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.
Recently I was able to spend some time in Minnesota’s gardens – our state parks. We hiked on the North Shore; we
hiked near Banning, we hiked near Isle. All the parks were beautiful and the waterfalls looked as if someone had designed them just perfectly. (Hmm, is that where garden designers get their inspiration -- NATURAL BEAUTY?) Besides drinking water and sturdy shoes, one of the things I like to take along on my hikes is a good guide book.
Stopping along the path to identify parts of the garden are fun and educational. I believe you appreciate nature more if you know more about what you are viewing. You see past the beautiful scene and into a beautiful plant.
Last week, I brought the mushroom book and I found some fun ‘shrooms! Chicken in the Woods is an easy one to spot. It’s bright yellow and grows on the side of trees. This one was about 4 feet up. I’ve eaten Chicken in the Woods before – and it really does taste like chicken! But because I didn’t know the rules of the parks, I enjoyed this one with my camera not my fork.
While looking and identifying, you come across such fun tiny scenes. This one looked like the house of a family of trolls each with their own mushroom porch!
Mushrooms come in all shapes and sizes. They have shapes like coral, slime, and wood gnarls. The colors range from bright red, to yellow, to a black trumpet mushroom that is very difficult to find because it blends in with the oak leaves fallen around the tree.
Have you come across any neat fungus? What are your favorite hiking guide books?
I took a long walk the other night. It was twilight, that magical time when the summer sky darkens to deepest blue -- and the mosquitos start to zing.
At a wooded area near the path leading into a wetland, I saw a tiny pulse of light. It was a firefly! I stopped to peer into the woods and saw another. Then another. They twinkled against the trees, putting on an enchanted lightshow that kept me so transfixed that I just stood there, watching, oblivious to the mosquitos feasting on my flesh.
I've always loved fireflies. Who doesn't? I can still remember moments from childhood, playing night games in the neighborhood, as fireflies winked in dusky back yards and the moms started calling us indoors for the night.
Then we moved to southern California, when I was 8. There were no fireflies but there was Disneyland. Next to the "Pirates of the Caribbean" ride there was a restaurant, the Blue Bayou, that evoked a Louisiana swamp at twilight. Thanks to Disney magic, its atmosphere included the sound of crickets and the flicker of fake fireflies. I always begged for our family to eat there when we visited the Magic Kingdom.
I don't see a lot of fireflies in my neck of suburbia these days. Stumbling across that cluster of them the other night made me wonder why I don't see them more often. Apparently I'm not the only one. Fireflies appear to be declining.
Some think herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers might be killing the lightning bugs. There's also speculation that development and the proliferation of artificial light is shrinking habitat and interfering with mating. Fireflies find their mates by flashing, and they must be able to see the flash and return it.
Scientists are concerned to the point that they're asking a network of back-yard volunteers to track the bugs' range and numbers. Firefly Watch, a project of the Boston Museum of Science, debuted in 2008. If you want to post your own observations, visit www.mos.org/fireflywatch
Have you seen any fireflies this summer? Where did you spot them? And are you seeing them less often than you used to?
My rose got eaten from top to bottom some leaf feeder a few weeks back. I immediately grabbed the "all purpose rose spray" out of the garage and went at it. The directions said to get the top and bottom of the leaves -- what leaves? There was nothing left but sticks. I sprayed anyway! A couple weeks later I got some new leaves, sprayed them and hoped for the best.
If you've ever seen a shorn llama, that's what my shrub rose looks like. Skinny sticks on the bottom and a fluff at the top. I can't bear to cut it down so it will just have to do.
After staring at my "llama rose" a few minutes I figured I better read what the University of Minnesota has to say... http://www.extension.umn.edu/distribution/horticulture/dg6953.html
It looks like I had Japanese beetles attack my roses. The best method of control is spraying, so I didn't mess up too much. But, it sounds like they can come back. I don't want to keep spraying all the time! Now what?
Do dragonflies eat Japanese beetles? How about toads? This little feller lives near my pond. Maybe he'll help.
Anyone have suggestions?
"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?
Last week I was working on a Master Gardening project that involves helping a company with a vegetable garden. This company is going to plant and tend the garden throughout the year and donate all the food gathered to a food shelf; extremely commendable.
Another Master Gardener and I are providing assistance in garden design recommendations, planting instructions, and garden troubleshooting. I was working on garden design.
At first I was concerned with plant height and shading and where to plant the flowers in order to attract pollinators. Then I found something on Companion Planting and all heck broke loose.
The volunteers wanted to plant potatoes -- a fabulous food to donate as they are packed with nutrition
and easy to prepare. But according to Wikipedia, you’re not supposed to plant potatoes and tomatoes in the same garden bed. I checked my sources then double checked. There is some scientific evidence that the Companion Planting (and avoidance) makes sense.
Grandpa said that it’s good to plant basil and tomatoes together, but according to one of the articles I read, it’s the scent of the basil plant that deters tomato hornworms. Then there’s the whole Nightshade family vs. the Brassicas family. It makes Peppers and Cabbages out like the Hatfields and McCoys.
There’s so much that this project has made me think about – companion planting, donating food from your garden, and why DON’T nightshade and brassicas get along? I look to the experience of you readers. What do you know about companion planting? Have you ever donated your overabundance of crops? Suddenly this GreenGirl feels like a greenhorn.
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