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.
I'm a sucker for new colors in the garden. When those black petunias were first introduced a few years back, I was all over them, tucking them in my pots and beds to add visual depth and drama.
A couple years ago, I decided to add more natives and bee-friendly plants to my landscape. I bought some coneflowers, among other things. Naturally, I was attracted to the newer, brighter and more unusual colors -- the vivid magentas and corals -- instead of the plain old light purple coneflowers that everyone else had in their garden.
But new and unusual isn't better when it comes to providing forage for bees and other pollinators, according to Heather Holm, a Minnetonka landscape designer/consultant and author of the new book, "Pollinators of Native Plants." (www.pollinatorsnativeplants.com)
New cultivars, in eye-candy colors, may catch your eye at the garden center, but they may not appeal to bees at all. "If breeding has changed the flower color, it may not be attractive bees," Holm says. "It may look better to us. But it can change the fragrance or nectar. Stick with straight species, if you can."
Those showy double flowers, too, can make it harder for bees to access nectar. "Stick with simpler forms," Holm says.
If you really want to help bees, Holm suggests you rethink how a pollinator would see your garden -- "not just doing what you think is the prettiest, with double flowers or brand-new introductions with a cool color."
Bees also need a continuous succession of flowering plants throughout the growing season, Holm notes. "In most gardens there is a gap" -- typically early spring or late fall. So if you want to nurture bees through September and into October, add some fall-flowering plants such as asters and goldenrod.
Are bees on your garden radar this growing season? Are you doing anything different in your garden to make it more bee-friendly?
I didn't plant sunflowers this year -- or any other year, for that matter. But I've got gigantic 5-foot-tall sunflowers now blooming in my back-yard garden.
I noticed them sprouting there a couple months ago. They've never sprouted there before. But my husband discovered birds this spring and bought a bird feeder, which he filled with sunflower seeds and placed on the deck.
That deck is right above my garden, which is how I wound up with sunflowers.
From a strict garden-design standpoint, the sunflowers aren't a great addition to my garden bed. Theyr'e way too tall, compared to what's planted around them, and look kind of silly. But I can't help smiling whenever I see their sunny yellow faces.
They provide a welcome burst of bright color, at a time when the flowers around them are winding down.
And -- best of all -- they've turned out to be irrestible to bees. I don't know what kind of sunflowers they are, but every time I venture outside, morning or evening, bees are buzzing around them, and camped out on the flowers and even nearby leaves.
The three new flowering natives I planted this spring with bees in mind haven't done as well as I expected. One plant died after a few weeks. One stayed tiny and never flowered. The third plant, a coneflower, thrived and attracted a few bees. But nothing like the sunflowers, which are bee magnets.
What are the bees liking best in your garden this September? And did your garden have any surprises up its sleeve?
Ambergate Gardens (www.ambergategardens.com) is ending its run.
For 28 years, the plant-only nursery in Chaska has been a destination for gardeners seeking unusual hardy perennials.
But owners Mike and Jean Heger have decided it's time to retire from retail. They announced the news "with mixed emotions" in a recent letter to customers, saying they were "ready to have some free time during the growing season."
"It's bad for our customers, good for us," said Mike in a phone interview. "We're not going to retire from horticulture, but we're ready to put a little different spin on it." He hopes to do more teaching, speaking and writing. "If I can find a publisher, maybe I'll write another book." (His "Growing Perennials in Cold Climates" was published in 1998 and updated in 2011.)
"We want to keep the Ambergate name, but as more of a consulting business."
The Hegers have signed a purchase agreement with Mattamy Homes to sell their 42-acre site, which is slated to become a housing development. "We bought this piece of property with this in mind," he said.
That leaves the Hegers with a whole lot of plants to sell before Oct. 13, when they expect to close Ambergate's doors for good. To that end, Ambergate is holding its "one and only sale" with 25 percent off all stock. "We'll start liquidating next week (on Sept. 10) and sell til it's gone," he said. (Customers who received the Hegers' letter can bring it in for an additional 10 percent off.) "We want our active long-term customers to get the greatest discount."
The inventory includes about 30,000 plants representing 1,000-plus varieties, propagated on site. "We have natives, exotics, sun to shade plants and traditional perennials," he said.
That includes many unusual, hard-to-find perennial species. "There are a lot of really good perennials that don't get into the mainstream," he said, such as Lemon Queen, a sunflower with prolific blooms in a "rich, clear lemon yellow," and unusual natives like wild quinine.
"We do some things nobody else does," he said. "There's definitely going to be a void here. Hopefully, someone else will step in."
The growing season is winding down, but trendwatchers are already looking ahead to how we'll be gardening next year.
So what crops, methods and looks will be hot in 2014? Here are a dozen top trends from the Garden Media Group, presented by trendspotter Suzi McCoy at the recent Garden Writers Association Symposium in Quebec City:
1. Ground up. Food scraps are the new recyclables, according to McCoy. About 25 percent of Americans are currently composting and building their soil from scratch, and more will jump on the compost bandwagon, inspired by new user-friendly compost products.
2. Super Foods Super Models. The veggie-growing renaissance that emerged a few years back is still robust, with more gardeners branching beyond the basics to grow hard-to-find specialty veggies, fruits and herbs.
3. Drink Your Yard. Homegrown goes liquid, with more gardeners growing hops for homebrew, grapes for wine, ingredients for craft cocktails and "green smoothies." Homemade pickles and kimchi also will be big. "Fermentation gardens are the new chickens," according to Rebecca Reed of Southern Living.
4. Dress Up Your Yard. Outdoor living enthusiasts are in the mood to accessorize, using artsy pots, chandeliers and other "garden jewelry" to add flair to their landscapes.
5. Bee-nificials. Pollinators are in peril, and consumers are primed to help, planting pollen-rich natives, moving away from monocultures and adding habitat, both natural vegetation and bee-friendly innovations such as "bee hotels."
6. Cultur-vating. Locavores are taking local to the next level, embracing plants that are local to their region but mixing them with plants from other cultures.
7. Simple Elegance. Gardens are taking a cue from fashion with color-blocking and other simple-yet-high-impact color schemes, including classic black and white.
8. Frack'd Up. Neat clean lines are passe. The trendiest gardens will feature fractional shapes such as triangles, circles and squares. Umbels -- a flower shape featuring spiky stems topped by round clusters of blooms -- will be especially popular.
9. Young Men Get Down and Dirty. Who spends the most money in the garden? Right now, it's young guys, ages 18 to 34, who shell out $100 more than average during the growing season. They're growing food for grilling, hops for homebrew and peppers for homemade salsa.
10. Think Gardens. As more people get the message that plants help us de-stress and work smarter, look for more outdoor garden meetings, indoor gardens at work and even desktop gardens.
11. Fingertip Gardening. Gardening goes digital. Instead of asking friends and neighbors for growing advice, we're now turning to the Internet and mobile apps.
12. Tree-mendous Reversal. Between development and pests, we're losing 4 million urban trees a year -- and we're increasingly aware of what that's costing us -- environmentally, economically and emotionally. Thus, we're going to be planting a lot of trees, trying to restore our arboreal balance.
That's what's in. Here's what's out, according to McCoy. "Fairy gardens are over," she said. (Although I'm not sure Minnesota gardeners are ready to let go of them, judging from the many fairy gardens entered in this year's Beatuiful Gardens contest.)
So now it's your turn to weigh in, fellow gardeners. Which of these trends resonate for you? Which ones will you be embracing? Or ignoring?
Last night I got my first look at Edible Estate #15 since its installation over Memorial Day weekend.
A lot has changed. The tiny seedlings have blown up into big, beautiful vegetable plants -- more than 100 different crops, if you count color variations. The Schoenherrs' front yard in Woodbury is already producing so much food that the family of four can't eat it all. They're sharing veggies with their neighbors and bringing bags of lettuce to work to give to co-workers. "I don't want another salad for awhile," admitted Catherine Schoenherr.
She's most excited about the bright-purple cauliflower now peeping from its leaves. "We knew it was cauliflower but we didn't know it was purple," she said.
Her husband, John, is experimenting with pestos and juices, and their grown kids, Aaron and Andrea, are making salsa. And they're all trying to figure out what to do with chamomile, besides make tea.
Catherine has organized several "gardening nights" when neighbors are invited to come, pull a few weeds and bring home a bag of produce. And she'd like to plan a sauerkraut-making party later in the season. "We're going to have a ton of cabbage."
The garden is not open to the public, but the public can get a peek starting Aug. 8 at the Walker Art Museum, when it kicks off its Edible Estates exhibit, part of artist Fritz Haeg's residency. (Haeg is the creator of Edible Estates and the designer of the Schoenherrs' new landscape.) You can learn more about Haeg and his vision at: http://www.walkerart.org/magazine/2013/garden-all-seasons
We'll be featuring the Schoenherrs' new landscape in Home + Garden on Aug. 7. So what do you think? Would you want to grow this much food in your own front yard?
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