Monday, June 27, 2011

More Garden Discoveries

I was digging out a weedy patch between the house and our newly laid patio in back when I unearthed a few bulbs and then remembered there had been daffodils here in the spring. Darn!

I am trying to go around and take stock periodically so I know what's hiding amongst the weeds before I dig, but I haven't been as diligent as I need to be with that. Julia had an abundant flower garden in this sunny backyard, and I'm told by neighbors that she kept up with it right up to her final days, when she was in her 80s. But the house sat empty for two years, and last summer when we moved in, our attention was on the inside of the house, so that made for a third summer of neglect. Now all the gardens are completely overrun with weeds, as well as with raspberries and daisies—which may or may not qualify as weeds, depending on how you look at them. I see them (raspberries and daisies) as plants with desirable traits that tend to be a tad too exuberant in their growth habits. A few more years of neglect and I think the whole yard would become a raspberry-daisy thicket-meadow.

Daisies and sundrops oenothera
The daisies are really pretty easy to deal with, and I do enjoy them when they pop up in the lawn or cluster around the clothes pole where the mower can't quite reach them; and they harmonize nicely with most of the other flowers, such as the sundrops oenothera.

But the raspberry thicket is another matter—I know that it's hiding some real gems under its thorny arching canes, and yet the promise of their sweet berries had me reluctant to start cutting them down and digging them out while it was still cool enough to wear long sleeves for the job. It's not that I have any intention of removing them completely, nor any illusion that I can—they originated on my neighbor's side of the fence and will continue to volunteer on my side for, well, as long as my neighbors have theirs. And that's alright by me, I love raspberries. But they need to be confined to the area alongside the fence that directly corresponds to where my neighbors have them, and the flowers that are growing in the raspberries need to be relocated—I wouldn't have even known I had a pink dictamnus (gas plant) had my neighbor Bonny not told me. I found it blooming in amongst the raspberries, almost completely hidden by them.

But I don't want to move them in the middle of summer, and not while they're flowering, and not until I have prepared a suitable new garden bed for them.

Coral bells amongst the weeds and an emerging hibiscus
So in the meantime, I am taking pictures and making notes, and really should be shoving plant markers into the ground to identify them, especially the ephemerals, before they finish blooming and I forget what they are! Even those that are easy to ID from their emerging leaves, like the lilies, need to be labeled as to their color and height, so that I can group them in vignettes that I find pleasing.

Even though we paid frequent visits to this backyard last June after our offer was accepted, and were here every day after July 1st when we closed on the house, and moved in at the end of July, I'm "discovering" all sorts of flowers that I didn't remember seeing last summer, or had forgotten their color. Here are a few gems amongst the weeds that are currently blooming or nearly finished.

Rosy lilies that were all but hidden behind the raspberries—until they bloomed.

A surprise discovery of a white penstemon mingling with the oenothera.

Some rose-colored salvia that will need to be untangled from the grasses. Behind this (on the other side of the downspout) are two platycodon, which are not yet blooming, but which I photographed last summer and so was reminded of them when I looked at those photos (below).

Last summer's platycodon: white ...

and blue.

And more, many more. I have an abundance of perennials here, I just need to divide them and relocate them, after not only preparing new beds, but also making a plan for how I want to group them.

Good thing we're going to be here a long time!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

An Urban Stone Garden Wall

Craig removes sod and starts digging out the slope
You'd think a guy would feel entitled to take it easy on Fathers' Day. But no; we had planned to build a retaining wall across the front of our yard this weekend, and yesterday's rain left us with only today to tackle the job, and Craig was determined to get it done. He had suggested that we allow ourselves a leisurely start to the day and that we would begin the project at noon, but at a little after ten, he was done with all that lounging around and ready to get to work. With shovel in hand, he headed to the front yard and started to dig.
The first layer is set on a ditch filled with gravel.

I rode my bike to Mother Earth Gardens to buy something to plant in the wall, and settled on a creeping veronica called 'Waterperry blue' (you may think that's a typo, and I would agree with you that 'waterberry' makes more sense, but it's spelled with a 'p' on the tag). Besides the pretty sky-blue flowers in the picture on the tag, and its creeping habit, and the notation that it's a good rock garden plant, and its tolerance for part shade, I was sold on the care instructions: "Thrives in nearly any soil and requires little attention." It came in a pack of six small plants, just right for placing here and there in the wall.

It's getting there

Yesterday we had gone to Klier's garden center on Nicollet and 59th to get some class 5 gravel for the wall's base. Klier's has gravel in bulk, and we put a tarp in the back of the car (a Honda Fit, which is a hatchback) and brought a couple of shovels. Just when we got there, it started to pour. The wet gravel was pretty heavy and dense (class 5 is a limestone gravel with the crushed dust included, which makes it pack down to a firm base while still providing drainage, but it also makes it a lot like cement when wet), so we soon decided that we had enough.
Craig sweeps up

For stones, we had decided to use the broken chunks of sidewalk that Craig has been removing from the backyard. That wasn't our original plan; we were going to have all the sidewalk chunks hauled away and then at some point in the future buy nice limestone rocks to make a wall. Then we had to admit that we're not as rich as we sometimes think we are, and, besides, there's something appealing about recycling the sidewalk on property. Also, a polite note from the city inspector persuaded us that it was time to do something with that pile of concrete by the alley.

So, we built a wall. Our original plan was to build one on both sides of the steps, but we're kind of rethinking that right now. We'll see how we feel about that next weekend.

A lady's mantle (Alchemilla mollis) accents the corner

Friday, June 17, 2011

Not Quite a Room of One's Own

My basement art room in progress
Ever since we moved last summer, I have been looking forward to having a real art studio space where I can get all my stuff organized, with enough shelf space to keep my work table clear so I can just plop down and dive in whenever I get the urge to create.

But it hasn't quite worked out that way. Just as the garden had to wait until other more pressing home-improvement projects were completed, the basement finishing, with art room and TV-watching room on either side, has been on hold, first because of those other more pressing projects (kitchen, bathroom, central air conditioning that still isn't working), and now because this is the time to act on those gardening and landscaping projects.

And, to be fair, it's not that I'm constantly feeling the urge to create stuff with no place to answer the longing. For a while, I was digging around in the various boxes in the basement whenever it was time to make ATCs for a monthly exchange I participate in with a few friends (two of whom I've never met in person, but still regard as friends—or perhaps I should say comrades in arts). I would bring the selected supplies up to my desk in our nicely appointed home office in the second bedroom on the main floor, complete my project-in-miniature (ATCs are artists' trading cards, and they are the same size as other trading cards), then, eventually, gather up the tools and supplies and bring them back downstairs.

An art bunny photo shoot using the natural light of an east window in our first-floor home office
When I brought things back downstairs, I also started to gradually move them into the space that was slated to become my art room, and get them somewhat organized in some freestanding shelves that didn't require finished walls behind them. That was going pretty well, and I was beginning to think that I might be able to create a serviceable interim studio, when I was persuaded that my art room and the family TV room—really two sides of the same large room—should switch places.

Now, my husband is far more expedient than I am, and I will sometimes admit that if it weren't for him, nothing would ever get done around here. So, he moved my shelves and various storage containers to the other side of the room, and, to be fair, tried his best to keep everything in the same order that I had it. But, since my "order" follows a spacial logic that exists only inside my head, he failed.

So I found myself back to spending fifteen minutes looking for something so simple as a glue stick. Compounding that was the return of my creative and lovely daughter, whom I adore, from college for the summer. She tends to borrow my stuff and doesn't tend to get around to always putting it back.

Grandma's sewing machine, from the factory

If you follow my Etsy shop at all (see how cleverly I slipped in that link?), you may well wonder how I could post so many items there if I have no space in which to work. I will tell you. All of the drawings were done before 2010, the note cards are made with scans of these drawings, and most of the rest is either knitted (which I do in my living room chair) or sewn. My sewing machine (a fabulous old factory machine that my grandmother used when she worked at Lockets Liberty Garments in the Wyman building in downtown Minneapolis in the 1930s and '40s) is located in the laundry room, and my small projects don't require much table space to cut out.

Grandma at the factory, ca 1940
And a good thing, that; because it is my capacity to create something, at least, that keeps me from being completely frustrated these days. The garden, too, involves a good deal of creativity, both in the form of problem-solving challenges and good old freewheeling artistry.

But I don't intend to wait until gardening season is over to get back to doing some paper arts, including making ATCs. In fact, with some muggy days in the forecast, and the a.c. sitting idle until Wednesday (crossing my fingers), I may be spending a little more time in the basement soon.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Rescuing the Peonies

Last June, before we actually closed on our purchase of this house, I stopped by with a handful of Popsicle sticks and a Sharpie to label the peonies along the south side of the then-empty house, noting  the color of their blossoms. I reasoned that by the time we moved in, their petals would have long since dropped and withered and I wouldn't know which were pink and which were white, and I thought I might want to dig them up and move them in the fall, with an eye to some to-be-determined color schematic.

But our house offered plenty of projects to keep us busy and I didn't get to the garden at all last summer. That's just as well, because it allowed me a full growing season to observe and photograph the garden. Among the things I observed was that nearly all the peonies were afflicted with splotches on the leaves and spots on the stems, most likely caused by one of several fungal diseases of peonies, especially if their spent stems and leaves are left to rot in place over winter. It also looked like some of the buds had failed to open at all.

Not remembering the blossoms themselves as anything special, only that some were white and some were a medium pink, I had pretty much decided they weren't going to be worth the bother and that I would just discard and destroy the plants and start over, planting new ones in a different location to avoid infecting them with the same problems.

Bloom of, possibly, Peony Annisquam
Then they bloomed, and I was smitten. As I hope you can see from the photos, the "white" ones are really a very pale pink, and their blossoms are so full of petals that even after dozens of the petals fell to the floor when I was rearranging them for the picture, they're still large and voluptuous flowers. And of course they smell wonderful, as do all peonies. A Google image search has me thinking these are probably Peony Annisquam, a 1951 introduction, and available from a Minnesota nursery, Hidden Springs Flower Farm. Since Julia Johnson had tended this garden from the 1950s on, and, from what I have learned from her children (who sold us the house) and our neighbors, was a pretty sophisticated gardener, it's likely she would have bought a few stylish new plants to enhance her yard. At today's prices, the several specimens that grow alongside the house would cost me $25 each to replace. I think I'll keep them.

Even the "ordinary" medium pink ones are, of course, beautiful and fragrant. How could I have thought I could so cavalierly discard them? Besides, ridding peonies of a disease such as this is pretty straightforward and amounts to nothing more than a few good cultural practices: adequate sun and water, good drainage, good air circulation, and—especially important in this case—a thorough cleanup of all plant debris in the fall.

Note the spots on the stem and browned edges of petals
Since I want to move them anyway, preferring a good swath of prairie next to the house (the reasons for which will be the subject of another post), I'll do so in September, a good month for dividing and planting peonies. When I do, I'll rinse the roots to remove the soil, which likely carries the spores of whatever is infecting them, and plant them in fresh soil amended with compost and manure. And as soon as the first frost zaps them, I'll cut all stems off at the soil surface and discard them and all the leaves (or, more likely, bury them at the bottom of a hugelkultur bed). I have treated similar peony problems this way before and did not have to do anything more, except to continue to remove the plant debris after frost.

Peonies are extremely long-lived perrennials, and I'm looking forward to many years (decades, really) of these luxurious flowers. It's also sweet to imagine that long after I'm gone, those peonies will still be here to delight future occupants of this house.

Monday, June 6, 2011

A (mostly) leisurely South Minneapolis bike and bistro tour

A flowering tree at the Lyndale Peace Garden (rock garden)
Last Tuesday was our wedding anniversary, so Craig took the day off from work and we planned a day of leisurely bike riding, ending with dinner at Cafe Maude in SW Minneapolis's Armitage neighborhood. We chose Cafe Maude not only because it is a very nice restaurant and we especially love their lamb skewer appetizers, but also because going there by bicycle means following the bike trail along Minnehaha Creek for most of the way.

Never mind that we chose to head west on a day when winds from that direction were averaging 25–35 mph, with gusts up to 40 mph! (Hence the "mostly leisurely" reference.) I kept thinking that once we got down by the creek and more or less into the woods, the wind would be buffered. But not so much. And, of course, the creek being in something of a valley through the city, as soon as we parted from the bike path to head into a neighborhood, we had a steep uphill climb. So, we got a good workout as well.

We left before noon and stopped first at Patisserie 46 at 46th and Grand where we shared a sandwich and salad for a light lunch. Just as we approached the counter, the barista announced that he had made an extra latte by mistake, and he offered it to us. That plus a delicious chocolate chip cookie make a very lovely dessert. After browsing a cute and friendly gift shop at 48th and Grand called A Little Bird, which featured a chic/trendy mix of old and new items, we headed over to the Roberts Bird Sanctuary by Lake Harriet for a stroll.

Roberts Bird Sanctuary on May 31
All of our recent rains had rendered parts of the sanctuary more like a bayou, and in places the plank path along what should have been the edge of the bog was either submerged or squelching mud when we tried to walk on it, so we turned back and chose an upland route instead.
Jack in the pulpit in the bird sanctuary

The overhead branches of aspen and cottonwood swayed vigorously in the wind, and may have blown the birds away! The only one I recall spotting was a glimpse as we were leaving, shaped like a black-crowned night heron but smaller; I didn't get a good enough look at it to ID it. We did see of lot of jack-in-the-pulpit, with its huge leaves and distinct hooded spadix, and it was a pleasant walk anyway, despite the mud and absence of birds.

It was still too early for dinner, even after our stroll through the bird sanctuary was followed by a walk in the rock garden, so we pedaled uphill again into Linden Hills to Cafe Twenty-eight to enjoy a cold drink and a snack. After lingering on their outdoor patio for an hour or more, we rode to the Paperback Exchange used-book shop on 50th and Penn, where Craig found a Barbara Kingsolver book (Animal, Vegetable, Miracle) and I found a few gems, including Words Fail Me by Patricia T. O'Conner, to add to my collection of language usage books.

Cafe 28 in Linden Hills
We arrived at Cafe Maude in time for their "leisure hour" specials on our salads and wine. We then split the lamb skewers appetizer and a steak dinner (splitting everything so as to pace ourselves, still), but didn't stay for dessert. Instead, we headed back east along the creek, with the still-strong wind at our backs this time, and finished the evening at Three Tiers Bakery Bistro in what Craig likes to call "downtown" Nokomis, for a couple of petits fours and some rhubarb sauce over house-made vanilla ice cream. We thought we had carefully paced our eating, but we were quite stuffed after that!

In the whole day, we had probably biked about 14 miles total, not exactly an ambitious day of bike riding. It really felt like we had spent the day as tourists in our own town, appreciating a few of the delightful cafes and bistros and bike paths and serene natural spots that Minneapolis has to offer.