Welcome To Heather's Gardening Blog!

Everyone that knows me well knows that I just can't stop talking about my plants and gardens! I'm so enthusiastic about them that I will be completing the Master Gardener course this winter and opening my own gardening business in the Spring.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Minnesota Wild Flowers in Danger!

I would consider myself pretty in tune to perennials that grow well in Minnesota. I was unaware, however, of how many native Minnesota Wild Flowers are actually threatened or of "special concern."  Did you know there are Orchids that are native to MN wetlands?  I had no idea!

Here's the list from Wikepedia:

  • Short's aster Aster shortii (threatened)

  • Three-leaved coneflower Rudbeckia triloba var. triloba (special concern)

  • Northern gentian Gentiana affinis (special concern)

  • Soft goldenrod Solidago mollis (special concern)

  • Northern paintbrush Castilleja septentrionalis (endangered)

  • Floating marsh marigold Caltha natans (endangered)

  • Alpine milk vetch Astragalus alpinus (endangered)

  • Missouri milk vetch Astragalus missouriensis (special concern)

  • Slender milk vetch Astragalus flexuosus (special concern)

  • Clasping milkweed Asclepias amplexicaulis (special concern)

  • Narrow-leaved milkweed Asclepias stenophylla (endangered)

  • Prairie milkweed Asclepias hirtella (threatened)

  • Sullivant's milkweed Asclepias sullivantii (threatened)

  • Ram's head orchid Cypripedium arietinum (threatened)

  • Tubercled rein orchid Platanthera flava var. herbiola (endangered)

  • Western prairie fringed orchid Platanthera praeclara (threatened)

  • Western prairie fringed orchid Platanthera praeclara (threatened)

  • Small shinleaf Pyrola minor (special concern

  • Nuttall's sunflower Helianthus nuttallii ssp. rydbergii (special concern)

  • Lance-leaved violet Viola lanceolata (threatened)

  • Yellow prairie violet Viola nuttallii (threatened)

  • All of the above links and pictures are from Wikipedia. Another great resource for Minnesota Wild Flowers is http://www.minnesotawildflowers.info/page/home

    Thursday, December 23, 2010

    Angel's Trumpet

                             Angel's Trumpet (Brugsmania)

    Angel's Trumpet are one of the most amazing plants that I have grown. For several years I would page through plant catalogs and dream about ordering them. Though the plants are usually quite expensive to order. They are native to the subtropic regions of South America thus only grown as annuals or house plants in North America.

    Last year I was lucky enough to find seeds available to order. Naturaly I did. I planted the seeds in my winter garden under grow lights. I wasn't sure that I was going to be lucky enough to actually grow them at first because they took over three weeks to germinate, but they did. They grow very slowly at first, but once they get going the grow incredibly fast. The three plants that I still have from those seeds are now taller than I am in less than a year~!

    The buds are almost camoflouged within the large plant as they are exactly the same color as the foliage until they bloom. Their blooms could quite possibly be one of the most beautiful blooms I've seen. Thus, the common name of Angel's Trumpet. Their elongated bell shape can reach over a foot long on ten plus foot tall bushes, which typically are grown in tree form.

    The seed pods that form after the flowers fade is equally amazing. Large round ball-shaped pods with thick spikes on them. Once the seeds mature the pod will burst, spreading the seeds. You can also propegate them by simply rooting a cutting in water!

    All parts of the plant are poisonous and could be fatal so animals and humans, so use caution when growing around pets. I've seen it recommended to wear gloves when handling the plant.

    If you have a safe place to grow and enjoy these plants I highly recommend them! They are quite the sight to behold.

    Wednesday, December 22, 2010

    Surviving a Minnesota Winter as a Gardener

    Fall is a beautiful time of year in the Northern Zones. The leaves signal the beginning of a slightly cooler climate with bright reds, oranges and yellows. There are great things about every climate. This time of year, however, is the beginning of the end for every gardener in colder climates, particularly Zone 5 and above.

    I put my gardens to sleep at the end of September, with exception of the Asters and Chrysanthemums expecting that we would have had a very solid freeze by the middle of October, which is about average. The first night of the season that dips below freezing is a dreaded night for gardeners in colder climates. The first hard freeze means five to six months before you can even dream of life in the garden. It's a wonder any of us venture on with our gardening with six months of dead time!

    There are advantages and there are ways around it. When the glass is half full, the the garden is overflowing in color. The growing season in Zones 2-5 may be short, but it creates a sense of wonder and fulfillment that gardeners in warmer zones may never understand. It's literally like Christmas in July. Watching each small shoot of Shasta Daisy and Monarda emerge from the thawing ground is like a small gift after a long anticipation.

    Ways around it require a true passion for gardening, not to mention an appetite for small scale adventure and a willingness to experiment! Starting seeds or propagating seeds in windows with the best southern sunlight can cause plants to become leggy. By using grow lights you can control the distance that your plants have to reach for the light.

    There are so many grow lights on the market that it's horribly overwhelming. Though I have heard of people using regular florescent bulbs, healthy plants really require both blue and red light spectrum, just as they would get from the sun. You can find some good prices on line for grow bulbs which can be shipped to your home. If you really just want to get started, aquarium bulbs have both blue and red spectrum to support aquarium plants and are available at Walmart. They carry them in both spot light and florescent lights. The florescent light bulbs are generally 40 watt T12. Both Lowe's and Fleet Farm carry reasonably priced fixtures for both varieties.

    Finding a space in your home to start your indoor winter garden can be as easy as designating a specific corner of your living room and a small card table. I have heard of people cleaning out closets to use as well. An unfinished basement works great and usually will give you plenty of room to expand if you choose, not to mention having your own private space away from kids or plants that may knock over your garden. Make sure you have a way to hang the lights at an appropriate level so your plants don't have to stretch themselves towards the bulbs. Jack chain and S hooks from the ceiling give you an easy and adjustable option.

    When choosing plants for your indoor garden I recommend plants that are normally kept as house plants that you may take out to the patio or deck in the summer. You can also bring in your summer annuals in the fall and let them to continue to grow so that you can propagate them throughout the winter either by splitting or cuttings. Be cautious of when you start which seeds. Most perennials hardy to Northern Zones have a specific schedule to follow. Most seed catalogs and packets will give you the average time to germination and the average time to bloom for both annuals and perennials. Many perennials, however do not bloom until their second year.

    It is worthy to note that growing under grow lights does not equate growing in a greenhouse. Do your research and harden plants off slowly in the spring. Move them to a greenhouse first if possible.

    How it all Began!

    Where did this passion come from?

    It's hard to say how I became a gardener. My mom had a little garden in the front of the house, but I never helped with it. Once I moved out, I never had house plants nor did I pay a second glance to them when I saw them at other peoples homes.

    In the Summer of 2000, I was pregnant with my second son and we bought our first house. It was just a little old rambler in an old neighborhood that needed some love. The people that owned it before us let their son use the front flower beds as sandboxes. They were small. There was one on each side of the door and they were very simply lined with old bricks half stuck into the ground. I must have felt very maternal or feminine, because I knew they could be much cuter than sandboxes – or dirt boxes.

    I visited the local “big box” parking lot garden center a couple of times, trying to figure out what everything was and what I might possibly like, but I really had no idea. I did that a few times, but never bought anything. Finally, I lugged my big belly and swollen ankles back to the same little garden center with the mindset that I would just get whatever looked pretty, because I deserved flowers. I can't even remember what I picked out or how it looked. My mom brought over some orange day lillies and we put them in the back of the bed, just under my bedroom window, and that's all I remember. I'm sure it looked awful.

    From there we moved a couple of times trying to find the perfect place to raise our two rapidly growing boys. We landed in what we thought was a small quaint town far enough out of the city to be a good place for a growing family. The house was old and had a lot of character. The yard was long, flat, and had no trees. After a full summer I decided it was time to try to garden again. I planted some Oriental Lillies under the Korean Lilac Tree. But I needed more. So I tilled a small garden in the very back of the lot. I planted some Daisies, some Dwarf Irises and a few other things I had never tried before. I wandered through the local nursery trying to figure out what I liked. I read plant tag after plant tag until I thought I had what I needed. I split some plants from my Day Care Lady, and before I knew it my small garden had spanned the length of the lot and was 40 feet wide all the way across. I added an arbor next to the shed, and a little path that led to a tiny patio with a bench.

    I sat for hours looking at that garden. Observing what bloomed when, what did well where it was, what didn't. Hours and hours I sat. I moved plants around and learned how to split them. I wanted more. I subscribed to gardening magazines, bought books, and played on the internet researching plants and designs.

    We decided after three years that it wasn't the perfect place that we thought it was. So, we ventured on to a much smaller town. I split and potted everything out of my garden that I could. I brought van load after van load of potted splits to our new home an hour a way. There was no garden for them. It was July and it was hot, but I had a plan, sort of.

    The neighbor had his friend bring over his tractor tiller so that I could get my plants in the ground. I laid the hose out in a curvy shape stretching from the end of the small fenced arbor at the end of the front sidewalk. With my new neighbors, their friend and my husband all thinking that I was clinically insane, I had him till the exact shape as the hoses were laid. I plugged in what I had brought with me and hoped for the best.

    That garden now stops people driving by on our quiet side of town. There's always something blooming and your eye is never bored. My neighbor started asking me to garden with her. In the three years that have passed since we've moved, I've also designed and added several more gardens on our half acre lot. Moving plants and adding pathways, expanding where I need more room. I collect seeds from annuals and split perennials, sharing whenever I can. I've gone as far as having our old rock basement lined with aquarium lights so that I can grow throughout the cold Minnesota winter.

    So, how did the passion for gardening begin? I'm not sure. Sometimes you stumble upon things by accident and they become what you never knew you didn't have.