Drought, Deadly Nightshade, and a Happy Birthday

Yesterday we drove up to St. Paul, Minnesota, to celebrate my birthday with my younger son, my brother Richard, and his wife Diane.

When we get to St. Paul, we like to take a little hike at Minnehaha Park, site of the waterfalls made famous, though never actually visited, by the poet Longfellow (“By the shores of Gitche Gumee, By the shining big sea water,” etc.) This time we saw dramatic evidence of the severity of the drought that hit this part of the Midwest not just this year, but for the past several years.

Minnehaha Falls, showing water flow before the drought
Minnehaha Falls, seen from above, Spring of 2011
Minnehaha Falls from the top today, showing effects of drought
Minnehaha Falls from the top today, with barely a trickle of water.
Minnehaha Falls today, showing effects of drought
Minnehaha Falls today, as seen from the bottom.

Normally the falls are a roaring torrent of water. Today we saw barely a trickle, and Minnehaha Creek was essentially a string of puddles.

Even so, we had a pleasant hike.

Though David may have grown taller than I, I have the stature that comes with the wisdom of years.

I also got to see my brother’s garden, though at this point in October there isn’t much color. I did admire his water feature, however. The little pond has its own waterfall created by pumping water up a hole drilled through a small boulder. Shallow depressions have been cut in the boulder for the benefit of the birds.

Water feature for the garden
Thou shalt not covet thy brother’s water feature, but I do. Note sedges growing along boulder, not sure the species.

Blurring the line between weeds and ornamentals, Richard is growing Deadly Nightshade (Atropa belladonna) up the side of his house. They do have colorful berries …

Deadly Nightshade as an ornamental vine for the garden
Deadly Nightshade as an ornamental vine. Nice berries, just don’t eat them.

In his front yard, Richard took down a big Norway Maple (Acer platanoides) and replaced it with a Burr Oak (Quercus macrocarpa), now only about 4′ high. The rest of the front is planted in native perennials and shrubs, including Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) and a Redbud (Cercis canadensis). Along the street he’s planted a “lawn” of Pennsylvania Sedge (Carex pennsylvanica) that is spreading very nicely. It’s remarkable that this garden has received no supplemental water (except from a water barrel), even with the drought.

Front yard with native grasses and flowers
Front yard in October with native grasses and flowers.

After inspecting the garden, we headed to a restaurant called the Bachelor Farmer for a fine birthday meal. Tomorrow we have brunch with an old college friend, then back to Chicago.

22 Comments on “Drought, Deadly Nightshade, and a Happy Birthday”

  1. Oh my! The lack of water there is really depressing. However, seeing that you and your brother share an interest in gardening is really cool. I’m coveting that water feature too, now I gotta figure out how to build one for myself-sedges included.

  2. Happy birthday! Awful reality of the drought! Oh, just wanted to mention something you might want to pass along to Richard. I have two burr oaks in my front yard that have been there many years. Lovely trees! Each fall I pick up about 10 trash bags (the big ones) of HUGE acorns. Not to mention listening to them plunk on the roof in the middle of the night, or twisting your ankle stepping on one. Just saying. :O)

    • What can I say, he’s a masochist. I think it’s a beautiful tree, but wouldn’t plant it myself unless I had a really LARGE yard. On the other hand, isn’t it supposed to grow slowly? It’s just a 4′ sapling now and Richard is 56 years old. By the time the tree gets really big Rich will be an old man and have other things to worry about.

  3. Happy Birthday! Amazing to see the difference the drought has made. Nature is resilient, however. I am confident that eventually the rains will return and the falls will be returned to their former glory. Your brother’s garden is lovely. Gardening must run in your family’s genes!

    Regarding your comment on my blog: Enjoy your upcoming trip to South Carolina! You asked if you might catch a sniff of tea olive fragrance there at Christmas. I would say it’s possible, but not likely. Most tea olives bloom through the fall. Some will bloom through the winter in milder areas. One can hope!

  4. Ugh…the drought is so bad…those pics really illustrate the fact, too 😦 Here in PDX, we are actually at a record-setting number of days without rain (nothing measurable since June). BTW…Happy Belated Birthday 🙂

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