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Flowers & Crops

Hardy Magnolias for Northern Gardens


“Leonard Messel” hardy magnolia in bloom. Magnolia trees conjure up images of genteel southern plantations and live oak draped with Spanish moss. Many northern gardeners aren’t aware of the several hardy varieties of magnolia that will grow and thrive as far north as USDA Zone 4. I wasn’t aware of this until I saw a potted magnolia seedling (pictured at …

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Lilac Bushes Perfume the Air in Northern Cities

Lilac Bushes

The lilacs are blooming. All over the city their sweet fragrance permeates the air. Everywhere you look their delicate lilac-colored flowers light up individual lawn specimens or hedgerows of this hardy bush. The brief, two-week period that lilacs bloom every spring almost makes up for freezing winter weather. Almost. Lilacs are classified as Syringa vulgaris and are reliably hardy in …

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Lily of the Valley: Groundcover for Shade

wild lily

Lily of the valley is one of the many sweet-scented, spring-blooming flowers. Its Latin name, convallaria majalis, is derived from the Latin convallis, “valley” and majalis, “May-flowering.” It’s the official birth flower for the month of May. I happened upon a patch of the less common pink ones (convallaria majalis Rosea) and stopped to take their picture. The gardener saw …

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Morel Season is Finally Here

morel mushroom

Morels are the elusive wild mushroom that appears in spring in woodlands from Maine, south to the northern areas of the deep south, west to northern Texas and Oklahoma, and north to Minnesota with a few outposts in the Dakotas. If you’ve never tasted a morel, it’s hard to understand the earnest obsession morel hunters have with finding these wild …

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Spring Flowering Bridal Wreath Bush

Bridal Wreath

Bridal wreath bush, or spirea, is a spring flowering shrub that has been planted in cities all over the world. They grow well in almost any soil and once established, tolerate drought and neglect. Their delicate white flowers on graceful branches bloom dependably every spring. Plant spring blooming bridal wreath in partial shade. Prune lightly right after the flowers fade. …

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Rhubarb Is Old Fashioned Spring Favorite


For most of recorded history, rhubarb was only used medicinally. Native to China, it is thought that Marco Polo brought rhubarb back from his travels there. Rheum rhabarbarum wasn’t used as a food source until the late 1700’s. Its first recorded mention is as a pie plant. Rhubarb was planted extensively by pioneers in the United States and descendants of …

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Snow Peas are Ancient Spring Vegetable

snow peas

One of my earliest memories is of picking fresh peas out in the garden, then removing them from the pod and eating them raw. Those were the traditional English Garden peas that my mother grew. I’ve never grown English peas; I choose to use the space to grow Oriental Snow Peas or Sugar Snap Peas. This past winter while organizing …

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Vinca Minor Brightens Up Shady Spots

Vinca Minor

Vinca minor is one of the rare plants whose Latin name is used as its common name. Also called creeping Myrtle or periwinkle, vinca is an evergreen perennial ground cover. It blooms in spring with charming purple flowers that cover the plant. Vinca is native to northern and central Europe and is hardy in USDA Zones 3 to 9. In …

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Abandoned Rose Keeps Growing

rose garden

Roses, well known to need copious amounts of water and attentive care, are growing in an abandoned, fenced parking lot. What’s amazing to me is that we just had the third driest spring in our area since weather record keeping began over a hundred years ago. Last fall a fast food restaurant in the neighborhood mysteriously closed in the middle …

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Black Eyed Susans Are Low Maintenance Perennial

Black Eyed Susans

Black eyed Susans are an American wildflower that is native to the western prairies. They are one of the first plants to start growing on land that has been cleared. Rudbeckia hirta is the Latin name for them, although they are often confused with other varieties. One thing that makes them different from most other wild flowers is that they …

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