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

Beauty break at the Fair

Posted by: Lynn Underwood Updated: August 21, 2014 - 3:48 PM

The Agriculture/Horticulture building is where you'll find beer - and fabulous flowers - at the Minnesota State Fair. If you’re heading there to taste brews made by the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild, make sure to swing by one of the State Fair flower shows scheduled throughout the fair's run.

It’s a place to escape and get a glimpse of quiet beauty after navigating sweaty crowds, munching on food that should never be on a stick and battling for a bench at the KARE11 barn. I’m especially partial to the orchid and dahlia shows and look forward to gazing at glorious specimens that were judged the best of the best.

This year the Minnesota State Horticultural Society planted an Adopt-A-Garden that’s decked out with waterfalls, two streams and a bubbler. This garden hasn’t thrown in the trowel yet --  it’s also packed with  blooming perennials and annuals that will last through the fall. Take notes and photos on your smart phone to help plan next spring’s plant list.

Here’s the rundown:

Aug. 21-22: Cactus and succulents by the Minnesota State Horticultural Society and African violets by the African Violet Society of Minnesota.
Aug. 23-24: Gladiolus by the Minnesota Gladiolus Society.
Aug. 25-26: Minnesota State Fair Show - no idea what kind of plants are displayed.
Aug. 27-28: Floral designs by Federated Garden Clubs of Minnesota and Professional Designer of the Year Semi-finals by the Minnesota State Florist Association.
Aug. 29-30: Orchids by Orchid Society of Minnesota and bonsai by Minnesota Bonsai Society.
Aug. 31-Sept.1: Dahlias by Minnesota Dahlia Society.

The Ag/Hort building shows are from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

What’s your must-stop flower show at the fair?

The good, the bad and the ugly

Posted by: Kim Palmer Updated: August 18, 2014 - 4:49 PM

Gardens spring forth with high hopes, but by mid-August, the garden is what it is. It's time to savor the successes -- and write off what didn't pan out this year. Here's what's going on in my garden, the good, the bad and the ugly:

THE GOOD: We are now harvesting awesomely delicious tomatoes, plus as much basil and oregano as we can pick. Squash and peppers will soon be ripe and ready for the table. And my nasturtiums are still ablaze with tasty blooms for tossing in salads. I love the peppery kick of the flowers and the leaves. 

On the ornamental front, one of my succulents surprised me by shooting off a long arm, which is now covered with hot-pink buds. I've never gotten a succulent to flower before. Cool!

THE BAD: What happened to the morning glories? I plant them every year, usually from seed, and I typically get like three flowers, and not until early October. This year, I bought plants at the garden center, figuring that would speed up the flowering. But I still haven't seen a single bloom -- just a few feeble bud-like nubs that dried up and fell off. What the heck?

THE UGLY: An intruder has discovered my awesomely delicious tomatoes. Every morning when I check the vines, there are two or three more tomatoes with giant gaping bites taken out of them. I suspect the bold chipmunk I often see darting around my deck. But we also have an army of squirrels snacking on maple seeds in the tree right above my tomato pots, so it could be one of them. I'm glad they're enjoying them -- we have enough to share.

What's good, bad or just-plain ugly in your garden, now that summer is winding down?

Garden party glory

Posted by: Lynn Underwood Updated: August 14, 2014 - 3:01 PM

By the end of August, my garden looks like the dead zone.

It’s far from a colorful festive setting when I celebrate my son’s birthday right before Labor Day. Each year, I invite the family over for a party. Without fail - the green-thumb relatives head to the back yard or on the high deck to see what’s happening in the gardens. Without fail - they're disappointed.

The plants look like a birthday balloon that's slowing losing its helium after the party is over. Bee balm, black-eyed Susans and coneflowers are past their mid summer peak. The mass of phlox are spent and even the prolific moneywort has sprouted its last yellow flower. Thank God, the hydrangea bushes are still laden with plump petal balls. And the Autumn Joy sedum is just hitting its stride.

Sure, I could infuse bursts of vibrant color with garden variety annuals - petunias, impatiens and zinnias. But they never flourish in my mostly low, wet beds so they’re always relegated to patio pots. I’ve planted  New England asters, but they took their sweet time and didn’t bloom until mid September - weeks after the party was over.

I’d like a garden the family will gush over - not take one glance and then head inside for chips and salsa. I''ve got to be strategic in timing my garden glory.

What perennials can I plant next spring - in sunny and partial shade areas - that will reliably deliver gorgeous foliage and color right before Labor Day?

5 ways to get out of a gardening funk

Posted by: Martha Buns Updated: August 12, 2014 - 11:47 AM

It strikes every year, afflicting thousands of once-earnest gardeners: midsummer malaise. We start the year with a pent-up need to plant, to bring fresh life from a landscape that was buried under deep snow for so very, very long.

And then: August. Ooof. Our gardens turn muggy, buggy, weedy and wilty. Even the produce that thrilled us with its first onset starts to seem like a chore, and we secretly hope that the peas peter out so we don’t have to shell one more batch.

For me, vacation plays a role. I have one blissful, cool week on the North Shore, but my weeds and produce didn’t take the week off. When I come back, the garden seems overwhelming, and I start to avert my eyes from offending parts of the yard.

If you’ve been bitten by the garden flu, here are five strategies I use to fight back:

1. Count to 10. Pull 10 weeds from one plot each day. Or spend just 10 minutes weeding – you’ll have given enough blood by that time. I have to squelch my mistaken idea that it’s not worth gardening unless you can spend at least an hour. Six days of 10 minutes each adds up to that same hour, and if it’s really super hot, I’m not going to want to spend an hour out in it.

2. Garden by the sun: Unless your garden enjoys complete sun, chances are good there’s shade somewhere in your yard in the morning or late afternoon.Chase it, and move the minute the sun catches up with you.

3. Start fresh: Give up on beleaguered early season crops like lettuce and peas, and plant some late-season offerings so you restore some novelty. Some fall-loving kale, spinach or colorful Swiss chard will take off where your arugula bolted. A colorful annual on clearance sale at the garden center can perk up a lackluster window box or planter.

4. It’s never too late to mulch. Get off the weeding treadmill by putting down mulch. You’ll get a boost of enthusiasm from having a tidy area of your yard where you don’t mind looking. And any area you get under control this year will make next spring that much easier.

5. Make something tasty. I always get a boost of enthusiasm when I try a good new recipe using my garden produce. Clearly my basil needs topping. Usually I just make a bunch of pesto to deal with the excess, but this time I think I might give this basil aioli a try.

How about you? What are your strategies for getting out of a garden funk? And what's your favorite way to use up basil? (As if there could be too much of that good a thing.)

Garden heroes save the day

Posted by: Lynn Underwood Updated: August 7, 2014 - 5:07 PM

Dan and Nancy Engebretson are gardening superheroes.

The builder of their townhome complex in the small town of Elysian was supposed to install an ordinary walking path surrounded by humdrum landscaping of spirea and other assorted shrubs.But he went bankrupt during the housing meltdown and didn’t complete the project.  So the outdoors-loving couple -  armed with shovels, a wheelbarrow, mulch and plants - saved the day.

The Engebretsons are among the winners of the Star Tribune’s Beautiful Gardens contest. Last week, I toured the mini-arboretum they’ve designed, planted and nurtured in the common area shared by all the townhome residents.

“We could look at a weed patch forever - or do something about it,” said Dan. The couple's super powers are passion, dedication and how to get a good deal on plants.

Since 2008, they’ve created a waterfall that flows down a slope into a fish pond bordered by stones they hauled and laid. Rustic wood chip paths wind around massive waves of tulips in the spring and purple coneflowers and pink phlox in summer. For Nancy, the star of almost every bed is an attention-grabbing Tiger Eye sumac.

After coming home from their day jobs, Dan and Nancy work nights and weekends watering (there’s no underground sprinkler) weeding, deadheading and keeping tabs on plant performance.

Barb Judd, an appreciative neighbor, nominated the partners in planting. “The gardens have become a mecca for residents who enjoy walking the pathways created through beautiful flowers, shrubs and trees,” she wrote. And now other townhome owners are asking the Engebretsons for adivice n planting beds in their own yards.

Have you helped beautify areas other than your own yard? Have you shared your garden know-how with novices?

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