Archive | February 2016

Creating the Tropics at Home

Master Gardener Tom Brinkman

Master Gardener Tom Brinkman

We’re always so thrilled when our members are spotlighted for their achievements or creativity. Recently, our resident house plant expert, Tom Brinkman, and his wife Sue were spotlighted by the Post-Crescent newspaper in an article that invites us to enjoy the tropics. This is especially inviting given the fact that we’re in Wisconsin — in February — where it snows a lot. Tom and Sue not only have a beautiful outdoor garden in the summer, they also have a huge greenhouse where hundreds of plants enjoy tropical weather even in our cold winter climate. As one of the instructors of our annual Master Gardener classes, students love the week where they get to visit Tom’s home and learn about the care of his amazing array of plants (including an astonishing number of bromeliads).

To read about Tom’s garden, follow the link to the article in the Post-Crescent, which was written by another of our members — David Calle.


Plant in Spring for Fall Beauty

Beyond the Blooms by Jess Wickland

Sugar Maple

Sugar Maple

When you think of landscaping or putting together a small flower garden, many people don’t think past the flower colors and bloom times. However, there are many different aspects that plants provide that will increase interest in the garden, whether it’s seedheads, or different leaf textures, or (my favorite) fall berries and fall color. When the green foliage bursts forth in spring and gives life to the boring winter landscape, I often breathe a sigh of relief. And while flowers do provide plenty of color in the landscape and often leave me giddy with excitement over their blooms, nothing can compare to the breathtaking yellow, orange and red hues of a sugar maple tree in the fall.

Speaking of blooms, there are two shrubs that wait to hold their flowers until almost everything else has gone dormant for the season: witchhazel and seven-son flower. Witchhazel is a native shrub that grows quite large- almost 15 feet tall- and waits until October to send out its spider- like yellow blossoms. Many times, the blooms occur as the shrub’s foliage has changed to the bright yellow color, or has dropped off already. Seven-son’s fragrant flowers blooms white in late September or early October, but perhaps the best show isn’t the blooms- it’s the pale red calyces that appear after the flowers have dropped off. This is also a fairly large shrub, growing to 15 feet tall and wide as well, and grows best in part shade conditions.

Winterholly berry

Winterholly berry

Many shrubs get berries as well, clinging to the branches and giving the landscape splashes of color throughout the fall and winter seasons. I always enjoy watching the hawthorn berries develop and change color in late summer. The red berries aren’t often eaten by birds in summer (they’re too busy devouring the serviceberries), and persist into the winter. After a fresh snowfall, I enjoy photographing the vibrant red berries blanketed by the glittering snow. An added bonus: hawthorn trees have a variable fall color, ranging from orange to red to maroon. Another fantastic red berry is found on Ilex shrubs: holly and winterberry. While holly are a little more finicky about growing conditions (though it can be done!), winterberry are tough shrubs that wait until the rest of the landscape is dormant for their moment to shine. In fall, clusters of bright red berries cling to the upright branches. They are offset by the yellow fall color of the shrub. Both holly and winterberry look like a picture off of a Christmas card after a new snowfall.

Chasing fall color throughout the state used to be my grandparents’ favorite thing to do in October, and I think I inherited that gene from them as well. I can’t believe the different shades of red, orange and yellow that erupt as the daylight hours get shorter. I can’t wait to go outside to see what I might capture on my camera’s memory card. Perennials aren’t just for flowers anymore, either. Gillenia trifoliata, a native perennial commonly known as Indian Physic, isn’t very showy throughout the summer. The green foliage set underneath the star- shaped white flowers may cause a passerby to glance at it a second time. In autumn, however, the foliage changes to a pale orange that gives the plant a whole new look. Mukdenia rosii also changes from emerald green to dark red and even maroon, rivaling its cousin, Heuchera, in color wars.



My favorite shrub for fall color is Fothergilla. While the fragrant white spikes of flowers and robust foliage (tinged just a hint in blue-green) are attractive, I haven’t met someone yet who didn’t fall in love with it in the fall. The foliage is much the same as a sugar maple, keeping us guessing as it changes from yellow to orange to red. It’s like watching a 4th of July fireworks show- many people “ooh” and “ahh” at the beauty cast by this wee shrub (the dwarf species only reaches 3 feet tall and wide). As you may have guessed by how much I’ve brought it up, my favorite tree for fall color is the sugar maple. Serviceberry isn’t far behind because although the berries are long since picked off by hungry robins and cedar waxwings, the fall color still rivals the maple in terms of orange and yellow coloring. An interesting plant for fall color is the larch, or tamarack. It’s a deciduous evergreen, meaning it has needles, but sheds them each year. The golden yellow needles in fall are gorgeous, especially near the end of the day when the sunlight hits them just right.

I hope I’ve inspired you to think beyond the blooms, and try to plant a few trees, shrubs or even perennials for fall color or berries in your landscape.


this article originally appeared in the Winter 2010 edition of the Outagamie County Master Gardeners Association newsletter

by Gail Clearwater

They say winter is the time of year that gardeners dream — dream of putting in new beds, dream of trying new or unusual plants, dream of what their gardens will (or want them to) look like next year. I have to say, I disagree, winter is not my time for dreaming. Spring on the other hand is my most active state of gardening rem.

This past spring, my husband and I were out in the yard talking to our neighbor. She turned to my husband and said “I can always tell when changes are coming in your yard”. We both looked at her questioning what she was referring to. She went on to say “Really, it’s so simple, Gail comes out in the yard and just stands in one spot. She might work in the yard for a bit but then I’ll see her just standing there. She may turn and look in different directions but her feet rarely move. I just know the wheels in her head are turning and pretty soon we’ll start noticing the changes”. You know, she is so right – this is exactly what I do! I stand in one spot and I think … and I plan … and I dream of what is to come. Thank God she doesn’t see in my house! My husband and kids are always asking me what I’m doing or looking at – I’m usually standing by my patio window looking into the back yard or leaning over the back of the sofa gazing into the front yard when they ask. If only she knew! These are definitely my times for dreaming.

Every morning as I’m getting ready for my day ahead I open my bathroom shade and look out the window. For years my view was the neighbor’s pine trees and the green grass in my own yard. Green is good, but I wanted more. Thus the start of a new dream – a new garden bed with color, texture, and more interest than the grass and pines had to offer. I started out by adding beds right along the house and behind the garage like most people do, but it just wasn’t enough – I dreamed of more – more color, more texture, and more interest as I gazed out the window. More, more, more, or, as my husband says “less, less, less – we have less yard every year” – of course I correct him and say we have the same amount of yard – just less grass!

Eventually, the view outside my bathroom window was taken up by garden. Has this stopped me from dreaming as I look out my bathroom window? Absolutely NOT! You see, I view gardening as more than just plants – the first year that I took up the remainder of the grass I added in a little patio of sorts. The first couple of years I had a teepee with vines growing up. This year, I turned it into a makeshift “office”. A friend of mine had given me an old typewriter that she thought I could use in my garden. I picked up an old typewriter stand, added a couple of chairs, later came a book case, etc. and it quickly became the most talked about spot in my yard. It was even featured in a blog! Gardening is definitely more than just plants!

Recently, I caught one of my visiting sisters standing by my patio door just looking outside into my back yard. When I asked what she was doing she said “just looking – looking to see where the new lamp we bought is going to go in the yard”. As she is a gardener, I know she does this at her house too – stands and just looks out into the yard – and thinks …and plans … and dreams …

Winter is almost upon us and it’s time for the dreaming to start – well that is if you are one of those winter dreamers. Whether you dream in winter or any other time of the year – I hope you dream in color …and texture … and …