by Sharon Parker
When Israeli cartoonist Ya'akov Kirschen prepared to write a metaphoric book about trees, he determined to experience what it was like to be a tree. So he sat in one spot for hours, sketching every needle on a pine tree. When the book, Trees - The Green Testament, was published in 1993, he told the Wall Street Journal that the noises, sounds and colors around him began to blur, "Suddenly, I realized that to a tree, humans look rootless, being blown from place to place."
If we take a few moments this arbor month to put ourselves in the place of trees, we would be appalled at the insults trees suffer at the hands of humans.
We often plant them too deep, in soil that starves them; we sometimes stake them too tight, so they cannot sway in the breeze to get stronger, and leave bindings around their trunks that strangle them as they grow; we wound them by stapling signs to their trunks or chaining our bikes to them, creating openings for insects and disease to enter; and we fail to take the time to teach children to respect trees as living things that can be hurt.
What Trees Do For Us
Now consider what trees do for us:
A person uses in a lifetime the wood, including paper products, produced by 300 mature trees.
Enough oxygen is produced by a single acre (about the size of a football field) of young growing trees to supply the needs of 18 human beings each year. (Young trees produce more oxygen than mature trees.)
Trees, shrubs and vines absorb up to 65 percent of unwanted noise.
An acre of trees can remove about 13 tons of dust and gasses every year from the surrounding environment.
A well-positioned shade tree can keep a house 20 percent cooler in the summer. Shade trees planted near a home can lower the indoor temperature by as much as 20 degrees.
Learning From Mother Nature
We can give trees the respect they deserve by considering how Mother Nature provides for them. The big woods have layers of trees and other vegetation, unlike the lonely specimens we plant in our lawns. Under the canopy of larger trees such as oak, maple, linden and cottonwood, grow the understory trees -- shorter trees that thrive in light shade. Some of these, such as serviceberry or pagoda dogwood, offer flowers in the spring and fruit for the birds in the summer. Leaves and other tree litter remain on the ground, forming a natural mulch.
We can plant understory trees within the canopy of shade trees, and plant shade-tolerant perennials under those. Because of their deep roots, the perennials offer less competition for water and nutrients than does mown grass. Don't plant annuals, however, since that would involve digging around the tree's roots every year.
"The big thing is that you get the grass away from the roots. It's much more competitive than daylilies or hostas; even unmown grass is less of a problem," says Gary Johnson, associate professor of urban and community forestry at the University of Minnesota. "If you see some of the savannah or prairie areas where the tall grasses are, the trees are doing fine. Taller grasses have deeper root systems."
Choosing the Right Tree for Your Yard
To select a tree to plant in your yard, figure out how much sun your site gets; check the soil to determine how sandy or heavy it is; look to see how close the planting site is to a sidewalk or driveway, and look up for any overhead power lines.
When you prepare to plant your tree, avoid the common error of planting it too deep. Johnson studies hazard trees -- trees that have come down in a storm or other conditions -- to learn what went wrong. The most common cause is that it was planted too deep. "Jeepers, I don't know what it is, there are so many myths involved ... A lot of people in Minnesota think that because it gets so cold here that they have to plant deeper to protect the roots from the winter," says Johnson.
When you do that, not enough oxygen reaches the roots, "Pretty soon the above-ground parts become so imbalanced compared to the weak root system. If you have an unusual weather pattern, like drought or flooding, it can push the plant over the edge."
The newest information even suggests planting a tree an inch or two higher than it was originally. "There have been enough people doing it in Minnesota and we have enough examples; they're doing fine, they're doing much better," he says. Planting high is an especially good technique if the soil is heavy clay and doesn't drain well. Cover the roots with mulch to protect them from drying out.
"Put two to three inches of mulch over the root system, that protects them from drying out, and the tree does much better without grass over its roots." He recommends spreading mulch in a radius of one foot for each inch of the tree's diameter, measured at four feet above the ground.
But don't pile the mulch up against the tree's trunk. Instead, shape it like a basin, pulling the mulch away from the trunk. "You're mulching the roots, not the trunk," says Johnson.
Be a Friend to a Tree
Even if you don't plant a tree this month, you can still be a friend to a tree. When you see someone stapling a sign to a tree's trunk, or chaining their bike to it, stop and let them know it hurts the tree, and could lead to it getting a disease or insect that kills it.
Talk to some of the children in your neighborhood about trees, encourage them to "adopt" a tree, to water it and care for it and remind others to not abuse it.
Considering what trees do for us, it hardly seems like much to ask, does it?
Tree, videorecording in the Eyewitness series from Doring Kindersley, 1996; available from the Minneapolis Public Library
This educational video uses animation and live footage to tell all about the natural history of trees in a colorful and fascinating narrative, suitable for all ages.
The Right Tree Handbook, by Harold Pellett, Nancy Rose and Mervin Eisel (joint project of the University of Minnesota and NSP, 1991; $24). This is a looseleaf-style notebook with color photographs and descriptions, available from the University of Minnesota Arboretum gift shop. An abbreviated form, the Right Tree Brochure (four pages), is available at the gift shop or from the Minnesota Extension Service (374-8400) for $1.50.
Gardening in the Upper Midwest, by Leon Snyder (University of Minnesota Press, 1985). The late Leon Snyder was the founding director of the University of Minnesota's Landscape Arboretum. He devotes an excellent chapter to Minnesota-hardy trees. An earlier work by Snyder, Trees and Shrubs for Northern Gardens (University of Minnesota Press), is currently out of print but worth hunting down at the library or used book store. (The U of M press is working on a revised edition, they expect to complete it in 1999.)
How to Prune Trees (U.S. Forest Service, 1995; call letters NA-FR-01-95); free, limited number available from the metro forestry department of the DNR, 772-7925.
Energy Saving Landscapes: The Minnesota Homeowner's Guide, by Peggy Sand (1993, State of Minnesota). A guide to correct placement of trees for optimum energy conservation, whether for shade or wind breaks, with a list of recommended trees. Available free from the Department of Public Resources, Energy Information Center, 296-5175 (TDD 296-5484). _
by Sharon Parker
I wasn't going to write about lawns again this
April. I really wasn't. Then, even before the snow began to melt, the spring calls came,
as sure as the cardinal's, "what-cheer, what-cheer," but not nearly so
mellifluous (you've probably heard a few of these calls, yourself):
"Hello, Ma'am, this is John from Truegreen/Chemlawn, we'll be in your neighborhood later this spring, can we drop off a free lawn analysis for you?"
"Yes, hello, Mrs. Cox [my husband's last name is Cox, and after 20 years I've learned to not look around for my mother-in-law when people call me this]. Joe from Fertile-lawn here, we'd like to offer you a discount on lawn service . . ."
So now I have to write about lawns.
I considered offering a specific critique of the chemical lawn business, but as Chemlawn is a large, national business based in Memphis, Tennessee, with probably more than a few lawyers on staff, and Southside Pride is, well . . . not, I have decided to forego that idea. (And when I went to their Web site, www.chemlawn.com, I couldn't find any information on what chemicals they use - not even an FAQ page. I can just imagine what sort of questions they are frequently asked that they wouldn't want to publicize.)
Instead, I offer you a little historical perspective, followed by some helpful resources for those who still want to have lawns when they're done reading this (or you could just skip this part and go straight to the resources).
Lawns were first "invented" by the Romans in about the first century to provide a pleasant, aromatic surface on which to walk and play. They usually consisted of low-growing herbs that released their fragrance when walked on. John Feltwell, in The Naturalist's Garden (Salem House, 1987), wrote that Roman lawns were places to "think, walk about and do exercises on." And this continued to be the case right up through the Renaissance, when wealthy estates had lawns whose primary function was to provide a place for people to walk and play.
The English landscape movement that emerged in the 17th century began to see the lawn as an aesthetic device - to extend the view from a park-like country estate. It is this movement that informs the design of our parks today. The notion that the lawn should be a monoculture of only grasses, let alone only certain types of grasses, did not occur to anyone at that time, and it would have been impossible anyway. Those early English lawns consisted of meadow sod complete with wildflowers and weeds. They were kept short by browsing sheep, who also contributed to the picturesque scenery.
Early American lawns (as in European American - as far as I know, Native Americans never engaged in any such foolishness) generally followed this tradition and were only found on grand estates. The idea of lawns for the masses didn't get rolling until the mid-19th century and then for a very sensible reason: to prevent soil erosion. Historian Virginia Scott Jenkins has said that one of the grasses that was considered to be very useful for this purpose was crab grass.
Then a gradual change began to occur from the late 19th century to the mid-20th when lawns transformed from a pleasant and useful aesthetic device, then a practical solution to a very real problem, to this weird unnatural hazard we have today. As the chemical lawn companies know only too well, the modern lawn aesthetic is so entirely in opposition to nature that it cannot be maintained without the input of hazardous man-made chemicals. A modern lawn is a drug addict, and who are the pushers? Well, I'm not going to name any names . . . .
Jenkins documents this transformation exquisitely in her 240-page book (see below), so I won't try to recap that all here, but the gist of her analysis is this: that this preoccupation with lawns as man-made environments at enmity with nature was a particularly male thing. She says that men were inclined to see their lawn as representing their ability to impose their will upon nature. Now, the feminist movement has wrought many changes, among them men who don't care about lawns and women who spray the heck out of them, so we won't take that one too far.
But here's the really salient question when it comes to modern lawn care: When did crab grass and quack grass and foxtail and all those other grasses, along with the nitrogen-fixing clover and alfalfa and the useful medicinal herb known as the dandelion, become weeds?
In the 1950s, public faith in science was at an all-time high, and a myriad of new chemicals, many originally developed for chemical warfare during World War II, were dumped on the market and sold to gullible homeowners. Now that the means to eradicate crabgrass was available, this humble erosion-preventer became a terrible menace.
But ever since Rachel Carson published Silent Spring in 1962, we know better. So why are we still poisoning our lawns? I can't answer that question, but I can provide you with some resources to help you have a pleasing and enjoyable lawn without harming the environment or giving up your summer weekends to drudgery.
On the history of lawns:
The Lawn: A History of an American Obsession, Virginia Scott Jenkins (Smithsonian Institution, 1994)
A Man's Turf: The Perfect Lawn, Warren Schultz (Potter, 1999)
On sustainable lawn care:
The Chemical-Free Lawn, Warren Schultz (Rodale, 1996)
Redesigning the American Lawn: A Search for Environmental Harmony, F. Herbert Bormann et al. (Yale University Press, 1993)
University of Minnesota Extension Service/Hennepin County Extension 1525 Glenwood Ave., Minneapolis, MN 55405. 612/372-8400 www.extension.umn.edu/hort
The extension service provides bags and instructions for soil tests ($7) and free brochures and advice on lawns and gardens. They also maintain the Yard and Garden Line, 612-624-4771, with free advice and recorded messages.
Minnesota Native Plant Society 220 Biological Science Center, 1445 Gortner Ave. (U of M St. Paul campus), St. Paul, MN 55108 www.stolaf.edu/depts/biology.mnps. For those who want to eschew lawns altogether and go native - or seek a balance that includes native Minnesota plants, anyway. Membership is $12/year for individuals, $15 for families and includes field trips, monthly meetings, symposia and a newsletter.
Planning Gets Gardeners Through March
Starting Seeds Indoors a Practical and Mystical Tradition
by Sharon Parker
Although our ursine December would seem to entitle us to an ovine March, the forecasts, both scientific and mammalian (that is, the prognosticating groundhog of February 2), all point to a continuation of this polar climate well into March. (Ann Bancroft, on her return to Minnesota must wonder whether she ever really left Antarctica!) Even if we have started seeds indoors, or are about to, March isn't too late to appease our itchy gardening thumbs. Still, we must wait for the snow to melt and the ground to thaw out before we can dig in. What's a gardener to do?
Why, plan, of course. Both on paper and in the snow. Yes, in the snow. Put those March snow falls to good use and get your gardening muscles in shape by outlining future garden beds and paths with your snow shovel.
For example, at our house we have more driveway than we need or want and, although we have had plans to bash out much of it ever since we moved in two and a half years ago, we have been busy with other matters (such as painting the house trim, at the behest of our local housing inspector) and are still blessed with enough concrete to house a construction company. (Which, in fact, was the case here in the 1950s and '60s, hence all the concrete!)
But in winter, most of the concrete is covered with snow (we certainly don't shovel it all), and when I am feeling somewhat ambitious (or simply in need of exercise) I have cleared the "patio" part of the driveway and piled the snow in the area surrounding the Linden tree (which is currently surrounded by concrete, poor thing) in the shape of the shade garden I hope to install there some day. Likewise the second driveway (yes! there are two! we live on a corner!) is completely immersed in snow except for the path I shoveled for the mailman and the more winding trail sculpted by children. The pile of mulch that we didn't use up yet makes an interesting berm, and it looked especially beguiling when we stuck our Christmas tree in the snow, though it has since toppled over.
This isn't just a way to sneak a little pretend gardening into winter, though. It really does give us a feel for not only how a garden in each of these spaces would look, but also the practical effect of removing the concrete where the snow is piled. (We realized, for example, that we need a place for backing up and turning the car around so we don't have to back directly out onto 42nd Street.) By selectively shoveling and arranging, we can try out landscaping changes to get a feel for how they will work.
But the snow sculpting style of planning only goes so far. For one thing, it melts away long before you can begin digging in earnest. For another, no matter how hardy I may pretend to be, I still prefer being on the warm side of the window looking out, holding a steaming mug of tea, with an array of colorful garden catalogs spread out on the kitchen table.
If you haven't already measured your yard and made an outline, pick a mild day and get on out there with a helper and a tape measure. Make a rough sketch and note your measurements on it. Plot the locations of trees, shrubs, and other immoveable objects (including house and garage - and neigboring buildings that will effect your sunlight). Don't worry too much about precision measuring, just do the best you can.
Did you take a sun survey last summer? If not, estimate the amount of sun and shade based on your recollections and direct observations. Don't let the sunniness of late winter fool you - when those trees leaf out they create a pretty dense canopy. Also remember that in mid June the sun rises in the northeast, travels straight overhead, and sets in the northwest. Note the parts of your yard that you think will get six hours or more of sunlight this summer, as well as your best guess for the rest. The north side of a building, if unobstructed to the east and west, will get about three to four hours of sunlight split between early morning and evening. That's enough to qualify as half sun.
You also need to recall as well as you can whether parts of your yard tend toward soggy, dry or mesic (just right) conditions. What was it like a few hours after rainfall? Did you avoid walking there because it was too mucky? Did you find the ground pleasantly soft but not squishy? Or did you wonder whether it really rained at all? (The latter is rare in South Minneapolis.)
Now draw up your master plan on graph paper, noting what you can about amounts of sunlight, low or wet areas, and so forth. Don't forget to indicate north, too. I like to go over this with a black felt tip and then either make several photocopies or place another piece of paper over it and trace. That way I can go back to my original as often as I need to. Your first plan will almost certainly not be your last one! In the case of my vegetable garden, I study the previous years' plans each spring so that I don't plant the same plants in the same places year after year, which helps to keep the diseases and bugs at bay.
If you want to plant a traditional flower or vegetable garden, select the sunniest well-drained spot. Although you can mound up the soil or constuct framed raised beds to improve drainage, you can't do anything to increase sunlight short of cutting down trees or at least removing major branches. But there are plants for every soil and sun type, so if you want a garden in a particular spot that's not well suited by conventional standards (sunny and well drained), don't let that discourage you. Just be prepared to do a little research to find the types of plants that will thrive where you want to plant them.
Garden catalogs will tell you whether a plant needs full or partial sun or if it prefers shade. They should also tell you whether a plant tolerates damp or dry conditions. These characteristics are every bit as important as color, height and bloom time in determining what to plant where. There are also literally hundreds of gardening books at the library, and many local libraries carry garden catalogs and magazines as well.
With so much to consider, isn't it lucky we in Minnesota get an extra month or so to plan our gardens before the spring alarm clock goes off?
Resources to help with garden planning
Visit the Sustainable Urban Landscape Information Series (SULIS) Web site (www.sustland.umn.edu) for a primer on design, plant selection, planting and maintenance, courtesy of the University of Minnesota's horticulturists.
8730 County Road 43, Chaska, MN 55318 Perennials and ornamental grasses; send $2 for catalog
1705 St. Albans St., Roseville, MN 55113
Minnesota native plants, plus selected cultivated perennials; send $2 for catalog.
4937 Third Ave. S., Minneapolis, MN 55409 Loads of peonies, all quite stunning; send $1 for catalog (this is their mailing address, not where the nursery is located).
Shady Acres Herb Farm
7815 Highway 212, Chaska, MN 55318 email@example.com. Perennial and annual herbs and compatible flowers for culinary, medicinal, and ornamental use; send $3 for catalog.
Shady Oaks Nursery
1101 South State St., Box 708, Waseca, MN 56093
Perennials for shade; free catalog
Adonis and the rite of spring: starting seeds indoors a practical and mystical tradition
by Sharon Parker
About this time of year women in old Greece would start small dish gardens of fennel, lettuce, wheat or barley, which would grow quickly and then become potbound and die, to symbolize and commemorate the short life of Adonis. They then tossed the remains of these romantic little gardens into their outdoor gardens to ensure its fertility.
Adonis, as you may recall from mythology, was the handsome youth loved by the goddess Aphrodite but seen by the god Ares as a rival (because Ares had a thing for Aphrodite). Ares plotted the "accidental" death of Adonis by transforming himself into a wild boar and goaring the poor kid to death. This happened in the spring, so Aphrodite turned her love's body into a flower. Thus lies the romantic origins of the compost pile - from death and decay comes new life!
The flower, the genus Adonis, has blossoms that are usually 1-1/2 to 2 inches across with rounded petals in a buttercup-like arrangement (in fact, Adonis belongs to the buttercup family, as do anemone and pulsatilla, both similar-looking flowers). The are either yellow or red, depending on the species. The common name is pheasants eye. It comes in both perennial and annual forms, but in either case it's ephemeral, that is the whole plant, foliage and all, dies down in summer.
You can make your own Adonis garden by picking up seeds in the bulk department at the co-op. I don't know about the viability of the fennel, but I have sprouted buckwheat groats and wheat berries and they grow very nicely. (And the cats appreciate them very much!) Try the barley and throw in a few seeds from a packet of lettuce if you want to be authentic.
Press a small handful of the seeds close together in the top of a pot filled with potting mix, then spread a thin layer of potting mix on top (or not, the seeds need light to germinate anyway and will sprout with nothing over them). Give them a good soaking (taking care not to wash the seeds away!) and set the pot under artificial light. I use an old 2-gallon aquarium that was once my daughter's (she didn't want it any more after the goldfish died) as a mini greenhouse, leaving the little 4-watt incandenscent light burning constantly for a few days until the grass is about two inches high, then move the pot to a spot near a window where the cats can easily reach it.
I recently suggested to the kids that we use this same technique to grow our own grass for Easter baskets this spring. Since the Adonis garden is not meant to be long-lasting, you can use a container with no drainage hole, just put a little gravel and charcoal (available at garden centers or aquarium supply stores) in the bottom and be careful not to overwater it. You might find a plastic container that fits nicely into a basket.
In fact, in recent years when I have picked up home decorating magazines, I have sometimes noticed large rectangular pots of grass - like a flat - on a coffee table or elsewhere purely for ornamental purposes. So this is a fashionable thing, it seems.
Now if you want to start seeds indoors for later transplanting outdoors (flowers and vegetables and the like), you would be wise to heed the lesson of the Adonis garden: if you start them too early and don't transplant them as they outgrow their pots, they will become potbound and die. Potting up about once a month is necessary to keep seedlings healthy. If you don't want all that bother (or the expense if you don't already have an ample supply of pots of various sizes), wait until mid or even late March to start your seeds.
But some annual flowers will be too far behind if you wait until March to start them, so read the packages to see how much of a head start is recommended. Figure that you can start transplanting outdoors in mid May and do the math from there. Ornamental grasses and popular annuals (like petunias, for one, and many of the everlastings) need 10 or more weeks to really be a decent size by May. Otherwise they won't look like much, and won't bloom, until late summer.
Seed starting may seem like a mysterious and difficult undertaking, but all it really requires are a few basic (inexpensive) components and presence of mind. The elements are:
No matter how much sunlight is streaming through your southern windows right now, it isn't enough. Invest a few bucks in some inexpensive shop lights, install one cool flourescent bulb and one warm one and hang them on chains so that you can lower them to almost touch the soil at the outset and raise them as the seedlings grow.
When the kids and I tried an experiment with starting seeds in no light and some with light, the no-light seeds didn't even germinate. Although some seeds will germinate in the dark, they will get so spindly and pale reaching for the light they will be very weak. Adequate light is needed for strong, healthy, stout plants.
Soil mixes and containers
Don't use regular potting soil for seed starting; it's too heavy, making the roots work harder to penetrate, and it runs the risk of harboring organisms that will infect your seeds. A soilless seed-starting mix is not expensive, and you can use any leftover to mix with soil for the first potting-up, when the nutritional needs of the seedlings increase (and you do need to use soil then.) You can sow the seeds in flats if you like, or in small containers (individual-serving-size yoghurt containers work well if you poke a drainage hole in them). The advantage of the small containers is that you can wait a little longer to transplant them the first time.
Once the seedlings are two inches high or so, transplant them from the flats into individual containers. If they are already in containers, look for signs of the roots coming out through the drainage holes - that's when they need to be moved to a container that is an inch or so larger in diameter. Don't jump up too much in size all at once, or the plant will spend too much energy trying to fill its new pot with roots and won't make more leaves, which it needs to gather nourishment from the light.
Start adding fertilizer with the first potting up, either a weak solution of a water-soluable one, such as "manure tea" or fish emulsion, or mix some compost with the soil when you transplant them. Many garden centers carry bags of worm compost, which is light and easy to work with. I usually mix about 1/3 compost with 1/3 soil and 1/3 soilless mix.
Once the seedlings emerge, set up an oscillating fan on low and let it run most of the day. This dries out the soil surface, thus discouraging mold and other problem organisms, and it helps keep the leaves from developing fungal problems too. The movement of the stems caused by the breeze also helps to strengthen them (like getting exercise).
If none of this sounds like it will be particularly attractive in your living room, don't worry, you can set this operation up in your basement. That's where presence of mind becomes important. The first time I started seeds in my basement I would forget about them for days or even a week at a time. They can dry out and dye in that time. So make it a part of your routine to check on them regularly. You don't want to over water, of course (that can rot the roots), but don't neglect them either.
Once May comes you can start bringing your charges outdoors in a sheltered area that gets dappled sunlight, like under a tree whose leaves are just emerging. Keep them out during the day and bring them in at night for several days, then on a warm night (lows at least in the 40s), leave them out all night. At the end of a week you can leave them outside all the time until you are ready to plant them in your garden.
You will discover, as I have, that as your seedlings grow and move into larger pots, you will need more space for them and probably another shop light. Keep this in mind when you start. If this is your first year starting seeds, you may want to keep the numbers small.
Starting seeds really is a rewarding experience, and it helps keep a gardeners spirits up when those March blizzards hit. It may be winter outdoors, but you've got spring in your basement and you're not afraid to use it!
Resource note: A quick look for a source of seeds of Adonis led me to R.H. Shumways in Randolph, Wisconsin. Call them to request a catalog at 803/663-9771, or use their toll-free fax number, 888/437-2733, or visit their Web site, www.rhshumway.com.
|by Sharon Parker
Kids driving you crazy? Such a snowy winter as this one, of course offers great romping and snowperson-building opportunities, as well as skating at the nearest rink, but what do you do when youve exhausted the fun-in-the snow possibilities and want to head indoors somewhere other than your own house, which has somehow grown smaller since November?
No need to break down and take the kids to The Mall, there are delightful places to explore indoors with kids in the winter, many right here in South Minneapolis and others not far away if you dont mind venturing across the river to that city with a different area code. And by all means check your local park for open gym times.
So take a day off work (a mental health day call it) and pull the kids out of school for an educational field trip. Or visit on the weekend or an evening (most places are open late one evening a week), if you must be conventional about it.
Here are some places my kids and I like to visit. Indoor gardens. (Of course, this is subbing for a garden column after all.)
Como Conservatory. Next to the zoo at Como Park in Saint Paul. Open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. Admission: $1/adults, 50 cents/seniors and ages 5 to 12, free to children under 5. 651/487-8240.
The sunken garden will be closed January 18 and 19 for renovation, but the rest of the conservatory will continue to be open. Take the kids into the fern room and tell them these are the kinds of plants that were growing when the dinosaurs roamed the earth. Soak up the warmth and humidity as the kids gape at the huge banana tree and other monster plants from the tropics. When the sunken garden reopens with the cyclamen and azalea show later this month, sit on a garden bench and visit with an old friend while the kids dip their hands in the water, trying to pet the carp.
Cowles Conservatory. In the Walker Art Center Sculpture Garden, Minneapolis. Open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m daily.
A short but pleasant walk when its icy outside. Stroll through the ivy arches and gape at the big fish, point out the teeny tiny oranges on the miniature orange trees. Go on a Thursday when admission is free at the art center across the street.
Art museums. Sound like a crazy idea, bringing small children to an art museum? If you havent been to an art museum in a long time, you may not realize how many of them are reaching out to families with children. The Minneapolis Institute of Arts has a family room you can retreat to, and several museums offer guidelines for exploring museums with children. With free admission (Thursdays at the Walker, daily at the other venues listed below), you wont be wasting your money if you end up leaving after only half an hour, so what have you got to lose? (OK, parking costs, in some cases.)
Ask your kids what they like or dislike about a painting, challenge them to find something in the picture or figure out why pictures in a given gallery are grouped together. The public library has a lot of great biographies of artists written especially for children read about a particular artist and then find out if he or she has a painting at a local museum (you can call, or use the Web sites to find out.)
You might try the tactic I overheard one time while visiting the Weisman with my kids. What story do you see in this picture? a woman asked a preschooler, who proceeded to spin an imaginative yarn that successfully wove together the various elements of the painting.
Of course all the museums have gift shops that include small, inexpensive items, so you may want to be sure that they have a little allowance money to spend when you visit.
Walker Art Center. Vineland Place at Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis. Open Tues-Sat. 10 a.m to 5 p.m., Thurs. to 9 p.m., Sun 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed Mondays. Admission: $4/adults, $3/age 12-18, free under 12, free each Thursday and first Saturday of each month.
Some exhibits sometimes may be a bit adult in content, so some parents will want to preview things in advance of bringing the kids (unless you take a casual teachable moment approach to unexpected discoveries, as I generally do). This can often be done by visiting their Web site, or go some Thursday evening with an adult friend; the free admission will offset the cost of a babysitter. The Walker has special activities for families on the first Saturday of every month
Minneapolis Institute of Arts. 2400 3rd Ave. S., Minneapolis. Open Tues-Sat., 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thurs., to 9 p.m. Sun noon to 5 p.m. Free admission 612-870-3131. www.artsmia.org.
The family room on the first floor provides a retreat for squirmy toddlers and preschoolers who can play with the touch-screen computers while Mom or Dad is occupied attending to babys needs. Send yourself an electronic greeting card featuring a work of art from the museum to look at when you get home, and send one to the working spouse who couldnt come along on this visit. One Sunday a month is Family Day with hands-on activities and usually musical performances related to one of the exhibitions. On January 21 there will by Chinese music and dance and other activities related to the exhibition China: Fifty years Inside the Peoples Republic. The February 25 Family Day celebrates pop art.
Weisman Art Museum. Washington Ave. across bridge from West Bank Campus. Open Tues. - Fri., 10 a.m to 5 p.m. Sat. and Sun. 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed Mondays.
Learn about this unique building on their Website in preparation for your visit, walk down the hall of an old apartment building reconstructed in the gallery and listen in at the doors (slender children can slip behind the exhibit and figure out where the sounds come from, which is probably not something you should let them do, but it does help if they think its kind of spooky). There are usually some interactive media in one of the galleries that are always a magnet for kids (and adults).
Science Museums. Besides the well-known, marvelous and rather expensive Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul, there are a couple of science museums right here in Minneapolis that are relatively inexpensive and make for a pleasant visit with the kids. If you visit at or after 2 p.m. on a weekday, youll find the school groups have departed and you may have the place nearly to yourselves.
James Ford Bell Museum of Natural History. University and 17th Ave. SE on the U of M east bank campus. Open Tues.-Fri., 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission: $3/adults, $2/age 3-16 and seniors, free on Sundays. 612/624-7083. www1.umn,edu/bell museum.
The Touch and See room is, of course, a natural place to bring children of all ages. Here they can handle pelts and bones, gape at the live reptiles in their terrariums and, if your timing is lucky, watch them be fed. Lots of hands-on exploring and places for a weary Mom or Dad to sit what more could you want?
The Bakken Museum of Electricity in Life. 3537 Zenith Ave, Minneapolis. Open Tues.-Sat., 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission: $5/adults, $3/seniors and students age 6 and up, free for age 5 and under.
Loads of fun with magnetism and electricity of all kinds, especially the static electricity parlour games. Of course you might have to come back in the summer when the garden is in full flower, its simply marvelous.
History Museums. While nearly all historic sites are closed for the winter, here are three museums well worth a visit this winter.
Minnesota History Center. On John Ireland Boulevard in St. Paul off Marion St. exit from I-94. Open Tues. 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Weds., Thurs.-Sat., 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free. 651-296-6126. www.mnhs.org.
Kids can crawl through the grain elevator pretending to be corn or wheat, try their hand at answering Governor Olsons phone during the truckers strike, and handle and explore more things than I can possibly tell you about. Be sure to ask when the next Guest in the Gallery is appearing. One time we got to visit with Joseph Nicollet (who created the first accurate map of this area) and ask him all sorts of interesting questions about map making in the early 19th century. The actor who portrayed him was incredibly convincing he had a great French accent and really knew his stuff. For me, it was almost like stepping into a time warp. As with the science museums, go at 2 p.m. on a weekday and watch the galleries empty out like magic. They also have special activities for families on Sundays.
Hennepin History Museum. 2393 3rd Ave. So., Minneapolis. Open Tues., 10 a.m to 2 p.m. Wed - Sat., 1 to 5 p.m.
Go right upstairs to the childrens gallery, where kids can try on some period clothes and see what sorts of toys their grandparents would have played with. A closet has been transformed into a cozy alcove with moveable pictures of children playing.
American Swedish Institute. 2600 Park Ave., Minneapolis. Open Tues., Thurs., Fri., Sat., noon to 4p.m.
What kid wouldnt want to see the inside of this marvelous castle? Stroke the intricately carved wooden bannisters as you explore the three floors of this ostentatious gem. Galleries showcase Swedish American woodcarvings, exhibitions about Swedish life in the Twin Cities, and tell about the Turnblad family who built the mansion. Look for the gargoyles on the outside of the building, then find the windows from which you can look down on them. The basement features a volunteer-run dining room with low prices on soup, sandwiches and cookies. (Theres also a large banquet room that was once a gymnasium, with a mural all around on the walls.) I do hope you find time to explore some of our marvelous urban attractions, with or without your children in tow. Its sure to thaw out your toes and spark your imagination.
|Garden books old and new
by Sharon Parker
|Some few years ago now I signed up for
Amazon.coms e-mail notification service for books whose keywords include
garden. I would go through these lists with great interest, marking all
the ones that I thought were worth the effort of tracking down the publishers
publicity department and persuading them to send me a review copy. This is no small
matter, as Southside Pride isnt particularly well-known at Algonquin Books of Chapel
Hill, North Carolina, and other similarly far flung publishing houses. But the hunt has
generally been well worth it, landing me with a few horticultural gems for my garden
library, and, of course, a chance to tell Southside readers about them.
Not so this year. By October, I really hadnt seen anything new come across the wire that excited me. With the vast quantities of gardening books published every year, could it be that garden writers had really run out of ideas, as I long suspected was bound to happen?
So I turned to our public library and started sifting through the hundreds of titles that came up under the subject heading gardening. I was struck by the vast quantities of gardening books our old Minneapolis Athenaeum collected before changing its name to the more pedantic Minneapolis Public Library and Information Service. Could any of these old books possibly have something worth saying to todays gardeners? I picked a couple of likely sounding titles and brought them home.
The first book to fit snuggly in my hand for a delightfully entertaining read was The Gardeners Bed Book: Short and Long Pieces to be Read in Bed by Those Who Love Husbandry and the Green Growing Things of Earth, by Richardson Wright (J.B. Lippincott, 1929). In the spirit of providing the reader with something to finish before his bed partner demands he turn out the light, most of these essays arent much longer than the title a short piece for each day of the year, and so numbered, so the first chapter is January and it has 31 entries, with a Long Piece (thats exactly what he calls them) to savor at the end of each month.
These lively essays give us a glimpse into the going concerns for gardeners at the end of the 1920s, some of which are unique indeed to that time. For example, for January 3 he writes of the English custom, upon the birth of a son, of laying down an especially fine vintage of wine, and on the lads reaching his majority, this is brought forth for the celebration. The piously arid of this country having forbidden us such innocently dissolute joy, why not set out a tree lay down an Elm, with the fond hope that well still own the property when the lad reaches 21 and can sit under its shade to drink the beverages that a more enlightened future generation may then permit us?
Wright takes us right through his gardening year with witty brevity that reminds me of the dialogue in a Thin Man movie, such as when he engages in a give-and-take with his wife about his desire to buy pigs and her disdain for dirty, stinking hogs. The discussion this chat and back-chat remains unresolved when one day she announces, I have ordered chickens.
But She had never mentioned chickens! And therein lies a fundamental difference between the sexes: the male will cautiously and diplomatically announce what he intends doing he likes to see where he is going to land before he leaps; but a woman will go ahead without warning and smile placidly when the deluge descends upon her. Even in the matter of pigs and chickens, women seem to have more moral courage than men.
A few years later, H. Stuart Ortloff published Informal Gardens: The Naturalistic Style (MacMillan, 1933). The title grabbed me because of the trend in the last decade or so toward what many garden writers are calling naturalistic style. And there it is, some 57 years ago the same word, the same gardening philosophy. Ortloff decries the rigid formalism of a half-century or so before in much the way that todays garden writers grumble about the manicured look of the 1950s and 60s. He says that the naturalistic style has been developing since the mid 19th century, but that many still cling to the boring old ways.
Ironically, this book touting informality in gardening is itself rather stilted and formal, yet, perhaps simply because it is old and is therefore imbued with an antique sort of charm, its rather enjoyable to read for all that.
We have no need for terraces since gradual changes in level add to, rather than detract from, our scheme, and offer countless possiblities for the securing of a charming effect that is unusual and individual.
Cant you just picture the ladies of the garden club in their floppy hats holding their tea cups and saucers while the distinguished Mr. Ortloff lectures on the latest thing in garden design? They probably all went home and ripped out their tulip beds afterwards. The author also promotes wildflower gardening and offers advice for attracting birds.
The few photographs are unremarkable, but the many drawings of sample garden plans betray the lingering influences of Art Nouveau and are really rather fun to pore over.
After browsing through these old gems, and perusing several more similar-sounding titles, I was quite taken aback when I cracked open the crisp new book, The Once and Future Gardener: Garden Writing from the Golden Age of Magazines, 1900-1940, compiled and edited by Virginia Tuttle Clayton (David R. Godine, 2000). Here was an author making the same discoveries I had just stumbled upon, only in magazine articles from this same period. In her long introduction (not to be skipped!) she documents the proliferation of garden writing for middle-class amateurs (as opposed to the wealthy with their country mansions and professional gardeners) and the emphasis on informal, naturalistic gardening in the English cottage garden style.
The quality of the writing in this collection is delightful (no stilted formal lectures here) and the subject matter is remarkably relevant today. She too observes that the romantic natural garden featuring native plants is not a new idea, but was very much in vogue during the first part of the 20th century, influenced by the pre-Raphaelites and arts and crafts movement of the later 19th century.
The 21 color plates of sample magazine covers are alone worth the price of admission. These Nouveau and Art Deco prints and water colors are amazing works of art. If only they were made into posters!
In A Breath From Elsewhere (Arcade, 1999), English garden writer Mirabel Osler exudes such informality and chattiness to make the most timid gardener confident to give it a go. She speaks not as an authority or expert, but as a fellow traveler on the garden path sharing her discoveries and mistakes along the way.
She promotes visiting the gardens of others as the best way to learn the craft, and even characterizes garden visitors by type, the gapers and the crouchers. The crouchers being so absorbed in identifying species and showing off their knowledge of Latin that, as Osler sees it, they miss out entirely on the overall experience of the garden.
No lectures here, just encouragement and inspiration: Novice gardeners should allow themselves from the outset the freedom to be as wayward as they want and to follow their instincts, not prescriptions. For anyone who would like to do a bit of gardening but has been intimidated by all the expert advice out there, this book is indeed a breath of fresh air.
|In our small back yard at our old house some ten summers ago I planted butternut
squash in a sunny spot near the patio with what I thought was lots of room to grow. By mid
July it was leaning its elbows on the patio. Then it carried its huge leaves across the
sidewalk and into the lawn. I kept pulling up the prickly, tendriled growing tips and
bending them back into the squash patch, but it would not be denied and kept creeping
across its boundaries again.
Although the prickly vine was something of a nuisance, it was such a charming one, with its nearly rhubarb-sized leaves and huge sunny blossoms, I hardly minded. Our cat would disappear for hours under the cool shade of the low canopy of leaves, where the ground remained cool and moist on the hottest of days.
When frost finally laid low the leaves, we discovered a treasure trove of large, buttery tan peanut-shaped squash that fed us well into winter.
In subsequent years I became more sensible and grew the tamer butterbush cultivar that stayed within its assigned space and produced a modest crop of four or five tasty squash. While certainly better suited to our small city garden, the bush variety lacked the exuberant fecundity of its cousin and I often toyed with the idea of throwing caution to the wind and growing the ill-mannered vine again.
Occasionally in my late summer or fall bike rides Ive seen pumpkin vines casually taking over some modest back yard and I cant help but envy the grower their disregard for gardening protocol planting the big, sprawling, colorful squash where they have no business doing so. Its transgressions become obvious by September, when it has escaped the hidden confines of their yard and made forays through the border hedge and into the alley or sidewalk. You can catch glimpses of orange through the leaves and you know whats going on. Then the frost comes and there they are, big gaudy orange balls of pumpkins shamelessly displayed where a lawn once was. What could be more delightful?
So on the fourth Thursday this month, let us give thanks for the genus Cucurbita and its many abundant offspring, the cucumbers, squashes and pumpkins. Native to this continent, abundant, hearty, nutritious and tasty, what more could you ask of a food crop? Of course youll be having pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving (dont bother with the canned stuff, a modest pie pumpkin will easily yield the two cups you need to make a tasty pie), but why stop there?
Scoop out the seeds of the miniature pumpkins that most people just buy for decorative purposes and fill it with your favorite leftover stuffing, put the cap back on and bake it, then enjoy it as a side dish with leftover turkey the day after.
Rather than serving the traditional yams, try whipping up some winter squash mashed-potato style with a little milk, butter, a dash of cloves and whatever other spices you usually put with yams (no marshmallows, though). If youre avoiding milk, use a little coconut milk and a dash of curry and cumin with the cloves for a slightly exotic twist.
Its fitting that we should enjoy squash on Thanksgiving, the holiday that should remind us it was the Native Americans who kept the Pilgrims from starving that first winter. Squash is one of the traditional Three Sisters of Native gardening, along with beans and corn. The three crops are planted together because they complement each other so well: the corn offers support for the beans to climb, the squash, with its broad leaves, covers the ground like a mulch, its prickliness may discourage marauding rodents from robbing the corn (so says Louise Riotte in Carrots Love Tomatoes), and the beans return nitrogen to the soil.
But there is so much more to squash than butternut and pumpkins. There are the summer squashes, of course, the zucchini, patty pan, yellow crookneck and others, and the squash cousin, the cucumber. Winter squashes include the novelty spaghetti squash (great with a meatless sauce made with sun-dried tomatoes), the big warty hubbards, the small striped delicata, the nutty acorn squash. And then there are the gourds, ornamental even to the point of whimsy, with some resembling eggs and others with a curved neck like a swan. Other gourds are tremendously practical, such as the birdhouse gourd that really can be made into a birdhouse, and the luffa.
Squash seeds need warm soil to germinate, which usually means planting in mid to late May. Better still to start them indoors about four weeks ahead of time to give them a head start, then, after a week of hardening off, transplant them to a sunny spot (at least six hours of sunlight), with lots of room to sprawl, around the middle of May. Plant three or more together in a hill to improve the chances that youll get a male flower and a female one blooming at the same time.
Thats also the reason to not delay planting squash past the end of May. The longer days and higher temperatures of midsummer favor the production of male flowers, writes botanist Peter Bernhardt in The Roses Kiss: A Natural History of Flowers, and that may mean a frustrating display of lovely flowers that never produce any fruit. If this should happen to you and you get nothing but male flowers (you can identify the female flowers because they have little bulges just below the blossom that resemble the squash they will become), you may as well go ahead and eat the blossoms, because that may be all you will get from the plant anyway (and the blossoms are quite edible and even delicious, Im told, especially stuffed and baked).
Squash plants will be troubled by mildew if their leaves are wet at night, so always water early in the day. The real problem you have to look out for is the squash vine borer, the white larval offspring of a little waspish-looking moth that pierces the stem of the vine to lay its eggs inside. You wont see the critters because theyre munching away inside the stem, but youll notice your squash plant go limp in the middle of summer, no matter how much you water it. If this should happen, get out your Swiss Army knife and splice the stem until you find the nasty little intruder, kill it or toss it out where the birds can enjoy it, then cover the damaged area with soil. If you catch it early enough the vine will reroot where it is buried and should recover. To prevent the problem, cover the vines as soon as they start to run, using fine netting propped up with sticks to keep the moths from reaching it. Leave the flowers exposed for pollination, though. It also helps to rotate your crops, not planting any members of Cucurbita in the same spot two years running. That just makes it harder for the pest to find the plants the following summer. Butternut squash seems to be resistant to borer.
And thats it, really. Not a difficult plant to grow, and with so much to recommend it, who needs lawns, anyway? I say, let it sprawl.
A delightful childrens picture book and video called Pumpkin Circle, by George Levenson, follows the life cycle of a pumpkin vine, including both a birds- and bugs-eye view. The 20-minute video, which came out in 1997, is narrated by Danny Glover and features music by George Winston. The book was published by Tricycle Press in 1999. (Visit www.pumpkincircle.com or call 800/827-0949.)
For a wide selection of inexpensive seeds of squash, pumpkins and gourds, get a copy of Pinetree Seeds catalog. Call 888/527-3337, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.superseeds.com.
|by Sharon Parker
This month, the weeds will die. Remember that when you give up on any notion you once entertained that your tomatoes would yet lose their green palor and you quit covering them: Frost kills weeds too.
October brings the big eraser -- the killing frost soon followed by snow cover (we hope, anyway) that gives me permission to quit feeling guilty about neglecting my garden and set my sites for next season, when Ill do better.
Not that Ive retired my shovel just yet. There are a few things I hope to accomplish yet this fall, but Ill go at them with an eye to next spring and summer: What can I do yet this fall to make gardening a little easier, a little more successful next summer?
For one thing, Ill finish preparing the beds I want to plant next year. By laying down newspaper and mulch (thickly, as Ive said so many times that any who have read my column before, and I hope there are a few of you, may think it my mantra: Put down several layers of newspaper and cover it with wood chips), Ill save myself the trouble of having to remove the sod and work in compost next spring. Why? Because the sod buried under the newspaper/mulch combination will rot away, making its own compost, and Ill be able to just dig holes and plant. If I dont get around to it until Labor Day weekend, all the better -- more time for the grass to rot once the ground has thawed.
Although I should have finished the job in September when I started it so there would be more time for the composting process before the ground freezes, I know that the mulch will delay the freezing, and so buy me some time yet this fall anyway. The rest of the work (natures work composting the sod, not mine) will continue throughout the spring, while Im busy planting early cool-season crops, which are fortunately also somewhat shade tolerant, in my “kitchen garden” -- the one located conveniently near the back door, and just as conveniently under the arching branches of an elegant elm tree.
(Hence the reason its fortunate that the peas, lettuces, brocolli and other spring greens are shade tolerant. In fact, they even benefit from the cooling shade come summer and will be slower to bolt than they would be if planted in full sun. But that elm tree, together with the maple on the other side of the garden, is the reason I need to start another garden bed in a sunnier part of my yard.)
I can also finish mulching the perennial beds, covering those weeds with newspaper etc. where I can, though I will certainly have to pull a few of them out where they are too close to the perennials to smother them. Not only sod, but weeds, can be converted to compost by this process.
The sea of maple leaves that will soon cover my yard will be raked under the row of arborvitae next to the driveway, where their habit of packing together to form a slick, icy cover wont be a problem. Arborvitae thrive on anything. If I were fortunate enough to have oak trees in my yard or on my boulevard, instead of the Norway maples that surround my property, I would rake those leaves onto the perennial beds. Their habit of curling and breaking, which makes for a loose, airy mulch, plus their low pH to offset the higher alkalinity of our city soil, make oak leaves an ideal candidate for mulching perennials and shrubs. I will have to settle for straw from the garden center instead.
But Ill wait until November to spread the straw, unless I want to delay the ground from freezing because of a late planting. Otherwise, waiting until the ground freezes is a fine strategy for winter cover, the main purpose of which is to keep the soil from thawing out in a midwinter warming trend that would trick perennials into growing and then bite their heads off with a return to winter frostiness. A good mulch will keep them safely tucked in till spring.
The plants plagued with mildew, aphids, blight, or other diseases Ill just cut off cleanly at ground level and chuck them in the trash or put them out in bags to be collected by the city along with other yard waste. Im inclined to think sending diseased plants to the garbage burner is a better idea that composting them even in the citys gigantic compost heaps, which most likely do heat up enough to kill insects and microorganisms. But why take a chance on giving some other gardener my problems?
The rest of the lot Ill leave standing tall to punctuate the snow cover this winter, especially the grasses, the pincushion-like coneflower, the colorful red balls of gomphrena and anything else thats healthy and upright (except for the bunches Ill collect for dried-flower arrangements).
Those remnants of this summers garden will not only ornament my yard this winter and remind me of the successes when I look out my window, but theyll also help to hold onto the snow cover and prevent erosion when the snow is inadequate and the winds blow.
Ill bring in the pots that I want to keep on our semi-heated porch. Heat escapes from the house into this enclosed area, keeping the temperature just enough above freezing to overwinter all sorts of tender plants. If you have such a porch but arent sure whether its suitable for plants, you could try keeping some out there this year and perhaps invest in a small thermometer to monitor the situation. But dont put your thermometer on an outside wall, as I did the first winter, because it will give you a much lower reading than youve actually got. My first winter the thermometer often said it was 20 degrees, yet the drinking water I kept on a table in the porch never froze.
The two poinsettia that we actually remembered to cut down and keep in pots out on the patio are looking bushy and promising. Ill see if the kids and I can devise a way to give them the 12 to 14 hours of darkness each day they require to develop their colorful bracts, without leaving them in a closet for days on end, as I have done in the past. Perhaps I can make it a science project for my kids and see if they do any better than me at remembering them.
And of course Ill plant some bulbs. More squill in the yard so their sapphire blue flowers can speckle the lawn with color, along with some bunch-flowering crocuses, the smaller cousins of the familiar garden crocus, which bloom earlier and thus can be mingled among the grasses that will later be mowed. More daffodils too, of course, and tall Darwin tulips for cutting as well as the more exotic and smaller species tulips. Its always fun to go to the garden store and browse through the selection. More and more of them are offering unusual bulbs alongside the old standbys, so its become easier to get a nice assortment without having to mail order.
Then Ill clean the dirt off my tools, think about oiling and cleaning them but probably not get around to it, and go inside and make a mug of tea, putting aside thoughts of the garden until the spring catalogs start to arrive after Christmas. Oh, what a fine gardener Ill be next year.