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Home & Garden: Spring garden seminars provide nice winter break

The author's rose garden is pictured which includes 'William Baffin', 'Alexander McKenzie', 'John Davis', 'Carefree Beauty' and other hardy roses.

I had the opportunity to meet my favorite garden author at the Green Thumb Gardeners Expo recently. I have had Melinda Myers' 'Month by Month Gardening in Minnesota' for a few years and more recently her 'Gardening in the Dakotas'. They are both filled with gardening information appropriate for our northern conditions. Melinda gave an animated discussion of small space gardening and that is the topic of her newest book.

Melinda claims to have a 'Botanical Zoo' in her own small space garden. She is happy with her collection of many types of plants, but admits that it is harder to maintain than gardens with a limited number of varieties. In a small space, it is probably easier to plant groups of one variety and keep the total number of varieties minimal. However, most of us can't resist buying everything that catches our eye each spring and end up with a hodgepodge of plants. Melinda plants them in mini vignettes that look good all season. She suggested 'Willow Amsonia' with 'Tiger Eye' sumac and Alliums. Think of combinations that you would plant in a container for in-ground vignettes.

Another seminar that I attended was presented by Randy Nelson who is an extension educator with the University of Minnesota Clay county. He spoke about the Northern Earth-Kind trial gardens near the Centennial dog park in Moorhead. Twenty-six rose varieties that are grown on their own roots are being tested there. A total of 104 roses were planted in 2008 and will be evaluated until 2013. The rose varieties are being tested for winter hardiness, recurrent bloom and their resistance to black spot. Black spot is the most serious disease of outdoor roses, affecting both the leaves and the canes.

No fertilizer, fungicide or insecticide is being used and there is no winter cover other than snow. The roses are spaced six feet apart in beds that are covered with a three to four inch layer of mulch. There is no support system such as a trellis. The roses have not been watered after the first year of establishment. Each year data is collected about the cane survival, the height and width, the number of flowers and their size and the amount of black spot. They also note fall color and rose hip production. Our lack of snow this year should give the roses a real test.

Most of the roses are Canadian or Minnesota bred and they all grow on their own roots. If the cane dies back completely new canes will grow from the root and it will be the same rose. Hybrid tea roses are grafted to a wild root and when they die back to the ground anything that grows from the root is worthless.

'Alexander McKenzie', 'Frontenac', ''George Vancouver', 'John Cabot', 'John Davis', 'Quadra' and 'William Baffin' are all from the Canadian 'Explorer' series and all had good cane survival. They were all quite resistant to black spot. "Carefree Beauty' is a Buck (Iowa bred) rose that has good cane survival and little black spot. 'Morden Blush' is a Parkland series rose with light pink flowers and has done well in the trial, but 'Morden Centennial' is very affected by black spot. 'Ole', 'Lena', and 'Sven' are Northern Accent polyantha roses that are covered with 1 ¼ to 1 ½-inch flowers in mid to late June. Their cane survival is not good, but there is an abundance of new growth from the roots each year.

These roses are considered shrub roses, which is a kind of catch all term. Their sizes vary from 1 ½ feet to over ten feet tall. Some of the roses such as 'John Cabot', 'Brite Eyes', 'John Davis', 'Ramblin Rose' and 'William Baffin' are considered climbers and can be quite vigorous. I hope that you will give some of these hardy roses a spot in your garden.

If you are interested in attending a garden seminar there are more yet to come. The East Otter Tail County Horticulture Day is Saturday, March 17 and the West Otter Tail County Garden Day is on Saturday, March 31. The Grand Forks Gardening Saturday will be April 14. They are a great way get rid of the winter blues and have some fun.