Thursday, December 31, 2009

Twelve Months of Nature in the Gardens

Come take a pictorial stroll with me through the last 12 months of nature gardening in 2009.  Lots of flower shots would be easy, but these images convey where and how I garden so much better.

The first visitors of the gardens in the new year.

Needing something to do in February, so why not start early!

Simple beauty of the late winter

This is why I don't plant until late May

My favorite yearly transplants return - May 10th this year

Finally getting nice and green, at the end of June

Ok, so I threw in some flowers, since they were so pretty

More feathery friends

The garden snakes leave presents like this each year in September

These Agastaches didn't get to bloom long this year before the snows came

Hard to believe there was only 1 week of fall

November pots will stay this way till spring

Winter has left its quiet blanket of cover

As we end this year, and this decade, please take time to be thankful for the things that you have:  your families, friends and food; your home, health, and happiness; your minds, money and mysteries of nature; your plants, planet and pursuit of a better life; and your sun, souls and spirits.  Wishing you all the best in the New Year and new decade.  Kathy

Monday, December 28, 2009

A Bit of Tropics in the Tundra

While celebrating Thanksgiving this year in the Twin Cities, Minnesota, I had the chance to visit the Como Park Conservatory in St. Paul. I have been there many times, perhaps more than 100, over my lifetime, since I grew up just a few blocks from this beautiful place. I wanted to see the annual Holiday Flower Show, but it was not quite ready yet. Since I was there at Thanksgiving, the Autumn show was in its last week, so instead I saw many chrysanthemums, along with swiss chard, which I thought was an extremely odd accent. I guess “everyone” is into vegetable gardens this year.

Each year since 1925 the main room, called “The Sunken Garden”, of the conservatory is filled with poinsettias, azaleas, and other festive plants during the Holiday season . Thousands of people come to visit, and to step into a tropical oasis while the snow flies outside. The statue at the end of the gazing pond is always surrounded by koi, and this time was no exception.

Como Park includes the Como Zoo, the Como Park Conservatory (renamed Marjorie McNeely Conservatory), and the surrounding 300 acres of parkland. The Conservatory originally opened in 1915, and has had several facelifts during its lifetime. It houses thousands of plants, many of them decades, if not centuries old. It is on the National Register of Historic Places, and is open 365 days of the year.

The Como Park Conservatory holds 7 indoor and 3 outdoor gardens, including the Palm Dome, which is 64 feet tall and holds more than 150 species of tropical palms and cycads. Orchids and Bromeliads fill in the nooks and crannies.

The North Garden is my favorite, which holds plants from all over the world, a pond and the gateway to the outdoor Japanese Garden. The plants in the North Garden are mainly those that supply food, spices and medicines for us!

The newest garden in the Conservatory was finished just a few years ago, and is called the "Tropical Encounters".  It houses both plants and animals, and has lots of child friendly learning centers.  The sloth in the pictures below hangs out for everyone to see.

I have been so fortunate to grow up with this beautiful, amazing, and best of all free collection of plants practically right outside my back door. In fact, I lived so close to the zoo that some times the peacocks would fly out of their fenced area, and visit the neighborhood at night. Talk about frightening sounds, the peacock’s “screech” will wake anyone up! Living so close to the park for so many years helped me to develop the love of nature I have today.

If you are ever in St. Paul, MN take the time to visit the Como Park Conservatory and the Zoo. You won’t be disappointed!

Como Park and Conservatory Information:
1225 Estabrook Drive
Saint Paul, MN 55103
24-hour Information: 651-487-8200
Opening times - All year. Daily. Open 10am to 6pm, April thru September,  10am to 4pm October to March.
Admission - Free
Website - Como Park Zoo and Conservatory

Monday, December 21, 2009

Happy Winter Solstice 2009

Today marks the end of fall and the beginning of winter, celebrated the world over as "Winter Solstice".  We leave autumn behind us, remembering the crisp air, clear blue skies, and crunchy leaves.  We slip into the darkness of short winter days, but only for a moment.  As the Winter Solstice passes, the sun starts to slowly warm us again, pulling our hearts and our minds towards spring and the promise of new leaves unfurling, new flower buds opening, and grand gardens awakening.  It is only a matter of time until then, so enjoy the quietness of winter and all of her splendor.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

I Garden because I am

Mary Ann Newcomer, of "Gardens of the Wild Wild West", is putting on a contest to find out why people garden, and more to the point, why do we keep on gardening. For me, the answer to that question is simple. I garden because I am. That probably sounds strange, so I will elaborate:

I garden because I am "a naturalist".
I am a lover of all things in nature, including the good, the bad, and the ugly. Mother Nature is my idol.

I garden because I am "a scientist".
I love to experiment, in the garden, in my businesses, in the world we live in. If you don't fail, you will never succeed.

I garden because I am "an artist".
I love colors, textures, shadows, materials, combinations. Gardening provides me with the ultimate palette for creativity.

I garden because I am "an environmentalist".
I vow to protect the waters, air, land and earth to the best of my abilities.

I garden because I am "a teacher".
I love to teach others about the wonders of gardening and nature, about photography, about soils, bugs and creepy crawlies.

I garden because I am “a botanist”.
I love to explore the world of plants.

I garden because I am “a photographer”.
Gardens and nature are always changing, and allow me countless vignettes to choose from.

I garden because I am "a designer".
I love the challenge of creating something beautiful and useful. Designing comes naturally to me, in many different forms, from Software to Web to Gardens to Life.

I garden because I am "an engineer".
I love to research, to build things, and to solve problems.

I garden because I am “a life long learner”.
Even after gardening for more than 40 years, I still have much to learn.

I garden because I am "blessed".
I live in an absolutely beautiful place, with mountains, clean air, lots of wildlife, and wonderful possibilities for plants. And, I have a family who puts up with all of my gardening obsessions.

I garden because I am "alive".
What more can I say?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Maintaining Composure while Decomposing

Plants are like people in many ways. They are "born", they age, and they die. Along the way, they slowly decompose. Like people, some plants age gracefully, and some seem to decompose overnight. According to the The Free Online Dictionary, the word "decompose" means "to separate into components or basic elements", "to rot or decay", "to break down (organic matter) or (of organic matter) to be broken down physically and chemically by bacterial or fungal action; rot".  It also means "to break down naturally through the action of biological agents". All things decompose sooner or later.  Some things like plastics and all of our consumer wastes filling our landfills will take years, if not many centuries to do so. 

Hostas and ferns decompose very quickly. 
By spring there will be no sign of their leaves in the garden.

These geraniums will provide green and then bronze groundcover until midwinter, then they will start to decompose in preparation for new leaves next spring.

This Russian Sage will hold its stature and brown leaves through the winter, for structural interest until late spring, when the dead leaves will fall, and the new leaf buds appear.

Upclose of Russian Sage frost bitten leaves, and sturdy stalks.

Lavender Cotton (Santolina) will hold its leaves all winter, whereas the leaves of the Coneflower (Echinacea) have already started decomposing for the season.

Our gardens are perfect places to allow Mother Nature her way of plant decomposition and soil renewal.  Nature has thousands of biological agents to help do the job in a most efficient manner.  In a previous post on Earthworms, I brought up many of the reasons to let nature do this for us, instead of us trying to clean the gardens.  If a plant will be decomposed by the springtime, and give back to the soil naturally, why on earth should we clean it up?

Gambel Oak leaves fall naturally into these gardens, where they will stay till spring, slowly decomposing and providing a thermal blanket at the same time.  In the spring they get a trip to the compost pile.

Ants will look for food here in preparation for the winter.

But what if we want some composure in our gardens while still allowing decomposition of last year's plants?  Can we have it both ways?  That depends on how willing you are to compromise.  Some types of plants do better when you cut down their stalks, to prevent diseases from moving into their roots or bulbs.  Asiatic and Oriental lilies are good examples.  I cut the stalks down after they have turned brown, and put them in the compost pile.  The resulting garden looks a bit neater.

Lilies in between lavender will be cut down now.  They have stored enough nutrients in the bulbs for next year and the stalks will grow anew from the base.

Many shrubs and grasses look best when left unpruned for the winter. Their flowers and leaves make for interesting compositions, and provide the eye with the stark beauty of the plants' forms not seen when the leaves are green and the blossoms are colorful.

Blue Mist Spirea holds its seed heads gracefully all winter (this is not invasive where I live!)

Siberian Iris leaves provide winter interest as well as food for the deer

Autumn Joy Sedum seed heads will also look beautiful all winter. Who wants to look at a flat garden for 5 months of the year?  Not me.

Decomposition in the woods is an easier thing to let happen, since it looks very natural that way. Mother Nature doesn't have a person come through and cut down dead grasses, diseased plants, or dying trees.  The wooded area surrounding our house is left alone in the fall, and by spring the grasses will grow up through the nutrient rich piles of decomposing plant debris from last year. 

This wood pile has been "decomposing" now for about 5 years. It is used by the foxes and other wildlife for shelter and security, eaten by ants and bugs, and pecked on by woodpeckers, nuthatches, and other birds.

By spring these native grasses will fall gracefully back into the earth, and new blades will start again.

Thinking about how things decompose, it's helpful to understand what factors help speed or slow the process. Fungi, bacteria, heat, moisture, temperature, and light all play parts in how fast any living thing falls apart. Take our skin for example. Lack of moisure results in dry, cracked skin, which is more prone to itching, and thus provides a way for bacteria to enter, causing disease and/or decay. Too much moisture, and our skin starts to sweat, get oily, and need washing to keep the bacteria at bay. Too much light, and our skin becomes sunburnt and and shows its' decomposing age quicker. Too little light, and fungi thrive, spreading disease.

Plant leaves and stems react similarly. Areas with lots of humidity and moisture tend to have plants that decompose very quickly, often in a slimy, gooey mess. Not a pretty sight. On the other hand, decomposition of plants in the desert takes a long time, and shows up as mostly shriveled leaves. So, keeping composure in the garden depends a lot on where you live.  Do your gardens "age gracefully"?
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