By Gail Maifeld, Master Gardener
The Northern Gardener: From Apples to Zinnias, 150 Years of Garden Wisdom by Mary Larh Schier
The author of this book, Mary Lahr Schier, is the editor of Northern Gardener magazine, a role she has filled temporarily since the spring of 2005. Published by the Minnesota Horticultural Society, the Northern Gardener has offered Minnesota gardeners advice since 1870. The magazine is still a reference source for Minnesota gardeners today.
The book gives scientific advice and passes on the wisdom of grandmas and grandpas. They are the people who experimented with native plants, growing conditions, and passed this knowledge on to the next generation. You learn the importance of understanding the conditions needed for a plant to survive. Some are cut back in June following blooming, others are cut back in August. You learn the importance of good soil and the benefits of taking time to get a soil test or amend the soil for specific plant needs. You learn the reward of gardening from your hard-working hands and the tasty produce from your gardens.
The outstanding take away from this book is the place the Minnesota Horticulture Society played in the early days of plant experimentation. For example, John Harris is considered the father of the Minnesota apple, which he began growing in 1897. Before this, Peter Gideon undertook experiments of grafting branches to hardy roots from Russia and, in 1853, produced the Wealthy apple.
O.F. Brand started growing peonies on his farm near Faribault in1868. By 1920 Brand Peonies were known around the world. Carl Fischer started breeding gladioli in the 1930’s, and continued until his death in 2005.
Many other agricultural accomplishments can be attributed to Minnesota’s agricultural heritage. As Minnesota horticulture interests and needs grew, the Minnesota Horticultural Society and the University of Minnesota joined in formal and informal research. The work of many amateur gardeners merged with scientific research. Such is the legacy of Eloise Butler. She encouraged readers of the Minnesota Horticulturist to grow native plants as she saw Minneapolis expand and prairie disappear. She formed the Wild Botanic Garden in Minneapolis that is now named in her honor.
Climate change, seeds, native trees, lawn care, organic practices, zinnias and other annuals are discussed in detail. Many reference materials are noted in the Sources section along with a detailed index. The theme of this book is found in the author’s own words: “This is a book with a smidgen of history, but a lot of how-to, and every bit of it tried and true. Pass it on to all the young gardeners in your life.” Mary Lahr Schier, 2017.