June 25, 2014

Plant of the month:
Rubus parviflorus

thimble parts

Are you familiar with this plant?

I have to admit I was not ... until discovering it recently along a trail at Newport State Park in Door County, Wis. The park is near the tip of the Door County peninsula that forms the "thumb" of Wisconsin's mitten shape.

The fishman and I did a lot of hiking last week. And one of the most plentiful plants along our Newport State Park trail was Thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus). At first, we simply noticed it, took a few photos, and planned to look it up later for identification.

thimble patch

But as we continued our hike, the plant began to dominate the forest understory. I would have called it a forb, although later research revealed it's actually a shrub.

I also learned that Thimbleberry is rare, even in my state. It's found only in far northern Michigan and its Upper Peninsula, west through northern Wisconsin, and into the Pacific Northwest, according to the UW-Green Bay Herbarium. Thimbleberry needs cool summer temperatures to thrive.

thimble flower

I guess I had heard of Thimbleberry before, but I don't remember seeing it. Most of the plants were in full bloom last week. The flowers are large, white, and showy, and the pollinators do a jig around the circular pollen pattern like they do with St. John's Wort and Mountain Mint.

thimble leaf

The leaves look like Maples, about 4 inches long and wide. Thimbleberries ripen in late summer in Door County. The berries are larger and flatter than their cousins the Raspberries (Rubus spp. and hybrids), and they're fragile--making transport of fresh Thimbleberries nearly impossible, most sources agree. You can visit this UW-Green Bay link to see a photo of the berry.


But they taste great in Thimbleberry jam, which to me tastes very much like Raspberry or Strawberry jam. We bought some in Door County, although there are many online sources for buying Thimbleberry jam. I had a harder time finding a reliable online source for Thimbleberry wine, also recommended by some folks.

thimble berry

It's a beautiful plant, and it must be great fun to pick the plentiful berries later in the summer. You can see the fruit starting to form at the center as the petals drop.

I'm linking in with Gail's Wildflower Wednesday over at Clay and Limestone. Head on over to her blog to learn about wildflowers blooming around the world.

June 23, 2014

Garden lessons beyond the solstice


It's two days past the solstice and I'm just now posting the Garden Lessons Learned wrap-up! I apologize and thank you for your patience!


One week ago today, we dropped off our daughter at O'Hare Airport for a summer job in Maine. And then the fishman and I spent a lovely week in Door County, Wis., to celebrate a landmark wedding anniversary. More botanical highlights from that trip to follow.


To avoid belaboring the point ... on to your lessons. Every quarter, gardeners around the world are invited to share garden lessons they've learned during the past season. Here are your highlights:

Donna at Gardens Eye View, in New York state, U.S., learned it's vital to take time for the important things in her life and her garden. Seeds sown now, with people and plants, often grow and blossom into lasting relationships.


Rose at Prairie Rose's Garden, in Illinois, U.S., shared four wise lessons with special applications to the transitions between winter and spring, and then spring to summer. Her final lesson, about enjoying each day and each season for what it is, rings true.


Diana of Elephant's Eye, at Western Cape, South Africa, shared lessons learned time as she celebrates her five-year blogoversary. Lots of great tips and best practices for bloggers and gardeners. She photographed a beautiful wild orchid discovered while tending the lawn and potted for display.

Others with lessons added in their comments, included:

Helene at Graphicality-UK, learned that her garden has much better drainage than she thought, and that on rare frost-free London winters (like the past one), Fuchsias can survive year-round. Karin at Southern Meadows learned (as I did) that Butterfly Weed can take a while to establish, but takes off with vigor once it does.


Aaron at Garden of Aaron discovered that heavy pruning can be beneficial for some plants, including his Russian Sage and Caryopteris, while Crape Myrtles in their colder zones prefer a lighter pruning. Tammy at Casa Mariposa used grow lights more extensively this winter and found it to be a great substitute for outdoor gardening, and that Roses can withstand very heavy prunings.


Lynne at Irish Garden House learned that sometimes, when the winter is especially difficult and you wait all spring for plants to appear, at some point you might have to move on and add new plants in their place. Grace at Gardening With Grace released her ADGD (attention deficit gardening disorder), and her "watched plants" suddently emerged and grew fast. Jen at Muddy Boot Dreams noticed that many of her perennials were slow to emerge this spring because of the severe winter.


~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

That's the wrap-up! Thanks to all who shared lessons and wisdom. If I forgot anyone with lessons to share, or you'd like to participate, please let me know and I'll add your lessons here. Happy summer to those in the north, and I hope those in the Southern Hemisphere will have a peaceful, rewarding winter season!


June 14, 2014

A season-long staycation


Southern Wisconsin would be perfect except for the winters. On Friday, I had one of those "Ah, that's why I live here" kind of days:

  • People were out walking, biking, and skating;
  • Many obviously had the day off from work;
  • The weather was perfect; and
  • Not a cloud was in the sky.

Everywhere I looked was natural beauty.


At the UW–Madison Arboretum, where the native bumblebees were active, and Spiderwort and Baptisia were blooming in the Curtis Prairie...



Looking out from downtown Madison at Lake Monona, where I saw a 1951 Grumman Albatross water-landing prop plane come in for a "landing," and the view was so peaceful you'd never know a moderate-sized city was a couple of blocks behind me...



At Olbrich Botanical Gardens, where the Kentucky Wisteria (W. macrostachya) was blooming, and the Thai Pavilion was as welcoming and regal as ever...


A few blocks from my house looking out at Lake Waubesa, where people were picnicking, chatting, and soaking in the sunshine...


And at home, where there was no need for air-conditioning, or a jacket, or even socks. Just a cold glass of ice-water, shorts and a T-shirt, open windows, and two cats. Pretty close to perfect. It sort of makes up for the brutal winter, but that's out of my mind right now.

Yes, I think I'll retire here (God-willing). Living here in the summer (and spring and fall) is like having a season-long staycation. And winter is the perfect time to travel south.

I'm linking in with Donna's Seasonal Celebrations with this post. Head on over to her blog to join in the fun!


Note: The Garden Lessons Learned wrap-up will be a bit delayed this time because of some personal situations (nothing bad, and I'll explain soon). Please share a post or your thoughts about lessons you've learned during the past few months. To join in, click here to leave a comment with a link to your post. Thanks, and enjoy the solstice!

June 11, 2014

Tree following:
A wordless Shagbark Hickory timeline







Wordless Wednesday

Tree Following

Foliage Follow-Up


Next up: Seasonal Celebrations. Coming soon: The Garden Lessons Learned wrap-up. Please share a post or your thoughts about lessons you've learned during the past few months. To join in, click here to leave a comment with a link to your post. Thanks!

June 06, 2014

Dear friend and gardener:
Welcome to my potager

The cedar waxwings are still happy and hanging around the neighborhood.

How would you describe the perfect conditions to grow just about any plant and keep the people and creatures happy? How about: plentiful sun, occasional rain; average highs around 75F-80F/24C-27C and average lows around 55F/13C; long days and short, calm nights. Oh, and near-perfect Midwestern silt loam soil. What am I forgetting?

Anyway, you get the idea. Conditions have been near-perfect for growing things around here, and the plants seem to be growing inches every day.

It's time to talk summer gardening!

Three garden bloggers started a virtual garden club several weeks ago, under the name "Dear Friend and Gardener": Carol Michel of May Dreams Gardens, Dee Nash of Red Dirt Ramblings, and Mary Ann Newcomer of Gardens of the Wild Wild West. They invited others to join in. So I did.

The idea is to share our adventures of growing our own food, flowers, and herbs. So the focus of this post is on my one small patch of sun in this zone 5 Southern Wisconsin garden--my potager. Most definitions of potager refer to a small garden that combines both edible and ornamental plants.

That's how I've always done it. It's a great form of companion planting. The flowers attract the pollinators, which pollinate the edibles. The edibles add nutrients back to the soil, which boost the flower production. There are more intricacies, which I'll explain in a later post.

But first, let me show you the progress so far this season. Warning: These are unedited photos, straight out of the camera. The idea with this post is to show what I'm growing, and frankly, my potager isn't fancy. It's a working garden where I grow a few veggies for the family and flowers for church and home. You'll see that I still need to weed the grass out of the Drumstick Alliums, the garden is planted near the utility meter and the air conditioner (the only side of the house where I have sun!), and the window-well covers need to be replaced. The potager is surrounded by multiple layers of fencing to keep out the rabbits!

The potager in November 2013: Mulched in with Marsh Hay and ready for the
polar vortex?

To give you a true picture, I have to start back in November when I put the garden to bed for the winter. I've tried various methods, but I always go back to Marsh Hay. For me, it's the perfect mulch. It contains very few weed seeds (unlike Field Hay and Straw), it knits together and doesn't blow away in the wind, and it breaks down at a slow to moderate rate. In the meantime, it offers the perfect levels of protection and nutrients.

Also, the lasagna, or layered, method of prepping the soil yields incredible results. First, a layer of Marsh Hay, next compost, then newspaper, and finally a thick blanket of additional Marsh Hay. This cuts down on the weeds, and by the following spring the soil is soft, pliable, healthy, and ready for plants.

A different angle in November. Please don't mind the mess.

The potager in early June 2014. Again, not exactly lovely, with the utility meter and the
window wells, but I have to take advantage of any sun I can get.

A different angle.

So, what am I growing this season? Here are the perennial, annual, biennial, and vegetable potager plants, in no particular order. I added a (C) next to ornamentals I regularly use for cut flowers.

Various garden Marigolds (Tagetes patula).

Lupines (C) (Lupinus polyphyllus 'Russell').

Blazing Star (C) (Liatris spicata).

Mesclun Mix Lettuce, grown from seed in raised troughs and bordered by scallions.

Shrub Verbena (Lantana camara). The pollinators love it.

Hollyhocks (Alcea rosea 'Newport Pink Double'). Only $1.99 per plant, so I couldn't resist
adding these biennials again after they died off following the 2012 drought.

Coneflower (C) (Echinacea purpurea).

Delphinium spp. (C) (Looks like its twin on the other side will bounce back after the meter
guy crushed it!)

Spider Flower (C) (Cleome hassleriana). The white, fuzzy stuff on the leaves is Cottonwood
seeds. No worries; they'll wash off with rain.

Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa), which has made impressive progress since my
last post.

Snapdragons (C) (Antirrhinum majus 'Rocket Mix').

Stonecrop (C) (Sedum telphinum 'Autumn Joy').

Ornamental Sage (Salvia nemerosa). Pollinators love this one, too. Doesn't last long in a
vase, though. I guess my worries about it this winter were unfounded because it looks
better than ever.

Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta). Kind of a mess right now and hard to weed around,
but that will correct itself soon.

'Better Boy' Tomato. (My mouth is watering just thinking about the harvest.) 

Zinnias (C) (Z. elegans 'State Fair Mix'). Don't worry, they grow fast!

Whorled Milkweed (Asclepias verticillata), which I started from seed. (Not sure what
the mystery plant is in the lower right--maybe Pigweed; I should probably pull it. I
sprinkled Marigold seeds in the pot and added lava rocks to discourage chipmunks.)

Oh, and I thought I had photos of the Drumstick Alliums and the Cucumbers, but I guess I missed them. I'll share them next month ...

Head on over to the Dear Friend and Gardener page to learn more about edibles and flowers that other folks are growing!