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.

5 ways that gardening saves you money

Posted by: Martha Buns under Perennials, Vegetables Updated: July 29, 2014 - 9:27 AM

A $1.79 packet of peas will yield several-fold dollars of fresh peas.Does gardening save you money? Well, it depends on what kind of gardener you are. Gardening can be an expensive hobby, if you're in to exotic plants, or a cheap hobby, if you shop farmers markets and pick up freebies from neighbors.

I do keep track of my gardening expenses so I know where the money goes. There are usually a few splurges each spring on a few new perennials, but those pay dividends down the road when those lily bulbs naturalize. To offset the cost of some fancy pants new plant, I do the math to figure out how much my vegetable garden produces.

Here are five ways I rationalize that my garden saves me money, both the quantifiable and the less tangible:

1. Vegetable gardens rock: If you figure one four-pack of basil from the farmers market costs about the same as one of those plastic packages of fresh basil leaves at the store, by the time you get to your fourth meal involving basil, you're definitely coming out way ahead. Plus, the basil in the store package goes bad quickly, while the plant outside stays fresh. One kale plant produces oodles and oodles of the equivalant of those plastic boxes you can buy at the store for more than $4. Packets of seeds are available for under a few bucks, and each time I go out to pick peas, I bring in fresh bounty that would fetch $3 at the farmers market. And being able to pick veggies at their peak when you're ready to use them cuts down on food waste.Yes, I know there are watering costs, but factored out over the summer, I definitely come out ahead, and eat healthier to boot.

2. Fitness regimen. Healthy eating may well save you on medical costs long term. And if you put your back into it, so to speak, you can skip the gym dues for the summer. If I ever really got my garden in shape, I'd get myself in shape, too. Weeding might not seem like a workout, but even my fitness fanatic husband acknowledges that yard work counts.

3. Gardens keep on giving. Naturalizing is just a pretty word for describing desirable plants that spread. That packet of oriental lily bulbs I splurged on 10 years ago? Double the coverage now. The mini "emerald isle" hosta collection I indulged in? I've divided it a couple times now, covering more of my gaps and using the extras to trade for some heirloom tomato seedlings, herbs and canna bulbs at the plant swap this year. The mallow I planted one of a decade ago may not always self sow in the places I want it to, but I just yank the ones I don't want and say thank you to the ones that I do. The price per unit comes down over the years, which is handy since not every perennial is a survivor.

4. Jumping off the hedonic treadmill. Humans supposedly keep needing more of everything to be happy: We quickly adapt to any increase in pay, new possessions, etc., and want more. Basically, new car smell only lasts so long. Put that up against the heavenly scent of a peony. Sure, the blossoms are fleeting each season, but the plants, as our grandmothers could tell us, will outlast us.Gardens help gratify our need for new things by providing fresh surprises each time you come around the corner: The peas are up! The delphinium are blooming! Oh, yeah, I planted a campanula there last year! With a ready supply of novelty, the need for newness is at least partially satisfied. To heck with new clothes; I'm just going to put on old ones to garden anyway.

5. It's cheaper than therapy. You may not always get tomatoes, depending on the weather and the squirrels, but the satisfaction of seeing reward for your efforts, and the tension-relieving benefits of garden work are worth a theoretical bundle. Plants really are good listeners. (Although the squirrels, not so much.)

How do you rationalize your garden costs? Do you figure you come out money ahead or do you care?


Fairy fatigue?

Posted by: Kim Palmer under Annuals, Flowers, Perennials 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 under Flowers, Perennials, Transplanting + dividing, Weeds, Weekend chores 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

A home to show - and garden to grow.

Posted by: Helen Yarmoska under Lawn care, Perennials Updated: July 23, 2014 - 8:45 AM

A friend of mine has plans on selling his house so asked me over for a “garden consultation.”  Most of his garden time was spent in the back yard where he spent time with his family.  However, he wanted the front yard to pop so that when people drove by, the wanted to see more.

It’s a beautiful old stucco house with magnificent wood accents.  He had just removed two large overgrown arborvitaes and was looking for replacement ideas.  When I got there, I realized there was more removal that needed to happen.  He had bushes that blocked walkways -- one of landscaping’s no-nos.  I recommended keeping the shovel out and removing those two bushes.

We did the walk around and the back yard and front yard were bi-polar.  The back was a combination of peaceful repose for parents with areas of unique plants and a large green lawn space for children and dogs.  It was fenced in nicely with a well-kept privacy fence and terraced back area that was not too dangerous or steep for curious boys.  The area to the side of the house was fully shaded and the only area in the back that might need some work.

Then it came to ideas for the front, he wanted to keep the budget relatively low, but still wanted the “wow” factor.   I noticed a few shrub rose bushes in the back that could be moved to the front.   But he has limited time and moving roses is not fun.  Besides, I already gave him the task of removing two bushes.  

“Let’s go with hydrangeas out front,” I said.  “Peonies?  What about coreopsis and sedum?”  I didn’t see the “magnificent idea” look on his face.  What I saw was.  “eh, common.”  Although he never said it, I could tell by the plantings in the back he wanted more.  “I could divide up some of my hostas and snow-in-the-mountain for the side garden,” I enthusiastically chimed in.  He said, “Really, snow-in-the-mountain.”

At this point, I hoped to slap him into reality.  “You’re moving.  You won’t have to deal with invasive snow-in-the-mountain!  The hostas are the plain green kind, but they’re free and spread quickly.  Plus, the peonies are on clearance now at the garden center.  Add some bright petunias and new mulch in the front and it will look fantastic.”   

I think he expected more from this Master Gardener.  But that’s what I had -- common, easy-to-grow, abundant plants.  They can be gorgeous and make for quick beauty.  Maybe I’m too practical – or too cheap – but I didn’t go with adding $50 shrubs and $20 perennials.  That would be the next owner’s creative palate to fill.  

Did I do my friend wrong?

Snatching victory from the jaws of squirrels

Posted by: Martha Buns under Critters and pests, Vegetables Updated: July 22, 2014 - 8:59 PM

I've gotten very tired of coming home to see what had been tomatoes on the cusp of ripeness hanging from the vines in shards. For the most part the squirrels don't even bother to make off with their prize, just claw at it to the point that it's no longer a candidate for the table.

I'd made a few efforts this weekend to try to ward them off, knowing that the riper the tomatoes got, the more vulnerable to marauders they become. But a ring of netting didn't deter the varmints, so I'm going to have to take sterner measures.

In the meantime, until I get to a store for more defense supplies, I've started taking the precaution of picking them far sooner than I would ordinarily prefer, just so we get some tomatoes this year, even if they're counter-ripened.

Do squirrels attack your tomatoes? And what measures have you had success and failure with when it comes to protecting your bounty?


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