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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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?  

Plant freebies in July?

Posted by: Lynn Underwood Updated: July 24, 2014 - 5:13 PM

By the end of July, it’s pretty clear which plants are greedy for more garden space. My midsummer garden is flush with too much growth. Masses of moneywort green tendrils have infiltrated the clumps of ‘Autumn Joy’ sedum.  Tall fringed loosestrife have infringed on the feathery foliage of astilbe. But the most nefarious plant is the sweet-looking buttercup primrose, which has vigorously multiplied and smothered everything in its path.

My garden is just too small for prolific perennials to run amok. So I’m continuiusly thinning and dividing, tossing the wandering plants with weeds and garden debris in the compost pile.

Local gardening groups organize scores of popular plant swaps, sales and giveaways in the spring. Why not at the end of July, too?

I wish I could share some of these healthy specimens with appreciative growers who still have holes to fill and don’t mind doing it when it’s hot and buggy.  And next spring, they'll reap the rewards.

What do you do with overzealous plants spreading across your garden? Does your neighborhood hold a midsummer plant swap?

Photos: Dave's Garden and Stepables

It's a party -- with pollinators!

Posted by: Kim Palmer Updated: July 21, 2014 - 10:25 AM

Walking along Franklin Avenue Friday after work, I was passing a tiny front-yard garden when something caught my eye. Bees, two big fat ones, were busily foraging among the coneflowers.

I paused to watch them in action, marveling at their ability to find the few flowers in an urban forest of concrete. 

Bees, their decline, and the important work they do to pollinate our food supply, are getting a lot of attention these days. If you're interested in learning more about how to protect bees, provide habitat or maybe even start keeping bees, head to Lyndale Park Gardens on Thursday evening. From 5 to 8 p.m., there will be a free " Pollinator Party" on the lawn near the Lake Harriet Peace Garden.

The event brings together scientists, educators and beekeepers, with opportunities to learn about everything from urban beekeeping to making your back yard more bee-friendly. But it's also a fun event to stop by and just hang out, with live music, activities for kids, food and beverages to purchase, and at dusk, a showing of the Disney movie "Wings of Life." 

For more information, visit: 

http://www.minneapolisparks.org/documents/activities/environmental/PollinatorParty2014Flyer.pdf

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