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.

First pick of the garden

Posted by: Nicole Hvidsten under Vegetables Updated: July 11, 2014 - 11:34 AM

In my world, certain foods connote certain feelings or memories.

When things are spinning out of control, a grilled cheese feels like a warm hug. Missing Grandma? Apple pie. And who doesn't turn to chocolate in a time of need? But this week, I finally got a taste of summer: The first two grape tomatoes were ripe for the picking.

The glee of seeing the first fruits of my labor never gets old. Is it wrong to get excited over a couple of grape tomatoes and bell peppers? Perhaps. But when gardening isn't second-nature, so to speak, even the small victories are worth celebrating. Now, after a confusing start to the gardening season, the herbs are being incorporated into meals (although my basil is really pale this year), tomatoes of all varieties are waiting to turn, zucchini plants are ready to take over the world and the Brussels sprouts are starting their ascent. The weeds are also doing very nicely, thank you very much. Aside from the birds always beating me to the strawberries, it's shaping up to be a good year. The key will be to hold my enthusiasm throughout the growing season. I can't be the only one who sometimes feels like quitting by the time mid-August rolls around. By then I've had plenty tastes of summer -- more BLTs than a person should ever eat, sweet corn for every other meal, cucumbers garnishing anything I can think of and zucchini, well, everything.

But come fall, the tastes of summer give way to the tastes of fall: squash, apples, pumpkins ... and the cycle continues, with little bursts of excitement with each growing milestone.

The more I think about it, gardening is like seasonal parenting -- you start out with a seed or a young plant, give it food, water and a lot of attention, and finally it blossoms. And although it seems like a lot of work, the end result makes it all worthwhile.

Are you an emotional gardener? What tastes like summer to you?


 

Lilies take center stage

Posted by: Lynn Underwood under Books and resources, Flowers, Perennials Updated: July 10, 2014 - 2:42 PM

Lily or not?
Many plants have “lily” in their name, but aren’t true lilies. Pick the real lily:
1. Daylily
2. Lily-of-the-valley
3. Asiatic lily
4. Calla lily

Lily fanatics will know the answer. Asiatic lilies are true lilies because they are members of the genus Lilium and have special characteristics such as scaly bulbs. The Tiger lily and Easter lily are also true lilies.

This graceful, easy-to-grow plant is hands-down the glam flower of the summer garden. What other perennial gives bursts of color (pure-white to deep red) from mid-June to August? And has super long stems, making it the Cadillac of cutting flowers? Ther's so many hybrids for gardeners to choose from - trumpet, oriental, martagon, Asiatic and Orienpet are the most popular.

This weekend, lilies will be adored, coveted and appreciated at the local North Star Lily Society’s show and convention from July 11-13 at the Hilton Airport/Mall of American Hotel in Bloomington. Lily Hall is free and open to the public with displays of hundreds of stems from Canada to southern U.S..There's also lily photographs, floral design ideas and lily vendors. See the latest hybrid seedlings developed by creative lily growers. Seminars, bus tour of area lily gardens, and other events are available for a fee; registration required. For more details, go to www.allstarlilies.org.

Are you a lily lover? Which ones are your faves?

Take Thyme to Grow Herbs

Posted by: Helen Yarmoska under Vegetables Updated: July 9, 2014 - 8:31 AM

My herb garden is located right by my deck and back door.  When the grill is hot and the chicken is ready to be placed on the grills, I bend down and cut off a few branches of tarragon.  On the grill the herbs go with the chicken placed on top. Yum.  I do the same thing with thyme and fish.  It lends just a hint of herb flavoring.

Another way I enjoy using herbs is with infused vinegars.  I’ve used basil, rosemary, tarragon, and even garlic chives for my vinegars.  They ad punch to homemade dressings and make wonderful gifts.  
·    Cut your herbs in the morning, rinse them clean, DRY THROUROUGHLY
·    Stuff as many herbs as you can in a clean, dry canning jar
·    Fill to the rim with white vinegar
·    Give it a shake every day for a couple of weeks
·    Strain off the vinegar and put in decorative bottles (or leave in the canning jar for home use)

Herbs are fast and easy to grow.  And it seems the more you cut them back, the better they look and grow.  So I try to only plant one herb plant and harvest from June to October.  

I want to try creating my own salt substitute recipe.  The store-purchased labels have dried citrus.  Does anyone know of recipes without that?  Or should I just try to peel the zest off and orange and put in my dehydrator?

Conquering bugaboo plants

Posted by: Martha Buns under Flowers, Perennials Updated: July 8, 2014 - 9:40 AM

The maxim "If at first you don't suceed, try, try again" could just as well have been coined for gardeners. Each year is a chance to finally "get it right," to achieve our goals, big or small.

This year's nominee in the elusive success quest category: Hollyhocks. You know, those ubiquitous cottage garden plants that ringed every grandma's garage or stood at the back of the border just inside the picket fence. Seemingly everyone can grow them. Except me.

My on-and-off attempts to grow them date back to my very first gardening forays, when my mother let me have a few unclaimed patches of the yard and garden to try out some seeds. It was not a universal success, to say the least. The carnations fell victim to my zealous grandfather with a mower. The pumpkins grew really, really big, but crept lawlessly into the laneway to a field, where they got ruthlessly smashed by those enormous back wheels of a tractor. The hollyhock seedlings? They got a piece of machinery parked on top of them.

When I first got my own garden, I tried again, thinking a row of hollyhocks along the border by the garage would look peachy. But they looked more peaked than peachy, and no blooms materialized, and they didn't revive the following year. So I let a few more years go by and tried again, with no better results, despite the seemingly appropriate growing conditions. Hollyhock mallow, a free-spirited self-sower, is no problem to grow, but the spiky biennials, not so much for me.

I've had other bugaboo plants that I couldn't seem to grow over the years that I've finally managed to conquer. Delphinums eluded me, but for a few years now, mine have been proudly waving in the breeze at the back of the border, so I'm cautiously declaring success.

So after years of driving by abandoned farm houses where hollyhocks still stand stalwart, I thought it was time to try once more with one of my longest-running bugaboos. To give myself a leg up, I bought plants rather than starting from seed, which may be cheating, but you know who prospers. And I've got watering lines running past them to help keep the soil moist.So far they're at least growing; still waiting on flower buds.

How about you? Do you have bugaboo plants that you just can't seem to grow? Are there some you've mastered, and did you change your approach to get them to grow?

If this works, I might try carnations from seed again. But I don't think I'll ever have room for pumpkins.

The photo? That's clearly not from my garden, at least not yet. credit: Star Tribune file

Nipped in the bud

Posted by: Kim Palmer under Critters and pests, Flowers, Perennials, Weather Updated: July 7, 2014 - 10:16 AM

At last! After a string of warm, sunny days, gardens are finally in full flower. I love wandering outside before and after work every day to see which buds have opened. 

My clematis is in glorious red-purple bloom, with more flowers to come. The ligularia and delphinium are about to burst forth, adding golden yellow and brilliant blue to the garden palette.

There are a few red roses in bloom, as well as Endless Summer hydrangeas. Usually mine bloom bright pink, but after treatment last year with the "Color Me Blue" color kit,

they're showing hints of lavender and periwinkle amidst the pink.

But there are definitely some disappointments in the bloom department.

My black-eyed Susans have been putting up big, juicy buds for weeks, but so far, I've seen only one flower. Every morning when I go outside to check on my garden, I find nipped-off stems where the best buds were the night before. Clearly deer are visiting my garden overnight and helping themselves to the juiciest-looking flower buds.

My balloon flowers are suffering the same fate. I've had easily 50-plus buds, but not one bloom so far, thanks to the deer, who leave gnawed-off stems to taunt me. 

It's time to buy some Irish Spring soap, haul out the potato peeler and see if a few shavings in the garden will deter the deer from munching. I had modest success with that remedy last year, although nothing I've tried keeps the deer away completely.

Are you seeing more deer damage than usual this year in your garden? And what, if anything, are you doing about it?

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