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.

Posts about Perennials

Goldenrod, friend to the garden and gardener

Posted by: Mary Jane Smetanka Updated: August 19, 2013 - 11:30 AM


With the garden creeping into fall, one of my favorite late-summer plants is in full bloom. It’s goldenrod, and it’s good not only for brilliant color but because of the amazing array of beneficial insects it attracts to the garden.
Let’s get one misconception out of the way right away: goldenrod does NOT cause hayfever. Ragwort does; it’s a totally different plant.
I love goldenrod — the Latin name on plant labels is Solidago — for the bright yellow sprays of flowers it bears in August. It provides a great color complement to purple coneflower or Joe Pye weed. It’s carefree and drought resistant. While the native goldenrods that you see in ditches along rural roads can be aggressive in a garden, mine do just a bit of self-seeding. If you have more plants than you need, the volunteers are easy to pull in the spring.
I like to stand near goldenrod at dusk and watch clouds of tiny wasps and bugs swarm over the flowers. I've read that goldenrod is a lure for up to 75 kinds of beneficial insects that attack bad garden bugs. One garden blogger said that if she could only plant one perennial to attract good bugs, it would be goldenrod. It’s also a great plant for bees and butterflies.
I bought my goldenrod as a hybrid called “Fireworks” but after seeing the real thing at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum I know I have something else. Here’s a video from the University of Minnesota about “Fireworks:”

There are lots of other cool hybrids out there, including “Crown of Rays” and “Peter Pan.” There are tall goldenrods and short ones, plants with balls of flowers and plants with sprays of flowers.
Here’s a web page about goldenrod and the insects it attracts:

And here’s a fact sheet from the Chicago Botanic Garden that lists a bunch of varieties of goldenrod for the garden:

What’s your experience with goldenrod? Do you have a favorite native plant in your garden?

What's a gardener to do after a hailstorm?

Posted by: Kim Palmer Updated: August 7, 2013 - 10:55 AM


It wasn't on my bucket list, but I now have firsthand experience with golf-ball-sized hail. I've seen and heard it crashing, held it in my hand -- and witnessed the carnage it can wreak in a garden.


I live in Eden Prairie, where the hail started hammering my house and landscape not long after I got home from work. My husband, who had just left to run an errand, called me with an urgent plea to get the other car into the garage.

I ran outside, ice balls painfully pelting my head and shoulders, and got the car under cover. Back inside, I watched my deck as ice balls and pellets piled up, turning the deck surface as white as a snowstorm. I could see my plants whipping in the wind and driving rain. Two containers blew completely over. 


After about 10 minutes, the icy onslaught subsided into softer rain, and I went out to inspect the damage. Wow! At least a dozen tomatoes, in various stages of ripening, were sheared off the plants, sometimes stalk and all. 


My giant black elephant ear -- my big splurge of the season -- had lost half its foliage, and what remained was punched so full of holes that the leaves looked like crocheted doilies. My canna were shredded to ribbons. My beets were submerged under a couple inches of standing water. (Apparently the drainage holes I had punched in that big pot were no match for the downpour.)

So much for homegrown tomatoes this year. There are only a few left on the plants, and they're pitted and pocked.

I'll still try to over-winter the elephant ear, but its days as the dramatic focal point of my outdoor "room" are over.


I haven't done a complete inventory of my back-yard garden yet, but I know it's not going to be pretty. 


What's a gardener to do after a hailstorm wipes out a growing season's worth of growth? 

Here's what plant experts have to say:

Trees and shrubs: These should probably be your first priority. Broken, dangling branches need to be cut off cleanly. Also remove limbs with severe gouges and tears. (Less-serious wounds will probably heal naturally).

Perennials: Damaged plants also need trimming. Unfortunately, the timing of this storm was not good for gardeners. Late-summer hail damage creates problems for plants because some will struggle to produce a new set of leaves, with limited success this late in the season. Damaged plants will be weakened and under stress, making them more susceptible to disease, pests and death. Plants that do sprount new leaves won't have time to harden off before fall, making them more vulnerable to winter kill. You can improve plants' chances by inspecting frequently for signs of pests or disease -- and treating problems promptly. Extra mulch can help protect damaged plants during the winter.

Vegetables: Remove damaged veggies and leaves. It's too late to try planting new tomatoes to replace ones you lost. Better luck next year. Root crops, such as radishes and beets, should survive as long as their tops aren't too badly damaged.

Annuals: These tend to recuperate quickly. Trim them back, fertilize them lightly and give them extra water for a days to promote new growth.

And next spring, when you're surveying those holes in your garden left by hail-damaged plants that died over the winter, consider replacing them with native plants. Because they've adapted to local growing conditions, they're better able to withstand being pelted with hail.

How did your garden hold up last night? 

Unexpected blooms

Posted by: Kim Palmer Updated: August 6, 2013 - 10:14 AM


I've been tending the same garden plot so long (17 years) that I know what to expect from it. Wild daisies will spring up in places I don't want them. Coralbells will die, no matter where I put them. And I'll have to pull a lot of thistles to keep it looking its best.


It's sort of like a long marriage. Yes, the object of your devotion has its irksome quirks and habits, but also brings comfort and beauty. There are few surprises, but every so often, my garden, like my husband, pops up with something new and unexpected.

This season's surprise in the garden was a ligularia's decision to bloom, after years of displaying only foliage. I have two kinds of ligularia, one with green leaves with serrated edges, and another with darker, glossier leaves with a smoother edge. I didn't expect flowers out of either variety when I first planted them about eight years ago. I didn't even know ligularia had flowers. I just liked their big foliage.


Then, a couple summers ago, the green-leafed plants started surprising me with blooms, in tall, spiky yellow clusters. I loved the height and color they added to the bed. They've bloomed reliably ever since.


The dark-leafed ligularia remained flower-free, which was fine. Then last week, an unfamiliar lump  appeared atop one stem. When I looked closer, I could see that it was the beginning of some kind of flower. Yesterday the new flowers revealed themselves. They're also yellow, but a richer, more golden hue, and the form is a little stubbier and more compact, with shorter petals.

I love that my garden can still surprise and delight me after all these years. How about you -- what surprises has your garden had up its sleeve?

Elements of a beautiful garden

Posted by: Martha Buns Updated: July 25, 2013 - 7:48 AM


What makes a beautiful garden?

 I was among those who had a peak at the semifinalists for this year’s Beautiful Garden contest yesterday, and that was the question we asked ourselves. While beauty will forever be in the eye of the beholder, there were some common elements to these superlative gardens:

1.    Design elements that draw the eye through a space. From a meandering path to a well-placed archway or specimen tree, gardeners who gave Mother Nature a helping hand with design produced spaces you want to linger in.

2.    Curves nearly always beat out squares when it comes to design, with the exception being a well-thought-out formal garden where the lines are clearly delineated.

3.    Infrastructure can play a great supporting role. Paths, patios, benches, tool sheds, trellises, unusual fences and garden art both serve a purpose, and give a garden focus and pizzazz.

4.    Color need not be present to win: Oddly enough, it’s not required for a spectacular garden. We saw many cases where the main color in the garden was in effect multiple shades of green, and it still worked. That said, vibrant blooms please the eye. From a loose cottage style garden to a formal planting, color adds zing. The gardens that made the best use of color tended to group pairings of like or complementary colors, and paid attention to relative heights rather than just plunking in a welter of colorful blooms.

5.    Segmentation: While some wonderful gardens had park-like vistas, several others made gardens within gardens, dividing the space into outdoor rooms that unfold one into the other.

6.    Scale: Good things come in small packages, medium packages and big packages. We saw amazing gardens of all sizes. While bigger gardens offer more scope, sometimes bigger was not better, it was just bigger. The common thread regardless of size was that the scale of elements matched the space.

7.    Plant selection:  While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with hosta paired with impatiens, branching out to include a broader range of specimens can pay off visually.

8.    Someone clearly really, really cares. The gardens all show signs of careful tending: weeding, mulching, trimming, thinning, etc.

9.    And the main common element: Even all the gardens that didn’t make the final cut are way, way better than mine, and all inspiring.

Photo by Jeff Wheeler of previous year's Beautiful Garden winner

Days of vines and roses

Posted by: Martha Buns Updated: July 18, 2013 - 8:12 AM


I recently overheard a small boy ask his mother if she were a plant, what kind she'd like to be. He earnestly volunteered that he'd want to be a vine, so he could grow around things.


He's got a point. Vines rise above it all, and have a great grasp on life, even while relying on others for their support. From the gardener's perspective, vines are a great way to add some height to the back of a border or disguise an otherwise unattractive structure or fence.

My favorite vine combo is clematis growing on roses, although getting both plants to bloom at the same time is an inexact science.

Right now many of the vines in my garden are outstripping their support structures. The pole beans have hit the top of their obelisk and are flopping down the other side waiting for me to provide another foothold. Ditto with the hops. Clematis plants that have overrun their trellis have started wrapping around themselves. But other vines are resolutely turning their backs on their intended support. When presented with a perfectly serviceable trellis, the cucumbers and watermelon are instead intent on winding themselves as tightly as possible into the protective chicken wire that surrounds them despite daily efforts to give their thoughts another direction.

If you're in the market for some plants that will grow on you, here's a link to some perennial and annual vines broken down by height and sun requirements:

One of the plants on the list is zone hardy wisteria, which looks lovely, but I've heard people complain it's hard to control and needs really heavy duty support. Have you grown wisteria, and if so, how have you controlled it and would you recommend yea or nay?


While I 'm a sucker for most vines, not all the vines growing in my garden are welcome: Bindweed has gotten loose in one area. Just like their favored flowering counterparts, vining weeds sometimes grow a little too fast to keep up with.





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