With few exceptions, the blustery winds of autumn have stripped leaves from deciduous trees and shrubs here in the north central region of the country. The gaudy days of early fall have faded and, depending on whether your garden was in the path of the snow storm, either bright white or subdued tans and browns now dominate the landscape.
All of which showcases fruit. From blueberries to chokeberries, bayberries to winterberries, pretty berries are everywhere.
But I don’t think they’re all berries. Apples aren’t and roses have hips. Wait! What’s a hip?
Fruit facts. To get to the bottom of this “berry” business, we need to understand some basic botany.
Plants reproduce by either spores or seeds. In Botany for Dummies, Dr. Renee Kratz writes, “Spores are nice but seeds are better. Seeds have protective coverings and food reserves, helping them to survive away from the parent plant.”
Seed-producing plants are either gymnosperms that don’t produce flowers and fruits (such as ginkgo trees and cone-bearing evergreens), or angiosperms, which do produce flowers and fruit.
Still with me? Here’s the last distinction.
Angiosperms produce two types of fruits: fleshy and dry. Dry fruits include achenes, capsules, grains, legumes, nuts and samaras. The only dry fruit type involved in this essay is a capsule which is produced by the genus Euonymous.
Fleshy fruits can be simple, aggregate or multiple. Below are examples of each.
Fleshy/Aggregate roses, raspberries, blackberries and strawberries (not berries!)
Choose pretty shrubs. Now that you’re a fruiting body expert and know a dry from a fleshy and a berry from a drupe, let’s consider options. Following is a list of shrubs with very showy fruit. Cultivars are available for each species, sometimes numbering in the hundreds and, in the case of roses, thousands. (Or click for DazzleGardensSimpleShrubFruitChart.pdf)
• Bayberry, Northern (Myrica pennsylvanica), grayish white drupe with a waxy coating. Fun Fact: wax makes the lovely fragrant bayberry candles. • Blueberry, highbush (Vaccinium corymbosum), bluish lack, bloomy berry. Caution: plant multiple cultivars for good cross-pollination. • Blueberry, lowbush (Vaccinium angustifolium), bluish black, bloomy berry. Caution: plant multiple cultivars for good cross-pollination. • Chokeberry, black (Aronia melanocarpa), purplish-black pome. • Chokeberry, red (Aronia arbutifolia), bright red pome. • Chokeberry, purple-fruited (Aronia x prunifolia), purplish black pome (“lustrous” according to Dirr!) • Crabapple (Malus), virtually every shade of red and yellow pome. Fun Fact: ‘Harvest Gold’ is beautiful. Caution: need multiple crabs or apples for cross pollination. • Dogwood, gray (Cornus racemosa), flashy white drupe borne atop bright red pedicels or stems. • Eastern Wahoo (Euonymous atropurpureus), four-lobed crimson capsule opens to brown and scarlet. • Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis), purple black drupe; cultivars available with red fruit. Fun Fact: cooks into excellent pies, jams and wine. • Indiancurrant, coralberry, buckbrush (Symphoricarpus orbiculatus), purplish red to coral red drupe. • Inkberry (Ilex glabra), black to purplish-red drupe changing to black; some cultivars have white fruit. Caution: Hardiness Zone 4/5. • Purple beautyberry (Callicarpa dichotoma), warm, rich purple drupe. Caution: Hardiness Zone 5 but definitely worth trying. Fun Fact: a truly stunning shrub and one of my favorites. • Rose (Rosa), shades of red and orange aggregate. Caution: be sure to choose plants that actually produce persistent fruit. • Snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus) , creamy white drupe. Fun Fact: tolerates shade. • Sumac, staghorn (Rhus typhina), bright crimson drupe turning dark red. Caution: Plant is dioecious (male and female flowers are borne on separate plants). Only females produce fruit so be sure to purchase at least one male for a group of females. Fun Fact: famous ‘Tiger Eyes’ cultivar is a staghorn sumac. • Viburnum, arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum), blue or bluish black drupe. • Viburnum, cranberrybush (Viburnum trilobum), bright red drupe. • Winterberry (Ilex verticillata), bright red drupe. Caution: Plant is dioecious (male and female flowers are borne on separate plants). Only females produce fruit so be sure to purchase at least one male for a group of females.
Design ideas. Here are four simple, charming and elegant design ideas.
#1. Plant the right plant in the right spot. (Dazzle Gardens Rule #1.) This is always critical but even more so when the objective is to cultivate a nice crop of fruit. Wouldn't it be silly to prune off flowers and fruit because the plant was overgrowing its intended space?
#2. Incorporate into herbaceous gardens. Shrubs can provide two design principles: focal points (planted singly) or repetition (planted repeatedly to provide cohesiveness).
#3. Plant in a massive shrub border, surely one of the great design concepts. Not only can it be beautiful to view for oneself but it can provide the perfect screen from a neighbor's house, garage or driveway.
#4. Even better, plant a shrub border against the backdrop of evergreens. The effect is dazzling!
Finally… Growing plants that are pleasing in all seasons is another basic rule of Dazzle Gardens (Rule #2, in fact). And by choosing shrubs with showy fruits, the plants are not only pleasing to look at for several months during fall and winter but the fruits provide food for gardeners and wildlife alike.
Photos by Chris Mathan of the Sportsman's Cabinet, www.sportsmanscabinet.com. From top: Crabapple, Cranberrybush viburnum, Winterberry.
The cover photograph of the November/December 2014 issue of Northern Gardener perfectly captures why I wrote the featured piece, “Bewitching Witch Hazels.” The fragrant, saffron yellow petals of Chinese witch hazel (Hamamelis mollis) cheerfully bloom even though covered with late winter snow.
My opening paragraph:
“I can’t think of a plant as enchanting as witch hazel, one that offers such an extraordinary package of flowers, fall foliage and form, and yet does so in apparent obscurity.”
Northern Gardener is the official publication of the Minnesota State Horticultural Society, a venerable institution founded in 1866. Editor Mary Lahr Schier presents news and articles on wide-ranging topics, with special focus on local stories and gardening in northern zones.
Two other articles of note in this edition include “Gifts for Gardeners” and Margaret Haapoja’s informative piece about forcing bulbs. Colorful hyacinth, tulip, daffodil and muscari photographs add mouth-watering (but perhaps superfluous) enticement.
The play story in the Outdoors Weekend section of October 17 edition of the Star Tribune, “For the love of bird dogs,” features Northwoods Bird Dogs, the dog breeding and training business my husband Jerry and I own. Dennis Anderson, outdoors columnist, wrote the piece after he visited the kennel and hunted over Shaq and Oscar last week. He also shot the photographs.
Dennis has written about Jerry twice before but those articles centered on training and developing pointing dogs. This time he focused on the background of our business and the importance of our breeding program.
Dennis is an excellent writer no matter whether he’s taking on tough conservation issues or reporting on a fishing trip to a northern lake. I’ve always especially liked his pieces that are essay in format and cover a wide range of subject matter.
In the final paragraphs when Jerry releases Oscar from a grouse point, Dennis perfectly captures the desire of our dogs to find and point birds. “Racing ahead, and quickly up to speed, Oscar was intent on finding still another bird. It’s what he lives for.”
The main photo by Dennis is good, too. Shaq is as good a bird dog as we’ve owned and Dennis caught the handsome head and breath-taking composure on point.
At the apex of this delightful autumn, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston is at it again, horticulturally speaking. Hundreds of chrysanthemums were installed last week in the sunlight-filled courtyard of a building authentically designed like a 15th-century Italianate palace.
In addition to pots of traditional mums, the museum’s horticulturists grow fancy-schmancy, single-stem chrysanthemums in a Japanese style called ogiku. To produce that one spectacular blossom requires hours of special attention and maintenance.
In a previous post, I wrote about Gardner’s nasturtiums. Every April, 20-foot-longs vines in full bloom are installed from balconies three stories high. Other annual displays include hydrangeas, bellflowers, orchids, tropical plants and a red, green and silver-themed winter holiday show.
Special days should be celebrated. Birthdays, anniversaries, graduations and promotions should be recognized and honored. The observance can be as elegant as a dozen roses, as easy as a cupcake with a candle or to commemorate a truly special occasion, perhaps a dream come true, something more elaborate might be called for.
The key part is to take time, to make time.
I celebrated my 60th birthday this year. Neither the big number of years nor the first year of the decade seemed significant to me. Rather, my overwhelming sentiment was gratitude. I was thankful to be healthy and happy and to have been born in this country to devoted parents whose primary focus in life was raising their children.
My party was simple and perfect. A big bouquet of balloons—long a traditional gift from my husband Jerry—was anchored to the coffee table. Before heading out for a celebratory steak dinner, Jerry and I sipped champagne from crystal flutes while our dogs played with tennis balls and chew toys at our feet.
Many others celebrated 60th birthdays this year. Judging by the lists below, 1954 produced a plethora of intelligent, prominent, strong, successful people, and not just in the United States.
Leaders of their countries: • Francois Hollande • Angela Merkel • Viktor Yushchenko (Well, former leader.)
Leaders in their fields: • Jill Abramson (Again, former leader.) • Paul Allen • Richard Branson • John Hegelin • Stanley McChrystal
Good-looking guys: • Chris Noth • Dennis Quaid • Denzel Washington
Inspiring musicians: • Annie Lennox • Tom Petty • Nancy Wilson • Stevie Wonder
Funny men: • Jay Leno • Bill Murray • Jerry Seinfeld
Here’s more people who were born in 1954: • Ellen Barkin • James Cameron • Jackie Chan • Joel Coen • Matt Groening • John Hagelin • Patty Hearst • Bill Heig • Ron Howard • William Hurt • Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. • Val Kilmer • Michael Patrick King • Frank LaNasa • Cyndi Lauper • Chris Mathan • Al Roker • David Lee Roth • Cybil Shepherd • Howard Stern • Cass Sunstein • John Travolta
Sadly, many born in 1954 didn’t live until their 60th birthdays. Here’s a short list: • John Belushi • Stieg Larsson • Walter Payton • Betsy Stover • Stevie Ray Vaughan
Top image is by Pine Needle Card Company. Balloon image is by Karen Adams Designs.
Even though autumn signifies the bittersweet end of warm, carefree summer days and the impending arrival of winter, most people who live in temperate areas adore fall. Some welcome cooler nights while others enjoy that final burst of warmth called Indian summer. But I’ve never met anyone who didn’t rave about the changing colors of leaves in the fall.
Indeed, entire industries are based on this annual show by Mother Nature. Especially in New England and the Midwest, it seems, “color tours” and “leaf watches” take place by the dozen. For example:
• Best Places to See Fall Color in Minnesota • Fall Color Report • Feel the WOW of Fall—Fall Color Finder • Wisconsin’s Fall Color Report • Fall Foliage Train Tour • Classic New England Fall Foliage Tour
But why do leaves change color? What causes vibrant orange of sugar maples, scarlet on sumacs and golden aspens? And why do leaves fall?
The main reason is autumn itself—with its cooler temperatures and decreasing day length. But other things are happening, too.
Yellow/Gold/Orange Leaf Color Leaves contain several pigments but chlorophyll, the green pigment, prevails for most of the year. Pigments such as carotenes and xanthophylls also exist but are masked by the presence of chlorophyll. These pigments are responsible for yellow and orange colors in carrots, corn, daffodils, egg yolks and bananas. As the hours of sunlight decrease, plants make less and less chlorophyll until eventually none is produced at all. Gradually, carotene and xanthphyll pigments become evident and produce those yellow, gold and orange colors.
Because carotenes and xanthophylls are always present in leaves and aren’t susceptible to other conditions, these foliage colors remain fairly constant from year to year.
Red/Purple/Crimson Leaf Color Anthocyanins are water soluble pigments that give fruits such as cranberries, blueberries, red apples, cherries and strawberries their color. In leaves of select plants, anthocyanins are produced under certain fall conditions.
Anthocyanin production is dependent on both light levels and temperature. On sunny days, leaves are busy photosynthesizing and producing large amounts of oxygen and sugar. When night temperatures fall below 45°F, very little movement of sugar occurs from foliage to other plant parts. Instead, these substances are trapped in the leaves and the red pigment becomes evident. In oaks, anthocyanins combine with naturally occurring tannins and the foliage turns brown.
Often anthocyanins combine with carotenes and xanthophylls in leaves to produce the truly spectacular shades of coral, scarlet and bronze.
Why do leaves fall? Deciduous woody plants prepare for dormancy by shedding parts that aren’t able to survive freezing temperatures. Cells of foliage contain watery sap which is vulnerable to cold but t trunks, branches and buds have necessary cell structure to withstand winter conditions.
Triggered by cool nights and short days, leaves reduce production of the enzyme that holds cells together and an abscission—or separation—zone develops at the base of the stem. Once that separation layer is complete, the leaf falls.
Why do some leaves not fall? During autumn, certain deciduous plants exhibit a phenomenon called marcescence, defined as “withering but not falling off.” Hornbeam (Carpinus spp.) trees and many members of the Beech (Fagaceae) family, including oaks (Quercus spp.) and beech (Fagus spp.), exhibit marcescence.
If marcescent foliage isn’t broken off by wind and snow during winter, it eventually falls in spring when a corky layer forms at the base of the leaf stem. Those cells expand and eventually break which causes the leaf to fall. Coincidentally, this occurs when the buds of new leaves are swelling.
Botanists and plant physiologists aren’t sure why marcescence occurs. It might be more common on younger trees, or on new growth of older trees or on leaves high in the canopy that receive more sunlight. One benefit of these marcescent leaves is to protect exposed shoots from browsing deer and moose.
Jenny Willow by Mike Gaddis was a gift from a puppy-buying client of Northwoods Bird Dogs, the business my husband Jerry and I operate. We care deeply about dogs—indeed they are our livelihood—but I simply can’t handle any sort of story when a dog dies. Our puppy buyer assured me that although there’s a death, it’s not the dog’s. The jacket art is a nice painting of an English setter by Bob Abbott.
Vertigo 42 by Martha Grimes is the latest (23rd) Richard Jury murder mystery. The titles of all Jury novels have been pubs; others include The Dirty Duck, I Am The Only Running Footman, The Old Fox Deceiv’d, The Horse You Came in On. Unlike the rest, though, Vertigo 42 isn’t a country pub with a peat fire in the corner; it’s a tony champagne bar in London’s financial district.
Sometimes the actual plot can be superfluous with a Jury mystery because what makes these books so enjoyable are the supporting characters, various settings in picturesque English villages, lots of dogs and lots of drinking—whether tea, coffee, whiskey or pints of bitter and Guinness.
The hero is Richard Jury, a detective superintendent of Scotland Yard, but my favorite character is Jury’s friend, Melrose Plant, who was the 8th Earl of Ardry before he relinquished his Lord Ardry title. He retains his grand estate/castle (Ardry End), his London club (Borings) and his cars (Bentley, early model Jaguar and a Silver Shadow Rolls Royce). Plant keeps one goat, one horse and one dog and pays a hermit to live on his grounds. Plant’s intelligence and peerage make him a useful ally in crime-solving. (This book isn't in the stack because I had to rush it back to the library. It was overdue.)
Blue Lightning by Ann Cleeves is the fourth in this murder mystery series set in the Shetland Islands off the northeast coast of Scotland, farther north and east than even the Orkneys. The rocky, remote islands, the sea and the fierce weather are characters as much as the people. Jimmy Perez, a quiet, thinker type, is the local Detective Inspector.
My Paris Kitchen by David Lebovitz is a big, fun book of recipes and essays. Lebovitz is a good, engaging writer who combines simplicity and sophistication (my two favorite themes). I love having this book by my bedside table as an option when I want something warm and comforting to read.
Veranda June 2014. The theme of the issue is “Summer Bliss” and even though we’re now in meteorological autumn, I haven’t finished all the interesting features or tired of looking at the beautiful photographs.
The New York Times Style Magazine, Women’s Fashion, August 24, 2013. Even though the volume of this publication’s 274 pages pales in comparison to Vogue’s gigantic, 856-page September issue, Deborah Needleman, Editor in Chief, always puts out a premier package, arguably the best of the genre. From the quality of the writing to the breadth of compelling subject matters, it will take a while to get through all its pages.
I’m very pro bug. I haven’t used an insecticide—organic or otherwise—for years. I happily share my home with spiders and daddy longlegs and my garden with all sorts—from pretty butterflies, bees and dragonflies to not-so-pretty grasshoppers and beetles.
Three recent publications elucidated the crucial role insects play in the earth’s ecosystem, including the big-picture food web.
“Bug Love,” by Scott R. Shaw, The New York Times Sunday Review, August 24, 2014 Shaw is a professor of entomology at the University of Wyoming and also curator of the Insect Museum.
Fun facts to share at your next cocktail party: • “But of the millions of insects, only a tiny fraction of them, less than 1 percent, are pests. A vast majority are beneficial to humans: They are pollinators, seed dispersers, nutrient recyclers, soil producers and predators or parasites of plant-feeding insects.” • “Insects are the products of three billion years of evolution.” • “And try as we might, over the last century, we have not managed to extinguish even one pest species.”
Lest you still pooh-pooh bugs, Shaw concludes his piece with this sagacious point:
“The next time an insect crawls across your path, master your impulse to squash it immediately and instead kneel down to observe its microscopic majesty. You’re seeing a creature whose buggy ancestors survived asteroids, volcanoes, continental drift, climate fluctuations and glaciers. Admire it, respect it. And rest assured that most insects will survive, while we are just a brief phase on this planet of bugs.”
“Bees at the Brink,” by Josephine Marcotty, an occasional series in the StarTribune “There is remarkably little dispute about the underlying problem: Honeybees are dying. Beekeepers across the United States are losing a fourth to a third of their hives each winter, a dramatic decline that has exposed them as a fragile link in the nation’s food supply chain.
“A rush of recent research points to a complex triangle of causes: pervasive pesticides, a flowerless rural landscape dominated by cash crops, and the spread of parasites and diseases.
“Most consumers are insulated from the threat — as long as the aisles of America’s grocery stores are resplendent with apples, lemons, coffee, cocoa, peanuts, grapes, onions, cucumbers and watermelons.
“Almost all Midwestern crops are now genetically engineered to withstand the herbicide Roundup, so farmers can kill weeds efficiently without harming their yields — a major advance in productivity that has revolutionized agriculture. But the widespread use of herbicides has virtually wiped out the milkweed, clover and wildflowers from Minnesota’s vast farming regions. That doesn’t include the millions of acres devoted to grass in urban areas, another form of chemically intensive monoculture.
“For bees — which need 150 million flowers to make enough honey for one hive to survive the winter — there isn’t much left to eat.
“At the heart of the struggle lies a handful of chemicals called neonicotinoids. Based on synthetic nicotine and introduced in the mid-1990s, they have swept the globe with breathtaking speed in part because they are lethal to insects, but not to humans and mammals.
“The compounds can, for example, cripple bees’ exquisite navigational skills and their ability to find their way home after long trips foraging for nectar and pollen. They may also interfere with a honeybee’s intricate “waggle dance” that tells other bees where to find flowers far from the hive.
“Studies also show that neonicotinoids can weaken a bee’s immune system, making it more vulnerable to diseases and parasites. In some cases they can even weaken a queen’s fertility, endangering the hive’s ability to regenerate itself.”
There isn’t a feel-good, happy conclusion at the end of Marcotty’s second piece in the series. Bees are in the center of a serious, difficult conflict where, unfortunately and all too often, the bottom line is money. Heavy-hitters like the EPA and the White House are involved. On one side is Bayer CropScience (whose “newest crop protection products soared 30 percent between 2012 and 2013, to $686 million”), a company with deep enough pockets to have hired a second lobbying firm. The other side is a passionate conglomeration of beekeepers, Minnesota Bee Lab, Xerces Society, Beez Kneez and others.
Part 1: http://www.startribune.com/local/264929101.html?site=full Part 2: http://www.startribune.com/local/268611322.html?site=full
Part 3: http://www.startribune.com/local/274006381.html?site=full
“Dragon Bait,” by Meleah Maynard, Northern Gardener, September/October 2014 Maynard offers several options for gardeners who want to encourage dragonflies and damselflies. The single most important aspect is that these “delicate winged creatures really like water,” according to Maynard. So consider a pond, rain garden, bog garden, container water garden or even a fountain. Just as the previous two writers cautioned, Maynard concludes:
“Like bees and butterflies, dragonfly and damselfly populations around the world are in decline in part because of pesticide use. Studies have shown that the widely used neonicotinoid pesticide, imidacloprid, is particularly toxic to aquatic insects, as well as other water-dwelling species.”
As much as most gardeners would rather be in the garden than almost anywhere, a sultry August afternoon can drive even the most stalwart to the shade of a porch or a comfortable chair indoors. Since it’s really too soon to page through those early-arriving bulb catalogs, let’s hit some online garden shops.
Campo de Fiori (campodefiori.com) The containers, furnishings and decorative accents Campo de Fiori produces and sells are “made by the hands of skilled artisans from materials drawn from the earth,” according to the website, and include pieces fashioned of wood, stone, glass, marble, bronze, zinc, wrought iron and wire.
Beautiful aged terra cotta pots grabbed my eye. In fact, two look familiar to containers already in my collection--Remolina Tall with graceful swirls and a smaller English Lattice. Another, the San Remo, is an exact replica of a pot that sat empty and unforgettable, atop a moss-covered stone column at Sissinghurst. Other pretty pots include Poppy, Trojan Centerpiece (above), Full Moon, Romantic Urn and Small Aged Leaf.
New York Botanic Garden Shop (nybgshop.org) This online “shop in the garden” offers books, clothes, jewelry, housewares and personal care items but the exclusive designs by Oscar de la Renta aren’t to be missed. Floral images from the garden’s rare book collection inspired much of this collection.
If I never served a single slice of anything on it, the Peony Serving Platter is lovely just as is. The stoneware dish (18” in length) is made in Portugal and perfectly captures the lushness of old-fashioned peonies.
A paperweight is essential for my home office because my windows are always open and important papers are always wafting about. Why not have this artistic interpretation of a starburst-shaped dahlia (top photo) in sturdy brass?
A short, etched glass tumbler is designed after de la Renta’s own glassware from his home in the Dominican Republic and hand-blown in Portugal. In my house, this could be a perfect, rustic wine glass or hold a single rose blossom.
Garden Tool Company (http://gardentoolcompany.com/) Watering cans made by Haws, an English company, are among the best in the world. Not only are they sturdy (made from galvanized, heavy-gauge steel) but their European style is classic. (One can almost envision a glasshouse beyond the shrubbery.) Plus the rose is brass.
My mantra for simple gardening includes the necessity for only three hand tools: Hori Hori Japanese knife, three-tined cultivator and a trowel. This website offers many trowels—including one with a tulip-shaped blade and another with a bottle opener on one side (so thoughtful)—but I prefer a hand-forged, heavy-duty, stainless steel trowel with a beautiful cherry handle. It is made by the Dutch company Sneeboer, in business since 1913 and now run by third-generation Sneeboers.
According to the website, “Anyone who has ever had a Sneeboer tool in their hand will never want to use anything else.”
Other online sites are worth a peak. • www.pottedstore.com • www.sprouthome.com • www.shopterrain.com
Still, there is no equal to the original Smith & Hawken and I am still in mourning about its demise. Between catalogs and brick-and-mortar stores, Smith & Hawken offered the best in quality, beauty and usefulness.
For many, July might be the ideal summer month. But for others, especially in the U.K., western Europe and on the East Coast, August is the time of year to get out of town and while away long, lazy days.
Today seems supremely suited to re-visit a post from years ago. Today is the birthday of both my maternal grandmother (long deceased) and my mother (still full of life at 92). Because it’s those strong Scandinavian genes that I attribute my passion and affinity for cabins and lakes.
The idea of the summer cabin, the lake house, the woods retreat, the stuga, is buried deep in the psyche of the state's culture. Minnesota was settled by (and is still inhabited by) a couple of million Norwegians and the better part of a million Swedes for whom the stuga is not an option but a religion. ~ Bill Holm, Cabins of Minnesota
In 1935, my grandfather (half Norwegian/half Swedish) had an itch to spend time on a lake and discovered a wild piece of lakeshore just north of Nisswa. The property owner, Elmer Olson, was a taciturn, stubborn Scandinavian farmer and it took my grandfather several years to woo Mr. Olson into selling a chunk. They ultimately agreed on a seven-acre parcel on the north side of the lake with about 1,000 feet of shoreline.
Five years later when my grandfather was 47, he and my grandmother (half Swedish) built a simple, 24' x 36' log-sided cabin. The floors were pine-planked and the interior walls were covered in wide, knotty pine paneling. Real, wooden mullions divided each of the large windows into six panes and those windows constituted most of the south wall facing the lake.
My parents spent many nights dancing at the original Bar Harbor on Gull Lake while dating and later honeymooned at the cabin. When I was a child, my family lived there in the summers along with my aunt, uncle and cousins.
My grandfather had an elaborate shop in the boathouse down by the beach where he spent hours sawing and hammering and painting. He fashioned a nifty log ladder for us kids to climb into the sleeping loft. He devised the infamous "Kiddie Bar" by attaching a long piece of pine directly to the wall and drilling round holes at each grandchild's assigned place. Our plastic milk glasses fit snugly down into the holes which rendered them spill-proof, a wonderful reprieve for my long-suffering grandmother, mother and aunt. One summer he was on a sign-making binge and made them for everything, even "The Biffy."
The favorite of my grandfather's projects, though, was the dining area table. Built of wide pine planks, he sized it to be at exact window height and widow width. The table was then pushed directly against the wall so all could see out to the lake.
Since those idyllic summer days, I continue to feel most at home in a simple cabin on a lake with a dining table pushed up by the windows. Over the years I've stayed on many lakes around Minnesota–White Iron, Gunflint, Lake of the Woods, Gull, Bay, White Bear, Winnibigoshish, Leech, Ida and Burntside.
Providentially after several years of searching, my husband and I found the perfect small, rustic cabin on a lake in Hubbard County. A big window faced west toward the lake and my first act as cabin-owner was to place our dining table directly under the window. I was 47.
As in most professions in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the vast majority of landscape architects were men. Three women designers, though, were pioneers and The New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) is paying tribute to them in a special exhibition, “Groundbreakers: Great American Gardens and the Women Who Designed Them.”
The featured women include: • Beatrix Farrand: only female founding member of the American Society of Landscape Architects; designed gardens for Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, Peggy Rockefeller and Dumbarton Oaks (Washington, D.C.).
• Marian Coffin: landscape architect who graduated from MIT in 1904; “insisted on the same fees as her male counterparts,” according to Town & Country; designed Winterthur (Henry Francis DuPont estate in Delaware).
• Ellen Shipman: although never a college graduate, only hired women from Lowthorpe School of Landscape Architecture, Gardening, and Horticulture for Women; designed Sarah P. Duke Garden (Duke University) and Longue Vue (New Orleans).
One of Farrand’s most prominent gardens was commissioned by John D. Rockefeller Jr. and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller in 1926 for Eyrie, their summer home in Seal Harbor on Mount Desert Island, Maine. NYBG’s Enid Conservatory has been transformed to evoke that garden.
Also exhibited are women garden photographers of the era, Jessie Tarbox Beals, Mattie Edwards Hewitt and Frances Benjamin Johnston. The show continues through September 7.
I am working with the enthusiasm of a man from Marseilles eating bouillabaisse, which shouldn’t come as a surprise…because I am busy painting huge sunflowers. ~ Vincent van Gogh
Sunflowers have captivated mankind for centuries. Even before van Gogh spent mad days with a paint brush in southern France, Native Americans domesticated the plant for its food value. And what child hasn’t pushed a sunflower seed into a Dixie cup in grade school and watched it sprout on the window sill?
The sunflower family. Sunflowers are members of the Asteraceae, also known as Compositae, Aster or Daisy, Family. This valuable family is huge and comprises about 2,000 genera and 20,000 species. It contains about 1/10 of all angiosperm (flowering plants) species.
Some family members provide food—lettuce, artichoke, chickory, endive and safflower—and others are important herbs—chamomile, feverfew, tansy and tarragon. Two infamous weeds, dandelion and thistle, are members. An important insecticide is derived from the Pyrethrum genus.
Our gardens wouldn’t be the same without members of the Daisy Family for plants such as the marigold, zinnia, artemesia, chrysanthemum, dahlia, Joe-Pye weed, osterspermum, gerbera, black-eyed Susan, coneflower and cosmos are also members.
Sunflower facts. • Scientific name is Helianthus annus. • Annual herbaceous plant that is native to North America. • Evolutionarily speaking, sunflowers are advanced as each flower is actually a complex inflorescence composed of two types: center disk flowers (often sterile, pollinator-attracting) are surrounded by a ring of ray flowers. • In the bud stage, sunflowers are heliotropic, i.e., they track the sun from east to west during the day and return to face the east during the night. Mature flowers aren’t heliotropic; instead most flower heads face east. • This heliotropisim feature of the sunflower was the answer to the weekly puzzler on NPR’s "Car Talk" on May 26, 2012. • Sunflowers are an important crop for both oil and seed production. In order, North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota are the top producers. • Plant breeders have been fiddling with this species and many cultivars are available. In addition to the common yellow, other colors are offered and sizes range from dwarf to giant.
How to design with sunflowers. Barbara Damrosch is a gardener, author and co-business owner, along with Eliot Coleman, of Four Season Farm in Harborside, Maine. In her column in a May 2012 edition of The Washington Post, she wrote of her notions of sunflowers in a garden. Since they are big and rough in texture, they belong in the food garden where “hybrid tea roses would be out of place.”
Furthermore, “They are cheerful and unsubtle. They don’t blend well in ornamental borders, because they hog too much of the attention. I plant them in groups in the corners of my plot, among beans, broccoli and kale…”
How to grow sunflowers. Sunflowers are easily grown from seed. Choose a spot in full sun and sow directly into the garden when possible danger of frost has passed and the soil is beginning to warm. After sprouting, thin to about 12” on center.
Finally… By all means, cut copiously for a bouquet. Sunflower blossoms are long-lasting as it takes time for each tiny disk flower to open. And there’s not another flower that looks more enthusiastic and seems to exude such innocence, happiness and simplicity.
Photo at top by Chris Mathan, The Sportsman's Cabinet. Photo above taken at Lucia's Restaurant in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
It is, really, so simple. Healthy soil = healthy plants.
Good soil is the most important aspect of any garden. Good gardeners understand. They know that tidy rows of vegetables and pretty perennials are totally dependent on what’s happening below ground.
The complex, fascinating, symbiotic process that occurs is called the soil food web.
Consider these facts and sequence of events: • One teaspoon of soil contains several billion (billion...with a "b") bacteria. • 30,000 kinds of bacteria live in the soil. • The action takes place in the rhizosphere—a thin layer only 1/50” thick between roots and soil. • Tiny bacteria and fungi eat plant root exudates—organic material sloughed off by roots of plants. • Those bacteria and fungi create nutrients the plant needs. • They also are a food source for other bacteria, protozoa, fungi, beetles and worms that live in the soil.
The January/February 2014 “Horticulture” magazine published the first of Peter Garnham’s outstanding series on soil. It was continued in the March/April 2014 issue. Garnham, an organic farmer on Long Island, NY, has written previously for the magazine.
Gardeners can easily do their part. Start in spring.
1. Go cold turkey on synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and fungicides. You’ll save the lives of billions (billions) of bacteria, fungi and larger creatures. Healthy soil is the best defense. If truly necessary, use organic solutions.
2. Don’t rototill. Again you’ll save the lives of billions (with a "b") of bacteria, fungi, beetles and worms. Instead, use a broad fork.
3. Top dress beds with a couple inches of good compost. You’ll nourish those billions of critters.
In the May/June 2014 issue of Horticulture magazine, Peter Garnham focuses on fungi, “the primary decomposer of organic matter in the soil,” and again discusses the symbiotic relationship between plant roots and soil organisms.
He concludes with very strong words, “stop behaving like a mass murderer,” and details steps to nurture soil.
#1. ….no more rototilling. None. ever. A single pass with a rototiller kills quadrillions of bacteria and chops and destroys thousands of miles of fungal mycelia. No more double digging, either…
#2. …stop using any chemical fertilizer, herbicide, fungicide or pesticide. All these substances slaughter soil life and cause an imbalance that actually attracts pathogenic bacteria, nematodes and insects.
#3. Physically remove seed-bearing weeds. Mow the rest and let the residue lay in place. Fungi and bacteria will take care of it for you.
#4. Use a pointed hoe to cut a furrow for seeding, and cut individual holes for transplants. Once plants are established, quickly add copious amounts of mulch…
#5. …apply a one-inch thick coating of good compost all over the garden annually…
For my eyes only: violas at the backdoor. A rustic basket planted with violas wasn’t on my list when I was shopping at the nursery last spring. But the purchase was more than impulsive. On that chilly, blustery day, I fell hard for the courageous, lively plants.
Simple things are best. This plain brown basket overflows with sweet-smelling Viola cornuta ‘Penny Lane Mix’. The diminutive scale is perfect for our back door entrance and the multi-colored blossoms brighten up gray steel siding and a cedar-colored door. ‘Penny Lane Mix’ is tolerant of both heat and cold and now, even in July, the plants remain strong and vibrant.
And even though I’ve passed the plants hundreds of times, they never, ever fail to delight.
A rose the color of butter. For the most part, modern roses have no place in my garden. I simply have no interest in a fragrance-free rose blossom. Rather, my style tends toward plain Rosa rugosa plants or old plants like the 1860-bred ‘Comte de Chambord’ and ‘Celeste’ that dates to 1756.
But ever since the ‘Julia Child’ rose was introduced in 2006 with much fanfare, touting “butter gold” flowers with “strong licorice candy and spice” scent, I was entranced and ultimately succumbed.
The plant is gorgeous! Above a gently rounded mound of glossy foliage is a continual show. Bright yellow buds open to reveal rich gold flowers with warm hints of orange. As blossoms mature, they gradually fade to ever softer shades of creamy yellow.
Placement, again, is key. ‘Julia Child’ merits a place of honor in the front garden, centered under the kitchen window where she is clearly visible from inside and where I can gaze on her endlessly while cooking and tidying up.
Finally…fuchsias. Who could resist these charming flowers that dangle like designer earrings? (Fuchsia ‘Eva Boerg’)
When one is on a working vacation at Burntside Lodge, a 101-year-old, family-owned lodge in surely one of the most beautiful settings in the world on a deep, clear lake in northern Minnesota (and where lilacs are just coming into full bloom), one should bring along a heavy armload of books. It doesn’t get much better than reading a good book, lakeside.
Curves, Flowers, Foliages & Flourishes in the Formal Decorative Arts by Lisa DeLong is a little book but has a big idea. Dr. DeLong (Ph.D. in the use of geometry in art) details the history of forms used for decorative ornaments. Lots of cool information is presented but so far I’ve gotten side-tracked by the section on “Ironwork.” I now know that most of the iron gate, trellis and fence designs use groups of C- and S-shaped patterns.
Airs Above the Ground, Wildfire at Midnight and This Rough Magic, all by Mary Stewart, are being re-read in honor and remembrance of Stewart, who died in May at age 97. Her books, beginning with Madame Will You Talk? in 1955, were among the first of the romantic genre. Hers were also the best—due to writing skill, strong, smart female characters and her ability to describe settings whether in southern France, Corfu or Austria. Stewart was also known for her series about Merlin, magician and sorcerer to King Arthur.
The Bird Skinner by Alice Greenway is a compelling story with an ornithologist/bird collector/bird skinner who has an encyclopedia for a mind as the title character. He currently lives on an island off the Maine coast but flashes back to his days on a South Seas island during WWII. He’s turned into an ornery old codger who drinks too much and can think of little else except blame and regret. His heroes are Robert Louis Stevenson and Ernest Hemingway. One might guess the tragic ending.
One Good Dish by David Tanis has been renewed from the library several times. The book caught my eye because even though one can cook elaborate, multi-course meals, sometimes the best are simple. As Tanis writes, his every day meal is “often one good dish and a green salad.” Perfect.
The recipes span a range of options—from Polenta Pizza with Crumbled Sage, Nicoise Salad on a Roll, Ham and Gruyere Bread Pudding, Potato Salad with Peppers and Olives and Warm French Lentil Salad to Classic Frisee Salad and Spaghetti with Bread Crumbs and Pepper. In all, 22 recipes need to be copied. Maybe I can renew for a fourth time?
I’ve been following Tanis since I attended one of his cooking classes several years ago. He was ruggedly handsome, self-deprecating and charming and lived an enviable life—splitting his time between an apartment in Paris and as chef at Chez Panisse in San Francisco. Now I never miss his New York Times column, City Kitchen.
Delicious! by Ruth Reichl is a fun read. The story has everything—interesting characters, good plot with a James Beard angle, romance, family troubles, work troubles, intrigue and an ugly-duckling-turns-into-a swan theme. Reichl has a fabulous resume: restaurant critic for The Los Angeles Times, restaurant critic for The New York Times, editor in chief of Gourmet magazine. Gourmet was by far the best of the genre at its heyday (pre Saveur) and its tragic, precipitous folding was the impetus for this book.
William Yeoward at Home by William Yeoward is, no doubt, a coffee-table book but a great deal can be gleaned from its luscious photographs. So much of style can be attributed to the idiom, “the devil is in the detail,” and Yeoward is a master. His pillows are fabulous as are his lamps, china and of course, his crystal. Always a sucker for small, simple structures, I love his Garden Room and Summerhouse. Too, Yeoward’s flowers are exquisite. Lavish bouquets of common garden flowers are, at once, simple, elegant and charming.
Even though Yeoward is perhaps best known for his line of crystal, he also designs furniture, linens and accessories. He is English and this book showcases his two homes—a country estate in the Cotswolds and a sleek apartment in London.
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts recently concluded a special exhibition, Matisse: Masterworks from The Baltimore Museum of Art. The show included 50 pieces, mostly from the Cone Collection of Dr. Claribel Cone and Miss Etta Cone, of Baltimore. The sisters befriended Matisse, amassed an impressive collection (including several commissions) and then bequeathed the pieces to the Baltimore museum.
Henri Matisse (1869 – 1954) was prolific and created paintings, sculptures and other pieces throughout his life. It started when he was given an art kit as a young man. “Afterwards I had nothing in my head except painting,” he said.
Two things—his obvious love of flowers and his use of bright colors, especially for the interiors of his paintings—have always drawn me to Matisse. In chronological order, here are some of the paintings in the exhibit. The last two (painted in 1947 and 1950, respectively) clearly show how his style had evolved. In his final years, he mainly worked on paper cut-out works.
The flower for the month of May is lily of the valley. The dainty, bell-shaped flowers in pure white emit a sweet, fresh fragrance. It could be the poster flower for the notion of simple gardening for it is, at once, simple, elegant and charming.
Lily of the valley facts. • Scientific name is Convallaria majalis. • Belongs to the Convallariaceae family. Other family members include Solomon Seal (Polygonatum), Bellwort (Uvularia grandiflora) and Merry Bells (Uvularia sessifolia). • Native to Europe and Asia. There is some disagreement about a similar plant growing in the Appalachians. Some botanists call it C. majalis var. montana. • Hardiness Zones 3 – 7. • Each plant produces one 6” flower—a raceme consisting of 6 – 14 blossoms dangling from a slender stem. The raceme seems to hide demurely below two nearly basal leaves, each about 9” tall. • Not a wonderful plant for wildlife. Fertilized flowers produce orange-red berries and only chipmunks seem to eat them. In addition, all plant parts contain the toxic substance cardiac glycosides rendering them useless as food sources. • On the other hand, not a wonderful plant for wildlife. Deer, mice, rabbits, voles, squirrels and others too numerous to mention will not decimate a planting. • Two cultivars are occasionally offered but are needless. ‘Rosea’ has pink (pink?) flowers and ‘Albostriata’ has unattractive striped foliage. • Good bee flower! Pollen is collected by honeybees. • An important plant for commercial reasons. In the past, its liquid “strengthened weak memories, cheered the heart, was an important ingredient in love potions and more prosaically cured gout,” according to Anna Pavord. Still used extensively for perfume, soap and candles. • Muguet is the French word for lily of the valley. What a pretty word! France celebrates May 1 (Fete le 1er Mai) when seemingly every street corner and flower shop in Paris sells pots or bouquets of muguets. • Kate Middleton’s wedding bouquet was a subtle bouquet of fragrant white flowers—mainly lily of the valley (with some Sweet William. Get it?).
How to grow lily of the valley. It’s really so simple. Plant the right plant in the right place!
Choose a spot that receives mostly-to-full shade with rich, moist soil. Plant the rhizomes about 2 – 2½” deep and about 3” on center. Keep well watered until established. Every fall, top dress with 2” layer of compost, leaf mold or other organic material.
Lily of the valley pips (growing buds and roots) can be forced into bloom.
The bad rap. I truly don’t understand why gardeners and landscape designers don’t like lily of the valley; I chalk it up to arrogance. Some might call it a thug; I don’t and have never found it so in northern gardens.
Designing with lily of the valley. It is an ideal ground cover for shady locations. One spring many years ago while visiting Callaway Gardens in Georgia, I had a gardening epiphany. Azaleas of all colors and sizes were in full bloom in one area of the garden. Unifying the shrubs was a thick carpet of lily of the valley. The effect was simple, elegant, charming and unforgettable.
Finally… If one wants an annual bouquet of lily of the valley for an office desk or bedside table, grow your own. Bachman’s, the Twin Cities largest retail florist, doesn’t offer them as cut flowers—even for special orders. And they’re scarce and very expensive from wholesale florist Koehler & Dramm in Minneapolis.
Happy Birthday to all born in May!
Photos above in order: Chris Mathan, The Sportsman’s Cabinet The Guardian Carol Gillott, Paris Breakfasts
The Consolations of the Forest by Sylvain Tesson is a daily journal kept by French writer and traveler Tesson when he lived in a tiny, remote cabin. His introduction sounds a bit Thoreau-ish:
I’d promised myself that before I turned forty I would live as a hermit deep in the woods. I went to spend six months in a Siberian cabin on the shores of Lake Baikal…I took along books, cigars, and vodka. The rest—space, silence, and solitude—was already there…I knew winter and spring, happiness, despair, and in the end, peace.
Even though his writing is clunky at times and often trite (perhaps due to translation?) I am enjoying his story.
Heidi by Johanna Spryri made quite an impression when I read it as a child. I vividly remember so much—the hermit lifestyle of Heidi’s grandfather, the sound of the fir trees outside the hut and simple meals of cheese and bread. In fact it was just those meals that put the book back on my bedside table.
In a newly published book, Heidi’s meal is joined by other famous descriptions in Fictitious Dishes: An Album of Literature’s Most Memoriable Meals by Dina Fried. Authors featured include Hemingway, Melville, Twain, Proust, Garcia Marquez, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Lewis Carroll, Stieg Larsson, Jane Austen, Daphne du Maurier, Hunter S. Thompson and Virginia Woolf. This book might be next on my stack.
Growing Shrubs and Small Trees in Cold Climates by Debbie Lonnee, Nancy Rose, Don Selinger and John Whitman is generally not the type of reading I like to do to at the end of the day but, somehow, this revised and updated book ended up on my bedside table. Perhaps its beautiful plant photographs are an antidote to this elusive spring.
Most of the information is excellent. The authors are quite clear about scientific names, varieties, cultivars and crosses. Details about flower color and form, evergreen color, fall foliage where pertinent, mature height and width and minimum winter temperatures are included. For each of the 50 genera, crucial information about light, soil, moisture and spacing requirements is detailed, as well as insect and disease problems.
I have major issues with their advice about fertilizing and pruning. In fact, they are just plain wrong when almost every Fertilizing section begins with the sentence: “Fertilize every spring with 10-10-10 fertilizer.”
The Gramercy Tavern Cookbook by Michael Anthony with a History by Danny Meyer is a large, heavy book and rather hard to read in bed…but I love reading it. Meyer is the founder of The Gramercy Tavern and Anthony is partner/executive chef. Why name an exquisite restaurant a “tavern”? Meyer writes about that and his vision for this combination of styles:
…that refined restaurant in Paris a twinkle in its eye, a trattoria in Rome, a rustic Early American watering hole, and our space in the heart of nineteenth-century Manhattan.
It is seasonally arranged and includes gorgeous photographs of food and flowers, restaurant scenes and kitchen scenes. Interesting sidebars about the architects, flower designer and current and past employees are sprinkled throughout.
As with most good recipes, the ingredient lists aren’t too long. Rather, important components such as the quality of those ingredients, preparation details and presentation of the dish are key. Since I am actually reading the book (from the beginning) and have reached only page 256 (of 343), I haven’t actually cooked any of the dishes yet. But I will. And I do know that my next travel to New York City will include a meal at The Gramercy Tavern.
I think those three words perfectly describe this spring bouquet.
It couldn’t get much simpler than a huge handful of freshly cut branches from the garden. The tall crystal vase is classically elegant. And pussy willows are charming.
Pussy willow facts. • My bouquet is cut from native pussy willow (Salix discolor) that grows abundantly in our region. Flower shops usually carry the French pussy willow (S. caprea) because flowers are larger and showier. • Pussy willows belong to the Salicaceae family. Other family members include willow trees and the Populus genus, including quaking aspen (P. tremuloides) and cottonwood (P. deltoides). • Plant is dioecious—male and female flowers are borne on separate plants. • Bumblebees, butterflies, flies, and ants visit pussy willows for both nectar and pollen. Its nectar is high in sugar and often can be the first important forage for bees. • The fruit of pussy willows is a catkin containing numerous, tiny, very light seeds that are dispersed widely by the wind. • Pussy willows need full sun and extremely moist soils. In its native habitat, pussy willows rarely are found far from water’s edge.
Finally… Here’s a plea for mass. Just as in outdoor garden design, mass is a vital principle. This bouquet creates a bold, beautiful presence due to the volume of pussy willow branches.
If I allow, this simple bouquet will retain its elegance and charm for weeks. From their early pearl-y look, flowers will mature and soon fall. Later bright green foliage will emerge and roots will form.
Those were my exact words yesterday when I examined the garden bed at the base of my amur cherry (Prunus maackii).
About 40 ‘Blue Pearl’ crocus (Crocus chrysanthus 'Blue Pearl') looked bright and fresh and were a dearly welcome sight when all else in the landscape is drab shades of beige, tan and gray. Up close, each flower is exquisite. Demurely protected by six creamy white petals graced with faint purple lines is a vibrant orange stigma surround by golden stamens.
Crocus facts. • Crocus are members of the Iridaceae family (Iris). Besides the obvious iris, other family members include freesia, gladioulus and ixia. • Crocus grow from corms. Both corms and bulbs are types of modified underground stems and while they resemble each other externally, the structure is different. • Flower colors include only white, yellow and purple but there is an amazing array of tints, tones and shades of those colors available. • Crocus can easily be forced into bloom after about 12 weeks of storage in a cool, dark place.
Intriguing crocus. The crocus genus is divided into two major groups depending on flowering time—spring or fall. Most of the spring plants that are hardy to Zone 3 are species or cultivars of C. chrysanthesus, C. malyi, C. sieberi, C. tommasianianus and C. vernus.
There are many following fall-flowering crocuses are hardy to Zone 3: C. banaticus, C. goulimyi, C. kotschyanus, C.longiflorus, C. medius, C. nudiflorus, C. pulchellus and C. speciousus, with gorgeous purple/blue/mauve flowers that open to reveal a frilly orange stigma.
Saffron is an expensive spice that comes exclusively from stigmas of C. sativus.
Colchichum is another genus entirely in the family Colchicaceae. Its common name is, confusingly, fall crocus.
Designing with crocus. As with all bulbs and corms, follow these three simple rules. 1. Plant in masses. Five crocuses look silly. Instead buy at least 20. 2. It’s okay to mix colors. 3. Plant in casual groups, not straight lines or geometric patterns.
Planting crocus. Crocuses are easy to cultivate as long as this simple rule is followed: Plant the right plant in the right spot.
Crocus need full or part sun and well-drained soil. Then plant corms 2-3” deep, spaced 2-3” apart. Since squirrels, gophers, voles and mice love to feed on crocus, protection might be necessary. Consider planting in bulb cages or loosely wrapping corms in chicken wire.