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An Insider’s Look at Michigan Gardening & Cornman Farms

By Laura Giles

The holidays are now fully behind us and we’re settling into those long, cold months of a Michigan winter. I peer out at the seemingly sleepy frozen gardens and am amazed that they are still working away growing our winter spinach and carrots. Knowing this motivates us to begin planning for the upcoming season and gives us time to reflect on the successes and failures from seasons past.

As a Master Gardener, working at Cornman Farms allows me to engage in the planning, growth and evolution of the vast production gardens that service our kitchen and our guests. While I would love to be able to replicate this selection and variety in my own garden, I ultimately face space and time limitations when it comes to gardening at home. Therefore, I like to think of my garden as an edited version of the farm that continually provides my family with fresh vegetables, herbs and a beautiful landscape during the summer season.

For my first post, I am excited to share with you both personal and professional obstacles and success stories as I reflect on 2016.

Gardening at Cornman Farms

Delphiniums, Columbines, The Mary Rose Shrub

2016 Successes in my Michigan Garden

Whether you are planning a small garden at home or a larger production garden I suggest curating an array of unique plants to promote biodiversity. The farm boasts many unique and beautiful plants with a mixture of annuals, perennials and herbs all growing alongside each other. These varieties eventually become the ingredients for our seasonal menus or design of our centerpieces for our brides and groom . To learn more about biodiversity and read a clear and concise explanation of how to introduce this aspect into your own garden, visit the Missouri Botanical Gardens website.

Columbines and Self-Seeders
For me, self-seeding is a fun and exciting aspect of gardening. It is the flowers I don’t plan for that are always a pleasant surprise. This summer, I was surprised by beautiful pink Columbines with a crimson red throat that popped up sporadically throughout my garden. I believe these came from a seed packet I ordered many years ago through of ‘Winky Mix’ Columbines. It is a mystery as to how some of these seeds have lain dormant and chose last summer to make another appearance! For a list of great self seeders refer to the great article in The Telegraph.

The Mary Rose
I originally chose the Mary Rose shrub rose because the flower carries my daughter’s namesake. They also happen to be one of the most beautiful English Roses. Not only are they the perfect shade of pale pink, but they also give off a heady, fruity perfume. This David Austen Rose is typically strong growing and perfect for every garden. In 2015 though, many of my roses caught rose blight and after trying several treatments with no success, I ended up trimming them all the way down and abandoned all hope. To my surprise, this past summer the ‘Mary Rose’ resurfaced and had a glorious and healthy season! Visit the David Austen website for a peek at this beautiful rose.

2016 Obstacles for My Garden

While a favorite of mine for their beautiful color and stature, they are a bit more sensitive to the elements. Michigan is not an ideal climate for them as the flowers prefer moist, cool summers. Unfortunately, after harsh, dry, summers or extremely cold winters, it is always questionable if they will return. I will persist though, in attempting to have this gorgeous addition in my garden, and simply cannot pass by without trying another one year after year.

Thinking of Spring
In winter, I relish the chance to relax and to not have to worry about the weeding and effort that goes into my garden, yet I can’t seem to help but think and plan for the spring! This coming season, I’ll be doing more with container gardening and focusing on low maintenance plantings. To start planning your garden, check out some of my favorite new gardening books:

  • Floret Flowers, Floret Farm’s Cut Flower Garden: Grow Harvest, and Arrange Stunning Seasonal Blooms by Erin Benzakein
  • Foraged Flora, A Year of Gathering and Arranging Wild Plants and Flowers by Louesa Roebuck
  • The Seed Garden, edited by Lee Buttala and Shanyn Siegel

Also, here are some of my past tried and true FREE garden catalogs and sources – order online now and the Spring 2017 versions will be sent out in January and February:

  • White Flower Farm – best for learning about different plants and plant culture
  • Annie’s Annuals – carries some of the rarest annuals around
  • Burpee – one of the oldest companies in the business, great tips and deals
  • Prairie Nursery – grasses, wildflowers, and native plants

Stay tuned for more Field Notes from Cornman Farms.