Thursday, November 4, 2010

Diggin Up Some Dirt in this Graveyard Town

Long ago I saw The Outing Lodge for the first time.  I was on skis and through the snow covered woods, there it stood, stately and silent.  I had a feeling.  Maybe it was because the movie "The Shining" had recently been released, or maybe because I knew bits and pieces of the history of the place, but I was sure there were secrets lurking behind the lone, isolated walls.

This is a place with history, not all of it happy, no doubt, but all of it interesting.  In 1858, the county purchased over 200 acres  5 miles north of Stillwater, MN to build a 'poor farm'.  Poor farms were popping up in the state during this time as a place to house not just the poor, but the sick, infirm, and those deemed mentally incompetent.  The idea of the poor farm was to bring land under cultivation and make it self- sustaining. The Washington County poor farm was first overseen by Howard Packard, who listed his occupation as "lumberman".  It must have taken a lumberman to carry out the 1859 county board authorization "to enlarge the Barn and build a suitable Lock up for the Safe Keeping of a Crazy man on the Poor Farm. "  It seems as though the residents of the poor farm in the early 1860's were called 'inmates' and there were only 3 of them.  By 1868, 28 persons lived there including 8 children.  Off one of the current day walking trails through the park, there is a well-hidden and overgrown cemetery that holds the remains of 75 persons.

Rebuilt in1924, the building served as a rest home until the 1960's when it was bought by it's current owner. 

Today the Lodge operates as an event center and inn. and is a most enchanting place with beautiful wood and stone and lots of nooks and crannies to explore.  There are some interesting buildings being built adjacent to the Lodge.

Just last week, I was at the lodge for a Halloween Party.  Greeted by various perky cheerleaders and gal pirates, it was not such a scary place.  However, there WERE ghostly apparitions in the form of the Captain of the Titanic and his companion, a gruesome beheaded robed judge (and so close to the elections!).  Not so grim was a Chiliean miner complete with exit shaft (or was he a hot water heater?). The atmosphere was further warmed by hosts Carmen and Carman Miranda.

The surrounding Pine Point Regional Park,  is a  diverse landscape with woodlands, restored prairies, lakes and ponds.  A favorite place of mine to walk and ski.  I think I'll go up there today!

Thanks to The Heavy for the the title

An Unlamented Era:  County Poor Farms in Minnesota by Ethel McClure

Washington County Historical Society

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

You Talkin' To Me??????

Landscape Fabric?  You talkin' to me?  Don't EVEN go there!

Since you bring it up, here are some facts about Landscape Fabric.

Landscape Fabric is made of Polypropylene, which is this:

Polymerization is Zieglar-Natta, metallocene catalysis and is highly crystalline and highly atactic.  Melting temperature is 174 degrees Celsius. 


The only thing that I know for sure is: LANDSCAPE FABRIC BITES THE BIG HOOTER. 

Except for some uses in the vegetable garden, and perhaps in some retaining wall construction, this crap has NO use in the landscape or garden.  The claim is that it "prevents weeds" and is better than plastic because it allows water and oxygen to get through.  Hmmmm......plastic or landscape fabric?  Which should I buy?  WHAT!  YOU DON'T NEED EITHER!  (Sorry, I digress, I'll talk about plastic another day.)

Although landscape fabric IS permeable, it in NO WAY keeps weeds out. 

As any gardener worth their compost knows, most weeds come from airborne seeds.  Without soil disturbance, many weed seeds in the soil will not germinate, and regular mulching with organic mulches can ensure this. 

If one chooses to go down the road to landscape fabric hell, here is one possible scenario that may be waiting:

So, ya put down your (expensive) landscape fabric with much difficulty, sweat, swearing, ect.  Then you cut little holes and put your plants in the soil.  Then you put some mulch (probably some hideous colored mulch) down which will probably either wash away, blow away, get moved around, add no nutrients to the soil, and will look crappy.  All is hunky dory! Wow!  A no maintenance landscape!  But Wait!!!  Here are some weeds!  Dang! The root is stuck in the fiber, and you pull up some fabric.   A few weeks pass.....more weeds....more fabric pulled up.  No worries mate!  I'll get the hoe!  Oops, that doesn't work, you can't cut the root because of the, arghhhh....landscape fabric!  Maybe if I add more plants, some annuals perhaps, there will be less room for weeds!  A great idea!  What? The shovel won't go down!  I have to cut little holes in the landscape fabric!  Will these plants ever spread? What have I done?  Dispair....Depression...Anger....

There are several possible endings to the scene:

a.  Wow!  I just read Gardening with Gabby and now know that I should have not used landscape fabric!  I'll remove it, add compost, lots of plants, and use organic non-colored mulch!

b.  The HELL with this gardening crap!  I'm going to pave everything!

c.  Maybe this colored mulch is not working, I'll put rock mulch over the landscape fabric!

d.  I'm going to consult a professional (gardener that is), meditate, do some yoga, take a sauna and flagellate with birch twigs, and have several shots of aquavit!

Polymer Schmolymer!  There is no need to choose one of these outcomes (although d is pretty appealing) if you don't go down that road paved with bad advice and landscape fabric.

Harvesting of Spruce Tops is Harming Bogs

Harvesting of Spruce Tops is Harming Bogs

by Norm Aaseng, plant ecologist, Minnesota County Biological Survey. This is a summary of his talk at the Nov. 5, 2009, MNNPS meeting.

Decorative tree harvesting is the cutting of the top two to four feet of stunted (six- to 15-foot) black spruce trees. These spruce tops are shipped to garden stores and other outlets where they are sold as decorations during the winter holiday season. In the mid-1990s, the harvesting of spruce tops in Minnesota began to expand, and today an estimated one-half million to one million tree tops are harvested per year. Surveys indicate that there is a market for three times that number of spruce tops. Harvesting occurs primarily on state and county lands in northwest Aitkin, southwest St. Louis, northwest Carlton, and southwest Itasca counties from mid-September to mid-December. This activity provides income to local harvesters from lands that typically do not generate any revenue.
Although black spruce trees are found in a variety of peatland and upland native plant community classes, almost all decorative tops come from the Northern Spruce Bogs (APn80 in the DNR’s Field Guide to the Native Plant Communities of Minnesota). The Northern Spruce Bog is the most nutrient poor as well as the most acidic native plant community occurring in Minnesota. These conditions create a very inhospitable environment in which only 25 vascular plant species are adapted to survive. Typical species found in bogs include carnivorous plants, such as pitcher plant (Sarracenia purpurea), ericaceous shrubs, such as bog rosemary (Andromeda glaucophylla) and bog laurel (Kalmia polifolia), and graminoids such as cotton grasses
(Eriophorum spissum) and bog wiregrass sedge (Carex oligosperma). Hummocks of sphagnum moss cover the ground surface. The severe conditions are responsible for the stunted size and shape of black spruce trees desired by harvesters.
As tree-top harvesting operations increased in size, environmental impacts from harvesting became apparent. DNR Forestry assembled a field team to determine the impacts of tree-top harvesting and the factors contributing to the damage. The team found that the cutting of the spruce tops did not appear to have a significant impact. Tree tops were reported to grow back and be harvested in 10 - 20 years.
However, very significant impacts occurred from rutting on all-terrain vehicles (ATV) access trails. Initial passes by ATVs create a trail by compressing the sphagnum peat, but repeated traversing of trails, especially with heavy vehicles, resulted in cutting through the live root mat that occurs in the upper six inches of the peat. Once this mat is cut, the weight-bearing capacity of the peat is severely reduced, resulting in increasing size and depth of pools with every pass of an ATV. The deeper the ruts are, the longer it takes the vegetation to recover. If damage is significant, there can be a conversion of vegetation to marsh or even exotic plant species. Water tracks and laggs (shrubby wet moats occurring between the interface of peatland and upland) were found to be particularly susceptible to damage from ATVs. The creation of deep pools and the elimination of existing vegetation easily occurred along the ATV trails in these areas.
To minimize these impacts, the DNR instituted regulations that limited the depth and length of rutting allowed on trails as well as imposing restrictions on the access of harvest areas through laggs and water tracks.
Despite the regulations, some impacts continued to occur, primarily through “rogue” or inexperienced harvesters. Because public auction requires that the sale of tree tops go to the highest bidder regardless of competence of the harvesters, the DNR no longer offers this option for decorative harvesting. Instead, private sales are negotiated with proven operators that possess the appropriate equipment, such as low pressure-tired vehicles. Because these private sales are much smaller in size than public auctions, the DNR sales are now limited to a total of 200,000 tree tops per year. With increasing demand for spruce tops it may be that operations will be shifting to lands that are less regulated.
Harvesting of spruce

Monday, October 18, 2010

Gabby's Guide to Bulb Planting

Today, two of us from Green City Gardeners planted 1600 bulbs.  Damn, we're good.  In all modesty, I have found an efficient method that works better than anything else I have tried.  And I have been at this for a LONG time.  I have tried bulb planters, not practical for so many bulbs; augers and drills, only if the soil is perfectly soft and rock free (not typical); excavation of all soil, not good if you have existing perennials.

Follow the Gabby Guide to Bulb Planting for bulb planting en masse!

1.  Remove any annual plant material.  We have had such a weirdly warm season, that the annuals still look great!  So harden your heart and chop away.
Annuals in mid-October!!
2.  Loosen soil with garden fork.  Old-fashioned?  Maybe.  But very effective. 
Alison digging away

3.  Toss bulbs on top of bed.  Plant tightly for a fabulous spring show!

4.  For tulips, plant about 6" deep from top of bulb, plant pointy side up.  I use this great little hand shovel/knife.  Easy to dig since your soil is nice and loose.

5.  Cover bed with a generous helping of chopped leaves.

6.  Top leaves with compost, or very fine mulch (seen here), and don't forget to water in!

And Voila!  See what awaits you in the spring!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Gabby is Getting CRANKY!!!

Gabby is getting cranky.  I have tried diplomacy, scientific facts, logic.  All to no end.  Why is Gabby getting cranky?  Because people keep putting leaves in bags! 

Put your leaves on your garden beds.  You do not need to remove leaves.  They are delicious, nutritious, and FREE. 

OK, I can't understand why you would need another reason to let your leaves be, but here's one:  Your gardens will suck big time if you remove your leaves.  Plants LOVE 'em!  Plants thrive on 'em! They are full of vitamins and minerals!  And talk about microbial activity!  Whoa, microbes a plenty!  Did someone say..."what about disease and fungus"?  I can't hear you!  Who told you that you're supposed to rake them off, put them in bags (preferably plastic) and pay to have them hauled off, then spend lots of money on fertilizer, mulch, and new plants  (because now your gardens suck)?  Gabby is telling you to leave them on.  And Gabby knows.

Gabby is no fun when she is cranky.                   

Monday, October 11, 2010

Selective Foliage Removal

Selective Removal.  Sounds kind of surgical, but is my favorite method for autumn cut back.  Leaving plants up adds fall and winter interest, provides bird forage and shelter, and keeps the soil protected from winter temperature extremes and erosion.  Leaving plants up is generally more aesthetically pleasing than the severely chopped and roundy-moundy looks associated with total cut back. 

Assess what plants will be in the way of paths, and what will be an eye-sore in the months to come, paying attention to main entryways and focal points, and take those plants back.  Leave the rest, and're finished!

Oh, and don't forget to leave the leaves on the gardens!!!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Back to Reality

When you're in the garden business, taking three weeks of vacation in the summer is not necessarily an easy thing to do.  Or is it?  The plants have filled in nicely, the weeds have slowed down in spite of all the rain, and I justify it because, um, well, I just do.

 While I was partying down on the beach, the garden was growing quite well on it's own.  As if by magic, upon my return, the steamy atmosphere lifted, the climate turned almost autumnal to make my work in the garden enjoyable.  Next week I'll be back to cursing out the burdock and oxalis.  This week, I am astonished by the beauty of the garden.  It's good to get away.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Newbie Veg Gardener

My First (Real) Veg Garden!  Although I have been gardening professionally for the better part of 10 years, it has been ornamental gardening, with one foray into vegetable gardening. This experience, at the request of a client, was unsatisfactory, frustrating, and frankly, quite pathetic on my part.  My client had us pick the meagre harvest and she would give them to the nuns at the local church.  I'm sorry, nuns, I may go straight to hell for that.  Oh well.......  Try Again!!!

I am going to share my veg garden experience with anyone who may read this, and tell YOU what works, what doesn't.  I share my plat with two friends, who have one solid season of veg garden experience under their collective belt.  Our plot is 12x25, although we are attempting to acquire the plot next to us to expand (!) our garden. 

Here in Minnesota, we start kind of late with veg gardening.  Today I spent a couple of hours and got about half the plot weeded and covered with chopped leaves.  My thought is, when it's planting time, we won't be covered up in weeds.  Here is my photo journal from today:

Here is the part I didn't weed and cover with chopped leaves:

Last season's sage that made it through the winter:

Plot after weed removal and addition of chopped leaves:

Chopped leaves make such a great mulch, you can then incorporate them into to soil at planting time.  A perfect and cheap (free) amendment.   And PLEASE DON"T USE THIS!!!!!!!
The harvest of peat moss contributes HUGELY to CO2 into the atmosphere, and absolutely RUINS ecosystems.  Use compost, leaves, anything but this.  If you are tempted to use peat moss because the desired plant needs more acidic soil than you have available, PLANT SOMETHING ELSE!!!!!!!!!

And for HEAVEN'S SAKE! Don't use this!  It looks like HELL, and the manufacture of black plastic uses petroleum and contributes to climate change.  

This is the lot (the one totally covered in leaves) that we hope to acquire.  Someone very forward looking covered this last fall, making it virtually weed free. 

This, on the other hand, was not mulched and now will be a major pain in the arse to deal with:

So, Tune in next time for Veg Garden Adventures with Gabby!

Friday, April 9, 2010

It's Tulip Time!

Planting Tulips is one job that is hard for some gardeners to do.  It's a little hard to get motivated when it is fall, you're tired, and spring is a distant figment of hope.

 Like many difficult tasks, the rewards are great.  Here are some pics taken over the years of tulip plantings I have done for gardening clients.  Let me know what you think.

In the fall, I will remind you to plant bulbs, and give you some tips to get great results like these.

For you Preppy Gardeners, pink and green

Gorgeous pink and red hues

Bold oranges and yellows

For the All-White garden

A colorful French tulip blend

A stream of soft pastels

Purples and pinks

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Nature Happens Here

Yesterday I spent the day at a  conference organized by Wild Ones ( ) entitled Design with Nature, Creating Communities Above and Below Ground.  The keynote speaker was Douglas Tallamy.  I have read his book Bringing Nature Home. and it is one of my favorites.  An entomologist, Douglas Tallamy makes the connection between native plants, the insects that have evolved with them, and the birds and higher mammals that live off these insects.  Alien plants cannot often support our insects, which have evolved to live off our native plants.  Therefore, in gardens with fewer native species, there are fewer insects, thus less food for birds and other life.

Here are some of the points that Tallamy made in his talk yesterday:

  • our sterile landscapes are starving birds
  • there are currently 1/2 the number of birds than in the 1960's
  • 1/3 of bird species in the US are endangered
  • we use TOO FEW plants
  • leave your leaves! Ground foraging birds need them!
  • alien ornamental plants have evolved outside of our local food webs
  • plants moderate our weather systems
  • we lose 50,000 acres per day to deforestation
  • in the next 50 years, 75 million acres of forestland will be cut down releasing 5.4 billion tons of carbon dioxide
  • We are paving over our healthy ecosystems
  • We have a love affair with the lawn
  • We need to put plants back into the landscape
  • landscape with plants that support our local food web
  • 23% of Black Bear diet is insects
  • 96% of terrestrial birds rear young on insects
  • minimize specimen planting, plant thickets and communities
  • woody plants support more animals that herbaceous plants
  • Horticulturists and Ecologists need to come together!!!
When he signed my book, Douglas Tallamy wrote, "Garden as if life depended on it!"

Make this your New Rule for 2010!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Heavenly Inspiration

 Heavenly inspiration from a cathedral stained glass window

Fresh peaches and plums translate into a show of azaleas


                             From the water to the prairie

Expanses of storm clouds to masses of bluebells

Yellow Bananaquits on spikey foliage

From a Sailfish in Michigan to a Michigan Lily in Minnesota

You get the picture.  Get the color from everything.