Greengirls Helen Yarmoska, Nicole Hvidsten, Martha Buns, Connie Nelson, Kim Palmer and Mary Jane Smetanka are dishin' the dirt from the back-yard garden and beyond. Whether you're a greenthumb or greenhorn, they're eager to learn from your mishaps, mistakes - and most importantly, your sweet successes - all growing season long.
And then: August. Ooof. Our gardens turn muggy, buggy, weedy and wilty. Even the produce that thrilled us with its first onset starts to seem like a chore, and we secretly hope that the peas peter out so we don’t have to shell one more batch.
For me, vacation plays a role. I have one blissful, cool week on the North Shore, but my weeds and produce didn’t take the week off. When I come back, the garden seems overwhelming, and I start to avert my eyes from offending parts of the yard.
If you’ve been bitten by the garden flu, here are five strategies I use to fight back:
1. Count to 10. Pull 10 weeds from one plot each day. Or spend just 10 minutes weeding – you’ll have given enough blood by that time. I have to squelch my mistaken idea that it’s not worth gardening unless you can spend at least an hour. Six days of 10 minutes each adds up to that same hour, and if it’s really super hot, I’m not going to want to spend an hour out in it.
2. Garden by the sun: Unless your garden enjoys complete sun, chances are good there’s shade somewhere in your yard in the morning or late afternoon.Chase it, and move the minute the sun catches up with you.
3. Start fresh: Give up on beleaguered early season crops like lettuce and peas, and plant some late-season offerings so you restore some novelty. Some fall-loving kale, spinach or colorful Swiss chard will take off where your arugula bolted. A colorful annual on clearance sale at the garden center can perk up a lackluster window box or planter.
4. It’s never too late to mulch. Get off the weeding treadmill by putting down mulch. You’ll get a boost of enthusiasm from having a tidy area of your yard where you don’t mind looking. And any area you get under control this year will make next spring that much easier.
5. Make something tasty. I always get a boost of enthusiasm when I try a good new recipe using my garden produce. Clearly my basil needs topping. Usually I just make a bunch of pesto to deal with the excess, but this time I think I might give this basil aioli a try.
How about you? What are your strategies for getting out of a garden funk? And what's your favorite way to use up basil? (As if there could be too much of that good a thing.)
Dan and Nancy Engebretson are gardening superheroes.
The builder of their townhome complex in the small town of Elysian was supposed to install an ordinary walking path surrounded by humdrum landscaping of spirea and other assorted shrubs.But he went bankrupt during the housing meltdown and didn’t complete the project. So the outdoors-loving couple - armed with shovels, a wheelbarrow, mulch and plants - saved the day.
The Engebretsons are among the winners of the Star Tribune’s Beautiful Gardens contest. Last week, I toured the mini-arboretum they’ve designed, planted and nurtured in the common area shared by all the townhome residents.
“We could look at a weed patch forever - or do something about it,” said Dan. The couple's super powers are passion, dedication and how to get a good deal on plants.
Since 2008, they’ve created a waterfall that flows down a slope into a fish pond bordered by stones they hauled and laid. Rustic wood chip paths wind around massive waves of tulips in the spring and purple coneflowers and pink phlox in summer. For Nancy, the star of almost every bed is an attention-grabbing Tiger Eye sumac.
After coming home from their day jobs, Dan and Nancy work nights and weekends watering (there’s no underground sprinkler) weeding, deadheading and keeping tabs on plant performance.
Barb Judd, an appreciative neighbor, nominated the partners in planting. “The gardens have become a mecca for residents who enjoy walking the pathways created through beautiful flowers, shrubs and trees,” she wrote. And now other townhome owners are asking the Engebretsons for adivice n planting beds in their own yards.
Have you helped beautify areas other than your own yard? Have you shared your garden know-how with novices?
Walking in the yard last week I heard a familiar crunch that I have not heard since September. It was the terrible sound of grass crunching under my feet. After such a wet Spring, I thought the sprinkler would never need to be used, but alas, it’s time to get the water going.
According to things I’ve learned from the University of Minnesota, grasses have very long root systems (if watered properly). When given long, deep watering as opposed to quick short spurts, the grass creates a web of filtering roots that grow. After our wet June, I figure roots must be about 10 feet long!
That same article points out that lawn watering is best done between 4 am and 8 am. It reduces evaporation waste and drift. So neighbors and paper delivery guy, if you see me out in my nightgown, baseball cap and pink Crocs at 5 am, please look the other way. I’m just doing what I can to make sure I can wiggle my toes in green grass in a few days.
Remember last year's Edible Estate? That was the front yard in Woodbury where an artist/horticulturist tore up the traditional lawn and replaced it with a dense forest of food crops.
So what's going on this growing season, now that the Schoenherr family is on their own, with no donated plants or free expert help?
Pretty much the same as last year -- that was the surprising news when I visited the family last week. They're still growing more than 100 edible crops, covering almost all their large suburban front yard. About half of last year's crops returned or self-seeded. The rest -- about 1,000 plants -- they started from seed in their basement, under grow lights.
Now that they can choose their own crop mix, they're growing fewer eggplants, but they've added some new edibles, including tomatillos and borage.
And their gung-ho neighbors, who dug in last year to help tend the mini-farm in their midst, are still at it, showing up for weekly "garden nights" to help pull weeds and help themselves to some produce.
"We really do have a lot of help," said Catherine Shoenherr. "It wouldn't be very fun to do this by yourself."
How has the family managed to turn their private front yard into a community garden? Find out in next week's Variety Home + Garden.
I admit it, tomatoes are at the top of my list when planning my vegetable garden. Two-thirds of my tiny plot is dedicated to several varities of the fruit. Roma, Big Boy, cherry, grape, heirloom -- I've never met a tomato I didn't like.
But as much as I love tomatoes, I love vegetables even more. And I have my dad to thank for that. Throughout my childhood I groaned at the parade of fresh vegetables coming into the house (really, I didn't know any better), but it laid the foundation for my vegetable-loving adulthood.
Although I didn't appreciate some of his gardening choices at the time (I can still take or leave a parsnip), I now appreciate the fact that he was exposing me to many different vegetables and teaching me to love the ones many cast aside.
Because we had a large garden, there were multiple zucchini plants. We were inundated, and so were the neighbors. We'd have stuffed zucchini, fried zucchini, zucchini bread, zucchini cake -- you get the idea. So when I plopped in zucchini plants this season, I went in eyes wide open. And those plants did not disappoint! My biggest challenge thus far is to teach my children that there's so much more to zucchini than bread, muffins and the dreaded "vegetable medley." It can add a fresh taste to pasta, a fine addition to a stir-fry, looks good in a tart and can be pickled. Such versatility!
This year I went even further off the vegetable grid and am growing Brussels sprouts, one of my favorites. Admittedly they're a tough sell -- you either love them or hate them -- but I'm hoping that as my kids see them mature and help harvest them, they'll give them another chance.
Next year I'll add more space and vegetables to the mix. And although I don't have the time or talent to garden like my dad did years ago, I do hope that I am giving my kids at least a taste of the vegetable-loving culture that my dad gave me. And if they have an affinity for zucchini, all the better.
What are your favorite vegetables to grow? How about favorite gardening memories?
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