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On to greener pastures

Posted at 5:34 PM on August 15, 2007 by Preston Wright

My garden has grown too big.

It takes many hours now to care for and I am finding that I have very little time to write about gardening during the summer. So it's bye bye for this blog. I enjoyed writing it and sharing my view of the strawberry hills.

Keep it green,


Gardens of Disney

Posted at 1:36 PM on June 7, 2007 by Preston Wright

I admit it, I went to Disney World. Without children.

But I ended up in Orlando for reasons other than a Disney World visit, and you quickly learn that there isn't much to do in Orlando other than visit retirement communities and Disney. You are forced to go to one or the other, and I am not ready for retirement in hurricane swampland (Tropical Depression Barry came through while I was there.)

So what is the Minnesota gardener to do but to evaluate and photograph the gardens of Disney?

Gardens at Epcot Center

"It's a small world after all", and the Disney gardeners have a way of making you feel very small. Everything is about massive size, perfect blooms in sequence, no weeds, straight rows and outrageous color. You could not achieve this look at home even if you tried (so don't!)

And yet, I was inspired. It reminded me that I do have individuality: Disney could never attempt to garden like I do either – pots everywhere, beds half-weeded and abandoned, fruit half-eaten by birds and squirrels, the lawn going to seed in places because I don't have an edger.

With all the color and shapes, Disney's gardens lack personality: gardens by committee and crew. And yet, there doesn't seem to be any humans involved – no gardeners in sight, no messes (do they come out in the night with spotlights?)

Mechanical, just like the “Small World” ride which is supposed to highlight diversity, but really screams homogenization and stereotype, and, well, robots.

And you realize that Disney's view of the world IS really small: it can't grasp a big diverse individualized world.

It can't understand me.

Gardens are just extensions of personality, and I have one.

Landscaping tips that can raise your house value

Posted at 12:54 PM on June 4, 2007 by Preston Wright

I found this article from Money Magazine

7 landscaping tips "These ideas offer some of the best returns for your renovation dollar. Plus, the payoff increases over time."

Whether you care about raising the value of your property or not, the tips are useful for getting out of the plants-pushed-up-against-the-foundation style that many of us have inherited from previous owners.

Columbine revisited

Posted at 1:17 PM on May 24, 2007 by Preston Wright

There is a flower blooming in my garden that every time I mention it or show it to people they shudder: columbine.

The name has been stolen.

Pink Colombine

Try Googling “columbine.” You won’t find a mention of the flower until at least 4 pages in, and even then it is an entry from the BBC – some where across the ocean where columbine doesn’t grow (naturally, anyway.)

Columbine in native to the Rocky Mountains, from Arizona all the way up into the Yukon Territory.

That’s where I found her: I was 13 and exhausted from a 16 mile trek with a heavy backpack somewhere in the Wyoming mountains. My earth science class (back in the days when Minnesota paid for summer education programs) was forced to take a longer-than-expected hike when our bus broke down. I hated life. I could only walk a few paces uphill, then stop and gasp for breath.

Finally, after what seemed to be an eternity, the trail stopped climbing uphill. It opened into a vast flat meadow. And there they were: columbine by the thousands, maybe millions. It was a jaw dropping sight: so much beauty after so much pain. And a strange thing happened: I forgot that I was tired and sore. My legs found a new strength. The climb had been worth it.

I keep columbine in my garden to remind me of that day.

Maybe other people should too. Maybe if everyone grew columbine, a flower would move up the entries of Google and replace a massacre. Maybe there would be a whole meadow of millions of columbine: pain replaced by beauty. Not to forget, but to remember that life is about those rare beautiful moments and we can still experience them.

Purple Colombine

Bag apples before you pick them

Posted at 9:42 AM on May 20, 2007 by Preston Wright

In Japan and Korea, peaches, plums and apples are grown successfully without pesticides. How do they do it? By bagging the apples while still on the tree.

Apples bagged on the tree

Paper bags or plastic bags will work. Apparently the growth is not harmed even if rain water collects in the bag. Thirty to forty apples can be bagged in an hour on a backyard tree. This is a lot less work than trying to spray every 10 days during the growth and obviously a little more environmentally friendly.

But what will the neighbors think? Well, that experiment start next week as I bag a few of my trees.

Abnormally dry

Posted at 10:21 PM on May 17, 2007 by Preston Wright

The US drought monitor was updated today and once again the Twin Cities has fallen into the category “abnormally dry.” Drought areas to the north have spread.

What makes matters worse for gardeners is that this is a very critical period for both annuals and perennials to get lots of water. Getting lots of rain later in the year won’t help if roots dry up.

Bare root trees you may have planted are also at risk and should receive a 5 gallon bucket of water each week from now until mid-June.

Fruit trees may also be at risk for dropping fertilized flower buds that don’t receive enough water.

So, you know what you have to do. This weekend. Don’t delay.

Lawn and Dandelions

Posted at 11:17 AM on May 10, 2007 by Preston Wright

“When I was a kid in the 50's there were bees everywhere during summer in Seattle. I think that people should be encouraged to plant areas of clover and dandelions in their yards. Maybe a "perfect" yard without natural elements should be shunned as not being GREEN. Instead of perfect "golf course" landscaping, we should value weeds: What is the definition of a weed? A flower that grows without being watered!”--Tina, May 7, 2007

I decided to make a post out of Tina’s response to a post of mine from last year (thanks for reading back that far!) because it has so many elements in it.

I share Tina’s sentiment that our perfectly manicured lawns are not natural or ecosystem friendly. Lawns seem to be a hold over from British rule: vast areas of England, Scotland, and Ireland are rolling grassy hills that gave rise to traditions like golf, bowling, and grassy parks. They are difficult to maintain – just ask any home owner how much watering, mowing, weed killing, and fertilizing has to be done to keep a green one. Ask any real estate agent if a home will sell without a decent lawn.

However, dandelions, though useful to some species, are invasive – this species comes from Europe and Asia. It doesn’t belong in North America, but good luck stopping the spread now. Dandelions do help species of bees, but only because we Americans have destroyed all the natural vegetation that native bees used to thrive on.

Wildflowers and grasses native to the Minnesota region are what you want to plant to help bring back a sustainable ecosystem.

See Landscaping with native plants from the Minnesota DNR.

The problem with doing this seems to be a mental one, as Tina pointed out. Our neighbors will look at our yards and say "weeds!" Several suburbs of the Twin Cities actually have laws which require a certain percentage of the front yard be lawn (Minneapolis, fortunately repealed those laws.)

What's blooming now?

Posted at 8:38 PM on May 4, 2007 by Preston Wright

Rockgarden iris (Iris reticulata)

Hairspray (bleeding hearts, >Dicentra Spectabilis)

Grow peaches in the garage

Posted at 12:12 PM on May 1, 2007 by Preston Wright

Peaches in a cluster on a branch this morning. They will need to be thinned as the fruit size will be small with so many growing close together.

My peach-in-a-trash-bag, stored-in-the-garage method is working perfectly, though everyone is full of a lot of questions. They bloomed about a month ago while we were having the below freezing temperatures -- the garage stayed a bit warmer than outside. I ran around pollinating them all with a Q-tip because, of course, there were no bees.

Three peach trees, along with a lemon, persimmon, and Asian pears in the back row. The neighbors have learned not to ask if I am having a plant sale.

It was incredibly simple to grow the trees in containers, wait for the leaves to drop, then move to the garage, where I forgot about them for 6 months.

That's the part that gets people: not having to take care of them for that long -- it just seems wrong.

My garage is attached to the house and there is just enough heat flowing in there to raise the environment a couple of growing zones.

I didn't even need to water the trees to wake them up. They flowered on their own about the third week of March -- whoops, I had better water those!

Now to see if I can get full-sized fruit.

Little Saturn peach, about the size of a blueberry. These are the flat peaches that are starting to appear in supermarkets.

A different take on the disappearance of bees

Posted at 11:05 AM on April 25, 2007 by Preston Wright

The bee topic is hot this year. There is concern among beekeepers and researchers about a recent upsurge in honey bee colonies dying (see The search for missing bees.).

The major theory in the decline of honey bee populations is a mite problem. (Minnesota researcher helps fight an invasion of mites.)

Others think that cell phones are to blame (see post the strange disappearance of bees.)

Many are claiming that humans will lose their entire food supply from the loss of the honeybee.

Whatever the problem, honeybees are the only species of bee affected. North America has 1500 other species of bees that can take over the pollination. In fact, many of these bees have been endangered by the introduction of the European honeybee (yes, these are not supposed to be here.)

By all definitions, honeybees are an introduced invasive species. They steal the food meant for native bees, like the bumble bee. Unfortunately, Americans have displaced the native bees for so long that everyone thinks the ecosystem revolves around honeybees.

It is still survival of the fittest out there in nature land. Introduced bees have no defenses to ward off local mites. Local mites are being fed too well. Their numbers are increasing. Equilibrium will be reached when the honeybee numbers dwindle enough to let other species have their fill.

It is funny to me that we have a disconnect with seeing all invasive species as the same thing; we like the honey that we get from honeybees, so we excuse them and their keepers for all the damages that they have done to the local ecosystems. The current die-off can be seen as a good thing: we won’t lose the local species and bio-diversity.

Farmers and growers would do well to create native bee habitats to pollinate their crops, and stop shipping honeybees around the country into territories where they don’t belong. It is really along the same principles of organic and natural gardening.