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.
By the end of August, my garden looks like the dead zone.
It’s far from a colorful festive setting when I celebrate my son’s birthday right before Labor Day. Each year, I invite the family over for a party. Without fail - the green-thumb relatives head to the back yard or on the high deck to see what’s happening in the gardens. Without fail - they're disappointed.
The plants look like a birthday balloon that's slowing losing its helium after the party is over. Bee balm, black-eyed Susans and coneflowers are past their mid summer peak. The mass of phlox are spent and even the prolific moneywort has sprouted its last yellow flower. Thank God, the hydrangea bushes are still laden with plump petal balls. And the Autumn Joy sedum is just hitting its stride.
Sure, I could infuse bursts of vibrant color with garden variety annuals - petunias, impatiens and zinnias. But they never flourish in my mostly low, wet beds so they’re always relegated to patio pots. I’ve planted New England asters, but they took their sweet time and didn’t bloom until mid September - weeks after the party was over.
I’d like a garden the family will gush over - not take one glance and then head inside for chips and salsa. I''ve got to be strategic in timing my garden glory.
What perennials can I plant next spring - in sunny and partial shade areas - that will reliably deliver gorgeous foliage and color right before Labor Day?
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?
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.
Does gardening save you money? Well, it depends on what kind of gardener you are. Gardening can be an expensive hobby, if you're in to exotic plants, or a cheap hobby, if you shop farmers markets and pick up freebies from neighbors.
I do keep track of my gardening expenses so I know where the money goes. There are usually a few splurges each spring on a few new perennials, but those pay dividends down the road when those lily bulbs naturalize. To offset the cost of some fancy pants new plant, I do the math to figure out how much my vegetable garden produces.
Here are five ways I rationalize that my garden saves me money, both the quantifiable and the less tangible:
1. Vegetable gardens rock: If you figure one four-pack of basil from the farmers market costs about the same as one of those plastic packages of fresh basil leaves at the store, by the time you get to your fourth meal involving basil, you're definitely coming out way ahead. Plus, the basil in the store package goes bad quickly, while the plant outside stays fresh. One kale plant produces oodles and oodles of the equivalant of those plastic boxes you can buy at the store for more than $4. Packets of seeds are available for under a few bucks, and each time I go out to pick peas, I bring in fresh bounty that would fetch $3 at the farmers market. And being able to pick veggies at their peak when you're ready to use them cuts down on food waste.Yes, I know there are watering costs, but factored out over the summer, I definitely come out ahead, and eat healthier to boot.
2. Fitness regimen. Healthy eating may well save you on medical costs long term. And if you put your back into it, so to speak, you can skip the gym dues for the summer. If I ever really got my garden in shape, I'd get myself in shape, too. Weeding might not seem like a workout, but even my fitness fanatic husband acknowledges that yard work counts.
3. Gardens keep on giving. Naturalizing is just a pretty word for describing desirable plants that spread. That packet of oriental lily bulbs I splurged on 10 years ago? Double the coverage now. The mini "emerald isle" hosta collection I indulged in? I've divided it a couple times now, covering more of my gaps and using the extras to trade for some heirloom tomato seedlings, herbs and canna bulbs at the plant swap this year. The mallow I planted one of a decade ago may not always self sow in the places I want it to, but I just yank the ones I don't want and say thank you to the ones that I do. The price per unit comes down over the years, which is handy since not every perennial is a survivor.
4. Jumping off the hedonic treadmill. Humans supposedly keep needing more of everything to be happy: We quickly adapt to any increase in pay, new possessions, etc., and want more. Basically, new car smell only lasts so long. Put that up against the heavenly scent of a peony. Sure, the blossoms are fleeting each season, but the plants, as our grandmothers could tell us, will outlast us.Gardens help gratify our need for new things by providing fresh surprises each time you come around the corner: The peas are up! The delphinium are blooming! Oh, yeah, I planted a campanula there last year! With a ready supply of novelty, the need for newness is at least partially satisfied. To heck with new clothes; I'm just going to put on old ones to garden anyway.
5. It's cheaper than therapy. You may not always get tomatoes, depending on the weather and the squirrels, but the satisfaction of seeing reward for your efforts, and the tension-relieving benefits of garden work are worth a theoretical bundle. Plants really are good listeners. (Although the squirrels, not so much.)
How do you rationalize your garden costs? Do you figure you come out money ahead or do you care?
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