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

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?

Catching up with the Edible Estate

Posted by: Kim Palmer Updated: August 4, 2014 - 10:55 AM

Remember last year's Edible Estate? That was the front yard in Woodbury where an artist/horticulturist tore up the traditional lawn and replaced it with a dense forest of food crops.

So what's going on this growing season, now that the Schoenherr family is on their own, with no donated plants or free expert help? 

Pretty much the same as last year -- that was the surprising news when I visited the family last week. They're still growing more than 100 edible crops, covering almost all their large suburban front yard. About half of last year's crops returned or self-seeded. The rest -- about 1,000 plants -- they started from seed in their basement, under grow lights. 

Now that they can choose their own crop mix, they're growing fewer eggplants, but they've added some new edibles, including tomatillos and borage. 

And their gung-ho neighbors, who dug in last year to help tend the mini-farm in their midst, are still at it, showing up for weekly "garden nights" to help pull weeds and help themselves to some produce.

"We really do have a lot of help," said Catherine Shoenherr. "It wouldn't be very fun to do this by yourself."

How has the family managed to turn their private front yard into a community garden? Find out in next week's Variety Home + Garden.

Fairy fatigue?

Posted by: Kim Palmer Updated: July 28, 2014 - 10:29 AM

"Fairy gardens are over."

That's what they told us almost a year ago, at the Garden Writers Assocation convention in Quebec City, where the Garden Media Group was presenting its top trends for 2104. Those trends included bee-friendly gardening, and young guys growing hops, and geometric shapes. 

No fairies. They're so 2012. 

But Minnesota gardeners didn't get the memo, apparently. Just this morning, my inbox included a press release for yet another fairy garden workshop. This summer's crop of Beautiful Gardens submissions included fairy gardens of all size and description.

I'll admit fairy gardens aren't my personal cup of nectar. They're tiny and detailed, while my aesthetic leans toward big, bold foliage plants.

But maybe I'm just the wrong demographic to appreciate fairy gardening and its charms. Most of the fairy gardeners I've met are doing it for their kids and grandkids as much as for themselves. They love having a garden that delights young children and attracts them to the landscape. (My kids are 21 and 24 -- they haven't procreated yet, and are too old to be enchanted by wee winged creatures.)

So maybe fairy gardens defy trendiness, and instead have become a beloved garden niche. 

What do you think, fellow gardeners? Are you feeling the magic of fairies in the garden? Been there, done that? Or never would?  

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?

Plants I regret

Posted by: Kim Palmer Updated: June 9, 2014 - 11:16 AM

When I was a younger, inexperienced gardener, I did some things I regret.

I brought home some plants I shouldn't have -- good-looking specimens that I didn't know much about. They're still haunting my landscape.

There's the contorted filbert I picked up at Home Depot about 10 years ago. It was small and quirky, with curly, twisty little branches. I put it in one of my garden beds next to a big boulder, thinking it would stay small and twisty and cute. 

Instead it grew like a giant weed, shooting out long straight branches with none of the curlicued charm that first caught my eye. 

It also brought a most unwelcome invader: Japanese beetles. If I had any before the filbert, I never noticed them. But once the filbert took up residence, they arrived in droves. By mid-summer, the filbert's foliage is thick with beetles. If they just stayed there and munched on the filbert it wouldn't be so bad, but they also move on to feast on my nearby roses and other plants.

Then there's the climbing rose I picked up the summer I moved into my house. The rose attracted me with its bright brilliant pink blooms, so I impulsively bought it and a big arbor to support it. The rose is still pretty -- for about two weeks in early summer when it's covered with vibrant flowers.

The rest of the time, it's just bare straggly canes that burst beyond the confines of the arbor and stab me with their thorns when I try to tame them.

Now that I know better -- that there are beautiful rose options that bloom all season long -- I could kick myself for not doing a little research first. 

The biggest mistake in my landscape is a maple, also planted the first year summer we moved into the house. We were new to suburbia, after years of living in the leafy urban core, and we missed the trees. So we planted one. 

Instead of carefully choosing the best location for a tree, we lazily picked the spot where the kids' wading pool had already killed the grass. And instead of carefully researching and choosing the best type of tree, we grabbed a maple at the garden center -- without reading the tag. We figured it would give us beautiful fall color. It does. But it also turned out to be some weird dwarf species that is more bush-shaped than tree-shaped. Instead of a traditional trunk crowned with branches, it produced multiple trunks low to the ground. It's too low and squatty to provide shade you can actually sit under. But, of course, it completely shades my garden, making it impossible to grow the sun-loving plants that thrived there when the tree was young.

One of these years, I'll probably get rid of these unsightly reminders of my impetuous youth. But it sure would have been easier if I'd just done my homework -- at least read the tags -- before I bought them.

Impulse garden purchases can be fun -- but save them for annuals and small plants; that's the lesson I learned the hard way.

Anyone else out there have things in their landscape that they planted in ignorance and now regret?

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