July 30, 2016

Disappointments, Surprises, and a Little Patience

This "vision" worked: a happy bumble bee on a 'Sensation Mix' Cosmos (C. bipinnatus).

Have you ever had a plan or a "vision" for your garden that didn't work out?

That's what happened to me last year. I realized I didn't have enough fall-blooming, native perennials in the shady section of the garden, so I planted some.

In my mind, the Blue Mistflowers (Conoclinium coelestinum) would form a magical, soft swathe around the Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata). The Zigzag Goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulis) would arch gracefully along the trellis, and the False Asters (Boltonia asteroides) would bob and sway surrounding the Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) and the 'Vibrant Dome' Asters.

Unfortunately, the rabbits had a different vision. They ate all these plants down to the ground, except for the Milkweed (no taste for it), a few of the Asters, and the Mistflowers (which I rescued in time).

After decades of gardening--much of it in this current unbalanced ecosystem--I should have known. But most of these plants (except for the Asters) are generally considered "rabbit-resistant." Well, apparently these rabbits didn't get the message. I'd say a different animal was to blame, but the clues were obvious (and too numerous to list here). Not to mention trying to chase the long-eared pests out of this part of the garden several times.

So, I had to get creative. While the Agastaches and the Boltonias didn't return this year (whether victims of rabbit death or the freeze/thaw curse, I'll never know), the others did. And I discovered some happy surprises.


I surrounded the Blue Mistflowers in lava rocks and chicken wire-covered tomato caging, and planted 'Summer Beauty' Alliums around the perimeter. These things seem to be working and soon you won't even see the caging. Fingers crossed.


Oh, I forgot to mention I scattered seeds of Spotted Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) in various spots around the garden. They really took off! In the spot where the Agastache and the Boltonia were located last year, is now a mound of Jewelweed surrounding a new planting of Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea). I'm thinking this will soon be a popular spot with the hummingbirds. There are Alliums in here somewhere, too.


Yes, this is also Jewelweed. It's cuddling the obelisk, at the center of which is a Purple Hyacinth Bean vine, which is about to bloom. I forgot I sprinkled Jewelweed seeds here, too. Surprise!

cornus pumila

Other victims of the big-eared, large-fanged, plant-killing monsters were the four Dwarf Red-Tipped Dogwood (Cornus pumila) shrubs. Yep, the rabbits chewed them down to the ground during the winter. So, I rolled out more chicken wire, which will remain around the shrubs until they become established. Thankfully, they recovered from the insult.

OK, so most of those areas are under control ... for now. Here's another surprise:

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I walked by one of the Hosta flowers the other day and saw this. From a distance it looked like a bit of leaf with a strange pollen-covered bug next to it. On closer examination, I realized the pollen-covered bug was a bumble bee (I think). And with help from a few garden blogger friends (you know who you are...thanks!), I found out the green insect is an Ambush Bug Nymph. A sad, cruel, and yet fascinating natural occurrence.

Quickly shifting the topic...

Finally, I'm once again reminded about the rewards of patience. The Zinnias I planted from seed in late winter/early spring are now big and robust and ready for cutting. They'll offer repeat blooms now until October. Yay!


It's difficult to show a good angle on the cutting garden because it's on a steep hill on the side of the house. But you get the idea here: My only sunny garden is a small patch of land that, when blooming, camouflages (sort of) the window wells, the utility boxes, and the air conditioning unit.

When the Zinnias, Coneflowers, and other sun-lovers are blooming, it's a bright and cheery place full of pollinators.

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The Butterfly Weed is forming seed pods.

sweat bee

And enough blooms remain to keep the sweat bees full and sassy. Here's a little movie I made to celebrate:

Overall, the disappointments, surprises, and joys have a way of balancing out. And patience (with a few tricks) certainly pays off.

(Oh, and I must say I've tried just about every potion and scare tactic for the rabbits. Each one works temporarily, but in the end the only things that work long-term for me, here in this "rabbit wonderland," are rabbit-repellent plants--not rabbit-resistant ones--and miles of chicken wire.)

July 25, 2016

A Twin Cities Fling: Part I

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Have you heard of the Garden Bloggers' Fling? In 2008, a visionary group of garden bloggers organized a conference and welcomed bloggers from all corners of North America and beyond to join them in Austin, Texas. Since then, garden bloggers have convened in a different city each year to tour gardens, share information, and form friendships.

I first attended the Fling last year in Toronto. This year, the Fling was in the Twin Cities, an easy drive for me. It was great to reconnect with friends I'd made last year, spend time with bloggers I'd previously known only online for many years, and explore amazing gardens in Minneapolis/St. Paul.

Our first day started in the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden, the oldest native-plant garden in the U.S. In addition to featuring woodland, wetland, and prairie habitats, it's home to more than 130 species of birds. It reminded me of the UW-Madison Arboretum, one of my favorite places here at home. The sign welcoming us to the garden invited us to "Let Nature Be Your Teacher."

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Along the paths were plentiful native North American perennials, including Black-Eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) and Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa).

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Acres and acres of wildflowers.

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I also saw one of my new favorites, recently added to my own garden: Purple Prairie Clover (Dalea purpurea). At a recent conference, a presenter mentioned beekeepers like this plant because their bees' honey is more flavorful when Purple Prairie Clover is a food source. It also has special value for native bees.

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Culver's Root (Veronicastrum virginicum)--a tall, architecturally pleasing plant--also was in full bloom.

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As were the always lovely Purple Coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea).

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Our next stop was the garden of Donna Hamilton. Donna converted a former grocery store and grounds into a studio and gardens. Bright summer blooms--annuals and perennials--were on display here.

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My favorite part was her creative flair with her hellstrip--a simple sign flanked by graceful, low-growing plants, planned for blooms and texture throughout the growing season.

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Earthy stones marked the border, and an ornamental gate door added class and whimsy.

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Next stop: Lyndale Park Gardens. The most rewarding part about the Garden Bloggers' Fling is that we get to see so many gardens in a short time. That's also the most frustrating part. I could have spent hours in this garden. We barely had time to scratch the surface.

As you can see from the photo above, the bloggers enjoyed the wide open spaces and the dramatic display gardens.

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Many pollinators, including this Red Admiral butterfly, found Lyndale a welcoming habitat.

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Roses were a highlight of this public garden: I must get back to explore it in more detail!

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I was pleased to find this lovely photo on my camera memory card of fellow blogger Gryphon at Southern Exposure Seed Exchange walking the path to the beautiful home of Rhonda Fleming Hayes. Rhonda, an award-winning writer and photographer, is author of Pollinator Friendly Gardening. Elegance and grace marked her entire property.

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I loved her use of colorful planters spilling into a waterfall ... spilling into an ornamental pond.

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Rhonda also combined ornamentals with edibles in stunning displays.

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For lunch, we stopped at Bachman's Floral Gift & Garden for a tour, a chance to shop, and tasty refreshments.

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Bachman's has been a Twin Cities fixture for more than 125 years. As one local conveyed to the group, area residents realize that an arrangement or product from Bachman's is always something special.

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The tour continued with a stop at "Latham Park," as neighbors describe the home of Dianne and Dan Latham. Their pond, surrounded by beautiful flagstones and plants of all textures and sizes was one of many highlights.

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The Lathams' garden was exquisite--both in its grand design and its tiny details, like these lovely pots of succulents.

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The plant combinations--here, Rudbeckias, Daylilies, and Ligularias--were familiar ones for me, but combined exquisitely.

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Next, I truly wish I'd had more time to sit on this bench and take in the magic of Noerenberg Memorial Gardens. This place was comfortable and magical.

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Native and pollinator-friendly plants welcomed visitors--for example, a Monarch butterfly on Spotted Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium maculatum, formerly Eupatorium).

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The light magically captured the candelabra effect of Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata), which was covered in honeybees and native bees.

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This public garden also had dramatic hardscapes, including this tall (10 feet?) grape arbor, surrounded by plants originally planted by the Noerenberg family.

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Care and creativity were evident at every turn. I enjoyed the artful combinations of plants, such as Panicle Hydrangea (H. paniculata), framed by Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia).

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Our final stop of the day was the private garden of Steve Kelley and Arla Carmichiel. Arla is the horticulturist at Noerenberg Gardens and Steve owns Kelley and Kelley Nursery. I loved the graceful elegance of their garden.

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And the plants were amazing, like this gigantic lily. I neglected to get the name, but this might be 'Table Dance,' an Oriental-Trumpet (OT) hybrid.

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At Noerenberg and at the Kelley/Carmichiel home, Panicle Hydrangeas were pollinator favorites.

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It was a delight to see Beebalm (Monarda didyma), another pollinator favorite, in full bloom.

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And, of course, the gentle softness of Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum).

Most of our first day was spent in Minneapolis and near suburbs; the other days we ventured to St. Paul and even into Western Wisconsin. After a full first day of garden touring, we enjoyed an evening of networking, discussion, and hors d'oeuvres, sponsored by Garden Design magazine.

Thanks to all the organizers, sponsors, gardeners, and homeowners for a fabulous first day at the Garden Bloggers' Fling! More to come here on this blog, and others to be posted in the future at the Fling website.

July 14, 2016

When Life Gives You Sunshine...


My garden is shady. Most of the time I try to celebrate it, enjoy the plants that thrive in shade, and appreciate the benefits of a sheltered habitat. But I also love the sun, and I have a few tiny patches of brightness where sun-loving plants reign. In July, especially, they put on a colorful show.

It's Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, and I'm focusing on my little cutting garden/potager. It's mostly a flower garden, because the only edibles growing there now are tomatoes, onions, lettuces, and a few herbs. But let's take a look at the bright July flowers:


If you deadhead Salvias, like 'May Night' (Salvia x sylvestris), they'll reward you with repeat blooms throughout the summer. This is the second round for me this growing season.


I'm thrilled that each year this patch of Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa) expands further--this on a plant that struggled to establish itself the first couple of years. Various pollinators nectar on Butterflyweed and it's a host plant for Monarchs. Beyond this, it's such a stunning bloomer.

drumstick allium

The Drumstick Alliums (A. sphaerocephalon) are leaning and fading, but they enjoyed their time in the sun.


As the Drumsticks fade, the Black-Eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) begin to unfurl. And their entrance always welcomes a party of pollinators to the garden.


In this little, sunny cutting garden, I grow a combination of perennials and annuals--all chosen for their pollinator value. Last year, I tried Pentas (P. lanceolata) as annuals for the first time and this year I chose a bright pink variety, 'Graffiti Violet.'

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One of my favorite annuals, Zinnia (Z. elegans), attracts pollinators and produces excellent cut flowers with a long vase life. 'State Fair Mix' is a fabulous choice because of its size and beauty--five-inch blooms on three-foot stems, in a range of colors.

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Every day now, more Zinnia blooms unfurl. And when deadheaded and maintained, they'll continue blooming into October.


I grew my Zinnias from seed this year, and on the advice of fellow garden blogger, Rose, at Prairie Rose's Garden, I tried 'Zowie! Yellow Flame.' The name says it all! This cultivar (also shown at the beginning of this post) will be another great source for cut flowers.


Blazing Star Liatris (L. spicata) spikes are great for colorful structural elements in floral arrangements.


I'm still analyzing my preferences among the Lantana (L. camara) cultivars. This year, my garden includes 'Flame,' 'Citrus,' and 'Bandana Red.'


Another great cut flower and pollinator favorite is Cosmos (C. bipinnatus). I grew these from seed this year, too, and I chose 'Sensation Mix.'

angelonia and marigolds

At the corner of the cutting garden, a pot of Marigolds (Tagetes spp.), Sweet Alyssum (Lobularia maritima), and Angelonia (A. augustifolia 'Angelface Blue') welcomes hummingbirds and other garden friends.

bumble cone

And the queen of the cutting garden has to be Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea). This native stalwart sets the color theme, supports pollinators of all types, provides great cut flowers, and blooms in profusion for weeks on end. It thrives in wet years, during drought, and everything in between. Unfortunately, it's also a favorite of Japanese Beetles.

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I'm trying to make peace with these beautiful insects. I'm not succeeding, but thankfully their destructive phase is short.

What's blooming in your garden this July? Head on over to May Dreams Gardens to read about flowers in gardens around the world.