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.
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
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 email@example.com, or to "Beautiful Gardens Contest," Star Tribune, 425 Portland Ave. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488.
Another weekend, another thunderstorm. The gardening season got off to a very soggy start last month when the GreenGirls annual plant swap was conducted under a downpour -- and a plastic tarp!
And the weekend rain has just kept on coming. But if it rains again tomorrow morning as forecasted, there might be a silver lining. Your local garden center might offer you a good deal on that shrub or flat of annuals you need to fill the holes in your garden.
Sunnyside Gardens in Minneapolis (http://sunnyside-gardens.com) has responded to the late and soggy spring with some short-term sales and specials -- such as $10 off a purchase of $25 or more -- so that a rainy day doesn't turn into a total wash-out, says owner Mike Hurley.
Garden centers want you buying now, before your enthusiasm for this year's garden season has been completely dampened. "The theory in our industry is that a late spring pushes into summer and produces pent-up demand," Hurley says. But weekend weather makes a big difference. "Now the kids are out of school, people are going to the lake on weekends, and pretty soon, it's the 4th of July," he says. "The casual gardeners lose interest."
Uncommon Gardens in Minneapolis (http://uncommongardens.com) has been offering Happy Hour Wednesdays, a two-hour special event (5:30-7:30 p.m.) with discounts of 40 percent, plus snacks and beverages. "We started that last year -- you have to be nimble," says owner Peggy Poore.
"People are a little behind this year, but it's not too late to plant. The plants have kept growing -- they're bigger now [than they were in May]. And the rain has made keeping the plants looking good a little easier," she says.
The wet spring is following a killer winter, plant-wise, which means gardeners have had to replace more plants than usual, Poore says. "People lost a lot of trees and shrubs. It was just brutal. We're selling more of those."
Gardeners also seem more comfortable spending money on their gardens this year, she says. "People are a little more confident about the economy, and they want to do stuff."
And wet weather has boosted demand for one product in a big way: "Rain barrels are selling like mad."
How about you? Are you gardening on a smaller scale this year -- because of the weather?
"I believe gardening is the highest form of art." That's what a gardener, one of the past winners of the Star Tribune's Beautiful Gardens contest, once told me when I was visiting her garden, and it's stuck with me.
She wasn't bragging. She was reflecting on the challenges all gardeners face in their quest for beauty.
Gardening, like most art forms, takes years to learn and master, she noted. But gardening is, by its nature, ephemeral, she added. One bad storm, one bad winter, and the gardener's careful creation can be dramatically altered or even destroyed.
When I visit winning gardens, I'm always amazed at the many ways gardeners find to create and nurture beauty. Some turn a tiny, postage-stamp city lot into an enchanted oasis. Others work on a bigger canvas, transforming acres of weeds into their own personal arboretum.
Have you experienced a "Wow!" garden? Maybe it's your Mom's. Maybe it's your neighbor's. Maybe it's in your own back yard.
Now is the time to share its beauty with others by nominating it in our annual Beautiful Gardens contest. It's easy to nominate. Just send a brief description of the garden and the gardener who tends it, along with a few photos -- they don't need to be of professional quality. Snapshots are fine.
The winning gardens and gardeners will be featured in the Star Tribune, in print and online, during the coming months.
So share the beauty -- and help inspire your fellow gardeners! Please e-mail nominations to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Or mail them to: Beautiful Gardens contest, Star Tribune, 425 Portland Ave. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488. The deadline is June 17, 2011.
In the meantime, let's talk about beautiful gardens. What makes a garden special? What's a memorable garden you've experienced? What's the most beautiful thing about your own garden?
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