Note: this is a garden post; Tolkien and Frodo are not discussed. Also, there are lots of pictures. My apologies to readers with dial-up.
One of my old Tolkien messageboard friends, maewyn, has for years been beautifying her LJ with splendid illustrated accounts of what grows in her garden. From time to time I’ve said, "I ought to do a garden post, too". But I never have. Because, for the first time, I bothered to take photos of the gardens as they unfolded this year, I have the images necessary to make a post. My husband provided a lot of these pictures, too.
So, for you garden fans, here’s a report of what grows in my garden up here in chilly northeastern Minnesota.
~*~First of all, this is a cold place. My little city, Duluth, is ranked as the coldest city in the United States. There are towns north of here (and in inland Alaska) where the temperature sinks further down, but because our summers are usually coolish (because of being next to cold, clear Lake Superior, one of the Great Lakes, and larger than Denmark), our city's *average* temperature is lowest.
Our cold is cold enough, however. For people familiar with U.S. hardiness zones, which are based on the lowest temperature of the year, Duluth is in the warmer end of zone 4. With my own eyes I have looked at the thermometer on the side of the house, early on a winter morning, and seen it read -28 F (-33 Celsius).
In Western Europe, the only countries that even have a zone 4 are Sweden, Norway and Finland, and that’s only away from the sea. Stockholm and Oslo are in zone 6, like New York City. In the United Kingdom, although it is so much farther north, the Gulf Stream makes the winter weather much milder. London is in zone 8.
But this zone thing can be misleading. The hardiness zones are only based on winter low temperatures, not average temperatures. Raleigh, North Carolina is zone 8, a city with mild winters, yes, but hot, humid summers. Seattle, Washington is also in zone 8. It has mild winters, but comparatively cool summers. Duluth, though, is zone 4 all the way. Cool summers and icy winters.
Here’s some of the icy winter. Here is our daughter making a fort in the snow piles by the driveway, at the end of January in 2005:
Winter can be lovely when it's snowy and bright, but it's often snowy and grey, for weeks on end. It just lasts so long.
To picture this area, if you are from Europe, picture Finland—away from its coast, which is warmer—and you’ve got the idea. There is even a town called “Finland” not far away. A lot of Finns emigrated here in the 19th century, and why not? It must have felt just like home with our big, cold lake like an inland sea, the sub-arctic forest and the thousands of smaller lakes.
The challenge here is finding plants that are hardy to zone 4. Duluth gardeners can’t help sighing looking through the seed catalogues, pining for the trees and plants that fill the pages that they can’t have. All of the perennials I grow can be found in warmer climates, but a lot of the species I’d love to grow, plants I know from other places I’ve lived and from books, simply can’t survive.
The other challenge is the presence of plant predators. The birds and chipmunks and squirrels are not bad, and the occasional racoon or fox or skunk doesn’t bother the plants. But we have had an explosion of rabbits in the past few years, which are very cute but do a lot of damage.
One of the culprits, pretending she isn't there while I take her picture in the front garden. It was mid-May:
What the hoards of rabbits can’t reach, the gangs of marauding deer snag. There are bigger deer gangs every year. They are beautiful creatures, but very naughty to the plants. They killed the neighbour’s young apple tree over the winter, girdling the bark all the way around, and they nearly killed several lovely big shrubs in our yard doing the same thing (girdling). When they browse only the branch ends, the trees and bushes can recover. This year they’ve been worse than ever, bolder and more numerous. I've got used to them eating off all the hosta flowers before they bloom every summer, but this year they've been cropping off the leaves as well. Usually big plump mounds, many of the hostas look as though they've been given ragged crew-cuts.
The handsome courting couple strolled through our neighbourhood a few years ago in November. We rarely see a buck, just does and their fauns, but this was a lovely heart-throb of a male.
The pretty doe was very coy, repeatedly laying down in the grass then getting up and sauntering away when he got close. By the time my husband had his camera, they had crossed the street to the next alley, and it was the buck that was playing hard to get, and she was following him:
But pretty as they are, they are so bad! I haven’t been able to see my Asiatic lilies make it to bloom for years; they eat the buds off before they open. This year I did find one that made it. It bloomed in July. Elated, I took its picture. Which was a good thing: it became a deer snack during the night.
Here was my one and only lily, for a day:
Besides the rabbits and deer, there are bears. Luckily, the bears don’t eat the flowers, but they break down the bird feeders (they’ve ripped ours down three times) and strip off the apples that the deer don’t get first.
The first summer we lived here a full-grown black bear surprised us as we worked in the yard one day. He paid no attention to us. He was just passing, sauntering through the backyards. I ran inside, frightened. My husband ran inside, too, but to get a camera. He wasn’t fast enough. The bear had wandered out of range by the time he’d found it. We soon learned to keep the camera at the ready.
Bear [ha ha!] in mind, we live in town, not in the country. They must come in via the green spaces along the creeks that run down the hillside to the lake, and along the mostly unused railroad tracks nearby that goes in and out along the lake shore.
My husband photographed a different bear four years later. He saw it going down the street, in the middle of the day in July, and followed it to take its picture. Here is Mr. Bear nosing around in front of a house a few blocks away, close to the nearest creek:
When we moved here in 1999, there were some full grown birch trees left from what used to be a grove all over the neighbourhood, but the yard wasn’t much, and the house needed a new paint job. The previous owner had, however, established a nice perennial garden just below the front window. Through divisions, I was able to fill the expanded gardens mostly with her plantings, and I am grateful for it. I purchased a lot of now perennials the first few years, but most of them didn’t thrive and many died. The plants that came with the house are the ones that have done best. I guess the woman who gardened before me really knew her microclimate, even if her gardens were limited.
We’ve planted new bushes and trees, too, since all the old birches but one (that were here when we moved in) have had to be taken down. Someday, after we’re long gone, the new trees will be mature and quite lovely.
Here is how our house looked in April 1999, when we bought it:
This is how it looks now.
Early on, since we needed to fix the driveway, the garage's floor and its exterior wall, and also had to replace the sewer line from the house to the street, we put in a new driveway with retaining walls, plus new sidewalks for the front and side of the house. While we were at it, we planted new bushes and made additional gardens next the new driveway above the retaining wall, as well as a new garden on the NE side of the house. The garden under the front window was expanded.
The images below show the gardens along the retaining walls. They are lovely to look at from inside the house.
Below is the little garden on the shady NE side of the house, in early August:
In 2002, the city replaced our street. To smooth down a hill on the next block, they did some blasting to get out the underlying rock. Our neighbourhood, which is a few blocks from the lake, has clay soil spread thinly over the glacier-scored rock beneath it, the underlying rock ledges formed by cooling lava flows ages and ages ago. Along the lake shore, these rock ledges are exposed and great fun to climb on. But all the rock means that digging a hole to plant is often a challenge. Down by the lake, a good garden means having soil dumped out front. It’s a lot of work, carting soil in a barrow up to the gardens, but it’s worth it.
One of the rocks unearthed by the blasting was especially big and beautiful. It sat for days in the middle of the dug-up intersection. What were they going to do with it, I asked the foreman. Give it to a guy up the street, he said. It would cost more to drill it apart and haul it away, but since the guy said he’d like it, they’d roll it up to his house and put it in his front yard. What?, I exclaimed, sighing. Had I known they were going to give rocks away, I would have asked for one, that one—so big and beautiful.
Two days later the foreman knocked on my door. Did I still want that big rock? Yes, please! They’d decided, it turned out, that it would be too difficult to roll the big rock up to the man’s house, which was up the little hill. It would be much easier to roll it down to mine. They’d give him some smaller boulders that were already up there, instead. I was ecstatic.
So, with an excavator they rolled it down to our house, and, with it and a big bulldozer, they pushed and shimmied and shifted the thing up onto our yard, between the buried utility lines and behind the new water line. Furthermore, they got it positioned facing the most aesthetic way, with the top side up. The top bears the long claw-like marks from the glacier that once moved over it. What artists they were, with their earth-moving equipment!
Here are the workers rolling the rock down the excavated street:
Here they are beginning to position it. That was on July 19, 2002, a red letter day for people who love big rocks.
Here’s our daughter with her friends standing on it, once it was in place. They called it “Pride Rock” (from The Lion King) and loved to play on it.
The rock looked a little bare sitting there at first. One of my neighbours asked me why in the world I wanted that rock in my yard. Since I thought it was wonderful, I was shocked by his remark. But I guess it did look rather like it fallen from space. I put in a garden in front of it, and planted bushes I thought make it look like it had always been there. A few years later, the same neighbour said he had really come to like it.
Here's “Pride Rock” in August. It shows how it looks now, after the flowers and bushes have filled in around it.
This is what was in bloom in late June:
Below are shots of the expanded flower bed under the front window, showing it in four different months of the year.
Covered with fresh snow at the beginning of April:
Here are photos of the new upper garden along the driveway retaining wall.
Two from early August:
To conclude, here are some close-ups of our hardy cultivars, just because they’re so pretty.
Pink hardy Azalea (bred for northern winters), in mid-June:
Cream Achillea and red Monarda in late July:
Perovskia and yellow Achillea, in late July:
Campanula, in late July:
Echinacea and 'Shasta' Leucanthemum, in early August:
Liatris, Perovskia and yellow Achillea, in early August:
Detail of Liatris, in early August:
Hemerocallis fulva, in early August:
So, that’s it, my one and only garden post. I hope you garden fans out there enjoyed it!
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