Wednesday, May 25, 2011

pop goes the raingarden

the raingarden pops in late may
 So I mentioned the ostrich ferns unfurling in the raingarden last post (and had a record number of comments on fern cuisine- thank you commenters!)  Today I took a look at the raingarden and could find few if any edible fern fronds left.  They've unfurled with a vengeance over the last week.  Of all the spots in the yard, the raingarden is always the one that surprises me most.

It's the last place for the snow to melt- it's on the north side of our stucco garage, and the hollow helps shelter the snow from what little sun falls there.  We had snow there into the middle of April this year, and the plants showed it.  A few ferns popped up, some volunteer sapling sprung back, and the virginia creeper picked up where it left off last fall.   But mostly it looked dead or at least disappointingly dormant for way way too long into the season.

Then this week- we had storms- lots of storms and rain.  We had a tornado that hit the center of the Twin Cities and tear up several square miles of North Minneapolis the same day that the massive tornado struck Joplin, Missouri.

I was at our little rental property in Minneapolis when the storm, or at least the first wave of it, hit.  I had just picked up a Minnesota-hardy redbud that I had purchased at the Tree Trust sale, and was working at getting it into the ground before the rain started.  Some big fat drops fell, and I worked faster.  Then some massive thunder and I worked even faster.  I had just gotten the thing into the ground and dumped the mulch around the base and ran up onto the porch, then the rain really hit.  It poured down and I was glad that I had worked fast.  Hail followed not long after.

During a lull in the rain I headed back to St. Paul to take my daughter to a birthday party.  I could hear the sirens starting to sound in the distance as I dropped her off.  Nobody seemed worried though, so I didn't think that maybe we should have stayed home and camped out in the basement.

As it was, we were safe and St. Paul was never really in danger.  But we did get rain, and lots of it.  The rain barrel has been full all week and I can't draw it down fast enough to keep up.  The rain garden is the main beneficiary.  I put the rain garden in 5 years ago, with plastic piping taking runoff from our roof, and a french drain taking runoff from the low spot between our house and our neighbor's house.  Since the plants have grown up, it hasn't run over.  As a matter of fact, I barely ever have a chance to see it with water, even if I go out in the middle of a storm.

I went out in the middle of one of the storms this week to look and did see water flowing, so that was gratifying.  Even more gratifying is the lushness of the raingarden right now.  The azalea that I rescued, one of the few non-natives in the raingarden, is almost at its peak right now.  The trillium are peaking and the columbine are just starting to open.  The ligularia are showing off their foliage and the ferns are filling in the gaps like I hoped they would.

mitered outlet for the stormwater
azaleas and trillum going nuts

columbine and wood anemone w. equisetum  and wild geranium in the background
 One big surprise in the raingarden is the equisetum that I scavenged from a ravine that is continually being 'improved' to make the stormwater flow faster.  I think it's equisetum fluviale, but I'm not 100% sure.  It's an interesting one, without any horizontal structures at all.  It's sort of like a miniature, Minnesota hardy version of bamboo.  It's one of my favorite plants in the yard, and I have no idea where I'd find it if I hadn't gone out to save it from the bulldozers.

The rain is also causing the veggie garden to pop this week.  The fava beans are well on their way to providing us with tasty goodness by some time in late June.  Peas are not far behind.  Gita cooked up some pea greens for the second garden-made meal of the spring.  We had noticed that the Hmong vendors at the St. Paul farmers' market would sell them in early spring, so she tried adding them to a veggie curry, and they're pretty good.  Not fern frond good necessarily, but fresh and springy and tasting a little bit like peas.  Since we won't have actual peas for a few weeks still, it's nice to have a preview.

The new asparagus is shooting up as well.  I planted the crowns on May Day and was starting to wonder if they'd rotted in the ground.  I was watching, but not seeing anything.  Then yesterday, I saw what looked like a little 12 inch twig sticking out of the raised bed.  I looked closer and there were three of them.  And they were kinda purple looking.  It was the purple passion asparagus!   They're spindly little things at this point, and I suppose I'll have to wait two more years before being able to harvest anything, but time passes fast.

fava beans and peas taking over

the first asparagus shoots

and what is a midwestern farmhouse without lilacs?
 Of all the spring flowers, my favorite may be lilacs.  They're everywhere and there's nothing exotic about them.  Or even native for that matter- they're originally from Eastern Europe apparently.  But I grew up in a house surrounded by overgrown lilac shrubs-- trees really-- and a big apple tree in the backyard.  This time of year, the yard would be sweet with the scent of lilacs and apple blossoms.  I climbed the lilac trees with trunks 3 or 4 inches in diameter, and would go 15 or 20 feet up to gather lilacs for my mom, who loved them as well.  My mom has been gone for 20 years now, and I remember her when the lilacs bloom.

The house is gone too, and the lilac trees.  It was bulldozed a few years ago, and condos were built on the site.  So much has gone away since then, but lilacs persist.  I can always have lilacs in my yard and that will never change.


  1. Your garden looks very beautiful. Specially, rain garden looks awesome. I bet it look a long time to come to this point. After i saw price for organic vegetables i started to have a small vegetable garden too. It has fed our small family.

  2. Jeff, the rain garden's looking fantastic! I love how naturalistic it appears. I am vey enious of the azalea. Last year, I discovered mine doesn't thrive because it's bothered by some very tiny but voracious green catapillars. I tried to check on it this week, but got busy ad when I finally went out yesterday, much damage was done! I picked off about twenty or thirty of them, and have the aching back to prove it today.

    I too, love using pea shoots and usually get them at the farmer's market at least once a year.

    On our farm, we also had a huge crabapple tree and lilacs--and their scents are so evocative of the coming promise of summer....

    p.s. I find it nearly impossible to comment in this format--I tried just with my name, my google acct, wordpress (where I'd have to log in again--too much work!) and now am resorting to anonymous. So, this is Jodi.

  3. Hi Jodi,

    sorry- i have no idea what is eating your azaleas. I'm a beginner at growing them myself and hope that I don't end up with the same thing.

    As far as the comments go- logging in as anonymous is fine. I've been frustrated with the same thing on other blogs. I'm not sure how to fix it. Allowing anonymous posts is the best I can do for now.


  4. Thanks, Jeff, will just post unanimously! The caterpillars are sawfly larvae, and the best way to control them is to pick by hand. This is super hard, as they are small and pretty much the same color as the leaves. I've taken off 40-50 in the last few days. If your leaves are OK now, you shouldn't have a problem. Their season is short from what I've read. --Jodi