In the Yard

Rhonda Hayes is a garden writer, photographer and blogger. She also volunteers as a Hennepin County Master Gardener. Rhonda chronicles her gardening adventures and advice at her award-winning blog, The Garden Buzz. She is a frequent contributor to Northern Gardener magazine and the Star Tribune Home + Garden section. At Your Voices, she writes about life around the city lakes, occasionally veering off the garden path with essays on the silly and serious issues of the day.

Don't Miss it! Master Gardener "Learning Garden Tour" This Saturday!

Posted by: Rhonda Hayes Updated: July 10, 2014 - 1:55 PM

The weather promises to be beautiful so there's no excuses. Make sure to attend the Hennepin County Master Gardener "Learning Garden Tour" this Saturday from 9am to 4pm. There's something for everyone who wants a successful, sustainable garden. This year's tour is located throughout the northeast, southeast and historic Prospect Park. For tickets and more information:

Master Gardeners will be on hand to answer all of your gardening questions. Education Stations will present in-depth information on the latest trends and techniques. Shop for books and unique garden art at the Garden Shed. And as always the ever popular Raptor Program. 

Hope to see you there!

FREE EVENT...Garden: A Language We Speak (Saturday, July 12)

Posted by: Rhonda Hayes Updated: July 2, 2014 - 12:59 PM

You'll usually find me on the pages of the Star Tribune writing about pruning shrubs or starting seeds, the everyday bread and butter stories of the horticultural world. But we garden writers do dig deeper on occasion. Seeking meaning in all the weeding and watering we reflect upon this passion, often inherited through generations, to find firmly-rooted truths. 

I'll be one of ten writers participating in this free garden/literary event created by Rosemary Davis. Please join us if you can. 

Learning Garden Tour! Save the Date!

Posted by: Rhonda Hayes Updated: June 21, 2014 - 9:59 AM

​Don't miss the 2014 Master Gardener Learning Tour!

Saturday, July 12, 2014  9am to 4pm

Our annual tour features eight beautiful gardens designed and maintained by Hennepin County Master Gardeners. This year's tour is located in the Northeast, Southeast and Longfellow neighborhoods including historic Prospect Park.

Unlike other garden tours, we offer education in addition to inspiration. This year's gardens show real life examples and solutions on a number of gardening trends and topics. You'll learn how to:

Channel Your Inner Rain Garden, Support Pollinators, Create Colorful Containers, Get How-To About Hops, Make Compost Happen, Love Your Lawn, Grow Your Own Food and Conquer That Shade.

Here's the link:

  • Tickets are $15 in advance (discounts for groups of 10 or 20) and can be purchased until Friday, July 11th via PayPal below.  Tickets are $20 (cash or check) on the day of the tour and can be purchased at any of the gardens (check back after July 1st for garden locations). 12 or under is free with adult.
  • If you would prefer, you may mail your check to HCMG Learning Garden Tour, 479 Prairie Center Drive, Eden Prairie, MN, 55344. If you are mailing your check, please allow sufficient time to reach our offices by Friday, July 11th.
  • Proceeds benefit Hennepin County Master Gardener community programs

Top Ten Bee-Friendly Tips: #5- Consider Planting a Bee Lawn

Posted by: Rhonda Hayes Updated: June 18, 2014 - 3:30 PM

Lawns, people love 'em or loath 'em. I'm not in the group that thinks all lawns are evil. There's a time and a place for grass. Lawns provide cooling effects, places to play and a spot for your eye to rest in the garden.

But acres and acres of turf that only exists to be mowed, well there's gotta be something better. Actually there is, consider planting a bee lawn. What's a bee lawn? It's a less than perfect carpet, a combination of cool-season grasses and low-growing flowering plants that produce nectar and pollen for vital creatures like bees and butterflies.

People used to have bee lawns but they just didn't know it. Before lawns received attention from lawn care companies they often were infiltrated with white clover, and tolerated. In fact, lots of grass seed mixes contained clover seed as well. The clover not only fed the bees, it produced seeds for birds. 

Clover increases nitrogen in the soil improving its health and decreases the need for fertilizer. Not bad, huh? 

Not every yard is a candidate for a bee lawn. But within every yard there might be a place for some type or small area for a bee lawn. Sloping areas where kids don't play sports or backyard areas that get little usage are good spots to try this sort of "turf". You could just leave the edges a little wild.

When I lived in England I was always fascinated by all the tiny flowers within our lawn that created a meadow effect. As you can see in this grainy photo there were small daisies, buttercups and clover. Rather than weedy, it was wonderful. Of course that was a milder climate, but there are hardier plants up north that might do the same thing.

Researchers at the University of Minnesota Bee Lab are trying to develop a bee lawn seed mix that would contain low-growing, foot-tolerant, non-invasive, pollinator-friendly plants. Their hope is that it could be used in places where traditional lawns still are the preferred look, like cemeteries, commercial landscapes and golf course edges. Bee lawns would also reduce the need for water, pesticides and fertilizers.

Meanwhile you could create your own bee lawn by overseeding the area with white or alsike clover. Simply letting your lawn go will not give the same effect. You might get a situation that could be described as weeds without benefits (to the bees). Once your bee lawn is established, make sure to mow high enough to avoid cutting off the buds and flowers. 

Hard Luck Sad Duck Tale With a Somewhat Happy Ending

Posted by: Rhonda Hayes Updated: May 31, 2014 - 10:49 AM

Just as I began to think about what to plant in the window box, a duck planted herself instead. Hmm I thought, a more suitable tenant for the garden than the nest of bunnies I wrote about last month. What could a clutch of ducklings bring about but a few moments of waddling, quacking cuteness?

Mama duck in the window box, safe from four-legged creatures

I did wonder about the height of the box. At almost six feet above the ground, I worried about when it came time to make the descent to local water. Others told me she was a smart duck, placing her brood above possible predators like the neighborhood foxes. I read up on duck behavior and found out that sure enough the ducklings, pliable and bendy at birth could indeed survive the fall.

As time passed I watched her pattern of sitting and leaving, each time an ivory egg deposited to join the others in the nest. A mother duck doesn't start incubating until all the eggs are laid. I counted six eggs from my upstairs spying spot. And occasionally I would grab a step stool and peer at her through the small garage window. 

Five eggs so far in the perfect circle of downy feathers

Documenting her progress from up close would bring about a huffing, puffing, literal hissing fit. Although she did get used to my daily presence in the garden. Sometimes I forgot all about her and then I would look up to see her watchful and waiting.

Towards the end of the 28-day incubation I started to worry about mama duck in the hot south-facing location. One day she appeared to be almost passed out. I took her a shallow dish of water which ticked her off. I splashed her with a bit of water. Not pleased with that either. Then I saw her fly away for a few minutes, toward the creek between the two lakes, a water break I bet.

Meanwhile lots of news stories on wild baby animals appeared, the general advice being, don't intervene, the mothers know best. So I trusted mama duck to know what she was doing. 

Yesterday I noticed broken eggshells and hurray, ducklings. I facebooked and instagrammed the sweet little guys with a #makewayforducklings hashtag like a proud grandma. But still I wondered how she would keep the wiggly things in the box. Too soon I heard a constant cheeping as I sat on the porch. The first escapee running through the rhubarb had me retrieving it and taking it back to the nest. Mama duck protested.

I placed large cardboard boxes underneath to catch them before they were ready to leave for water, according to research, ten hours after hatching. I went to check a little later and found a sad, sad sight in the nest. Six ducklings dead. Instead of keeping them warm, the heat had killed them. Mama duck was squawking as I looked.

I went away wondering how long she would stay. And then I thought again. I grabbed a slotted spoon from the kitchen and prodded her to reveal one more duckling still alive. I scooped it up and placed it the water feature on our patio. It bobbed. Mama duck scolded me and flew off to the front yard. 

I improvised a makeshift island and ramp to compensate for the steep sides all the while to the tune of constant quacking. I went inside and watched until she returned. The quacking continued while the duckling swam and nibbled. Then it jumped out and waddled away with her mom through the yard. The creek is a quarter mile away.

I couldn't watch anymore.


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