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In the Yard

garden guru

My last blog post for YourVoices

This is my last blog post on YourVoices. The Star Tribune is ending the community-focused blog that has included among others: writers, politicians, professors, chefs, contractors, moms, rappers and a cabbie.

It will transition to a feature called 10,000 Takes, first-person essays centered on the Minnesota living experience. Don’t be surprised if you read me there someday in the future. As a relative newcomer to this state I have plenty to say about being the perennial fish out of water surrounded by 10K+ lakes.

You’ll still find my gardening column in the Homes section on Sundays during the growing season. And don’t forget my personal blog, The Garden Buzz.

Until then I’m signing off … with gratitude.

But first a few words about blogging. Whenever I’m asked advice on blogging I tell people it’s like having an extra child. A hungry child that demands you create content, often out of thin air. At first you have so much to say but as time goes by and other life events and demands present themselves, the blog unlike your kids, often goes unfed. There’s nothing worse than a stale, starving blog withering away in the dusty corners of the Internet.

It’s not easy to keep that blog template filled with fresh ideas. But a walk around the block usually does wonders. You never know when the seed of a blog post will plant itself in your brain.

That said I’ve been pretty good about this one. Although it advertised me as a horticulture expert I’ve veered from the garden path many times. I’ve chronicled my encounters with wildlife, I’ve stepped up on my soap box, I’ve shared deeply personal details of my family and its ordinary but complicated story.

As an introvert I sometimes considered this blog my Emily Dickinson-ish “letter to the world that never wrote to me”. But then it happened that you did. I’ve been touched by the many supportive and positive comments posted by you, my readers. And the few unpleasant ones? They only served to toughen me up, because blogging is not for the faint of heart.

For the wannabe writer a blog is a great place to practice your calling and hone ideas. My blogs forced me to keep writing after our move to Minnesota temporarily derailed my then nascent freelance career. I’m glad I did.

It so happens this blog changed my life. A few years in, I received a call from the Star Tribune senior features editor asking if I’d like to write about gardening for the paper. That meant getting pay but more importantly, validation. Almost at the same time, the editor of Northern Gardener magazine contacted me with a similar request.

A bit later after I did a series of posts on bees and pollinator issues I got an email from a publisher asking if I would like to author a book on bee-friendly landscaping. I had a couple book proposals already in the air at the time, but ultimately ended up with that publisher, the one that found me blogging away at the Strib. (Shameless plug alert) My book, Pollinator Friendly Gardening: Gardening for Bees, Butterflies and Other Pollinators will be released February 1, 2016.

Not every blogger will want or get a book deal. But keep that in mind if you blog. Don’t just blah, blah, blog. Craft it. Keep it tight. Edit, then edit again. That blog is your resume, your public face, your audition. Make it count.

It’s been an honor and a privilege to be a part of YourVoices. Thank you.

How I created a berry-sharing arrangement with the neighbors

Don’t you love it when the solution to a problem turns out better than you imagined? Turns out our design conundrum elicited a delicious answer.

When we built on an infill lot in Minneapolis, we relocated the driveway to the opposite side of the lot in order to maximize gardening space with a perfect southern exposure. Yep, rather than build big from lot line to lot line, instead we strove to increase green space while still maintaining the integrity of the home’s design.

This meant our driveway would run next to our neighbor's with only a narrow strip of earth between us. I asked a lot of this thin swath of land. I wanted some sense of privacy and enclosure but also beauty. After all, I would see this view from many windows as well every trip to the garage.

Most of all I wanted to make an impenetrable barrier. Well, that doesn’t sound too friendly, you say?It was just the opposite. I wanted to make sure the darling little girls next door wouldn’t be threatened by cars coming down our drive. I needed something thorny. But hey, wouldn’t it be nice if those sharp needles grew on a great plant?

I had raised beds for edibles but I had wanted to try my hand at fruit. So we planted a hedgerow of raspberries. I let the neighbors know they were part of a berry-sharing arrangement. It’s hard to believe how much delight I get from my driveway strip.

And to think of how many homes have a similar situation that could be put to use as edible landscape. I can’t stress enough how many berries this cramped piece of real estate has produced this season in its third year. Colander after colander of berries -- they just keep coming. I’ve frozen bags and bags of berries, made jars of jam, ricotta-raspberry cake, you name it. Not to mention no cheese plate is complete without these babies.

I love how the bumblebees forage among the snowy blossoms. Many folks are not aware that fruit trees and bushes are some of the most important food sources for pollinators.

Just as important are the berry-stained faces of those little girls who shout to me safely from their side of the hedge about the berries they’re picking. I also get a kick when I see their dad in his suit grazing down the row on his way to work. I love to share the fruits of my garden -- literally in this case.