy going in the morning like the pulsing beats of salsa music or the tapping staccato of Irish dancers.

Listening to the music is almost like taking an aural geography class. From Dublin to Dakar and from New Orleans to New Zealand, Graham and I hear different tempos, instruments and singing techniques during our commutes. Half the fun is just trying to figure out what language the artists are singing in. One song titled Gne Gne sounds like a French man scolding a little child.

This explosion of new sounds and beats led me to the public library (of course) where I discovered a treasure trove of world music CDs. I quickly hit my reserve list limit of 50 items and now have stacks of Celtic, salsa, flamenco, African and zydeco tunes to listen to. The Rough Guide and Putamayo labels both provide a wide variety of music.

Individual groups or artists that Im enjoying are Solas, Celia Cruz and Two Siberians. This is good stuff!

Whats Happening in the Garden Now

2005_Garden_008 002.jpg

The gardens are just flat-out gorgeous right now. The plantings are lush and full of color and the weather is perfect mid-70s for the middle of August. I cant wait for our vacation so I can sit outside and enjoy it all.

The hummingbirds must be making their way back south because we have had many, many of them at our feeders and in the flowers.

I need to get a better butterfly identification guide because there has been an orangey-brownish critter with dark dots on its wings at the zinnias of late, and I cant find exactly those same markings in my guide. Maybe its a kind of copper or a harvester.

The Mystery Plant

A whole lot of you must have dead nettle or lamium in your gardens because it was an easy plant to identify. Its a great groundcover which comes in a variety of colors for both foliage and flowers. Can you guess the plant this week?

Heres Whats Blooming Now

Globe thistle
Ligularia Othello
Canna
Morning glories
Nicotiana all shapes, colors and sizes
Wisteria
Verbena bonariensis
Cardinal Lobelia
Native monarda
A lobelia that is blue but was labeled Cardinal Lobelia when I bought it. Surprise!
Nasturtium Peach Melba and others
Rudbeckia Goldsturm
Rose
Lithrum
Physotegia
Phlox David
Asters
Liatris
Russian sage
Hydrangea Annabelle
Coreopsis Moonbeam
Campanula Blue Clips and others
Joe Pye Weed
Purple coneflower
Butterfly weed
Veronica
Thyme
Alpine strawberry and fruiting, too
Astilbe
Sedum
Daylily
Indian blanket
Hosta
Nepeta Walkers Low
Clematis

Garden Chores for the Week

Cut back the iris leaves.

Keep up with the wisteria vines, slug traps and pot watering.

Relax and enjoy it all.

Vegetable Garden

I have been neglecting the vegetable garden of late so its time to give it a little attention.

The tomato crop will explode this week. We have lots of BLTs ahead of us. Yum!

Todays Grahamisms

"What do you call a cross between a parrot and a caterpillar? A walkie-talkie!"

"Is the lake next to our house the ocean? Does it go to the ocean?" (Well, yes, Graham, the water flows into a stream which takes it to the Mississippi which flows into the ocean.) So our lake is the very first lake and its the Ruler of all the Waters!

Posted by maasx003 at 12:10 PM | Gardens

Category "Family"

Category "Gardens"

August 14, 2005

Mommy Weirdest

In less than a month, Graham starts kindergarten, and he is quite excited. Each day he asks, How many days left at my old school? followed by I start my new school on the first Wednesday in September, right?

Im excited for him but Im surprised at how emotional Ive become as we gear up for this big change. (Okay, Im not really surprised.) The other day was I was reading through a skills assessment that Mrs. Block, Grahams new teacher, sent home for all her students to complete. I began to weep when I discovered that I was sending my baby off in the world and he didnt even know how to button. How will he manage? (It turns out he can button but Ive never seen him do it since he refuses to wear any clothes with buttons.)

Then there was the night when all the district kindergarteners and their families learned about bus safety. One minute I was bursting with pride as I watched him march up to the front of the gym with all the other kindergartners, and the next I was struck cold when I listened to the bus driver tell the kids, The most important rule is If your backpack drops underneath the bus, leave it. Last year a five-year-old in St. Paul was run over by a bus driver who thought the bump he made was a backpack, so she backed over him again to take a better look. God help me.

And this weekend we were at our favorite Frisbee Park where a group of young men, probably 16 or 17 years old, play a wild game of wiffleball. As I watched them, I tried to project out 10 to 12 years when Graham would be hanging out with his buds. Would they be the kind of good kids to engage in such an innocent and free-spirited game? (My thoughts about the kids playing changed later when I heard one young man use the old Effenheimer in front of small kids louder and more frequently than the Irish dancers tapped with their steel-toed shoes earlier in the day.)

I heard a great term the other day: helicopter parents. These are the wigged-out parents who relive their own childhoods by hovering over their children. You know, the parents who chart and manage their childrens careers from tiny totdom on and eventually follow them off to college and have to be asked to leave by the Dean.

For five years, weve been able to keep a bubble around Graham, keeping him safe. Weve known whos been around him, scheduled his play dates and controlled who he came in contact with. In September, that bubble will burst the minute he steps on the school bus for the first time and drives off to school.

I keep thinking back to the evening of his bus training and how I watched him walk away from me, his head held high, master of his own destiny. As he marches away from us into an environment over which we have no control with only the hope that we have instilled some sense of good judgment in him, how do we begin to let him go and not hover? How do we let him live his own adventure and not live it for him?

Hang on, folks, its going to be a bumpy (helicopter) ride!

Irish Fair

Irish Fair Photo One:
:: Grahams Class ::
Graham stands with his class shortly before they go on stage
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Click photo or HERE to view larger image

We had such a great time during Irish Fair, Im almost sorry Im not Irish. We spent most of Saturday and a big chunk of Sunday afternoon cheering on Graham and his fellow dancers from the Rince na Chroi Irish dance school. The older dancers are phenomenal and the wee ones in Grahams class all made their parents proud.

Irish Fair - Day Two 2005 029 small.jpg

With live music all around, Graham couldnt stop dancing, and we could barely keep him in his seat to enjoy fish and chips with Uncle Mike and Aunt Lori who came to watch him.

Irish Fair Video:
:: Graham Dances::
Graham practices his steps before he goes on stage
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Click photo or HERE to view the video

Here are some other photos. If you'd like to see all the photos, please visit our Irish Fair album (you may need to register first, which is free).

Irish Fair Photo Two:
:: Graham and Mommy ::
Graham and Jackie enjoy a moment before the show.
Irsh Fair - Day One 2005 019 thumb.jpg
Click photo or HERE to view larger image

Irish Fair Photo Three:
:: Dance Routine ::
Some of the older girls wow the crowd.
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Click photo or HERE to view larger image

Irish Fair Photo Four:

:: Graham On Stage ::

Graham joins his group on stage.

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Click photo or HERE to view larger image

Irish Fair Photo Five:

:: Graham and Daddy ::

Daddy wishes Graham luck before his performance.

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Click photo or HERE to view larger image

Irish Fair Photo Six:
:: Day Two Treats ::
Graham enjoys some ice cream before his second day performance.
Irish Fair - Day Two 2005 002 thumb.jpg
Click photo or HERE to view larger image

Irish Fair Photo Seven:
:: On Stage ::
Graham performs a little jig with his class on stage.
Irish Fair - Day Two 2005 015 thumb.jpg
Click photo or HERE to view larger image

Irish Fair Photo Eight:
:: On Stage ::
Graham was very comfortable and smiling on stage.
Irish Fair - Day Two 2005 021 thumb.jpg
Click photo or HERE to view larger image

Irish Fair Photo Nine:
:: Refreshments ::
Graham drinks some water in between performances. He had two on the second day.
Irish Fair - Day Two 2005 085 thumb.jpg
Click photo or HERE to view larger image


Irish Fair Photo Ten:

:: All Over ::

Graham takes a well deserved bow after his performance.

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Click photo or HERE to view larger image

From sheepdog demonstrations and cold stout to a hurling game and a marching piper band, Irish culture was on display. Now if I could just nabbed a sticker that said, Kiss me, Im a Kelly

The Top Ten Characteristics of Real Gardeners

10. ...have gardens that are never finished.
9. ...actually spend money on a sack of poop.
8. ...give advice to other customers at garden centers.
7. ...stop on the way home from buying plants to buy more plants.
6. ...will, within 5 minutes of entering someone else's garden, start pulling weeds.
5. ...find seeds falling off plants and into their hands when they visit other gardens.
4. ...can be recognized from May to September by a telltale hint of dirt under their nails.
3. ...know what Taraxacum officinale is.
2. ...squish "bad" bugs with their bare hands.
1. ...keep an "emergency gardening kit" in the trunk of their car.
+...can always find room for just one more!

So which ones describe you? Post a comment and let me know.

(Printed with kind permission from my friend Rebecca)

Whats Happening in the Garden Now

The morning glories have hit their stride. I always plant two or three different varieties along the chain link fence for some late-season color. Some have even managed to set seed and start growing on their own.

The Mystery Plant

Several of you guessed correctly that the plant with the lime green flowers was a nicotiana. Can you guess the plant this week?

Heres Whats Blooming Now

Morning glories
Nicotiana all shapes, colors and sizes
Wisteria
Verbena bonariensis
Cardinal Lobelia
Native monarda
A lobelia that is blue but was labeled Cardinal Lobelia when I bought it. Surprise!
Nasturtium Peach Melba and others
Rudbeckia Goldsturm
Rose
Lithrum
Physotegia
Phlox David
Asters
Liatris
Russian sage
Hydrangea Annabelle
Coreopsis Moonbeam
Campanula Blue Clips and others
Joe Pye Weed
Purple coneflower
Butterfly weed
Veronica
Thyme
Alpine strawberry and fruiting, too
Astilbe
Sedum
Daylily
Indian blanket
Hosta
Nepeta Walkers Low
Clematis

Garden Chores for the Week

Plant the lilies and butterfly weed that Brian brought purchased.
Keep up with the wisteria vines, slug traps and pot watering.

Vegetable Garden

So many cherry tomatoes, so many ways to eat them.

Todays Grahamisms

"Tell me again what six creatures suck human blood? I know there are vampires, lampreys, mosquitoes and those things in the lake water but what else?"

While playing Wile Coyote and Road Runner and showing off his stockpile of weapons: "And here is the Acme Dental Floss of Doom. You open it and sniff and oh, how refreshing."

"Daddy says he was the fastest boy in all of Jamestown so he must have been the fastest man in the world."

"I am the Pumpkin Man and my powers are that I have a box of taxes. Taxes are those things that make car tires go flat, right?" He meant to say tacks.

"While listening to a radio announcer: That guy said electrical response but that cant be right. Theres no electrical response! He must have meant mythical.

"Do germs and bacteria see our owies as big, red playgrounds where they can run around like a maniac like Pont? Do they have really big ears so they can hear the minute we get an owie?"

Posted by maasx003 at 9:43 AM | Family | Gardens

Category "Fair's"

Category "Gardens"

August 6, 2005

County Fair

HC Fair 2005 010_small.jpg

When I was a kid growing up in North Dakota, the county fair meant a visit to the dusty 4-H barn to check out which of my classmates who lived on a farm had entered sheep or chickens or a stop by the civic center to look at plastic-wrapped plates of cookies and brownies.

So it seems a little strange to be living in a suburb of Minneapolis and participating in our county fair. This is the step-sister of the much, much larger Minnesota State Fair in which I have won blue ribbons in the past.

The Hennepin County Fair must be among the metro areas best-kept secrets. Its close by (about 10 minutes for us), relatively cheap and full of just the right amount of entertainment for a family outing. Graham loves doing the rides with the tilt-a-whirl as current the favorite, and we adults love the typical fair food of mini doughnuts, corn on cob and Dippin Dots ice cream of the future.

This year we raised our activity level and entered a number of different categories in the creative activities competitions. From photographs, bonsai, potted plants and flowers to perennials, pickled jicama, ornamental grasses and potatoes with grass hair, the Maas family was triumphant in bringing home the blue, red, white and purple ribbons.

Graham also won his fair share of ribbons incuding the potatoes mentioned above as well as his painting and his photography.

We also were able to enjoy some exciting bull riding. Graham especially thought the clowns were funny.

How have you done at fairs? Won anything big? Have any interesting stories from your entries? Leave a Comment at the end of this entry and tell me about it.

Those Who Wait

Two summers ago, we purchased a pot of Mexican petunia (Ruellia brittoniana) at the end of the growing season. It added a bit of height and purple flowers with its long stalks but pretty much went dormant over the winter.

Last summer, it did nothing but look like a bunch of dead sticks with a few leave on top like a coconut palm.

This spring I experimented by cutting down a number of the stalks to between six to 10 inches. Surprisingly, each of those stalks sent out new shoots.

We have had a usually hot and humid summer in which this plant must have felt at home because it finally set buds and began to bloom for the first time in two years.

Maybe I dont have to compost this plant after all.

Got Thistles?

I couldnt figure out why the Orange Profusion zinnias in the pot next to the sliding glass door of our deck looked so terrible until I noticed the goldfinches zooming in and out from them.

Upon closer inspection, I realized that they had been eating the seeds of the spent zinnia buds.

Those little goldfinches are deadheading for me!

Small, Dark and Handsome

HC Fair 2005 059 small.jpg

The tiger swallowtail butterflies are still fluttering around like crazy among the purple phlox. Periodically they are joined by this dark butterfly. I believe it is the black form of the tiger swallowtail. The other butterflies dont seem to like having him about and attack him.

Irish Fair

Graham will be performing with Rince na Chroi, his Irish dance school, during Irish Fair at Harriet Island next Saturday, Aug. 13, at 11 a.m. , and on Sunday, Aug. 14, at 4 p.m. He has been practicing his kicks by pretending he is kicking Darth Vader or another Star Wars villain every night this week. It should be a fun weekend with lots of music, childrens activities and food.

Happy Anniversary, Baby

To quote the great Little River Band, Happy Anniversary, baby. Got you on my mind. Brian and I celebrated our 14th anniversary on Aug. 3 by taking our county fair entries to be registered and having dinner at Grahams favorite restaurant, Buffalo Wild Wings. Heres to the next 14 years!

Whats Happening in the Garden Now

Weve hit deep summer with the garden in full stride now. Fall is a long way off but I can already see that the fall garden will be deep and lush with color.

The Mystery Plant

Heres the puzzle. I thought last weeks plant was Joe Pye Weed but Rebecca, the native plant maven, says it is swamp milkweed. Hmm. Trowels at 10 paces to settle this disagreement? Can you guess the plant this week?

Heres Whats Blooming Now

Ligurlaria The Rocket
Morning Glory
Cardinal Lobelia
Nasturtium Peach Melba and others
Rudbeckia Goldsturm
Rose
Lithrum
Physotegia
Phlox David
Asters
Liatris
Russian sage
Hydrangea Annabelle
Coreopsis Moonbeam
Campanula Blue Clips and others
Yarrow
Joe Pye Weed
Purple coneflower
Butterfly weed
Veronica
Thyme
Alpine strawberry and fruiting, too
Astilbe
Sedum
Daylily
Indian blanket
Hosta
Nepeta Walkers Low
Clematis

Garden Chores for the Week

Keep up with the wisteria vines, slug traps and pot watering.

Vegetable Garden

Its time to do something with all the Roma tomatoes and the bumper crop of basil

Todays Grahamisms

"Pont jumps around just like the bull at the fair."

Note: Apparently the panoramic links did not work as planned last week. My husband fixed the issue so if you did not get the full panoramic view on last weeks post, give it a tyr again:

Panoramic One

Panoramic Two

Panoramic Three

Panoramic Four

Panoramic Five

Panoramic Six

Panoramic Seven

Panoramic Eight

Posted by maasx003 at 4:01 PM | Fair's | Gardens

Category "Family"

Category "Gardens"

July 28, 2005

Gardening for a Good Cause

People garden for lots of good reasons, such as exercise; tasty, homegrown vegetables; a creative outlet, etc., but this was the first time Ive gardened for a good cause.

Our gardens were part of the Bright Beginnings Garden Tour, sponsored by the City of Plymouth with proceeds benefiting both the citys Millennium Garden and a mentoring program for teen mothers at North Memorial Hospital. Since Graham was born at North, this was especially meaningful.

The tour organizers must have done some tremendous promotional work because they reached the tour capacity of 150 people and even had 25 to 30 people on the waiting list!

Five bus loads with 162 gardening enthusiasts made a round robin circuit of six different gardens in Plymouth with lunch and a presentation by local gardening personality Bobby Jensen following at the Plymouth Creek Center.

Tour - July 2005 010 small.jpg

I have a feeling we were probably the smallest garden on the tour, but we pulled out all our tricks to make the gardens look great. We even placed Graham's fire truck and wagon over dead spots in the lawn. Brian and I answered lots of different questions about plants, butterflies and wisteria. And people were literally lined up to get in.

Tour - July 2005 001 small.jpg

The most frequently asked question came as a big surprise to me. On each tour, several people asked about the bergenia that edges both our window wells at the back of the house. While I love its big leaves and interesting texture, its always just been a nondescript background plant to me. Who knew it would cause such curiosity?

Other questions focused on the source of some of our garden supplies, such as Where did you get your lavender incense sticks? Smith and Hawken. Where did you purchase your copper fountain? Smith and Hawken. Where did you purchase your copper pots? Smith and Hawken. You get the idea.

The people were fun to watch. Some were definitely serious plantspeople while others were just there to spend a pleasant morning. I think everyone had a good time, and hopefully picked up a new few ideas for their own gardens. Plus it was a beautiful day, and the tiger swallowtail butterflies were abundant.

I admit it was rather fun to play the garden expert again, especially when talking about such an overwhelming passion of ours. And if you were to stop at any point of the garden and take a 360 degree panoramic sweep of the yard, Id have to say it was looking its best. Here are a series of panoramic photos Brian took earlier this week.

Panoramic One

Panoramic Two

Panoramic Three

Panoramic Four

Panoramic Five

Panoramic Six

Panoramic Seven

Panoramic Eight

Brian stayed back to hang out with Graham so I was able to attend the lunch with my cousin Karen who drove all the way from South St. Paul to attend. Before the speaker began, each of the gardeners who hosted the tour was presented with this very attractive stepping stone, which will be a welcome addition to the gardens.

Tour 003.jpg

Special thanks go to our landscape designer Jay Siedshlaw of Dundee Nursery for being present to answer questions as well that morning.

Cut Flowers

This week a few coworkers and I had lunch at the home of our former division head and his wife. They moved into a new home about a year ago and had a new remodeling project to show off. And some gorgeous gardens. They have both been busy.

Before we left, I visited their bathroom and was stopped dead in my tracks by the most delicious fragrance. I looked around to see what special scented soap or lotions were on the vanity counter and then realized that the aroma was coming from an arrangement of cut flowers from Dianas garden.

When I commented on them, she said she always has cut flowers in her house either from the garden or purchased. What a lovely thing to do.

But for some reason, I just cant seem to cut my flowers to make a bouquet each week. Occasionally Ill cut a stem or two of something to brighten up my office at work but I rarely have a vase with blooms from the garden inside the house.

Maybe I feel I dont have enough to cut and still have enough to look good in the garden, maybe Id just rather see them outdoors. It could also be that any vase in our house has a pretty good probability of getting knocked over by one kid or another.

Ill have to work on this one. Both the purple phlox and white David smell especially nice right now

A Week of Joy and Sorrow

In the midst of all the pre-tour panic attacks, there was joy. I had a long chat with my childhood friend Amy in NYC to congratulate her on the birth of her new baby girl, Hedda Marie. Both mom and babe are doing well.

There was also sorrow: I learned that Tim Fiske, the former assistant director of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and the man who gave me my start there, passed away last Sunday. He will be greatly missed.

As I still miss my friend Tony Pezalla who died of cancer nearly three years ago. After the garden tour lunch, I visited his memorial bench at the City of Plymouths Millennium Garden. Tony and I were in the same Master Gardener class, and he was my native plant mentor. I hope he has been enjoying my prairie patch.

Whats Happening in the Garden Now

The butterflies continue to flutter about. The tiger swallowtails have been joined by pretty little white butterflies that are probably damaging cabbage moths. Ah, well.

Gardens July 2005 020.jpg

Some plants will be hitting their second wind soon. The wisteria has put out a few buds, as have the roses, Walkers Low nepeta and others. Ive also noticed another flush of grown on the Hidcote lavender but I dont expect more blooms from them.

The Mystery Plant

As many people figured out, the mystery plant last week was cardinal lobelia. Can you guess the plant this week?

Heres Whats Blooming Now

Ligurlaria The Rocket
Cardinal Lobelia
Nasturtium Peach Melba and others
Rudbeckia Goldsturm
Rose
Lithrum
Physotegia
Phlox David
Asters
Liatris
Russian sage
Hydrangea Annabelle
Coreopsis Moonbeam
Campanula Blue Clips and others
Yarrow
Joe Pye Weed
Purple coneflower
Butterfly weed
Veronica
Thyme
Alpine strawberry and fruiting, too
Astilbe
Sedum
Daylily
Indian blanket
Hosta
Nepeta Walkers Low
Clematis

Garden Chores for the Week

With the tour over, my desire to work hard in the garden has suddenly vanished. Ive reached the point in my summer when I long to lounge around on the willow furniture with a good book and a cool drink and be lazy.

So Ill do the minimum required to keep the plants living and take a break for a while. (Yeah, right!)

Vegetable Garden

To keep the runner beans producing fruit, I should be harvesting daily.

The Roma tomatoes are starting to ripen.

Todays Grahamisms

GK and I.jpg

"Glynis and Pont are just not using their manners. For Christmas we should get them the Big Book of Doggy Manners, and thats all."

"I wonder what dogs dream about? I know! Ill bet they dream that Santa will tell them that for Christmas, they can go poop and potty inside the house, just like people."

These next gems were all uttered during a 20-minute commute home this week.

Grahams solution to a traffic jam:

"Whenever you see a car that is colorful, follow it."

"So if atoms are inside our bodies, are they friends with germs?"

"Oh, I just felt a germ run inside my leg right now!"

"Only cheetahs can run as fast as infinity!"

"If you get shocked by lightning, it wont be any fun."

"On sunny days, I like to go to the pool with my dad, and on rainy days, I like to go to the stores."

"I think that we should go to the store that says Holiday on it for our next stay-home stays because thats where you have a holiday."

Graham also got his soccer report from his summer program. As you can see, he is doing well and his father is very proud to see him excelling in sports, as Brian once did himself.

soccer.jpg

Posted by maasx003 at 6:14 PM | Family | Gardens

Category "Gardens"

July 24, 2005

Satisfaction

The Stones were right. There are times when I look outside at my gardens, and I cant get no satisfaction. All I can see are the flaws and the gaps and the what was I thinking?s.

Gardens July 2005 003ab.jpg

I know Im not the only gardener who feels this way. In fact, a while back Sylvana sent me the following post, Even though so many people come up to me every week and tell me how much they enjoy seeing my garden and that they even route their walks and drives home just to see them. Sad, isn't it, that I just can't be satisfied with my own art?

I hear you, sister.

This whole feeling of angst is really roiling to a head for me right now. Next weekend we are participating in our first garden tour. There will be 150 people visiting our gardens on Saturday morning, and Ive already started my mental catalog of excuses for what I see as their faults:

1. We have two dogs so the lawn looks terrible.
2. I work full time with a long commute so I dont have much time to garden.
3. We have a small son. See Number 2.
4. Rabbits are running wild in the gardens and are eating everything.
5. The weather in June was really cold.
6. The weather in July has been really hot.
7. Some of my favorite plants didnt come back this year.
8. And so on and so on and so on.

There are times I look outside and I really love what I see. Or maybe I love what I know Im going to see in three years. I use that three year rule a lot, as in, Oh, it looks good now but in three years it will look really great!

So whats wrong with us? Why cant we just be content with how our gardens change throughout the seasons? Each area has its own particular strengths and looks best at different times of the year. Its a masterful gardener who can make everything look great all the time.

Maybe thats the problem. Maybe we know that we can always do better, that with a little more care and attention, next year the gardens will look that much more impressive and beautiful.

And I think that constant desire to create something beautiful is what keeps us gardening.

So wait til you see my gardens in three years!

Compost Queen I Am Not

While on a cerebral/academic/former Master Gardener level, I know its really environmentally important to compost, and I do religiously put garden clippings and kitchen waste in my bins, the other more slothful/sluggish/lazy part of me thinks, Turn it over frequently? Are you nuts? Its hard, heavy, yucky work!

Thats why every year I have things like this potato plant sprouting at the edge of my bins. If I was really doing a good job of maintaining it, like turning it frequently so the green stuff gets enough oxygen so the temperature will get hot enough to cook everything down, it would be too hot to grow vegetables in it.

Ahh, well. I also know if Im just patient enough, the plant material will break down on its own. So being lazy could actually benefit me on this one: pretty soon Ill have some Yukon Gold potatoes to harvest!

Whats Happening in the Garden Now

Gardens July 2005 002ab.jpg

I continue to be visited by Peter Rabbit, and now his juvenile derelict little brother Pauly has come along, too. One night I stepped out to pick some lettuce and there was the cutest little bunny, about the size of my hand, calmly hanging out inside my semi-fenced raised beds, eyeing my crops. Probably munching on them too.

Whats it going to take to get these ravenous little beasts out of my garden? I feel like Henry II asking of Thomas a Becket, Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest?

Except I would substitute pest for priest and then I would feel really bad if someone actually killed the stupid things and eventually got them canonized so theyd be St. Peter of the Garden and so forth. Now that would be another fine mess Id gotten myself into.

The hummingbirds are back! I was chatting on the phone the other night and watched one take a drink from one of the many tiger lilies that have sprung up across the yard. Im glad to know they like the buffet at Chez Maas.

Gardens July 2005 042.jpg

The butterflies have also been drinking from the tiger lilies and the purple phlox. They would swoop in for a sip, crawl all across the surface of the bloom and then flutter away before returning again.

The wisteria vines are really starting to take off on all four corners of the pergola. In three years (again with the three years), the pergola should be covered in tendrils and blossoms.

The Mystery Plant

As many people figured out, the mystery plant last week was butterfly weed. Can you guess the plant this week?

Heres Whats Blooming Now

Ligurlaria The Rocket
Cardinal Lobelia
Nasturtium Peach Melba and others
Rudbeckia Goldsturm
Rose
Lithrum
Physotegia
Phlox David
Asters
Liatris
Russian sage
Hydrangea Annabelle
Coreopsis Moonbeam
Campanula Blue Clips and others
Yarrow
Joe Pye Weed
Purple coneflower
Butterfly weed
Veronica
Thyme
Alpine strawberry and fruiting, too
Astilbe
Missouri primrose
Sedum
Hollyhock Nigra
Daylily
Indian blanket
Hosta
Nepeta Walkers Low
Geranium
Clematis

Garden Chores for the Week

This weekend is go-time for deadheading and cleaning up any straggly-looking perennials and shrubs. I especially want to give some of the overgrown hosta a haircut. Its too late in the season to divide them but I do want to get rid of some foliage so the other shady plants nearby can be seen.

Weve purchased 35 bags of cypress mulch to lay down before the garden tour. Mulch really helps to unify the beds, cover up the empty bits of dirt, retain moisture and keep down the weeds. All for only $2 a bag!

I still havent sowed a second planting of radishes.

The dead pea vines need to be removed and the scarlet runner beans trained up the willow teepee.

Change the beer in the slug traps. This should be done at least weekly. The hummingbird feeders should be changed weekly as well.

Its probably time to spray the roses again. I see thrips have been visiting the Nearly Wild bush by the deck.

Keep watering the new arborvitae.

Vegetable Garden

Gardens July 2005 007ab.jpg

I ate my first cherry tomato of the season, and it was wonderful. Then I remembered my favorite way to eat them. Pluck a cherry off the vine during the hottest part of the day. Lay a large basil leaf in the middle of your palm and place a sprig of mint on top. Place the tomato on top of the leaves and roll it up. Pop it into your mouth and savor the explosion of biting mint and aromatic basil blending with the warm tomato. Someday I will serve cherry tomatoes this way as a hors doeuvre for a dinner party, and people will weep from the taste.

The bush beans have begun producing. Its important to pick these frequently to continue the bloom cycle. But never handle the plants when they are wet; it can bring about rust.

Todays Grahamism

He was full of them this week. To wit:

When you sneeze it means that you are allergit to something. My friend Quinn is allergit to cittamon.

While taking Pont the Pup to the vet: Come on, Pont. I know you will be brave. You can do it!

And after the visit with the vet, Some day I want to be a doctor guy who helps sick animals and people, just like Dad.

Our family is the Magic Family because we have so much cool stuff at our house. Our special powers are that Dad can shoot things out of his arm. Quinns family is the Zoo Family because they have so many animals. Their special powers are that they can turn into any animal they want. Johns family is the Word Family because they know every word there is. Their special powers are that they can say words and things happen. And they know two words of Spanish.

And, I finally figured out the rules. When you are home, Mom, I will always follow you and do whatever you do. When Dad is home, I will follow him. At school, I will follow Quinn. And thats how my life will be.

Posted by maasx003 at 6:48 PM | Gardens

Category "Family"

Category "Gardens"

July 16, 2005

The Best Laid Plans

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This one comes from the files of What was I thinking?

Last Friday, we had the day off and were going to Valley Fair as a family. It was going to be hot, humid and ripe for a good thunderstorm. That evening we were going to go to Home Depot to purchase more cypress mulch and spread it Saturday and Sunday.

In anticipation of a good rain, I got up early Friday morning and lightly spread a bag of 7-8-7 fertilizer across most of the garden beds. What a great thing I am doing for my gardens, I thought. Fertilizer, a good rain and then mulch. Wont my plants be ever so happy?

Idiot!

Well, there was no rain on Friday, just wretched heat and humidity. The Maas family was so wiped out from a day in the sun that we were all in bed by 8:30 p.m. that evening. Any idea of spreading mulch was vetoed for the weekend.

By the time I got to checking out the plants on Saturday, the damage was done. Several plants had scorched leaves from where the fertilizer sat on top of them and cooked in the sun. There were no plant fatalities, but there will be some loss of leaves as the weeks go on.

I was most surprised by which plants were greatly affected and which were not. Rudbeckia, for example, is a plant I think pretty indestructible. But they must be more sensitive than I thought because they burned much more than any other variety.

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I tried to think back to the spring when I laid fertilizer but with no damage. What was different? Ahh, yes, now I remember. It was thundering and lightning as I was laying it down, and I was starting to get drenched from the first drops of rain. Mother Nature was doing clean up after me.

Would I apply fertilizer again? Yes, but I would definitely schedule enough time to water it in.

To Stake or Not to Stake

This is the fourth year for our Annabelle hydrangeas, and they have completely taken off. They have produced enormous, fragrant blooms the size of basketballs.

Size is not always better in this case. The blooms have gotten so heavy that any soaking from rain or sprinkler brings the stems crashing to the ground.

So I have staked this stand of bushes up after the fact. Next year Ill have to remember to stake them up earlier to prevent their horizontal habit.

To Prune or Not to Prune

Brian had found a wonderful plant combination for clay soils in one of our British gardening magazines: train a bright pink clematis up a Black Beauty elderberry.

It took some doing but we tracked down Black Beauty at Gertens in Cottage Grove and purchased two of them plus two Hagley Hybrid clematis. We would plant one on the south side of the house where a white cedar had formerly resided and another by the pergola.

The first year the shrubs grew a few feet high, and I threw a bag of leaves over each bush to protect it in the winter. Each shrub seemed to have died back to the ground, sending up all new growth in the spring.

So the second fall I did an experiment. I cut the shrub by the pergola back hard and covered with a bag of leaves like the year before. The shrub at the front of the house, I left alone but still covered it with leaves.

Turns out that elderberry send growth off old wood. This season, the one in front that I did not cut back is about three feet high with the clematis growing all over it.

The shrub in the back has taken months for it to finally send up enough shoots to convince us I did not kill it off. It certainly will thrive, but it just has taken forever to get going.

So this fall, no cutting back, just leaves like before.

Oh, the things you can learn in the garden by doing.

The Mystery Plant

The mystery plant last week was indeed snowdrops. We could all use a few snowy thoughts right about now, what with this heat. Can you guess the plant this week?

Heres Whats Blooming Now

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Liatris
Russian sage
Hydrangea Annabelle
Corpeopsis Moonbeam
Campanula Blue Clips and others
Yarrow
Joe Pye Weed
Purple coneflower
Butterfly weed
Lily
Veronica
Thyme
Alpine strawberry and fruiting, too
Astilbe
Missouri primrose
Sedum
Hollyhock Nigra
Lavender Hidcote
Sweet William
Oxeye daisy
Daylily
Salvia May Night
Indian blanket
Hosta
Nepeta Walkers Low
Rose Carefree Wonder, William Baffin, Graham Thomas and more
Clematis
Dead Nettle
Grapes

Garden Chores for the Week

Mulch, mulch, mulch since we didnt do it last weekend.

I still havent sowed a second planting of radishes but I did get around to pulling out the plants that had gone to seed.

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Change the beer in the slug traps. This should be done at least weekly. The hummingbird feeders should be changed weekly as well.

Its probably time to spray the roses again.

Keep watering the new arborvitae.

Check the ever-growing wisteria vines.

Move a blue oat grass.

Vegetable Garden

The cherry tomatoes are beginning to ripen.

The bush beans are flowering.

Cakes

I've been decorating character cakes since Graham was born. This week we had two dinner parties, which called for two cakes. For some of Brian's sports blogging friends, I did this special baseball cake with an ice cream filling.

For Graham's special movie night to introduce his friends to our new 80 x 45 inch movie screen, we did this Marvin the Martian cake in honor of Graham's movie of choice - Looney Tunes: The Movie.

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Adults sipped wine and enjoyed a specially-prepared seafood curry prepared by Brian. The wine glasses had Looney Tunes wine tags on them. Fun!

Todays Grahamisms

Hey, Dad! This Kipper movie box says it has 60 minutes of fun!

"I'm as hungry as an ostrich, and they'll eat anything, you know.

It's Getting to be Fair Time!

The Maas family is busy preparing our entries for the Hennepin County Fair and Minnesota State Fair, including this potato "art" hedgehogs created by Master Graham. I am a previous blue ribbon winner at the Minnesota State Fair and hoping to pick up some more awards this year. Stay tuned!

Posted by maasx003 at 2:20 PM | Family | Gardens

Category "Gardens"

July 10, 2005

Hollyhock Dolls

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At one point or another each summer when I was a little girl, my mother and I would go into her gardens and pick a handful of hollyhock blossoms and buds.

Wed take them indoors and carefully peel back the green bits of the bud until only a gleaming white face would appear below an elaborate up-do. Next wed break off a section of a toothpick and thread the sharp end through the base of the blossom into the stem area so a quarter inch or so would remain. Then wed stick the head onto the shoulders and voila! We had a hollyhock doll.

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If wed really wanted to go all out, we would apply a little dab of bright lipstick to the dolls face to get her ready for a big night. And if we were lucky enough to have hollyhocks in a variety of colors that year, we could mix and match the color of the dolls hair and gowns deep magenta skirt with soft pink hair and vice versa. Very cool.

This year I have a gorgeous stand of deep plum-colored hollyhocks (Alcea Nigra), and I made a couple of dolls to float on water in a shallow dish for table decorations for our Fourth of July celebration.

Now If only I had had some bright pink buds for the hair.

Fourth of July Recipes

We served a delicious Fourth of July dinner to Brians parents and his sister and her husband. The recipes are all new to us this summer, but they will be made again and again. Give them a try!

Deviled Eggs a la Sam
From Penzeys Spices

12 large hard boiled eggs (see tip)
2 slices double thick prosciutto or 4 regular OR pastrami

Guacamole
2 ripe avocadoes
small red onion, minced
4 cherry tomatoes or an equivalent in regular tomato, minced
1 TB water
tsp ground cumin
dried garlic
Juice of 1 large lime
1 tsp salt
dash of hot red pepper sauce or to taste
2 tsp fresh cilantro leaves, minced.

Prepare the guacamole while the eggs are cooking. Mix water and spices together in a medium bowl. Halve avocadoes, remove pits. Remove skin, cut into thirds, discarding any brown spots, add to the bowl. Add onion and tomato, lime juice and salt. Mash with a hand potato masher, stir to blend. Add hot pepper as desired. Cover with plastic wrap, pat onto the surface. Carefully peel the eggs and cut into half. Remove the yolks and save for salad. Cut a small slice off the bottoms if they dont sit nicely on the plate youve chosen. Cube the prosciutto, stir into the guacamole and fill the eggs. Sprinkle fresh cilantro over the tops and serve.

Tip: With a needle or a clean thumbtack, pierce the large end of each egg to a depth of 3/8 inch. This helps center the yolk. Place eggs carefully in a large kettle with at least 2 quarts cold water. Bring to a rolling boil over medium high heat. Remove the kettle from the heat, cover and let stand 18 minutes.

Zesty Coleslaw

1 bag of coleslaw mix or use 4-6 cups shredded red cabbage for a more colorful salad
2 red peppers, cut into strips
2 cups snap peas (fresh from your garden, if possible)
1-15 1/2 oz can of tropical fruit salad, drained and cut up a bit
1/2 cup roasted peanuts
1/2 cup chopped green onions
1/2 cup Zesty Italian salad dressing

Mix all together and serve.

Grilled Shrimp and Scallops with Teriyaki Sauce
From Coastal Seafoods

2 pounds shrimp and scallops
2/3 cup soy sauce
2 TB brown sugar
2 TB honey
cup sake
2 TB ginger, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced

Combine all ingredients except for shrimp and scallops. Mix well. Place shrimp and scallops on kebab skewers and marinate in the sauce for at least 45 minutes. Grill for 4 minutes, turn kebabs over and brush with marinade. Cook until done.

The Mystery Plant

The mystery plant last week was Corydalis lutea. Can you guess the plant this week? (Hint: The photo is from a farm visit to Wales, Great Britain.)

Heres Whats Blooming Now

Hydrangea Annabelle
Corpeopsis Moonbeam
Campanula Blue Clips and others
Yarrow
Joe Pye Weed
Purple coneflower
Butterfly weed
Lily
Veronica
Thyme
Alpine strawberry and fruiting, too
Astilbe
Missouri primrose
Sedum
Hollyhock Nigra
Lavender Hidcote
Sweet William
Oxeye daisy
Daylily
Salvia May Night
Indian blanket
Hosta
Nepeta Walkers Low
Rose Carefree Wonder, William Baffin, Graham Thomas and more
Geranium
Clematis

Garden Chores for the Week

Mulch, mulch, mulch

I still havent sowed a second planting of radishes but I did get around to pulling out the plants that had gone to seed.

I usually dont deadhead my Carefree Wonder roses, but Im going to give it a try this year.

Change the beer in the slug traps. This should be done at least weekly.

Its probably time to spray the roses again.

Keep watering the new arborvitae

Move a blue oat grass

Vegetable Garden

The basil is huge and lush right now. If only the tomatoes were ready!

The scarlet runner beans are taking off and need to be guided to the teepee.

Todays Grahamism

Water is like a chameleon. When you hold it, its just clear. But when you put it on other colors, its the same. So lets just call water chameleon water.

Posted by maasx003 at 5:29 PM | Gardens

Category "Gardens"

July 3, 2005

The Perfect Fit

Ive been thinking a lot about proportion and scale lately.

Proportion is the relationship of one object to another; scale is the relative size of an object. These are interconnected and discussions of either can start to get convoluted. Just keep in mind that its all about objects in relation to each other.

When I look at my gardens, and the plants in them, I make a comparison of them to my entire yard as a whole. Do these plants fit? Are they the right size and in proper proportion to the other plants around them?

These thoughts came to a head this weekend when I returned to my friend Rebeccas house for a plant swamp. I brought her a Blue Moon wisteria that I had propagated through the layering technique, and she shared lots of goodies with me.

As we stood before a clump of wonderful and gigantic plants, Rebecca asked me, Would you like some?

Silly question! Of course I would. Then I stopped to think. In her yard, an enormous open lot, the height of these plants fit. In my smaller backyard gardens, the only place those plants would fit is at the back of the deepest border, and even then they still would be too big in relation to the other plants around them.

I passed.

So my moment of supreme self-control has caused me to take a second look at what I have currently in my gardens. I need to draw inspiration and wisdom from the plants that Rebecca uses in her gardens and also from those of my friend Susan.

Susans St. Paul backyard is small, although probably average for an older urban lot. She is very thoughtful with the plants she uses in this space, with a preference for alpines. Alpines have a tendency to be smaller than their other relatives, and the scale of these plants work in proportion to the plants around them and to the yard itself. They fit.

Too bad you cant use the dressing room idea to try on plants before planting them. Then youd know if they were a good fit or not for your gardens.

Ive got some more thinking to do.

Water, Water Everywhere

And not a single drop in this container.

Now I remember why I hate doing container planting: the daily need to water. Last week we had almost two inches of rain, and two days later this pot and the plants in it were bone dry.

Part of this is my fault. I dont have a saucer under the pot to capture any excess moisture, which would help since its in a full-sun location. The other key element to consider is that the pots are only half-full with potting soil. To keep the pot from getting too heavy with soil, I stacked four-inch perennial pots to about half of the pots depth. This is a great idea but it also reduces water retention.

To combat that effect, I added water-absorbing Soil Moist granules to the potting soil before planting. This acts as a long-lasting water reserve, which helps, but obviously not enough with this plant.

This pot looks great with a vivid combination of coleus, Profusion Orange zinnias and amaranth. I guess Ill just have to suffer for its beauty.

Falling Through the Cracks

One of my favorite parts of our yard is our pergola and the adjacent patio areas. These areas are hardscaped with pavers, which allow us to walk across them right after a rain without harming any turf.

The joints between each paver are narrow and filled with sand, but they are an ideal growing condition for the seeds of many different types of prolific plants that toss their offspring to the wind.

I could have an entire herb garden from the chive, dill and cilantro seeds that germinate, and there are enough oxeye daisy sprouts to start an entire meadow. Even errant grass seed can find its home in between the cracks.

Some plants have reseeded each year, and I welcome them, such as these alyssum. Others are more problematic. Who knew that mums could reseed?

Some little seedlings are easier than other to pull out, and I just end up ripping off the top layers of leaves, knowing that in a week, Ill have to give them another go. One garden hint I read suggested using a needle-nosed pliers since it gives a very good grip on a tiny object. Ill have to try it.

Public Gardens

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Graham and I had an extra stay-home day on Friday, so we packed up a picnic lunch and met Brian at his work site in Eden Prairie. His office building is next to a public garden, and we enjoyed the treat of eating Cheetos while viewing grasses, lilies and other lovely plants in full bloom.

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I commend the City of Eden Prairie for funding such a beautiful and well-landscaped public place. Walking paths meander through colorful plants and there is a large, covered picnic area as well. When we were there, a puppet show was about to start, and many families were there to watch it.

The City of Plymouth also has a beautiful Milennium Garden. Graham and I usually get there a couple of times a year to see the flowers and the koi that live at the ponds at the bottom of the waterfalls. Well have to visit soon and take some photos.

These city gardens remind me of those we saw in Britain during our travels beautiful public spaces for the entire city to enjoy. Way to go!

Arborvitae Project

Our final summer landscaping project is complete. This week Dundees delivered and planted four arborvitae behind the pergola, completing the row we started four years ago. These will provide a solid backdrop to the tree peonies Brian brought home this week as well. I had to put tomato cages around the peonies to prevent Pont from destroying them during one of his FRAPing (Frequent Rapid Activity Period) moments.

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In landscaping, just like with interior decorating, one new project has a tendency to start a domino effect. After adding the new arborvitae, we decided the pompom spruce in the adjacent bed didnt work any longer, and it had to go. Brian had it cut down and dug out in less than half an hour.

The neighbors behind us also did some serious pruning of the silver maple that overhangs into our property and removed a dead sugar maple that was directly behind the pergola.

These three actions adding the arborvitae, taking out the spruce, and removing the dead tree and overhanging branches have changed the look of our garden spaces tremendously.

Todays Grahamism

Why are ants called ants? Do you think its maybe because ant is another word for small?

Whats Happening in the Garden Now

The prairie garden is really coming into its own during its fourth season.

The slug traps are working. When I cleaned out and replenished the traps with fresh beer this weekend, each of the five traps had several slugs in them.

Along the south portion of our chain link fence, we have five shades of clematis blooming from softest pink to bright raspberry to deepest violet.

The rabbit is still with us but not for lack of us sending Glynis out after it.

The Mystery Plant

Okay, last weeks photo of pink flowers was kind of sneaky. It showed the blossoms of a radish that had bolted. Who knew they could be so pretty?

Can you guess what this weeks mystery plant is?

Heres Whats Blooming Now

Yarrow
Joe Pye Weed
Purple coneflower
Butterfly weed
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 Walkers Low
Rose Carefree Wonder, William Baffin, Graham Thomas and more
Geranium
Clematis

Garden Chores for the Week

Its getting to be time to cut back some of the perennials that have had their first bloom, with hope for a second. These would include the Walkers Low nepeta, geraniums, and May Night salvia.

Its also time to do a second application of a general fertilizer on the perennials, annuals and vegetable gardens and to put down a refresher layer of mulch.

I still havent sowed a second planting of radishes.

Vegetable garden
Peas, peas, peas!

The tomatoes have set fruit and are looking good.

Posted by maasx003 at 4:01 PM | Gardens

Category "Gardens"

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 isnt possible. Ive 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 whats 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, arent 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 Im sure Ill 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. Im pleased to say I think Ive gotten them all. For now.

Weeding is another time to really pay attention to whats 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.

Im 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 couldnt 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.

Whats 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 weeks mystery plant is?

Heres Whats 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 Walkers 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. Ill 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 | Gardens

Category "Family"

Category "Gardens"

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 wasnt 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 didnt 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 cant 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 couldnt 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 elses 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 Beckys. And four more gardens to boot!

Whats 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 thats 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 36 deep. It has a gentle slide and a lazy river. Its 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 couldnt quite figure that one out.

On Sunday we all slept in. Since it was Fathers Day, Brian chose the days 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, its Ponts turn to run it into the ground. Some things never change, I guess.

Can you guess what this weeks mystery plant is?

Heres Whats Blooming Now

Graham - June 2005 013.jpg

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 Walkers 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. Its time to pull them out and do another sowing.

Posted by maasx003 at 7:03 PM | Family | Gardens

Category "Gardens"

June 14, 2005

Whats 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 weve seen a magazine photo of something so absolutely gorgeous that we just have to have it or were following a recommendation from a trusted friend.

For me, sometimes its the name alone that will get me hooked.

Youve probably figured out that Im a sucker for all things British, and if its 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. Its 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 theres 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.

Dont 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 Walkers Low nepeta.

Im 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, weve always liked the name but now I find myself buying Thalia daffodils each fall, she said.

I think its 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.

Im 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. Id 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, theres 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. Dont eat the leaves; they are mildly toxic. Theres an old saying that you should never harvest rhubarb after the Fourth of July. Thats 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:

cup cold butter
cup sugar
cup flour
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:

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

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

Topping: 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 thats 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
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 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 | Gardens

Category "Gardens"

June 11, 2005

Vertical Gardening

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Building a garden is a lot like building a city: pretty soon youve 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 Im a little biased since I am loony for vines. We have a green chain link fence around our backyard so we dont 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 cant 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 Ive interplanted them with Dutchmans pipe, Virginia creeper, annual morning glories and other vines. Dutchmans pipe has been a disappointment. Ive 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. Its 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 havent seen any buds on the clematis yet. Hmmm.

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Im 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!

Dont 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 cant wait to see them! I planted Lavender Hidcote in front of them to hide their skinny ankles. Ill 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, Im 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. Lets 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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Whats 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 wasnt 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, Id 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.

Heres Whats 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 Walkers 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 Im 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 | Gardens

Category "Family"

Category "Gardens"

June 8, 2005

The Joys of Summer

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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.

Isnt that what summer should be all about?

Willow Furniture

One of Brians 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 youd like her contact information. We recommend her highly.

Wildlife Watch

We placed a thistle feeder for goldfinches outside of Grahams 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.

Were 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. Hes our little Nature Boy.

Tasty Summertime Treats

Weve been trying to get more fruits and vegetables into Grahams 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 | Family | Gardens

Category "Family"

Category "Gardens"

June 5, 2005

Rites of Passage

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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 hed 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 cant sleep on the top bunk until next year when he turns six. We are very proud of him as well.

Whats 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? Thats exactly how I feel about the garden right now.

With all the moisture weve 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 Im feeling panicked and frustrated and like something is chasing me. Its hard to find time to garden with our busy lives and schedules. Ive 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 dont 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 neighbors 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. Its 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 Im 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 elses 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 Gardeners World magazine. Instead of using packing peanuts to fill up a big pot so you dont have to use as much soil and it doesnt 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 weeks 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 didnt know much about prairie plants. Now that the garden is becoming established, Im 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, Im excited to have their blooms.

Heres Whats 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
Jacobs 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 didnt 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 | Family | Gardens

Category "Gardens"

May 26, 2005

Confessions of a Plant Ho

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My gardening friends know that Ill do just about anything for free plants.

Nothing gets my heart beating faster than the possibility of getting a plant, any plant, for free. Okay, almost any plant. Even I have my standards.

There are many ways to get free plants. The most obvious is by exchanging plants with a friend. Last week I visited my friend Susan to see her lovely gardens, and yes, because she has bloodroot, a woodland plant I have been coveting for quite some time.

I brought a along a couple pots of Ligularia Othello, and I came home with ideas for my own gardens plus a pot of the coveted bloodroot. Susan also shared a pot of Heuchera Plum Pudding which she had just divided. Bonus!

There is a delicate etiquette to whoring for plants. There are times when I can be quite bold about asking someone for plants, without any expectation of me offering something in return. A good example of this is the arrangement with my friend Sharon.

Our sons go to daycare together, and last May, we were at her house in Ham Lake for Joshs birthday party. Never having been in the far northern suburbs before, I was unprepared for her property, which has basically been carved out of the woods.

While everyone else was inside watching Josh open his presents, I was roaming through the backyard, squawking every time I saw a woodland plant that I had just spent $7.50 for the day before.

Finally, I couldnt take it anymore. I cornered Sharon, and with a wild look in my eye, begged, Do you have a shovel?

With shovel in hand and Sharons blessings upon me, I filled up a box with ferns, merrybells, rue anemone, violets, and even a trillium.

This year, Josh did not hold a birthday party at their house, but Sharon invited us back again for the ultimate playdate: Graham and Josh played for hours on the swing set while Sharon and I tramped through the woods and gathered more woodland lovelies for my dry streambed garden. Which had a bed of lovely blossoms this past week. I loved the look the blossoms gave the area.

There are other times when an intricate dance is performed. When I visited my friend Marsha last week for my annual spring gardening lunch, I came with the understanding that upon finishing our tasty repast, my handy shovel would swing into action. I also came with pots of this and that to offer to her in return. Some plants she took and others she refused.

This year I was after violets in particular, and Marsha had several patches that had sprung up in places where she didnt want them. And in a perfect gardening twist of fate, the aforementioned Susan learned that I had received yellow violets from Marsha. Now she covets them, and I am able to pass them along from Marsha to her.

Sometimes free plants come as a result of doing something good. I have assisted with a number of volunteer gardening projects in which the participants are able to divvy up any left over plants.

Sometimes free plants just appear out of the blue. A few weeks ago, I stepped away from my desk at work for a few minutes and came back to find a box with five unidentified tubers sitting on my chair. There was no note, no identification of just what exactly they are, just a tantalizing set of possibilities to watch and see what grows from them.

The benefits of to free plants are pretty obvious, the biggest being I dont have to pay for them. When we finished our house and garden remodel a few years ago, we had lovely new raised beds but little money to purchase plants to fill them.

For years I had walked past a house in the neighborhood that has a massive mixed border along one whole end of the property. That year, I approached the owner and asked if I could have some plants when she was dividing her perennials. Thanks to Anita, I loaded at least four trays of plant material into the minivan and gave my new beds a cheap makeover.

You can also get plants from friends that youve always been meaning to add to your gardens but just havent put them high enough on the purchase list to justify. Last week Marsha also shared some tiarella with me. Ive heard its praises sung by gardeners I respect, and Ive seen lovely photos in books, but it has always seemed too expensive in the garden centers when there were other plants I needed more.

The other, more intangible, benefits come when you look upon your beds and see that the hosta you got from a coworker last spring made it through the winter or you notice that the liatris a former neighbor shared are in bloom. These plants are visual scrapbooks of good friends and good memories.

There are some basic rules to keep in mind when accepting or seeking free plants:

1. Youve got to have a place for them. If you dont know where you are going to put them, dont take them. Its even better when you can get a specific plant that you truly need, like the Plum Pudding I received from Susan. I have several in my garden but one died over the winter. I would have had to purchase one if not for her generosity.
2. Dont accept (or give away) plants that are thugs and will eventually take over your gardens. I am still digging out Canadian anemone that someone gave me when we first bought our house 14 years ago. Ask why your friends are so eager to give their plants away.
3. If you dont have the time to plant them, the plants will guilt you mercilessly. Who needs that stress?
4. What goes around comes around. If you have been the recipient of free plants, you have an obligation to share your own plants with those who need them. I often give away plants as birthday gifts to friends who are just starting out as gardeners. You can also donate them to plant sales at your school or other charitable causes.

As I write this, I have several flats of freebies waiting for me to plant them tomorrow. Some will go into my gardens, and others will be passed along to other gardeners and other gardens. They are plants with a purpose.

So while I will do just about anything for free plants, even I have my standards.

Whats happening in the garden now:
Brian chose the plant combination for his new perennial bed under the spruce trees. We were able to purchase almost all the plants we needed and got them all into the ground Saturday night. The garden will be series of rings extending from the trees out and includes Great Expectations hosta, Metallica Athyrium nipponicum or Japanese painted fern, Stella Doro daylilies and Beedhams White lamium. Watch for photos throughout the summer to see how the garden comes together.

In the ornamental grass beds, the prairie smoke are showing their pinky/gray bells, and the dodecatheon is in bloom.

The first early clematis is blooming along the chain link fence. Every year I add more vines to cover the fence and give us more privacy from the neighbors.

Heres whats blooming now:
Wild geranium
Columbine
Woodland phlox
Jack in the Pulpit
Pulmonaria
Japanese anemone
Jacobs ladder
Lily of the valley
Forget-me-nots
Geranium
Clematis
Tulips
Grape hyacinth
Virginia bluebells
Rue anemone
Trillium both the nodding and the standard types
Flax
Merry bells
Prairie smoke
Violets
Daffodils
Hellebores
Bergenia
Creeping phlox
Strawberries
Lilacs

Garden chores for the week:
Continue to weed.

Bring up the plants I started from seed and start hardening them off.

Bring out the hummingbird and oriole feeders.

Plant up the new copper pots that will go in front of the pergola. Im attempting to replicate an arrangement I saw in the White Flower Farm catalog. Other pots will go on the deck and the front stoop.

Plant tomatoes, herbs and annuals.

Prune the forsythia.

Dig up the yarrow clump under the magnolia tree.

Pot up plants for friends.

Vegetable garden:
The seemingly endless stretch of cool and rainy weather has been a godsend for my little salad bowl project. I have tried growing mesclun for several different years with no success. This year I must have finally purchased the right seed and got it planted at the right time, because I have had several salads this week by simply stepping out my back door onto the deck and snipping leaves onto a plate. Im hoping that the plants will be cut and come again so I can eat salad greens all summer this way.

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.

Sunflower Autumn Beauty Fredonia Seeds for 2003
5/1 Planted seeds in peat pots

Morning Glory Grandpa Otis Renees Garden for 2003
5/1 Planted seeds in peat pots
5/7 They have germinated

Morning Glory Flying Saucers Livingston Seeds for 2000
5/1 Planted seeds in peat pots
5/7 They have germinated

Tithonia Rotundifolia Torch Tithonia Renees Garden for 2005
5/1 Planted seeds in peat pots

Morning Glory Scarlett OHara Burpees for 2004
5/8 Planted seeds in peat pots

Morning Glory Early Call Shepherds for 1998
5/8 Planted seeds in peat pots

And finally, our latest home project is complete. Brian provides a full summary, with photos, over on his Vikings blog on Friday (5/27).

Posted by maasx003 at 8:01 AM | Gardens

Category "Gardens"

May 8, 2005

A Woodsy Wonderland

Of all the gardens weve done thus far, Id have to say the woodland/dry stream bed one has given me the most satisfaction. Thats pretty rich coming from a prairie girl.

In addition to all the ornamental perennials that provide grace and beauty to the bed, I wanted to include those plants that I would see on our walks through the woods in the neighborhood and in French Park.

Its been fun learning about Minnesota native woodland plants and acquiring them through nurseries or other gardening friends. I wrote a grant and received money from the City of Plymouth through their native plant initiative. These funds helped purchase plants at Landscape Alternatives, an excellent nursery which only sells native plants it grows. They stock an amazing array of woodland and prairie plants.

Spring is a special time in a woodland garden because so many of the plants are ephemerals. They disappear shortly after blooming, not be seen again until the following year.

Right now among the hosta shoots and fern fronds that are peeking through the soil, the rue anemone are showing their sweet pink faces and the trillium have begun to bloom. Three large clumps of Virginia bluebells nod in the wind. They were planted in memory of my dear gardening friend and native plant mentor Tony Pezalla who died of cancer in December 2003.

Two other ephemerals that add lovely color are not Minnesota natives but I wouldnt be without them. The Turkish tulips are in full bloom now and their jewel-like yellow and red flowers provide wave after wave of color along the stream bed.

The snakes head fritillaria are native to Britain but they just look so cool, I have to have them. They look especially good with the yellow Turkish tulips.

Other woodland plants in bloom include a variety of different violets are in bloom as well in white, yellow and purples.

These fleeting plants are such a gentle, beautiful way to welcome the growing season. I wish theyd stay longer but perhaps then they wouldnt be so sweet.

Whats happening in the garden now:
Brian chose the plant combination for his new perennial bed under the spruce trees. We were able to purchase almost all the plants we needed and got them all into the ground Saturday night. The garden will be series of rings extending from the trees out and includes Great Expectations hosta, Metallica Athyrium nipponicum or Japanese painted fern, Stella Doro daylilies and Beedhams White lamium.

In the ornamental grass beds the prairie smoke have begun to show their pinky/gray bells.

Heres Whats Blooming Now:
Tulips
Grape hyacinth
Virginia bluebells (View Virginia bluebells)
Rue anemone
Flax (View blue flax)
Merry bells
Snakes head fritillaria (View Snakes head fritillaria)
Prairie smoke
Turkish tulips (View yellow Turkish tulips) and (View red Turkish tulips)
Violets
Daffodils (View Daffodils)
Crocus
Forsythia
Serviceberry
Wild prairie crocus (View Wild prairie crocus)
Squill (View Squill)
Hellebores
Bergenia
Flowering crabapple trees
Creeping phlox (View Creeping phlox)
Strawberries

Garden Chores for the Week:
Continue to weed. Every time I go outside, I have to pick at least one maple sapling.

Water the new bed and the Graham Thomas (View Graham Thomas) roses we transplanted. The current forecast is for rain but Ill believe it when I feel it.

Spread a low nitrogen fertilizer all over the garden beds. Ive been reading that if you mulch heavily with woodchips, you need to replace nitrogen in the soil. When the chips decompose, they use up the soils nitrogen supply.

Start working on a garden center shopping list. Figure out which perennials need replacing and what annuals well add for color.

Bring out the hummingbird and oriole feeders.

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

Vegetable Garden

Brian purchased some netting to use as walls to keep Pont out of the vegetable beds.

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.

Sunflower Autumn Beauty Fredonia Seeds for 2003
5/1 Planted seeds in peat pots

Morning Glory Grandpa Otis Renees Garden for 2003
5/1 Planted seeds in peat pots
5/7 They have germinated

Morning Glory Flying Saucers Livingston Seeds for 2000
5/1 Planted seeds in peat pots
5/7 They have germinated

Tithonia Rotundifolia Torch Tithonia Renees Garden for 2005
5/1 Planted seeds in peat pots

Morning Glory Scarlett OHara Burpees for 2004
5/8 Planted seeds in peat pots

Morning Glory Early Call Shepherds for 1998
5/8 Planted seeds in peat pots

Woodland Wildflower Alert

The uvularia or merry bells are in bloom along the woodland walking paths. So are a white-flowering shrub which I think may be the native elderberry.

Posted by maasx003 at 3:37 PM | Gardens

Category "Gardens"

May 1, 2005

Cosmetic Surgery for the Garden

Landscaping is a lot like cosmetic surgery: once you get started, its hard to stop.

For more than five years we have been slowly adding hardscape elements to our garden. Raised beds with lannon stone walls here, a pergola there. Every summer following the projects completion, we think, Okay, thats it. Were done.

But by the time spring rolls around, weve already speed-dialed our landscape designer with new ideas and plans. When his son was born a few years ago, we were surprised he didnt name the lad Maas since we figure weve already bankrolled the kids college education.

This years project came out of a decision Brian made last summer to prune up (as seen here) the four Colorado spruce along the street. By raising up the bottom level of the branches, he increased the sight lines (as seen here) down the street and discovered a whole new area to plant under the trees.

So a few weeks ago, the gang from Dundee Landscape and Nursery were back again, installing lannon stone walls (as seen here) and adding fresh topsoil and mulch. Now the fun begins as we decide what kinds of perennials to put under the trees (as seen here) to provide blooms throughout the season.

We have ideas for other projects but it may take winning the lottery to fund them this year. We are toying with adding another patio next to the pergola for an outdoor dining area but we are concerned it will add too much hardscape. Will the gardens cease to feel like gardens (as seen here) when we trade plants for pavers?

And what about adding a pond at the far right of yard, next to the Austrian pine we acquired when we finally did an accurate survey of our property? Will that take away from the other things weve done already? Will the gardens start looking like an aging B-list Hollywood starlet whos done one Botox treatment too many?

One project we will do for sure this summer is to fill in the gap in the arborvitae along the back fence to help give us privacy when we are outside.

Filling in the gap? Sounds like cosmetic dental work now.

See? We just dont know how to quit.

Whats happening in the garden now:
With the recent down swing in weather (its snowing as I write this), not much is happening in the garden. The plants have slowed down their blooms and its too bloody cold for me to work outdoors.

But one welcome addition to the blooming plants is the snakes head fritillary. These checker board beauties grow wild in Britain, and Ive got several colonies established along the dry stream bed. Their nodding purple heads are an ephemeral delight. Soon after they finish blooming, the whole plant will disappear until next spring.

Heres whats blooming now (and Brian will try to get photos next week as he was busy with the Vikings this week):
Snakes head fritallary
Turkish tulips
Violets
Daffodils
Forsythia
Serviceberry
Wild prairie crocus
Squill
Hellebores
Bergenia
Flowering crabapple trees
Petasites
Creeping phlox
Strawberries


Garden chores for the week:
Weed, weed, weed. We are surrounded by silver maple trees which blanket our yard and gardens with seeds, and it seems like every single seed germinates. I am also trying to contain the wild Canadian anemone. Its white blooms are cheerful but it is the most prolific and invasive thing in the garden, even more so than the simple white field daisy.

When the weather improves, start planting Stella dOro daylilies in the new gardens under the spruce. Brian bought them a few weeks ago at Home Depot and they are sending out monstrous shoots in their plastic bags.

Dig up the ornamental and native grasses growing where we will put the new arborvitae. I will move them to where the Graham Thomas roses were until we decide what to do with them permanently.

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

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

Vegetable Garden:
The lettuce and radishes continue to grow well. The peas have emerged about a half-inch above the ground. I found one sweet pea so far that has germinated. The chives are setting blossoms.

Seed Starting Update:
Ive neglected the seeds this week and need to pot up some more celosia.

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:
Yesterday the Boy, the two dogs and I took a very long and very cold walk through a different set of woods. We saw a few rue anemone blooming and several Solomons seal unfurling their stems.

Family Plug

Brian attended Vikings mini-camp this past Friday and has been posting reports by position all weekend. On Saturday alone, his site had nearly 5,000 visitors! And the photos are great. Check it out!


Posted by maasx003 at 7:41 PM | Gardens

Category "Gardens"

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 isnt, 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 Im 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?

Its 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, theres always next year.

But for now, Im still rooting for my own perfect garden.

Whats 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 dont 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.

Ive 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 Ive seen tradescantia and prairie strawberries. The birds foot violets have begun blooming. In the woodland area along the dry streambed and down, Ive 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 moms 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.

Heres whats 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 weve had, they pull out very easily.

Dig up the yarrow clump under the magnolia tree. Ive had it with this plant. It does nothing for me or the garden and just keeps encroaching on everything else. Ill 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 | Gardens

Category "Family"

Category "Gardens"

April 10, 2005

Hatching Day

Five years ago today, Master Graham Kiloran Maas was hatched. Thats 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, hes 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, hes been in the bird section of the book and Im 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.

Whats 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. Ansgars 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 Walkers Low nepeta around the fountain bed has come back very nicely, and the snakes 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 havent 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, Im thinking of using variegated cannas or purple miscanthus for the tall bits, and either an orangey begonia or coleus and some purply foliage plants. Ive 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 | Family | Gardens

Category "Gardens"

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 couldnt 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 couldnt 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 Bachmans 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.

Ill 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. Lets see how I do.

Whats 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 weve 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 | Gardens

Category "Gardens"

March 27, 2005

Spring has Sprung

As far as Im concerned, spring officially began yesterday. With temperatures forecast for over 50 degrees, we brought the willow furniture up from the basement storeroom and set it under the pergola. When the weather gets warmer, well treat the furniture with a clear waterproofer to help them last longer.

The new loveseat we commissioned this year looks great with the other pieces
and it adds a few more seats around the copper fire pit. I was ready to sit out yesterday afternoon with a glass of something but by the time I was finished doing my spring garden clean up, it was too chilly.

Soon, though, well be spending our days amidst the gardens reading books with Graham, taking naps in the sun and catching up with our friends and neighbors. Just seeing the furniture from the window makes me smile. From March to November, it gives us nearly nine months of pleasure.

Working in the garden again also gave me a great deal of pleasure and pain. By the end of the two and a half hours I spent bending, straightening and carrying, I was feeling my ancient years. If this is what 40 feels like, it stinks. Im hoping its just that Im terribly out of shape.

In my excitement to be outside again, I cut a wide swathe. All the ornamental grasses that looked so lovely in the fall, but now seemed rather sad, were chopped down. Any remaining perennials that had escaped the clipper last fall became compost. The hydrangeas were cut back, with ivory panicles floating down like rain in a sepia photograph. The gardens are now bare and ready for the flush of spring growth.

And the growth has already begun. While cutting things down, I saw what was coming up: pale, tender shoots of the first daffodils; needle-thin chives; green pebbles of sedum and feathery yarrow.

The list of new growth continues:
Scottish campanula
Several varieties of thyme including the wooly thyme surrounding the prairie garden stepping stones
Daisies
Strawberries
Mums
Penstemon Husker Red
Primroses
Heuchera
Hellebores

In the ornamental grass bed, the gray kittenish fuzz of prairie crocus brought back memories of spring in North Dakota and begged to be stroked. The uncurling leaves of prairie smoke promised splendor to come.

Next to the house, I lifted bags of leaves and found hollyhocks and lavender Hidcote basking in the southern sun. The hollyhock leaves were emerald green and some were as big as my hand. The lavender was also lush; last years growth managed to overwinter under the added protection of the bags.

I tried a new chore this spring. Each summer we mulch extensively with shredded cypress. We typically think of it in July or August when the perennials have already grown so much that its difficult to spread the mulch around the plants. In particular, the beds underneath the flowering crabs have never received proper attention. It occurred to me that with everything cut back last fall, I could spread the mulch now to get complete coverage, and I wouldnt be harming anything since the ground was still frozen and the daffodils hadnt come up yet. Brian was able to pick up the mulch yesterday morning at Home Depot and it was my last accomplishment before dragging my tired body in the house for supper.

With my Concord grape vine pruned back today, my early spring chore list is complete, all before the end of March. Now I can think about planting!

Posted by maasx003 at 7:09 PM | Gardens

Category "Gardens"

March 8, 2005

Published!

Check out my latest gardening piece in the Minneapolis Star-Tribunes Home and Garden section. My secret obsession is finally revealed! (Okay, so it wasnt that big of a secret.)

Posted by maasx003 at 10:24 PM | Gardens

Category "Gardens"

February 27, 2005

Spring Fever

There is less than a foot of snow on the ground at our Minnesota home and if it continues to melt, we should see the first spring flowers by mid-March, only a few weeks away.

Tiny white snowdrops somehow manage to muscle their way through the remaining crust of ice and snow to appear first. There is something so quintessentially British about snowdrops with their white and green heads nodding atop graceful necks that when I see them, I always long to hop on a plane bound for Gatwick. Their petals open when the sun is out and remain closed when its cloudy. The clumps underneath the silver maple in front of our house have been expanding since they were planted five years ago. Last fall I planted more between the bergenia edging the window wells at the back of the house and between a row of My Favorite mums next to the pergola. I will be able to see them from the great room windows, an added treat.

When the snowdrops finish blooming, the early crocus begin. Since we remodeled our house and redid the gardens, my crocuses are no longer tucked against the southern side of the house where they would unfurl their sunny purple and yellow faces. Now they are on their own in a raised bed where they still appear early, just not as early as before.

Growing up in North Dakota, I enjoyed my mothers spring borders which would always be flush with brilliant red species tulips that emerged after the crocus. Those splashes of vivid color went a long way to rekindling hope for warmer things after enduring a seemingly unending series of blizzards and cold.

We also have species tulips, which multiply year after year, but ours are Turkish tulips purchased from White Flower Farm. We planted at least 100, maybe even 200, along the north side of our house, a gently sloping area bisected by a dry streambed. Once they begin blooming, they open yellow, orange or red tapered petals to reveal a star-shaped center. Their bloom time lasts over a month as wave after wave of them dot the little hillside. It may not be Turkey but they seem very happy in Minnesota.

As the season moves on, the gardens are dotted again and again by bulbs scilla, grape hyacinth, masses of daffodils, tulips, allium and fritallaria. I cant imagine gardening without them.

Flowering bulbs arent the only harbingers of spring. Now when I open the backdoor to let the dogs out early in the morning, the air is full of a cardinals swaggering calls. Hey, baby, hey, baby, he croons, charming all the local ladies in red.

The cardinals may get the ball rolling but the true indication that spring has arrived is the trill of the first robin back from the south. When I hear that, I immediately stop everything Im doing. I pivot slowly to scan the neighboring trees and power lines until I spot him.

Theres no more welcome sight than that tomato breast, white bib and dark cap nor a sound more cheerful than the distinctive warble that heralds the end of winter.

Since both robins and snow drops usually appear on or around my birthday, the Ides of March, I consider them my own special birthday presents.

And they are pretty cool presents, indeed. Just what I always wanted.

Posted by maasx003 at 5:29 PM | Gardens