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Typically, it begins feeling like spring to me when the first geese appear on Lake Kahnke. However, I actually took this picture because I wasn't completely sure that they hadn't frozen there in place. This cool weather does not upset me, though. In my line of work, keeping track of what the weather does from year to year is part of the gig. I know that it isn't normal to have 70-degree days in March; at least not in Minnesota. I also know, that unseasonably warm days can be bad for the plants. Slow and steady really is preferable, while not quite as fun.
Just for kicks, while writing this, I decided to look back at what the weather was really like last March. It's amazing to me how deceptive our memories are. We had a few really warm days last year, but we're not really that far off schedule. I think the local meteorologists have lead us down a rather negative path and I'm about to take a detour.
As Bob Dylan so aptly put it, "A Change is Gonna Come." I actually just stepped out of my office to try to catch a photo of the birds I have been hearing sing their little beaks off as I sit here at my desk. Unfortunately, the sun has become draped in clouds and it is difficult to capture the cheeriness of blackbirds singing on a dreary day. You get the idea, though. While temps are expected to hover in the "ho, hum" range for the foreseeable future, the critters seem to think that warmer weather is inevitable and far be it for me to question their logic.
What I CAN say, is that it is beginning to feel very much like spring beneath the cover of our greenhouses! Check out what a difference a week makes in the pictures below. On the left, is the "before" picture...
Excessive mud has been making life plenty interesting while we move plants from our potting annex to the perennial greenhouse. Said mud forced me to make a temporary path out of flattened, plant boxes; so that morale wouldn't plummet to January levels during the moving process. Of course, my cardboard path was immediately rained on. This lured me into a false sense of security, regarding its mobility in the wind. Needless to say, Mother Nature was a bit of a blow hard today; disassembling and disbursing my path over quite the impressive radius. What could I do? I picked it up, weighed it down with bricks and washed the mud from my hands. At least it's not snow. I must remind myself of the foot plus that the weather terrorists predicted less than a week ago. Things could always be worse and I really do believe that this is spring. At least it smells like spring!
As I listen to people debate the root causes of school violence, I feel like we have become expert finger pointers and lousy idea generators. Whatever causes contribute to these crises, there are positive things that we all can do to try and improve the mental health of our children. I strongly believe that creating little sanctuaries within and outside of our schools can help. Now, I have no children, but I was once one. Because I grew up in the middle of nowhere, interacting with peers on a daily basis at school was a real adjustment for me. Trying to process my feelings after various, failed interactions was extremely stressful. Most of the time, long walks with my dogs helped me get my head right. Everyone needs a place to escape to now and then. Why not create beautiful spots at our schools, where children can find themselves and the peace that lies within them?
As I contemplate which trees are the right trees for a playground setting, I keep looking backwards with my mind's eye. The trees I loved as a kid are widely viewed as "junk trees" now. Willows, Boxelders and Cottonwoods would all have made my crayon scrawled list of favorites. Why? Because they were climbable! They supported swings and tree houses. Their low branches were prime real estate for rookie tree climbers with short legs. Oaks would have also made the cut. Acorns make such wonderful pawns in childhood games. Certainly, they can be weaponized as well; but taunting assailants must have excellent aim in order to use them effectively. Even as an adult, I have been known to engage in a campground game of "Stick-Nut" with my husband. Sure, we could just bring a proper bat and ball, but that wouldn't be as fun. Crabapples (with fruit) would also have been on my kid list. What other ingredient could possibly fill their void in a tasty pot of mud soup? I'm no psychologist, but I firmly believe that a healthy imagination is critical to mental health; especially for children.
My dream playground includes several, "upside down" crabapples. Personally, I think weeping trees are beautiful. However, it seems like many folks have a hard time visualizing them on their properties. Younger eyes might be able to see pink waterfalls or Barbie hair or cotton candy. One or two willows will have to be included. What kid doesn't want to feel like Tarzan for a few moments out of the day? Pendulous branches make perfect camouflage during games of Hide-and-Seek. They also serve admirably as temporary "hair-dos" and "beards". An Oak or two must also be utilized. Their longevity and strength can transcend generations. Trees should be legendary and Oaks have that potential. A few, American Elms would also be nice. Long gone are the times when our streets were encompassed by the arching canopies of elms on either side. Now that Dutch Elm Disease resistant trees exist, we need to show future generations the amazing ambiance they can create.
While I am just scratching the surface with these ideas, I know that trees made a difference for me. They were objective listeners to my silent, childhood plights. Their branches embraced me whenever I dwelt beneath them. As I learned to "pump" my swing to new altitudes, I was rocked into a hypnotic state. No Earthly cares could invade my brain. Sharing my peace with future generations through trees is a dream come true. I can hardly wait to get started!
Now, why would I pick on such a beautiful and adaptable plant? Autumn Blaze Maples are probably our second best sellers. We don't really have to try to sell them. People just ask for them by name and we hook them up. Their name is probably the best example of good branding in the nursery industry. When people hear the name, they see the color. Being seedless, fast-growing and adaptable hasn't harmed their reputation either. In fact, it's hard to think of a better maple for heavy, clay soils. The only reason that people in our industry are concerned about Autumn Blaze Maples, is because Ashes and Elms used to be just as popular and prevalent. Durable, tolerant trees are being set up to fail in the landscape because there are just to darned many of them!
Let's say you really like lettuce and you plant a whole garden FULL of tasty greens. You're super excited and you begin day dreaming about all of the delicious and healthy salads you're going to make before germination even begins! What you didn't notice, is the momma rabbit living under your deck, who produced her own bumper crop at around the same time. Boy was she happy when she saw the lovely buffet you planted for her and her family! When they are finished, you will be forced to buy over-priced clam shells of limp greens at the grocery store.
How about this for a solution? The tree to the left is a Kentucky Coffeetree. There are several, seedless versions of it that have hit the market, under clever names like 'Espresso' and 'Decaf'. As you can see, these trees turn lovely shades of gold in the fall. Coffeetrees are really QUITE unusual. They produce bipinnately compound leaves that can reach up to several feet in length! Once the leaves drop, they reveal skeleton-like frames of deeply furrowed branches. With time, these woody, sub-structures become really impressive. After the compound leaves fall, their individual leaflets practically disintegrate, leaving behind just a central rib. Another cool thing about the Coffees, is their leguminous DNA. Legumes are generally able to absorb and store nitrogen in a way that other plants can't, which allows them to thrive in poor soils. At our nursery, we tend to plant them in high pH areas where other trees refuse to grow. While it can take some time for Coffeetrees to become grand specimens, they really grow at a pretty good rate. Perfect for shading decks and patios, their feathery foliage allows some sunlight through; so you can still enjoy the sun without being cooked by it. The only disappointing thing I can think of to tell you about them is that they don't produce coffee beans. Early settlers tried to make a palatable coffee substitute from their seeds and it didn't work out well enough to withstand the test of time. Coffeetrees are just one example of worthy trees that are not being over-planted. Hackberries, DED resistant Elms, Oaks and Honeylocusts are some other, great examples.
What I am getting at in my typical, round-about fashion; is that arborvitaes have a distinct purpose in the landscape. They tolerate shade quite amicably until it becomes completely suffocating. They can provide a soothing barrier of green between feuding neighbors (or neighbors that just don't want to look at each other or each other's hordes) and block out unpleasant sounds with their dense foliage. They tolerate damp soils much better than many of their cohorts. They do all of these things without devouring your yard or your home if they are just given the room they need to thrive.
Last week, I had to report for jury duty. Not knowing what to expect, I brought a bag full of books to read. I did not succeed in reading one sentence, however; because the lady sitting next to me was a lot of fun to talk to! After learning about my tree related occupation, she began professing her love of willows. Her fond memories of giggling children hiding among weeping branches brought a sparkle to her eyes. At a former residence, she had planted three weeping willows in the front yard. She was so taken with their beauty and grace that she dubbed her home, "Three Willows". Her story is very familiar to me, because I think I can honestly say that EVERYONE who has come to the farm looking for willow trees shares the same reverence for them.
Quaking aspens seem to have a similar effect on people. The sound their leaves make when they rustle in the wind really resonates. I remember calling them "cinnamon trees" when I was a kid, because I thought they shared a similar aroma. When I walked past a particular stand, I would always pause and listen and sniff. Sometimes I wouldn't find the smell I was searching for and other times, I would just stand there and take it in. Nowadays, I still notice that sweet fragrance whenever I am hiking in the woods. A whiff of perfume and a whisper of wind take me to a peaceful place of memories. I'm not the only one.
Stately elms and oaks linger in our minds' eyes too. The presence that such trees have is hard to put into words. What they must have "seen" during their years, just standing in one place, is food for thought. How many birds and squirrels must they have accommodated? How many people passed beneath their arching canopies on their trips to and from countless destinations? When you really think about it, trees are much more like family members or peaceful neighbors than yard decorations. We want them around us and we're willing to do extensive work to make it so. If we allow them to be, they are fully interactive.
I attended a short seminar at Northern Green this year called, "Speak Up For Trees". Our speaker is a very neat lady, who has been working in horticulture for many years. Her Lorax themed talk provided ideas for engaging people in community tree planting projects. She rattled off typical tree planting incentives, such reducing energy costs and improving air quality. More intriguing to me, were the statistics she shared on how trees reduce crime, speed healing and even increase the birth weights of babies. There is actually a National Tree Benefits Calculator that can help you put a monetary value on your trees if you are so inclined. While all of these (and oodles more which I neglected to mention) are wonderful reasons to plant trees, I can't get past the fact that we plant trees because it is inherent for us to do so. Throughout the course of our existence as humans, we have learned that there are plenty of perfectly good, intangible reasons for having trees around. Thank goodness that's the case. Trees make memories; plain and simple.
I have more important things to worry about! My husband and friends and I are supposed to play "ice golf" this weekend on a not-so-frozen lake. There's plenty of ice out there, it's just really, really wet. That should make for even sloppier golf than we normally play. So you see, I am a life-long Minnesotan and I can still figure out a way to complain about 50 and 60 degree weather in February!
As I write this, I can't help thinking about Minnesotan tendencies and how our environment shapes our behavior. Last year, the local news did a little bit on "Minnesota Nice" and how that phrase might not be entirely accurate. In fact, I just Googled something to that effect in search of the story I'm referring to, and found a hilarious website called www.meannesota.com. The author has clearly had some very bad experiences here. I was feeling kind of ashamed after scanning through his page, which actually bears the title, "Help Me ESCAPE from Meannosota." Thank goodness, the next search engine result had a more uplifting take. The kind individual known to me only as sorenson.blogspot.com, explains that you can find "Minnesota Nice" "Up North". I can only assume that this good soul is a true Minnesotan.
I'm going to blame the weather for any coldness I might exude, because I'm a good Minnesotan and that's what I do. Notice I automatically chose the adjective, "good," in lieu of a more illustrious one. That pretty much sums up Minnesotan-ism right there. Why be frilly about it? I am reminded of the Marilla Cuthbert character from Anne of Green Gables. Could it be that all of our mental preparations for meteorological disappointment result in us being a bit guarded? Are we so used to thaws in February and freezes in May that we are in a constant state of waiting for the other shoe to drop? I'm going to go with...probably. However, despite the image we might portray, we are a hardy bunch. Just like the other forms of life who reside here, we can take just about anything that comes our way. Will we be shoveling snow again in a few weeks? There's a pretty good chance. Will that break our spirits? No chance. Will folks from other states who aren't used to our minimal usage of unnecessary gestures such as eye contact and tooth flaunting identify us as strong spirited optimists? The verdict is still out...
First of all, our arborist goes out into the field and flags the trees to be spaded with different colors of plastic ribbon. He knows what sizes they are, because we mark them when we inventory them. Evergreens get a color-coded zip tie and deciduous trees receive a colored mark on their trunks. After all of the trees are flagged, the guys head out into the field. They use whichever spade corresponds best to the size of the trees they're digging at the time and place each tree in a burlap-lined wire basket.
In the greenhouse, however, things are going splendidly! While it looks a bit empty at the moment, more plants should be arriving today and next week. Folks in other areas are dealing with weather related ramifications too, so some of our plants were back ordered. When you consider that we began planting bare-root shrubs on March 15th, I would say that we are making good progress. Our Alpine Currants are already loaded with tiny leaves and our Standing Ovation Serviceberries are blooming!
My name is Connie Kratzke. I have worked with Kahnke Brothers for 16 years. During this period, I have done everything from watering the plants to designing our website. My role at the nursery involves selling stock, managing inventory, marketing plants and overseeing the production of shrubs and perennials. Sometimes I sit at a desk and other times I can be found in a Bobcat. During my career here, I have become a MNLA Certified Professional. I am also an at large member of the Minnesota Grown Promotion Group/Minnesota Grown Advisory Committee. Currently, I serve as City Arborist for Silver Lake, Minnesota, and a member of their planning commission. My focus is on helping our clients succeed with their landscaping efforts. Education is a huge factor influencing that success. Keeping it real is my strategy. Through sharing my experiences at the nursery and at home, I hope to debunk myths and eliminate concerns. At the same time, I want people to be aware of what doesn't work. Living things are somewhat unpredictable, but they all have basic needs. Understanding how to fill those needs while simultaneously achieving landscape goals is a process that I want to share with as many people as possible, because I truly enjoy it.