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My Northern Garden - Mary Schier
Sharing experiences and ideas about cold-climate gardening
Updated: 2 hours 16 min ago
Hort Days. Spring Flings. Garden Gatherings. Garden Fever. Whatever you call them, the assortment of garden schools being sponsored by Master Gardener groups, horticulture societies and garden clubs this time of year is huge. Only weather and mileage keep me from going to one every weekend. Here are a few favorites to consider, both near the Twin Cities and beyond.
I have to start with the local one here in Northfield, sponsored by the Rice County Master Gardeners. This year’s hort day will include three great speakers. The opening speaker is Eric Johnson, a designer, garden writer and columnist for Northern Gardener magazine, who will teach participants how to create garden art that is handmade, beautiful and not too expensive in his talk on DIY Garden Art. He’ll be followed by Dakota County Master Gardener Shari Mayer, a longtime herb enthusiast, who will talk about growing and preserving herbs. After lunch in the St. Olaf cafeteria, participants will hear from Karl Foord, a University of Minnesota Extension Educator on the role of bees in the pollination of fruit as well as threats to bee populations and what gardeners can do to help bees. The event costs $30, which includes lunch, a continental breakfast, handouts and a free sample of honey from local beekeeper Mike Feist. It will be held at Buntrock Commons on the campus of St. Olaf College in Northfield.
Last year, I also attended the Carver-Scott Master Gardeners Garden Fever event and thought it was fantastic. This year, the event will be Saturday, March 8, at Oak Ridge Hotel and Conference Center in Chaska. One of the keynoters is Emily Tepe, vegetable gardener and author, who recently wrote about onions for Northern Gardener, and Douglas Mensing, an ecologist. The theme is sustainable gardening. Some of the best parts of this hort day are the presentations by master gardeners from Carver-Scott counties. Here’s my favorite title for a presentation this year: “Help! My Garden is Having a Midlife Crisis.” I know the feeling. If you register by Friday, the event is $40. After that the price goes up to $45.
Another popular garden school is the East Metro/Washington County Master Gardeners Spring Fling, which will also be held March 8. Speakers include Debbie Lonnee of Bailey Nurseries on new plants, noted nurseryman Steve Kelley on shade gardening, Eric Johnson on vegetable gardening and author Kelly Norris on iris, among others. The $35 fee includes the seminars and lunch catered by Tinucci’s. The event will be held at Woodbury High School.
There are so many more garden schools around the state — I’ve heard great things about the programs in Grand Forks, Stearns County, West Otter Tail County and many others. A complete list of schools is available on the MSHS website. Find one near you!
During these last cold days of winter (hope, hope, hope!), I’ve been taking refuge in the garden photos I took last summer. Among the images are many from vegetable gardens that are truly beautiful spaces as well as nourishing.
My vegetable garden usually has the shabby chic look (or maybe just shabby), but I’ve found that lettuces planted in pots or window boxes can be very attractive, especially those with rose-tipped, ruffly foliage. But a couple of the gardens I visited last summer took vegetable gardening beauty well beyond that.
The vegetable garden at Squire House Gardens in Afton, for example, was lush, colorful and full of texture on the warm August afternoon when I stopped by. Planting green and purple cabbages together created a round contrast. Big ripe peppers hung from plants, like green ornaments, ready for plucking. A tall trellis covered in green beans created a produce wall at the back of the garden. The gardeners included a water feature and garden art, too, which encourage visitors to linger. Even the asparagus plants, long past their picking prime, added soft texture with their mature fronds.
Earlier in the summer, I visited the garden of Amy Andrychowicz, proprietor at the Get Busy Gardening blog. You can read all about Amy’s garden in the March/April issue of Northern Gardener, which will be out in about two weeks, but suffice it to say, she has a way with vegetables. The big arch covered with squash is like a grand entry to the garden, and she mixes annuals, such as nasturtiums among the vegetables to add color and encourage pollination. It’s a lovely garden and I was delighted to be able to write about it for Northern Gardener.
For more photos of vegetable garden prettiness, see the gallery below. What will you be planting in your vegetable garden this year?
When my children were young, an older relative gave us a petite set of books by the children’s author Beatrix Potter. With their warm water-color illustrations and sweetly droll humor, the books soon became a favorite of mine. I think the girls liked them, too. So I was thrilled to receive a review copy of Marta McDowell’s Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life: The Plants and Places that Inspired the Classic Children’s Tales (Timber Press, 2013).
Potter’s books are filled with illustrations and stories that gardeners can appreciate, from Peter Rabbit’s forays into Mr. McGregor’s garden (the longer I garden, the more I side with Mr. McGregor) to silly Jemima Puddleduck picking onions and sage for a dinner at which she is to be the guest of honor — and the main course — to country mouse Timmy Willy, who falls asleep in a peapod before he is shipped off to the city in a basket of garden produce. Potter loved nature and the country life and her stories and illustrations show it.
McDowell’s book is really three books in one, and each has its own merits. The first part is a biography of Potter, a shy and lonely girl, who took refuge in keeping rabbits and drawing plants and animals. She was a skilled botanical illustrator (mushrooms were a particular specialty) but achieved recognition when The Tale of Peter Rabbit was published in 1901. Her parents were the demanding Victorian type, and disapproved of her writing as well as her romance and engagement to her publisher, Frederick Warne. Sadly, Warne died in 1905 from leukemia. Grieving and seeking independence, Potter bought Hill Top Farm in the Lake District of western England. There, she continued to produce books (23 in all) and garden. At 47, she married a local attorney and began to buy more property in the area. She published her last book in 1922, and spent the final 25 years of her life as a farmer and conservation activist in the Lake District.
The biography section of the book is entertaining, marked by vibrant prose and an abundance of drawings and photographs. You get a genuine sense of how Potter’s books reflected her interest in nature and her life as a gardener.
The second section takes a reader through the year in Potter’s garden, from the dark winter to the blooming primroses in June to fall and the harvest season. It’s evocative and well-illustrated and gives a full picture of English country life. Through letters and other material, McDowell shows Potter dealing with many of the problems familiar to all gardeners — invasive plants, poor weather, more ideas and work than time. The last section is a short introduction to visiting Potter’s gardens and farms and the Lake District. Potter left most of her property to the National Trust, so there is a lot to see, if you are able to get to this somewhat out-of-the-way part of England. The book is rounded out with resources and suggestions for further reading as well as plant lists, including lists of all the plants that appear in each of her books as well as those she cultivated.
For Potter fans or lovers of English country life that is not of the Downton Abbey variety, this gardener’s biography is a great read. I will be donating the review copy of the beautiful book to the MSHS Library, a great resource for gardeners in Minnesota.
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