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.
Non-gardening season was extra short this year, especially for me. My 2011 gardening season ended on a raw December day when most people already had up outdoor holiday decorations in their yard, and I was out in mine attempting to plant garlic.
It was an accident, like many ventures in my gardening career. I had bought garlic at the farmers market in fall, and I set it aside to plant a few weeks after the first killing frost, as instructed. But that was a long time coming, and eventually I tucked it out of sight (and mind) when guests were coming over.
Then in December, my husband asked what had ever happened to the garlic we had bought. Well, shoot. Or no shoots, if I didn't so something. Could it be a case of better late than never? It was definitely past first frost, but sadly well past a hard freeze, and long since I should have put them in the ground. The dirt in the raised bed where I had good intentions to plant the garlic was already frozen solid and singularly resistant to digging. (Oh, we tried.)
Then my husband tried the big pile of dirt leftover from a yet-unfinished project, and it turned out to be more open to shovel work, so we added a layer of soil on top of the raised bed, planted the garlic and put more dirt on top of that. I mulched the bulbs with some leaves held back for future compost, and put down mesh to keep out inquisitive squirrels and bricks to hold down the mesh.
Then I forgot about it until a few weeks ago, when rows of garlic shoots emerged to reward our sheepish December gardening efforts. They weren't the straightest rows I've ever planted, but given the degree of difficulty points, I'll give myself a pass. I don't know what role the mild winter may have played in the garlic's survival, but I'll take it. If it all works out OK, this summer I'll dig out the aioli recipes and this fall I'll put "Plant garlic" on my electronic calendar for early October.
What is the latest you've ever planted? And what garden accidents have worked out well for you?
And if you want to know how to grow garlic properly, rather than improperly like me, the fine folks at the Extension service have all the details: www.extension.umn.edu/distribution/cropsystems/dc7317.html
"Do you have flowers on your Endless Summers?" That's what a colleague asks me year after year. She sounds wistful at the beginning of the growing season, irritated by the end.
That's because my Endless Summers flower like crazy, and hers rarely boast a bloom. Both of us eagerly ran out and bought the plants after their much-hyped debut in 2004. But while mine have lived up to the hype, delivering pink and violet bursts of color all summer long, hers have been a big disappointment.
"Do you fertilize them?" she asks. Nope. Haven't done it once. "Did you mix in compost before you planted them?" Nope. Didn't do that either. They shouldn't be so happy in my yard, but for some reason, they are.
I know a lot of people are very pleased with the performance of their Endless Summers, but there are some disgruntled gardeners out there as well, who complain that their plants don't bloom much or at all. My mother is one of them, although, to be fair, she says it's probably because deer eat the buds as soon as they form.
I've also heard people complain about the plants' stature, that they don't get as tall as other hydrangeas they're used to. That's probably true; Endless Summers reach a mature height of 2 to 4 feet. That's a big plus in my landscape, where plants tend to overgrow their welcome. The five Endless Summers I planted along the walk in front of the house stay petite and compact and, yes, loaded with blooms. Did I mention that? Don't hate me because I'm beautiful.
I got curious about why Endless Summers perform so well for me but not for everyone. Siting appears to be key. The ideal location receives morning sun and afternoon shade. That's because Endless Summers, like all bigleaf hydrangeas, dislike hot afternoon sun. (My front yard, for what it's worth, does have morning sun and afternoon shade.)
There's a lot of great information about getting the most from Endless Summer in northern climates at Northscaping.com (http://www.northscaping.com/InfoZone/IS-0124/IS-0124.shtml).
In the meantime, what's been your experience with this plant? Has it lived up to the hype? Or are you still waiting, like my colleague? And if your Endless Summers are happy (flowering) campers, what's your secret?
"I believe gardening is the highest form of art." That's what a gardener, one of the past winners of the Star Tribune's Beautiful Gardens contest, once told me when I was visiting her garden, and it's stuck with me.
She wasn't bragging. She was reflecting on the challenges all gardeners face in their quest for beauty.
Gardening, like most art forms, takes years to learn and master, she noted. But gardening is, by its nature, ephemeral, she added. One bad storm, one bad winter, and the gardener's careful creation can be dramatically altered or even destroyed.
When I visit winning gardens, I'm always amazed at the many ways gardeners find to create and nurture beauty. Some turn a tiny, postage-stamp city lot into an enchanted oasis. Others work on a bigger canvas, transforming acres of weeds into their own personal arboretum.
Have you experienced a "Wow!" garden? Maybe it's your Mom's. Maybe it's your neighbor's. Maybe it's in your own back yard.
Now is the time to share its beauty with others by nominating it in our annual Beautiful Gardens contest. It's easy to nominate. Just send a brief description of the garden and the gardener who tends it, along with a few photos -- they don't need to be of professional quality. Snapshots are fine.
The winning gardens and gardeners will be featured in the Star Tribune, in print and online, during the coming months.
So share the beauty -- and help inspire your fellow gardeners! Please e-mail nominations to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Or mail them to: Beautiful Gardens contest, Star Tribune, 425 Portland Ave. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488. The deadline is June 17, 2011.
In the meantime, let's talk about beautiful gardens. What makes a garden special? What's a memorable garden you've experienced? What's the most beautiful thing about your own garden?
It’s been nearly two years since I discovered the sinkhole. My sewer line had broken, and the excavation and repair left me with an unplanned project -- a blank slate of a front yard scarred from the heavy equipment that compacted the
heavy clay. I wrote about it then, imagining that I would spend all winter dreaming and ordering perennials from catalogs, ready to grab a shovel as soon as the snow had melted. My high-energy boyfriend and I had cleared out landscape rock and spread topsoil in the fall. I had visions of grandeur by spring.
It didn’t happen that way.
High-energy boyfriend gave me a ring. We got married, sold his house in an
awful market, and then worked on merging two households into one.
As my husband said goodbye to the beautiful gardens he had worked so hard to build, we started planning our own – together, as a wedding gift. We had visions of grandeur by early last summer.
The rain washed away our best-laid plans. Weekend after stormy weekend. We didn’t get started in earnest until the weather was blistering hot. We stripped the sod, tilled in soil and amendments and shopped for bargain plants for our project. And we learned a lot along the way. Some lessons, and some photos:
I've had a long, mostly unrequited love affair with blue hydrangeas. I first fell for them during a vacation to Cape Cod and Nantucket, where they bloom like periwinkel bowling balls in front of charming seaside cottages.
I wanted that look at home, but at the time, there weren't really any good Zone 4 options. I tried planting a few Nikko Blues but couldn't get them to bloom at all, much less in the color I coveted.
Then came Endless Summer (www.endlesssummerblooms.com), the hardy hydrangea introduced by Bailey Nurseries with much fanfare a few years back. I bought three on the spot. But after the first season, the blooms always came back pink, no matter how much soil tinkering I tried to do with fertilizer.
It takes aluminum in the soil to produce the blue pigment, according to the United States National Arboretum (www.usna.usda.gov/gardens/faqs/hydrangeafaq2.html). But it also takes a soil pH of 5.5 or lower, or the aluminum will not be available to the plant. Apparently my soil just wasn't acidic enough to produce blue blooms.
Until this year. I planted two more Endless Summers last spring. When their blooms started appearing a couple months ago, they were most definitely blue, with a hint of violet. I've been watching them all season, waiting for the blue to shift to lavender and then pink. But so far, they're staying blue-violet -- even though the Endless Summers right next to them are as rosy pink as always.
I don't know if that patch of soil is slightly more acidic, just enough to tip the difference. Or if they're just a little slower to adjust to their new environment than the plants I put in earlier.
There are color-changing kits now available for Endless Summer -- Color Me Pink and Color Me Blue, but so far I haven't tried them. Have you? How did it work? And what color do you like your hydrangeas?
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