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 Flowers

Lilies take center stage

Posted by: Lynn Underwood 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?

Conquering bugaboo plants

Posted by: Martha Buns 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 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?

What is this mystery flower?

Posted by: Kim Palmer Updated: June 23, 2014 - 9:39 AM

Gardens always have surprises up their sleeves. Many of those surprises are disappointing, such as perennials that don't come back or plants that refuse to bloom. 

But some surprises are delightful! Like this beautiful bright yellow flower that opened over the weekend.

This plant has been in my garden for at least a dozen years. I remember the day I bought it. I was shopping with my son, now 21, but a little boy at the time. I told him he could pick something out to plant in our garden, and he chose this plant, because he liked the sunny blooms.

I took it home, without even reading the tag, and we plopped it into the garden, where it bloomed for several years, then stopped. My theory was that it no longer got enough sun -- the maple tree we planted nearby is now huge and shades much of the garden.

But this year, it surprised me and burst into flower, with several buds to follow. The maple tree still shades the garden, so apparently this plant loved the polar vortex, or maybe it was the rainy June. 

Anybody recognize this plant? And what mystery survivors have you found in your garden?

Lackadaisical tropicals

Posted by: Lynn Underwood Updated: June 19, 2014 - 12:10 PM

For me, the rock star of deck and patio plants is the tropical hibiscus.

The mini-shrub’s huge trumpet-shaped flowers explode in colors like blood red, fiery orange and delicious peach. Sometimes I see tiny hummingbirds flitting around the blooms. It’s no surprise that the hibiscus is the national flower of Hawaii and  Jamaica.

But since we live in Minnesota, these beauties have to be brought inside for the winter if you want them to survive until spring. And I found out that you have to be patient to make it worth the trouble.

In October, when it’s time to empty the outdoor planters, the tropical  hibiscus is too lovely to send to the city disposal site with other garden debris. So I lug the super heavy pot to the basement to chill out for the winter in a special spot by a window. The cold and darkness hinders bud growth, but I water it every week, dreaming about all the bodacious blooms it will produce come summer.

In May, I keep track of the night time temperatures. It’s only safe to place tender plants outdoors when temperatures stay above 50 degrees. So usually by Memorial Day, I lug the hibiscus pot up from the basement to a special spot in the sun on the deck.

It looks pretty pathetic - the foliage is sparse and scraggly - but there’s promising new growth.
I give the plant a little TLC and fertilizer. Then I wait, every day inspecting for buds.

The last two summers, the slow-as-a snail hibiscus didn’t produce buds until almost August. It really takes a tropical plant, which likely would choose to live in Hawaii over Minnesota, a long time to get in the groove.

This summer, I've seen lush hibiscus bursting with flowers at the garden centers. Ther're  very tempting - and I bet they’re on sale.

Do you have good luck overwintering tropical plants?  What are your favorites?

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