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.

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Scenes from the swap

Posted by: Kim Palmer Updated: June 2, 2014 - 12:18 PM

The woman on the hunt for hosta looked familiar. It was Betsy, my former neighbor. I hadn't seen her since the Greengirls plant swap two years ago, and before that for at least a decade. 

It was great to catch up with her, trade notes -- and point out people who had hosta to swap.

That's what's fun about a plant swap, as opposed to browsing for plants at a garden center or even the farmer's market. There's more personal interaction as swappers make the rounds, check out what's available, then circle back to make a trade.

"Where's Helen?" asked a gardener tempted by the seedling tomatoes she spotted in a swapper's labeled stash. 

"Who has horseradish?" another swapper asked. "Anyone seen any?"

Swaps bring out interesting people. I met seasoned green thumbs, like the woman who was turning her urban corner lot into a pollinator garden. I met enthusuastic rookies, like the guy who didn't know what plants he was bringing home and didn't care -- he just wanted to start his first garden.

One woman arrived very late, as the swap was winding down and the Greengirls (the Star Tribune's garden bloggers) were gathering up the leftover plants that hadn't found a home. Many of the orphan plants were a bit bedraggled, but the woman was happy to have them -- she tends a garden at a school with disabled children and needs all the plants she can get, she said.

 

If you didn't make it down to this year's swap, come join us next year. You'll find great plants and great people -- maybe even a familiar face, like a long-lost neighbor.

Ambergate Gardens to close

Posted by: Kim Palmer Updated: September 6, 2013 - 11:49 AM

 

Ambergate Gardens (www.ambergategardens.com) is ending its run.

 

For 28 years, the plant-only nursery in Chaska has been a destination for gardeners seeking unusual hardy perennials.

But owners Mike and Jean Heger have decided it's time to retire from retail. They announced the news "with mixed emotions" in a recent letter to customers, saying they were "ready to have some free time during the growing season."

"It's bad for our customers, good for us," said Mike in a phone interview. "We're not going to retire from horticulture, but we're ready to put a little different spin on it." He hopes to do more teaching, speaking and writing. "If I can find a publisher, maybe I'll write another book." (His "Growing Perennials in Cold Climates" was published in 1998 and updated in 2011.) 

"We want to keep the Ambergate name, but as more of a consulting business."

The Hegers have signed a purchase agreement with Mattamy Homes to sell their 42-acre site, which is slated to  become a housing development. "We bought this piece of property with this in mind," he said.

That leaves the Hegers with a whole lot of plants to sell before Oct. 13, when they expect to close  Ambergate's doors for good. To that end, Ambergate is holding its "one and only sale" with 25 percent off all stock. "We'll start liquidating next week (on Sept. 10) and sell til it's gone," he said. (Customers who received the Hegers' letter can bring it in for an additional 10 percent off.) "We want our active long-term customers to get the greatest discount."

The inventory includes about 30,000 plants representing 1,000-plus varieties, propagated on site. "We have natives, exotics, sun to shade plants and traditional perennials," he said.

That includes many unusual, hard-to-find perennial species. "There are  a lot of really good perennials that don't get into the mainstream," he said, such as Lemon Queen, a sunflower with prolific blooms in a "rich, clear lemon yellow," and unusual natives like wild quinine.

"We do some things nobody else does," he said. "There's definitely going to be a void here. Hopefully, someone else will step in."

 

 

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?  

 

 

Help your favorite garden look like a winner!

Posted by: Kim Palmer Updated: July 2, 2013 - 10:08 AM

 

It's Beautiful Gardens season -- the time of year when Home + Garden invites readers to share their favorite gardens and enter them in our annual Beautiful Gardens contest. We're currently taking nominations, and we'll select a handful of winners to feature in upcoming sections and online at

www.startribune.com

during the coming months.

 

So if you know of a great garden -- including your own -- that you're thinking of nominating this year, here are a couple of suggestions:

PHOTOS: We ask for them to be included with each entry, and there's a reason. We don't need many, and they don't have to be of professional quality. A couple of snapshots will do. But we do need something visual. With 100-plus entries, we just don't have the staff to preview every garden. The judging panel carefully reviews submitted photos to determine the winners, which are then visited in-person by a reporter and photographer. So if you just tell us, "Hey, my friend has a great garden -- you should check it out," your favorite garden won't really be in the running.

PERSPECTIVE: Close-up photos are great! But we also need at least one back-off shot that gives us a broader sense of the garden, and how elements work together. If your nomination includes close-up photos only, we can see that your gardener knows how to grow healthy hostas or stunning roses, but we can't see or evaluate the garden as a whole.

SIZE: There are a LOT of ways to share photos electronically these days, and some of them are more effective than others. If your preferred photo-sharing tool results in teeny-tiny photos the size of postage stamps, keep in mind that a team of judges will be squeezed around a computer terminal squinting at them and trying to figure out what's going on in the photo. This puts your garden at a bit of a disadvantage, because larger photos inevitably have more impact than microscopic ones. The photos don't have to be huge. Just big enough to see. If you can't figure out a way to send expanded photos electronically, there's always snail mail.

TIMING: Spring flowers are beautiful, and every year we receive at least a few nominations for gardens that put spring blooms in a starring role. But if that's ALL we can see in the photos, or ALL that's described in the nomination, that garden is not likely to be a winner, no matter how beautiful it is in spring. That's because we'll be choosing the winners in late July, and taking photos in early August, when the peonies and iris and other spring flowers are spent. If the garden has summer-long beauty, in addition to its spring blooms, please make sure to include that.

So please keep those Beautiful Gardens coming! We're taking nominations through July 12. Send them to beautifulgardens@startribune.com, or to "Beautiful Gardens Contest," Star Tribune, 425 Portland Ave. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488.

 

 

Oh, deer! Not more garden woes

Posted by: Kim Palmer Updated: June 11, 2013 - 9:27 AM

 

So far, nothing is going gardeners' way this growing season. Spring arrived late, with freezes continuing into mid-May, which delayed planting.

 

Then it was endlessly cool and rainy, giving new gardens plenty of moisture but not enough sun and heat to really flourish. 

Now the deer have invaded. They've eaten every bud off my roses except for a handful on the climbers that are above their reach. The new growth on my coralbells and coneflowers has been nibbled to the nub, to the point that I'm not sure those plants are even going to survive.

I live in an area with a lot of wooded spots -- and deer. They've always been a bit of a garden menace, but it was spotty, a few plants here and there.

Not this year. Every morning, there's fresh evidence of their visits, with new buds sheared off and fewer tender leaves. 

I'm guessing that the lateness of everything green has reduced the amount of new growth in the wild, forcing deer to forage more heavily in gardens.

I haven't done anything to deter them --  yet -- but I may get serious about deer deterrence if this continues.  The National Gardening Association offers advice on its website (http://www.garden.org/howtos/?q=show&id=1295).

A couple preventive tips: If you're still filling in your garden, try planting things that deer don't especially like. They tend to turn up their noses at ferns, ornamental grasses, plants with fuzzy foliage, plants that taste of lemon, mint or sage, and anything with bitter or spicy foliage, according to the site. 

And if you're fond of fertilizing, you might want to lay off for a while. Excess nitrogen in plant tissue makes foliage especially appetizing to deer.

What's going on in your plot? Are you seeing more deer damage than usual? What's worked for you as far as deer deterrence?

 

 

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