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 took advantage of the cooler morning to dig up some plants for this Saturday's Greengirls plant swap (10 a.m. to noon, May 19 across from the Star Tribune, more details below and at www.startribune.com/lifestyle/homegarden/150638725.html).
The best thing about plant swaps is they're free. The next best thing is that there's no wrong way to go about them. They require no more effort than putting garden clog to shovel to dig up some of your extra plants and plop them in a bag to bring along. That said, here are some tips to help you get the most return on your time investment:
1. If you opt for the transplant in a bag method, it's best to dig up the plants shortly before the swap. They won't last as long out of the dirt, especially if they spend any time in Friday's heat. Plus, they'll look a little bedraggled if they've spent too much time in a bag, and won't look as appealing to potential traders. I always keep back a few plastic garden center pots for transplanting and put the plants in a bit of dirt. Then I put even the sun-loving transplants in the shade for a few days to help them get over the shock.
2. Got any leftover garden flats? It's handy to have a way to carry home your finds. I always go into the plant swap figuring I'm just there to get rid of my excess plants, but a few gems always seem to follow me home. One woman came well-equipped with a little red wagon she pulled around to make her trades.
3. Should you arrive early or late? Well, both have their advantages. The most gung-ho swappers tend to arrive at the beginning, and if you're set on finding a specific plant, your best luck is to come at the beginning and stay until that plant shows up. But last year someone with a treasure trove of heirloom veggie seedlings arrived well into the last hour, so you never know. Many people who get what they came for leave their excess plants on the leftovers table when they go, so throughout the event you may be able to score swap-free plants, especially in the last hour.
4. Labels aren't necessary, but they don't hurt. If it's clear what your plant is, you needn't bother. But a lot of plants are hard to identify before they reach the bloom stage, and people are more likely to offer to trade if they don't have to ask what the plant is. Just putting the name on a strip of masking tape will help. I get a little carried away with labels that include name, description of size, bloom time and sun/shade requirements and possibly a picture of the bloom, but then again, I do this sort of thing for a living. But any sort of label can help your trading prospects. That said, if you have a plant you'd like to swap but aren't sure of its name, don't let that stop you; just be prepared to describe it when people ask. (Anyone want a volunteer clematis that I'm not sure what kind it is?)
5. Don't be afraid other people won't want your plants just because they're the usual suspects. Sure, there are a lot of hosta, daylilies, lily of the valley and snow on the mountain. But someone always seems to have a place they need some more of those. One year my offerings included some curly-leafed green and white hosta I figured no one would need, but some woman wanted them who said, "You wouldn't want snow on the mountain would you?" As it turned out, I had a shady, otherwise weedy patch bounded on four sides by concrete where they've been perfect.
6. If you wind up bringing home some plants in a bag, be sure to get them in soil right away if you can. It doesn't have to be in their final resting spot if that's not ready. Just put them in a bit of soil in a pot so they have a fighting chance. If you don't have time for that, at least keep the bags moist so your trades don't go to waste.
Whatever you come home with, it won't have a pricetag attached. But it may well have a story to go with it, like the dahlia man who kept a crowd enthralled dispensing bulbs and advice. Or the herb that came with the story of how the Long Island dill made its prize-winning trip to judging. Gardeners are a great bunch of people to meet.
Hope to see you Saturday, May 19, when the Greengirls and pals will be at the grassy park area next to the parking lot to the west of the Star Tribune building at 425 Portland Av. Parking in the lot is free during the event, which lasts until noon. Bring anything you think a fellow gardener might want: plants, bulbs, seeds, tools, supplies and books are all fair game. I'm still trying to decide if it's worth lugging along a big ficus that's overtaken the sunroom.
Plant swap veterans: What are your tips for swap success?
I spent last week in my back yard, trying to remind it that it was supposed to resemble a garden. Despite a certain amount of weeding and cleanup, it wasn't taking the hint. After stepping back for a look, I decided it could benefit from a serious round of rearranging.
Several hours with a shovel later, parts of the yard looked less haphazard. But after that bout of purging, I was left with some plants I really like, just not right there .... or there...
I potted them up until I could figure out where they might show to best advantage. Then, eureka!, I remembered the Green Girls plant swap, where those plants could go to a new home where they do fit.
The plant swap is June 4 from 10 a.m. to noon, across from the Star Tribune building, between 4th and 5th streets on Portland Avenue in downtown Minneapolis. Free plants! Free parking! Free seeds and prizes while they last!
So, if your garden could use some of this instead of that, pack up your extra plants, seedlings, books or supplies and come join us in seeing what someone else might want to swap. We had a ton of fun the last time we held the swap, and met lots of great gardeners with some really cool plants. And remember, one person's "unfavorite" plant can be another's favorite, so don't think you have nothing to offer in exchange.
I need to head out to the garden to pot up more goodies. (I swear I'm not including my many unstoppable invasive spreaders.)
The end result should leave my garden looking more intentional. It was just kind of like a 401(k): It needs periodic rebalancing when some plants (centaurea), outperform others (curly leaf hosta), and dividends need to be reinvested (plant swap).
What kind of garden designer are you? The chronic rearranger? The selective editor? The gap filler? Or the type that leaves well enough alone so long as it's not weeds?
"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: email@example.com. 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?
How lame a gardener am I? I haven't even done anything yet and I've already screwed up.
I'm talking about the tropical plants I attempted to "overwinter."
I love big, dramatic tropicals, and I always put a few in my patio pots. I usually treat them like annuals, enjoying them for the season, then saying goodbye in the fall.
But last year, I splurged on some exceptional beauties: three black canna, with murky eggplant foliage and brilliant orange-red blooms, and three tibouchina (princess flower bush). Those plants never did produce the bright-purple blossoms that looked so stunning on the tag. But the leaves were huge and furry, and looked cool in my pots. I was determined to give them another chance to strut their stuff.
So I read up on overwintering tropicals, and spent an October afternoon trimming and cleaning the bulbs and blanketing them in peat moss, in individual pots.
The experts said the plants should spend the winter in a cool, dark place. Unfortunately, I don't really have one. My house has a walkout basement, with sliding-glass doors to a very sunny back yard. Every inch of the basement is finished, except for the furnace room, which is far from cool.
So to buy time, I tucked the pots in the darkest corner of the garage, behind my daughter's cast-off futon and my son's hockey net. My mother's basement has a dark, cool storage room that would be perfect for wintering plants. I figured I'd bring them there before the first frost.
Out of sight, out of mind. Hockey season started, we got super busy, and I completely forgot about my plants. They spent the entire winter in that corner of the garage.
I saw those poor, forgotten pots when I was looking for the tool box last week. Oops! I thought back to winter -- with several sub-zero days in a row, I know the garage temperature had to have dropped far below the 40 to 50 degrees suggested by the plant pros. Not exactly "cool." I didn't even get the "dark" part right. The garage light was accidentally left on overnight several times, and I seem to remember the garage door being left open more than once.
So much for my attempt to get more than one season out of my tropicals. These pictures show plants that WON'T be making a second appearance at my home.
What about you? I'm sure you were a better plant steward than I was. What have you saved for another season?
Sedum is the old shoe in my garden. It's so low-maintenance that I tend to forget about it. And during summer, when other plants are bursting with blooms and calling attention to themselves, sedum recedes to the background.
But fall is sedum's turn to shine. While my other plants are looking spent and scraggly, my sedums are just coming into their own, with big clumps of tiny blooms that put on a show of fall color.
I have the ubiquitous Autumn Joy but there are many other varieties, from the variegated Pink Chablis to the dusky Black Jack.
Sedum isn't maintenance-free but it's pretty darn close. Mature plants need to be divided every few years or they tend to collapse in the middle. Or so I'm told. But to be completely frank, I haven't divided ANY of the sedums that I acquired along with my house 14 years ago, and they still look pretty darn good.
Sedum is tough as nails in garden beds, but it's equally indestructible in pots. I bought some Dragon's Blood sedum plants seven years ago to trail over the edges of my patio pots. Every fall, I just leave them in the pots and let them freeze. And they STILL come back, year after year. That's a survivor!
What's your favorite sedum?
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