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 Annuals

Harvest envy

Posted by: Kim Palmer Updated: September 24, 2013 - 10:48 AM

I've seen some truly amazing edible gardens in the last month.  

One was a formal vegetable garden in St. Paul, one of this year's Beautiful Gardens winners, that's as productive as it is beautiful. Gardener Eileen Troxel especially loves growing heirloom tomatoes for her favorite recipe, a delicious-looking tomato tart that she serves to guests at her outdoor dinner parties. (You can see and read about her garden in Variety Home + Garden on Oct. 23).

Then there's the "Edible Estate" in Woodbury, where an artist and crew tore up the front lawn Memorial Day weekend and replaced it with more than 100 different edible crops. I made my final visit of the season recently, and was blown away by how much it's producing. Even after sharing with most of their neighborhood, the Schoenherr family has more food than they know what to do with. They're making pestos and salsas, canning sauces and figuring out new recipes for eggplant and Brussels sprouts. They're even growing artichokes! (Their landscape will be featured in Home + Garden on Oct. 2.)

Seeing all this bounty in other people's gardens makes me painfully aware of how little my pitiful garden actually produces. Mother Nature didn't do me any favors this year, pelting my garden with golf-ball-size hail in August, which pretty much wiped out my tomatoes. That wasn't my fault.

But the sad beets definitely are my fault. I'm not sure what I did wrong this year -- maybe I didn't thin them aggressively enough -- but my yield will be very small, and the beets themselves are only about the size of quarters. I may get one salad out of the whole crop.

I harvested some decent lettuce early in the season, and my basil and mint production have been fantastic. (Although, as one garden author noted to me earlier this year, "If you can't grow mint, you truly are a terrible gardener.") 

All in all, not a banner year in the garden for moi, but I'm already resolved to do better next year. What are you eating out of your garden these days? And what are you going to do different next year? 

Look what the birds planted

Posted by: Kim Palmer Updated: September 17, 2013 - 10:48 AM

I didn't plant sunflowers this year -- or any other year, for that matter. But I've got gigantic 5-foot-tall sunflowers now blooming in my back-yard garden.

I noticed them sprouting there a couple months ago. They've never sprouted there before. But my husband discovered birds this spring and bought a bird feeder, which he filled with sunflower seeds and placed on the deck.

That deck is right above my garden, which is how I wound up with sunflowers.  

From a strict garden-design standpoint, the sunflowers aren't a great addition to my garden bed. Theyr'e way too tall, compared to what's planted around them, and look kind of silly. But I can't help smiling whenever I see their sunny yellow faces.

They provide a welcome burst of bright color, at a time when the flowers around them are winding down.

And -- best of all -- they've turned out to be irrestible to bees. I don't know what kind of sunflowers they are, but every time I venture outside, morning or evening, bees are buzzing around them, and camped out on the flowers and even nearby leaves. 

The three new flowering natives I planted this spring with bees in mind haven't done as well as I expected. One plant died after a few weeks. One stayed tiny and never flowered. The third plant, a coneflower, thrived and attracted a few bees. But nothing like the sunflowers, which are bee magnets.

What are the bees liking best in your garden this September? And did your garden have any surprises up its sleeve?

Next year's garden trends

Posted by: Kim Palmer Updated: September 3, 2013 - 12:24 PM


The growing season is winding down, but trendwatchers are already looking ahead to how we'll be gardening next year.


So what crops, methods and looks will be hot in 2014? Here are a dozen top trends from the Garden Media Group, presented  by trendspotter Suzi McCoy at the recent Garden Writers Association Symposium in Quebec City: 

1. Ground up. Food scraps are the new recyclables, according to McCoy. About 25 percent of Americans are currently composting and building their soil from scratch, and more will jump on the compost bandwagon, inspired by new user-friendly compost products.

2. Super Foods Super Models. The veggie-growing renaissance that emerged a few years back is still robust, with more gardeners branching beyond the basics to grow hard-to-find specialty veggies, fruits and herbs.

3. Drink Your Yard. Homegrown goes liquid, with more gardeners growing hops for homebrew, grapes for wine, ingredients for craft cocktails and "green smoothies." Homemade pickles and kimchi also will be big. "Fermentation gardens are the new chickens," according to Rebecca Reed of Southern Living.

4. Dress Up Your Yard. Outdoor living enthusiasts are in the mood to accessorize, using artsy pots, chandeliers and other "garden jewelry" to add flair to their landscapes. 

5. Bee-nificials. Pollinators are in peril, and consumers are primed to help, planting pollen-rich natives, moving away from monocultures and adding habitat, both natural vegetation and bee-friendly innovations such as "bee hotels."

6. Cultur-vating. Locavores are taking local to the next level, embracing plants that are local to their region but mixing them with plants from other cultures.

7. Simple Elegance. Gardens are taking a cue from fashion with color-blocking and other simple-yet-high-impact color schemes, including classic black and white.

8. Frack'd Up. Neat clean lines are passe. The trendiest gardens will feature fractional shapes such as triangles, circles and squares. Umbels -- a flower shape featuring spiky stems topped by round clusters of blooms -- will be especially popular.

9. Young Men Get Down and Dirty. Who spends the most money in the garden? Right now, it's young guys, ages 18 to 34, who shell out $100 more than average during the growing season. They're growing food for grilling, hops for homebrew and peppers for homemade salsa.

10. Think Gardens. As more people get the message that plants help us de-stress and work smarter, look for more outdoor garden meetings, indoor gardens at work and even desktop gardens.

11. Fingertip Gardening. Gardening goes digital. Instead of asking friends and neighbors for growing advice, we're now turning to the Internet and mobile apps.

12. Tree-mendous Reversal. Between development and pests, we're losing 4 million urban trees a year -- and we're increasingly aware of what that's costing us -- environmentally, economically and emotionally. Thus, we're going to be planting a lot of trees, trying to restore our arboreal balance.

That's what's in. Here's what's out, according to McCoy. "Fairy gardens are over," she said. (Although I'm not sure Minnesota gardeners are ready to let go of them, judging from the many fairy gardens entered in this year's Beatuiful Gardens contest.)   

So now it's your turn to weigh in, fellow gardeners. Which of these trends resonate for you? Which ones will you be embracing? Or ignoring?  



Late-season planting

Posted by: Kim Palmer Updated: August 13, 2013 - 10:03 AM


My tomato dreams for the season are over -- wiped out by last week's hail storm. 


At least a dozen tomatoes, in varying stages of ripening, were sheared off my plants and dumped rudely on my deck. I was hoping to salvage the tomatoes that managed to stay on the vine, but after inspecting them over the weekend, it was clear they were a lost cause. Every single one was damaged, the skin pierced in multiple spots by hailstones.

Since that's a recipe for disease, I reluctantly plucked them and threw them away. 

So with six tomato plants, I harvested exactly one -- ONE -- tomato before the destruction. There's still hope for my beets, and I've been enjoying my basil, three kinds, all summer long, as well as mint and salad greens. But all in all, that's a pretty pathetic yield. 

It's way too late to plant new tomatoes, obviously, but I'm thinking about late-season veggies I might try, so this year's growing season isn't such a bust. 

The U of M extension service has some guidelines and suggestions for mid-to-late-summer planting on its website (

So tell me, fellow gardeners. What late-season veggies have you tried? What's worked for you? Or should I just resign myself to the farmer's market?






The summer that wasn't

Posted by: Mary Jane Smetanka Updated: August 12, 2013 - 12:12 PM

 I visited Dowling Community Garden in Minneapolis this morning, one of the oldest community gardens in the nation. In a couple of weeks gardeners there will celebrate the 70th anniversity of what began as a World War II Victory Garden. As I wandered through a jungle of green — it is inspiring just to visit — I noticed a few things.

Cherry tomatoes are ripe, but the big ones are just turning. Gardeners were complaining about poor garlic, but kale was running wild. And plants like rhubarb and hops, which don’t seem to care much about the weather, are doing just fine.

In my garden, I’ve had cherry tomatoes but my big ones seem to be waiting for something to happen before they ripen. Heat? Sunshine? I’m not sure.
My sweet potatoes are pathetic, and I suspect whatever is hidden underground is likely to be tiny nubbins rather than the decent potato crop I got last year.
One of the few things that made me happy this weekend was the prolific flowering of this lisianthus. Three feet tall and loaded with blooms, I had to stake these beauties but if I can find them in future springs I will plant more of them. They make a long-lasting cut flower, too.
How’s your garden doing in this peculiar summer?



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