Want trees with that?

To celebrate Arbor Day, 225 McDonald's restaurants across Minnesota will be giving away red pine seedlings this Friday. And you don't even have to buy a Big Mac to get one.

No purchase is necessary to get one of the 57,000 red pine seedings (the Minnesota state tree) while supplies last. McDonald's and Minnesota Forest Industries also will give away five large trees. To register for one of the large trees, pick up an entry form on McDonald's Arbor Day trayliners.

Local garden center Mickman Brothers also will be giving 500 tree seedlings away. The first 500 people to come to their store, at 14630 Hwy. 65 NE. in Ham Lake, through April 27 can pick up a free red pine seedling. For more info, call 763-413-3000.


It's contest time!

It's springtime, which means contest time at the Home+Garden section. Every year, we sponsor our Beautiful Gardens contest as a way to discover some of the great private gardens in the Twin Cities.

So, tell us about your favorites. From the nominations we receive, we'll select five winners whose gardens we'll visit during the summer. Once the growing season is over, we'll feature stories and pictures of the winning gardens in this section.

To nominate a garden, send a letter describing it in detail. Tell us what's unique about the garden and the person -- or people -- who tend it. Dig up some snapshots of the garden in all its glory or take some fresh photos this spring. Please include the gardener's name, address and phone number as well as your name, address and phone number. And if you have a great garden, don't hesitate to nominate yourself.

Nominations will be accepted through June 6. Mail them to: Beautiful Gardens Contest, Home+Garden, Star Tribune, 425 Portland Av. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488. Electronic submissions can be sent to home garden@startribune.com.


A celebration of coleus

Entire books have been written about roses and daylilies and clematis, but a book just on coleus?

Ten years ago, people would have laughed. But what was once thought of as a stodgy Victorian plant has exploded in popularity with the development of big, bright varieties that thrive in the sun.

"Coleus" by Ray Rogers (Timber Press, $29.95) wrings pretty much everything of interest out of the subject in its 227 pages. And it is interesting. Rogers writes about coleus topiary, propagation and pests and includes a color guide to different varieties. But he doesn't answer my most pressing question: why the lovely variety Alabama Sunset is also known by the worst plant name of all time: Texas Parking Lot.

The book is a colorful and entertaining diversion for gardeners dreaming of weather warm enough to grow these beauties.