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Preview: growing things

growing things

a garden blog, mostly

Updated: 2015-09-16T13:48:39.436-05:00




Just a filler post. I'll get back to this blog one of these days.

Remembering Harry


Harry B. Paulson, Sr. died on Wednesday, January 6.

Harry lived in the house behind mine. His obituary ends with this line:
Harry will be missed for many things but most notably his feistiness and zest for life.

Sounds about right.

Not long after we moved here, when Harry was a spry fellow in his early eighties, he locked himself out of his house. There was no getting in the first floor without breaking a window. But perhaps one of the second-story windows was open, if just a little. We put a ladder against the porch roof, and I climbed up to check the windows.

To my surprise, Harry climbed up right behind me. All the windows were closed. We tried to slip a thin piece of metal through the meeting rails of a bedroom window, hoping to open the clamshell sash lock. No luck.

We ended up using my cordless drill to drill a hole through the lower rail of the top sash, and then used a bent coat hanger to unfasten the clamshell. The window slid open easily, and Harry climbed in.

Rest in Peace.

Silent Night


With 9 or 10 inches on the ground already, and another 6 predicted to fall overnight, it should be a silent night.

Except for when the plows roll through.


Dear Coca-Cola



Dear Coca-Cola,

To you, this holiday bottle is probably just a fun novelty item. To teachers, however, this is a cheap (and unbreakable) alternative to a round-bottom flask, suitable for young children.

I like to use these bottles as lenses. Filled with water and held at arm's length, they produce images like this one.


In a darkened room, one can shoot a laser beam through the water-filled bottle and observe the refraction.

Last year, I bought two before they were gone from the shelves at my local WalMart. This year, I got a dozen.

Here's hoping that these will be released again next year.

Against the snow



Not the best photo, but I like the stark contrast that these astilbe create against the snow.

Last of the tomatoes


Tonight I used the last of my tomatoes. Picked a couple of weeks ago, before our first frost, they finished ripening inside. While they aren't as good as vine-ripened tomatoes picked in their prime, the 'Garden Peach' and 'Red Figs' tasted pretty good in the black bean chili I made tonight.

Insult to Injury


I realize that in Minnesota, we can't count on the growing season lasting any longer than baseball's regular season. But just as the Twins had a thrilling run in September, Summer pulled out all the stops and gave us a warmer than usual September.

On the last weekend in the season, the Twins tied the Tigers to force a playoff, and then won a thrilling one-game playoff to win their division. I wasn't counting on warm temperatures through Halloween, but it was easy to imagine that we'd ease into autumn.

It wasn't bad enough that the Twins lost three in a row to the Yankees; we got a hard frost in the middle of that sad series, and measurable snow the day after the third loss.

Learning from the Masters


One of these years, I'm going to sign up for the Master Gardener program at the U. Until then, I think I've found a pretty good alternative. I've been volunteering to help Master Gardeners with their community gardening projects in my neighborhood.

It started a couple of years ago when I agreed to help clear a ditch to make way for a raingarden. Working alongside a couple of Master Gardeners, I learned to identify buckthorn and some other weedy trees. Better yet, I got my hands on a Weed Wrench. It's a great tool -- very effective, and fun to use. It's a bit pricey for something I need for a few hours, once or twice a year, but one the local Master Gardeners has one that she loans to people in the neighborhood.

Since then, I've helped with three or four other ongoing projects. For a little sweat and time, I've learned a lot about container gardening, native prairie plants, trees, insect pests, rain gardens, and edible weeds.

If you are free at noon on Sunday, September 13 and you want to learn about natives, consider helping with the Friends of Horton Park as they work on their native wildflower gardens.



Spotted a hummingbird zipping around my garden. First time I've seen one this season. It took a hit off some bee balm before dashing off.

Robins, with their young 'uns in tow, are raiding the serviceberry shrub and following me around whenever I water.

Goldfinches are becoming regular visitors, nibbling at the coneflower seeds. Coneflower is also known as annual bachelor button. It's hard to believe that they can light on a bendy coneflower stem without pulling the whole stem to the ground, but they manage. I'd love to get a photo, but without an SLR, a big zoom lens, and a bird blind, I don't think I can get close enough to the goldfinches.

Latin names for the plants, just because: Monarda, Amelanchier, and Centaurea cyanus.

UPDATE: Managed to get a photo.

panhandlers with 'tude


Three young women were camped out in the center boulevard at the intersection of Franklin and Cedar Avenues in Minneapolis this afternoon. Unlike most Twin Cities panhandlers, their faces didn't bear the wear and tear of decades of addiction.

While two lounged in the shade of a small tree, one held a hand-lettered sign which read:

If you voted for OBAMA, you owe me some CHANGE.

I regret that I left my camera at home.

Insect Artists


This is about as good as it gets with insect pests: neatly nibbling interesting designs on an unwanted plant.

UPDATE: Thanks to Mary Schier's most recent post, I've learned that these leaves were cut by leafcutter bees. That should be easy to remember.

Here are a couple more articles about leafcutter bees: one written by an entomologist and one with some great photos.



First monarch butterfly passing through my garden.

Tap Roots


Tap Roots, a raingarden initiative, kicks off Monday, June 8, with a gathering at the Hamline United Methodist Church raingarden, at the corner of Minnehaha Avenue and Simpson Avenue. Directions

Snacks will be provided, ideas will be exchanged, and we'll see what a ragtag bunch of neighbors/gardeners can do to promote raingardens and native plants.

Natives, with their deep root structures, are ideal for raingardens. Jonathan Dregni, the spark behind this meeting, has more to say about the benefits of natives in home gardens.

Raingardens don't have to be elaborate. I've found that there are some simple things we can do when designing a boulevard garden to capture rainwater and slow runoff.

Super Soaker


Little rain, lots of wind, and warm temps have combined to dry out the soil.

As Connie Nelson points out today, infrequent, deep watering is best. Watering the top inch of the soil helps the weeds more than it helps the perennials and trees.

Pictured above is my homemade soaker, an empty bleach bottle with a ring of tiny holes around the bottom. I put a couple dozen small rocks inside to help keep it from tipping over. The hose is set to a small trickle -- not enough to make the bottle overflow -- and I can go about my gardening for 15 minutes or so before moving it to a new location.

I'm not trying to water the whole garden with this method, but when I'm puttering in the evening, when it's too late to use a sprinkler, this is an ideal way to give deep watering to a few specific spots that need it.

Note: Even a tiny bit of bleach irritates worms, so you want to make sure you rinse the bottle thoroughly before you start using it the first time.

Hardy, indeed



I've got a bin full of rocks that's been sitting on the north side of the house for a while. I moved it today and discovered this tiny Geranium macrorrhizum seedling, barely an inch across. It's commonly called cranesbill, bigroot geranium, or hardy geranium.

GreenGirls Plant Swap


The GreenGirls hosted a plant swap in the little park across from the StarTribune building in downtown Minneapolis this morning. I finally got to meet Connie, Robyn, and Jaime in person, along with some of the regular commenters, like Judybusy.

Thanks to everyone who helped me identify the mystery plant I brought along. Turns out it was the much-coveted Pearly Everlasting, a Minnesota native. In addition, I gave away Siberian iris, columbine, black raspberries, yarrow, asiatic lilies, liatrus, bigroot geranium, and seeds from my blackberry lilies. I left with a poppy, some anemones, and a tray of allyssum 'Tiny Tim.'

Not a bad way to spend a Saturday morning.



Okay, 40 degrees is not cause for alarm, unless you've got tender tomato plants sitting outside in these temps. Tonight's lows are forecast to dip into the 30s. The tomatoes and tropical annuals will be spending another night indoors before resuming their hardening.

Roadside Attractions


Driving back from Ellsworth, Wisconsin, I passed this patch of trillium growing under some trees on the side of the road.

You know you're a gardening addict when . . .


. . . you see a sidebar ad for a company that makes natural beds and you start to wonder exactly what makes their garden beds more natural than any other garden bed.

But it's not like the concept of artificial garden beds is completely alien. Consider the tree circle.

Friends School Plant Sale


This is the weekend of the BIG plant sale. And yes, there are big plants for sale.

It's the 20th annual Friends School Plant Sale. Like many perennials, it gets bigger every year. A few years ago, it outgrew the school grounds and was transplanted to the State Fair Grandstand. Now it's spilling out into the area around the Grandstand.

This was my first year volunteering at the sale. For a couple hours, I directed people to the checkout line and answered questions. I spent the next two hours tidying up and returning plants that had been misplaced.

The folks running the sale managed to wrangle a few hundred shopping carts to make it easier to buy too many plants, but the traditional way to do the sale involves bringing your own tricked out wagon.

The wagon in the photo above belongs to one of my neighbors. Check out the Plant Sale blog for photos of other improvised plant carts.

UPDATE: On Sunday, I saw this tricked out wagon. Now I know what I'm gonna be doing in the middle of next winter.

Late Risers


Liatris takes its time waking from winter dormancy.

Nancy, the chief cook and bottle washer of The Vagary explains that liatris and some other prairie perennials have adapted to emerge after the risk of spring wildfires has passed.

Many perennial grasses fall into this category, too. I had been worried about the little bluestem I got from a neighbor late last fall, but it is finally showing signs of new growth.

I'm glad I didn't rip out the grasses, thinking that they had died. There's a reason to hold off working in the dirt until the second week of May.

Hello Lily


This lily emerges from the soil looking like a blossom.

I was overrun with lily bulbs last fall, so I put some of them on the boulevard to see how they stand up to the conditions right next to the curb. So far, so good.

I've put up a Flickr set for this plant.

Moss Loss



This clump of Irish moss survived a few winters, but not this one. Here it is last June.

Spring, awakening


Along the side of the house, near the hose faucet, there's a patch of lawn worn bare from walking. It's where I watch for a particular, lowly sign of spring: worm castings.

They finally appeared this morning.

Neighborhood lawns are halfway between brown and green. Lilac buds are ready to burst. Columbine have started to unfurl their leaves. Tulips and daffodils are up, but not yet in bloom. Any day now, Prairie Smoke will blossom.

As the GreenGirls suggest, I've planted some cool-weather crops (peas and beets) in containers.

I am slowly clearing the garden beds of leaves I laid down last fall as winter mulch. It would be faster with a leaf blower, but as long as my knees work and I have time, I like doing it by hand. Being close to the dirt feels right. There's a certain pleasure in lifting matted leaves and uncovering a pale, purplish shoot of some half-forgotten perennial.

People meets Strunk and White


Celebrity English is a brilliant website, combining the star-gazing of People Magazine with succinct grammar lessons worthy of the masters.

A hat tip goes out to Barbara Wallraff.