Gardens hold more than dirt and plants. They hold power. They heal.

Gardens foster community and relationships and awaken the senses while they provide hope and teach patience and fortitude.

Gardens contribute to our quality of life whether we're working in them or sitting back and taking them in.

Here we will dig deep and expose what all gardens hold, teach and reveal.


by Heather Ford-Helgeson

I like to think that most of us remember to be thankful more than once a year, that we don't necessarily need a holiday in order to give thanks for everything and everyone we have in our lives. Never-the-less, having a whole day in which to concentrate on being thankful is not such a bad idea; a whole day to spend with family and friends, to appreciate good and comforting food, to spend time with those we don't see enough throughout the year, to remember loved ones who are no longer with us, and to give extra hugs and kisses to those that are. Regardless of what the true origin of Thanksgiving is and how we feel about it, what we do with the day now is what matters most.

Up until a few years ago, I wasn't much for traditions and holidays and such. They often felt too obligatory and seemed kind of a bore.  I have grown up, though, and realized what a blessing it is to have family with whom to spend the holidays and that it is all about how we approach these days together and what we do during them.  I don't want any formalities and expectations other than fun, food and family and my guess is that is how most people enjoy the holidays best; no pomp, no circumstance, just lightheartedness and celebration.

When walking into a holiday home, what makes it all complete is a cozy atmosphere with heavenly scented air, good music in the background, familiar voices and laughter. I also love it when everyone pitches in to make the food. Somebody brings the appetizers, someone else brings the wine, another makes the breads and sweet treat, others create the sides, and one or a couple take on the main course.  A collaboration adds to the cohesive theme of any holiday.

If there's kids coming, the more fun for them, the better time everyone has, so I love it when there's toys, games, movies, and such about because then there's lots more laughter and squeals, which are the best ambiance to any holiday.

So, here's to you and yours. May your days be cheery and bright and may your holidays be full of everything that makes you happy, and thankful.

Best wishes to one and all.

As the Leaves Leave

by Heather Ford-Helgeson

My head has been buried in thought and my daughter lately and it is easy for me to go whole days with not noticing much of my surroundings.  The wind, a few days ago, caught my attention, however, and when I looked up and focused on the world around me, I was shocked to see that it is beginning to look a lot like winter; rather in-congruent when it's this warm, but none-the-less, winter is coming.

Thankfully there are still some leaves hanging on and so must we.  And besides, the sound of shoes crackling through leaves and the smell of them burning are triggers for memories of happy fall days of the past.

In a couple of days I'll get out in the yard to do the fall cut back of my perennials and when I'm done with that I'm going to rake leaves and I'm excited to see what my 15 month old will think of that; hopefully she'll jump on into the piles with me.

It feels good to a.) be doing a fall clean-up in November and know I won't have to wear thermal underwear and b.) to do a fall clean-up, period! I can't stand starting out in the spring with all the dead perennials and leaves all over my landscaped and garden areas. I want the snow to melt to reveal a blank canvas and as the days lengthen and the sunlight strengthens, watch mother nature create her works of art.

Happy fall, everyone, when next I write, it may be winter...but we can dare to dream for a couple more weeks of autumn.

Give Yourself a Break

by Heather Ford-Helgeson

Well, I bit off more than I could chew this spring and summer. I had this grand plan to revamp my yard into a landscaped paradise along with raised vegetable gardens that would feed my family well into the winter (because I was also going to make myself a small root cellar of sorts).  Instead, I accomplished about 1/3 of what I wanted to do.  But, so what. Really. What did I expect? I have a toddler, my first one, and I am, like everyone else I know, packed to the gills with to-do lists, responsibilities and projects. Ultimately, I should be proud I got done the little bit I did and, ultimately, I need to give myself a break...and chances are, many of you out there need to do the same thing.

I am re-writing my to-do list, re-evaluating my responsibilities and I may chuck the projects until next year.  The most important thing to do is to enjoy my family and my life in general and if there are some things on my to-do list that I enjoy, I will do them.  If there are important things that really must get done, I will do them. If they are not truly necessary, they're going in the LATER DUDE, column.

The fact is, a lot of us think that once we get A, B, and C done, or once we have more money, or what have you, then and only then will we be happy. But chances are, once we get our to-dos done, there will be more to-dos and if we make more money, we'll have greater expenses eating that dough up. Therefore, if we put off happiness until our untils are met, what we're really doing is putting off happiness to a time that may never come.

Destinations are great, meeting a goal is fantastic, but if we're not happy in the process, what is the point? Being realistic about the expectations we put on ourselves, then, has everything to do with our self satisfaction. So, let's be honest when we make our lists of to-dos about what is realistic to accomplish. And, let's get help when we need to.  It's not so important that we do everything ourselves. If you can, hire someone to get some of those must-dos done and also look to friends, family, kids, whomever, to help as well. Anything that can wait, can wait. It's that simple.

I promise to lighten up and enjoy my life more.  I hope you do the same.

Have a lovely rest of September and take care of you and yours, and have fun!

Website Comments

September 5th, 2011

Hello all and happy Labor Day!  I would imagine many of you are at the state fair and it could not be a more perfect day for it. I hope you are having a great time.

Today I am celebrating by working and then I am going to clean out my basement while my husband and our daughter play and enjoy their time together.  I love to organize and I love being with my family, so why not combine these two favorite activities?!

While working this morning, I've been tweaking our new website.  I would greatly appreciate it if, when you have a couple of minutes, you would check it out and let me know what you think by clicking on the Contact and Comments page.  Any input you can give would be great!

Thank you so much and have a lovely rest of the holiday and week.

Take care,

Garden Lovers Check-it-out List for the MN State Fair

August 26th, 2011

There is so much to eat at the fair that it's hard to remember that there is also so much to learn there as well. The horticulture building at the Minnesota State Fair is a nature lover’s fun and education zone and I highly recommend you check it out while you are there.

Following is a list and dates of some things that sound interesting for the next six days. (Please see the State Fair Daily Schedule website for a full list of each day’s activities). I will post the final week’s schedule on Tuesday August 30th.

All educational classes mentioned are in the Agriculture Horticulture Building – Area C

Saturday, August 27th
  1. 1pm - Backyard Composting, the Easy Way: This class is taught by Larry Cipolla, a Hennepin Master Gardener and should help you get that compost bin going.
  2. 3pm – Growing Glorious gladiolus: The MN Gladiolus Society will be sharing all their know-how on growing these beautiful flowers.
  3. 4pm – Container Gardening: I can’t wait for this one! Container gardening is so much fun and the more you know, the more you can grow.

Sunday August 28th 
  1. 10a.m. - Low-maintenance Perennial Gardening: Even those of us who love to garden appreciate a low-maintenance one and hopefully Janet Pauley, a Goodhue Master Gardener, will have some great ideas.
  2. 1p.m. – Fall Garden Tips and Lasagna Gardening for Spring: This just sounds so interesting.

Monday August 29th
  1. 1p.m. – Starting Seeds Indoors: Plants add up quickly but seeds are inexpensive and knowing how to start them properly indoors is valuable, and cost effective, knowledge.
  2. 2p.m. – Basic Landscape Design Principles: Jim Calkins from the MN Nursery and Landscape Association should provide easy –to-follow design basics for your yard.
  3. The Flower Show entitled Minnesota Enjoys is available for viewing for most of the day but for 9am to noon when it is closed for judging.
  4. Noon to 6pm – Kids Flower Detective:  Children 12 and under get to show their smelling skills by identifying flowers from their scent. Super cool!

Tuesday, August 30th
  1. Noon – Pots for Christmas Cheer : Get some tips on creating festive holiday planters.
  2. 1pm – Ten Tips for Growing Terrific Tomatoes:  Master Gardener, Kathleen Wenzel is going to help all of us grow the tastiest tomatoes. 
  3. The flower show and kids flower detective shows mentioned above are going on today as well.

Wednesday, August 31st
  1. 10 am – Herbs- Growing, harvesting, and preserving: Shirley Mah Kooymen, a Hennepin county Master Gardener, leads this class.  I am most excited for the preserving part, as that is the area with which I have the most difficulty.
  2. 11 am – Pruning in the Home Landscape: Just plain smart class to take as pruning is an art best done with knowledge and know-how.
  3. 3pm to 6pm - Home Sown Gardeners will be volunteering at the MNLA gardens; come find us and let’s chat!
  4. 3pm – See How We Do It! Master Gardeners Tell All: This should be very very interesting!

Home Sown Gardens has a new website!

August 15th, 2011

Hello all.

Just a quick note to tell you that we have a new Home Sown Garden's website! Please check it out when you have a moment and let us know what you think.

Thanks so much and have a lovely week!

Take care!

We Won the Neighbor Lottery

by Heather Ford-Helgeson
August 12th, 2011

My husband and I moved into our second home in South Minneapolis last spring.  Our first we owned for eight years and though we loved out home, we did not love our street; busy, loud, and we hardly new anyone around us.  The home across the street was a rental and the renters were the worst! These guys couldn't have been less than 30-years old and yet still had a juvenile infatuation with fireworks. Though the worst of their pop-crack-popping was over July 4th, they did not feel inclined to regulate their hobby to one month; bringing out the annoying nose-makers at various times throughout the year, mainly late in the night.  We would find firework shells on our roof and in our lawn all the time.  It saddens me to say this, but I really hate the fourth of July now. Ugh! I hope that changes over time.

I have a pretty good chance of getting over my 4th of July hangup now as I am in neighbor heaven.  When Matt and I closed on our current house, we took the first week to clean and paint before we officially moved in.  Within that first week, all of our neighbors directly around us came and introduced themselves. We were shocked and pleasantly so.  I was pregnant at the time and we even received baby gifts from some of the neighbors! I still get choked up just thinking about it.

One of the highlights for me has been our neighbors to the north.  We don't chat all that often, as we're all busy, but when we do, it's comfortable and easy and I get the best feeling from them and, the kicker, their landscaping it an absolutely wonder! Eric, the garden master, has been working on his yards for over 18 years and every single bit is perfectly sculpted.  I try so hard not to stare too long but I have to admit, when I wake up and pull back my curtains in my bedroom most mornings, I spend at least a few minutes dreamily looking into his back-yard; fountains and ponds, container gardens, perennial grasses everywhere, white tall-phlox so tall and gorgeous they make my heart skip a beat, and so much more! His work inspires me and makes me love my block all the more, as I am proud to have a neighbor of such grand creativity and imagination.  It will take me a long time, I have no doubt, but I will make my yards into something that makes me feel how I do when I look into Eric's yard; peaceful and hopeful.

Eric has a blog entitled Garden Drama and please click the title and check it out.  You will learn something, I guarantee it, and you will be inspired to if not garden, to at least enjoy gardens all the more.

Is there a garden and/or gardener that inspires you? If so, tell us all about them in the comment section below. We'd love to read about it.

Thanks for your time and I'll write again soon.

Take care.

Some Physical Pains May Be in Our Heads

by Heather Ford-Helgeson
August 5th, 2011

We have all heard someone say something along the lines of, “Oh, I love to garden (or insert whatever hobby or sport here) but I can’t do it anymore because of my back (or knee, or ankle, etc).” I’ve said it in the past myself.  I had back troubles starting at 16.  In my mid-twenties it was especially bad as every couple of weeks my back would “go out” and I would spend most of my time laying in agony and if I had to leave my bed, I'd have to crawl.  Chiropractors didn't help, a back specialist didn't help, what finally helped was exercise. I lost 25 pounds, got down to 23% body-fat and my back episodes came fewer and farther between and I accredited it to strengthening my stomach and other muscles. However, a spot in my back remained sensitive to the touch, started to get bad again and then I started having pains in my neck and shoulders.  Any specialist or doctor I’d see, they would tell me I had a slipped disc.  This year I’d had it and had an MRI and there was nothing. Nothing!  So finally, after two years of my husband pushing me to, I read a book.

The book is, Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection by John Sarno.  Using numerous examples, Sarno illustrates how our bodies, and backs in particular, are designed to handle an immense amount of physical toll but we are not so great at handling stress and worry.  He believes those things are causing our back problems, and a lot of other physical pains, more than anything else.  Take, for instance, stomach ulcers, something that use to plague a lot of people but as medications and surgical procedures fixed them, they became rare.  Suddenly, back pain, digestive issues, and conditions like fibromyalgia took the forefront. Sarno believes that the body will find a physical out for mental issues and if one physical malady is medically cured but the underlying mental issue that started the pain is not resolved, the mind will find another part of the body for the pain.  It's an interesting perspective and I’ve decided to take it as my own.

I think exercise helped me a lot in the beginning in part because of the strength I gained, especially in my stomach muscles, but it also helped me mentally as a release. However, the mind is tricky and since I wasn't dealing with the things in my life that were troubling me, eventually the exercise ceased to do the trick and my brain found it's outage again by causing more pain.  In reading this book, I am learning to tell when I'm suppressing something and having a physical reaction to it. When my shoulders start to tighten or that spot in my lower back starts to hurt, I tell myself over and over again, there's no reason for the pain, it's mental and my stresses don't belong in my body and with enough concentration, this usually works.

Pain is important, it helps us know when something is wrong and when we have it on a regular basis, it is prudent to get help to find out where the pain is coming from.  However, if there is no physical malady, our mind is the next best place to look.  Perhaps we cannot completely fix how we handle the emotional parts of life, but in being aware of where we store our stress and sadness, that in its self can be the beginning of then end to chronic pain.

Join Us

Hello again.

Just a quick note to tell you that you can join the Digging Deeper blog by clicking to the right of this post where it says Join Digging Deeper. You can also invite friends, if you would like!

We welcome your company, your questions, your suggestions, and your comments.

Thanks so much and enjoy the weekend!

Take care,
Heather Ford-Helgeson
social media manager, writer, planter diva for HSG

When I'm in my garden I feel...

by Heather Ford-Helgeson
July 15, 2011

Tami and I would like to invite you to finish one or all of the following lines for us:

1.) When I am working in my garden I feel....
2.) When out in my yard, I love...
3.) The best part about my outdoor living spaces are....

We would love to hear from you, for though we love to use Digging Deeper as our place to reflect and refresh, we would love even more to have a dialogue with those of you out there checking in.  You do not have to enjoy gardening or landscaping to be part of this Home Sown Gardens blog, you just have to enjoy what they have to offer. That could be fourth question: 4. ) What do green-spaces around our homes have to offer?

Please post a comment and answer as many of the questions as you'd like. We look forward to your thought and the discussions your reactions will no-doubt generate.

Thank you so much in advance for your participation.


by Maria Rodale
Maria Rodale is the CEO and Chairman of Rodale Inc., the largest independent book publisher in the U.S. and a leader in multimedia dealing with environment and health issues. She has written an article entitled, Blossoming, which we wanted to share with you. Please click the title and enjoy!
Have a lovely rest of June! We'll write again soon!
Take care,
Heather Ford-Helgeson

The Big Overhaul

by Heather Ford-Helgeson

As promised in a previous post, I have been working on my landscaping and recording my progress, and despite my neck aches, my back aches, and (oddly enough) my hamstring aches, I am having a blast. This is my second home and the last had a yard the size of a parking space. Now, I have a large front and back yard with landscape and garden possibilities galore. There are a few things keeping me from leaps and bounds of changes, however; all-be-it part-time, I do have a job, I am a mom of a ten-month-old whose new-found mobility and desire to go-go-go keeps me on the run, and every time I do get out in the yard to work, I find more invasive plants I need to remove.
Some gardeners have a love for self-propagating native plants for their city lots. I am not of that group. Though I love wild flowers I believe they work best, well, in the wild. According to my neighbor to the north, one of the previous owners of my house loved native and wild flowers so she was the beginning of all the creeping crawling plants that abound in my yard. Those that are the largest problems include creeping charlie (also known as ground ivy), creeping bell flower, and snow-on-the-mountain.

Creeping charlie and creeping bell flowers (both pictured above, the bell flowers are the ones with the larger leaves) are not natives, both coming from Euro
pe and proved to flourish quickly and got away from their original handlers. Though these plants are pretty and provide a way to cover areas in a short amount of time, you need to be diligent in your maintenance of them because they spread. Fast! And though you may not care if they get all over your yard and into every garden bed, you can bet your booty that your neighbors don’t appreciate them coming into their yard. That is exactly what has happened in my case. My neighbor to the south has a beautiful lawn, but for the part that meets up with our lawn. There is a chain link fence between us that does nothing to keep out the creeping invaders. Therefore, ridding my lawn and gardens of all invasive plants has been priority one and it is intense work. Due to the root systems of the creeping charlie and bell-flower, this will be an on-going job.

To the right is a before picture of a hosta garden the former owners created. They had some flagstone laid in a semi-circle around the tree, hostas throughout, and then let the creeping charlie grow as ground cover. There was no defined separation between this area and the lawn so the creeping charlie took up residence in the grass as well. I started digging and in a short time I made a great deal of progress.
In a couple of days, I was very happy with the changes I'd made and here's what it looks like now.
I still have work to do on this section. I want to add annuals for color and add mulch and perhaps some sort of edging. But I'm getting there and it feels great!

The beauty of this make-over is that it has cost me nothing. Well, there’s been a bit of a physical toll, but my pocket book is not any lighter. Eventually I will purchase mulch, some annuals, and I’m hitting garage sales looking for chairs or a bench for a comfy little sitting area, but that is minimal money. This is something that Tami and I work hard in conveying to our Home Sown Garden clients; we are great at make-over projects because we know that large budgeted landscaping creations are not always possible. A tight budget does not mean you can’t have a beautiful yard. It just means you have to have someone with vision and know-how and, in my case, weeding due-diligence in order to keep up with all the creepers.

I’ll keep up with the work and the postings on what I accomplish. Please let me know of any projects you are working on and if you have any questions or comments and good luck with your gardening adventures.

Expose Yourself to the Weeds and Grow!

by Tami Gallagher

Weed Barrier - looks so harmless here doesn't it?
I have had some serious fights with weed barrier lately.  I think instead of barrier, it should be called bully-er.  It is a tyrant that torments me to no end, especially the industrial strength kind that you can’t even stomp a shovel through.

In most instances, I believe weed barrier is unnecessary.  Especially with mulch on top and/or perennials planted in it.  It may help to keep weeds at bay for a season or two, but after that it starts to do more harm than good. 

Leaves and other debris start settling on top; that and the mulch begin to decompose.  All of a sudden you have a great medium for weeds to start growing - on top of the weed barrier!  They send their roots down through the weed barrier and now it becomes even harder to weed.

Weeds coming through weed barrier
Then there's the choking.  If perennials were planted through the barrier, and not enough berth was given around the base, the plant cannot expand.  In some cases they die.  In other cases, they are hell-bent on expanding and start to grow on top of the weed barrier where they tend to become root bound or the roots girdle.  I've literally had to cut some perennials loose from the weed barrier, where they looked like they had just eaten up their enemy.

And, since I'm on a roll here with my weed-barrier trash-talking, it can stop moisture from getting to the soil, it can trap in heat, and, finally, it's not very environmentally friendly to dispose of.

As I was cutting out a Siberian Iris today that had swallowed up its opponent, I was thinking about what barriers we put up in our lives.  Although some of those walls may serve a temporary purpose, what harm are they doing us in the long run?  What walls do we put up, becoming a part of us and our identity? We no longer see who we really are without that particular wall in place.  What barriers do we put up to protect ourselves that end up keeping us prisoner?  What walls can we take down in our lives that might leave us a little more vulnerable (to the weeds in our lives), but ultimately leave us healthier over time?
Who or what are we trying to keep out, preventing us from growing and expanding?

My take away lessons for the day: Expose yourself.  Remove the weed barrier.  Tear down the walls.  Be vulnerable.  Breathe.  Loosen up.  Be receptive and open.  Be porous.  So you need to do a little maintenance now and then; you’ll grow in the long run.

Article on Lessons Learned from Gardening

Chick here for an inspirational article on what our gardens can teach us. Hope you enjoy it!

Four Distinct Seasons Give Reason to Love Minnesota

May 2nd, 2011

It is finally May. We made it! True, we have still had some gray days with a cold, biting wind but it can't get me down because we made it through another Minnesota winter; an especially horrid one at that. And there is something to be said about our mid-western, thick-skin that gets us through sub-zero temperatures, sub-sub zero wind chills, and snow drifts taller than our four-wheel drives. Minnesota is not for the faint of heart and though we certainly have made complaining about the weather an art-form, those of us strong enough to take the cold also know that there is much more to our home state than snow and ice. We are blessed to have four distinct seasons and everyone of them, even winter, makes this a great state in which to live.

Winter gets long around here, but I often think it makes springtime all the sweeter. Those first few days when the sun finally gives warmth and there is the scent of grass and magnolia on a breeze that harbors little threat, when you hear birds still singing at 7pm and the weekend air is full of the smell of charcoal grills, when there is nothing, absolutely nothing more important than getting outside; that is a happy time and a time worth waiting for.

Then comes summer. We are a state full of summer spots worth a long drive or even a flight and I bet most of the country has no clue. Up north there are views that would make the most harden of hearts skip a beat. Minneapolis and Saint Paul have lakes, trails, and gardens of which few cities can compare. And then there is all the farm and prairie land; if you want to really get a nose full of summer smells including wild flowers, sunburned grasses, and even a tinge of farm, the Lake Wobegon Trail is a worthy destination. There are points throughout the trail where you are all but swallowed by prairie and even the far off highway sounds fall to the background as the wind running through the grass takes first chair.

I have heard many a Minnesotan say that fall is their favorite time of year and there is no wonder in that. Sometimes the best afternoon takes nothing but a car and a road anywhere that trees abound, showcasing a spectacular array of colors. Weekends make for sweet little vacations if you head to your favorite camp grounds, the fall nights seemingly made for sitting around a fire and watching the stars, then snuggling deep into a sleeping bag until dawn.

And then there is winter. Old man winter sure does like it here. But come on, so do we. We complain, we hold our lower backs and mumble about the toll the shoveling takes, we eat a bit too much, we stay inside too long, but we love it. Freshly fallen snow is a beautiful site; the hush that falls over even the larger cities, the way icicles twinkle in the a cold afternoon sun, the joy on the faces of kids as they plow through piles of snow and slide down hills.

Winter may be too long here, but if it was gone entirely, we would miss it and our state would be the lesser for it.

Care & Keeping Of Your Most Important Gardening Tool

April 25th, 2011

It’s been a typical April here in Minnesota. Last week I awoke to find a dusting of snow on the tulips but by late that same day, the sun had warmed the sidewalk, greened the grass and forced a purple crocus from its hiding spot. Spring in Minnesota is my favorite season, despite its indecisiveness, because for a gardener, spring is filled with expectations and preparation. Everything we have planned over the winter months begins to come to fruition. Lawns are raked, beds are uncovered, and tools are sharpened. It is during these early moments of Spring, before the real work begins, that we sharpen one of our most important tools: our power of observation.

For any gardener, no matter her years of experience, the most important activity we can partake in for the health of our gardens is the simple act of “checking our crops”. Growing up a farmer’s daughter, I learned this important lesson from watching my father spend the last fading hours of his workday walking his land. On the occasions I accompanied him, I watched him pull the silk on the corn to inspect for corn bores, walk the rows of soybeans with a hoe to chop sunflowers or run his hands over the feathery, golden tops of the ripening wheat to gauge harvest time. It was through this daily ritual that he learned to recognize pest and weed problems before they became catastrophic and to understand the ecosystem of his land in order to develop the health and output of his produce.

Sharpening your observation skills is easy, relaxing and imperative. All that is required of you is to explore and inspect. You don’t even have to pull weeds (although most of us can’t resist). A ten-minute stroll through your gardens and your only goal is to interact with your land. In early spring, I don my gloves and gently root around in the leaf litter for signs that my perennials are ready to emerge. As the season progresses, your stroll will be a daily exercise in exploration. You’ll make a mental note of those holes in your hostas—are they from pests or is it hail damage? Or, you’ll bend down for a closer look at your nasturtiums--aphids flock to them but ladybugs love aphids, so look for ladybug larvae too. The classic battle between predator and prey may be underway in your backyard!

And really, don’t many of us become gardeners so we can connect with the natural world? When we garden, we get to feel the luxurious dirt in our hands, smell the grape jelly scent of a bearded iris or have a chance close-encounter with a busy hummingbird, buzzing just within arms reach of you and your Canna lilies. You work hard to bring abundance and bounty to your gardens and your daily stroll is your time to relax your mind and enjoy the fruits of your labor, so to speak. Just a word of gentle caution: when your mind is relaxed you’ll get some of your best ideas --and probably a little more work!

Constance Carlson is married to her teacher husband Eric and is very busy raising Madeline, Ingrid & Leif (more commonly known as Camp Carlson). Constance, Eric, and the campers live in Buffalo, Minnesota.

It's a Miracle!

April 10th, 2011
Finally.  The snow is gone enough where I can catch a glimpse of green in my garden.  Through the brown, that is.  The Gardener didn’t quite get to her own garden for cleanup last fall.  Lots of debris out there.  But fun none-the-less to watch as the perennials emerge from the soil. 
Virginia Bluebells

My 6 year old daughter, Zilla, and I have been keeping tabs on everybody popping up.  We started barely a week ago.  The day lilies (Hemerocallis),  the Sedum, and the Daffodils (Narcissus) were some of the first to show their little heads.  I love the rosettes of the creeping sedum (Sedum ternatum) and the accordion like leaves on the strawberries (Fragaria vesca) before they spread out their fluffiness.  The purple tops of my Virginia Bluebells, Mertensia virginica are peeking out, wondering if it’s warm enough (yes, it is!) to spike their lovely stems and start showing off their dangling periwinkle bells.

We walk around saying hello to everyone and welcoming them back.  We’ve wandered around the beds every few days to see who else is brave enough to stick their necks out.  I find such pleasure in greeting everyone as they burst through the mulch.  I love that my daughter is picking up on that enthusiasm and carrying it for her own.  She points things out faster than I do, chastising me for not cleaning up in the fall, stating, “The poor Scilla, (Scilla siberica) has to work extra hard to get through all that stuff, Mom!” (Yes, she knows the name Scilla - it rhymes with Zilla! - but not the latin name :) )

Today she noticed the Hyacinths (Hyacinthus orientalis) are up about 4 inches, the Daffodils have their flower heads nodding against their stems, and the Spiderwort (Tradescantia) and Agapanthus are about 6” taller than even 5 days ago.  “Spring is a miracle, I tell you!” She exclaims.  Yes, a miracle indeed.  The continuing cycle of life and death.  A miracle to behold, right here in my own front yard.

Daunting but Doable

April 9th, 2011 I pulled up the window shade in the kitchen a couple of mornings ago and experienced a mix of emotions. The sunrise was pink and sweet and the glow it produced caused my shoulders to drop about three inches; my tense, winter composure finally leaving me for good...or at least for a few months. However, the morning light provided a spotlight on my backyard, now devoid of all snow, and I was taken aback by how absolutely horrible it looked. Muddy tufts of poop-laden grass ( I have a cairn terrier); soggy, brown growth from last season's lily's, peonies, ornamental grasses, hostas, and the rest; a wild rose bush who lives up to its name and its unruly neighbor, a lilac tree that could very well end up needing a whip and a chair to tame. I was too scared to go take a good look at the front yard; daunting to say the least.

My husband and I bought this house last spring. I was seven months pregnant and by the time we moved into the house, all the landscaped and garden areas were unruly, everything needing a good clean-up and over-haul, but they were green and full and the yard smelled sweet, so I decided to let them go until I was able to see my feet again. Well, now it's next spring and I am a little mad at my last-year self. I had the baby at the end of July and the least I could have done for myself was to head outside for a couple of hours in October and cut back all the dead growth. Our yard would at least appear a bit less abandoned-haunted-house-like.

I am tempted to hire Home Sown Gardens to come clean it all up. After all, they do a great job at an affordable price (shameless plug). But I won't. I won't because first of all, how would that look to my boss? And second of all, this is my season to apply what I have learned and learn more. Though I do some gardening for HSG and have proved a quick study, the majority of my work hours are spent scheduling, writing, communicating with clients, and managing staff. This season will be no exception for my duties, but at my home, it is time for me to take the reins and see what I am capable of on my own; from design to implementation to maintenance.

My goals for the season include building raised beds for vegetables and herbs, removing and replacing a patio area, redesigning flower garden areas and transplanting most of the current perennials, taming the wild wild rose bush and lilac tree and possibly moving them, and making a sandbox area for daughter and dog to play.

I will keep you posted on my gardening endeavors, hopefully providing practical gardening insight as well as entertainment. I will include pictures too, to prove I am keeping up with my goals and to show off my accomplishments...fingers crossed.

Freshly Picked

March 31st, 2011
My daughter’s Spanish homework last night included making dinner for the entire family.  Yes!  The night off from cooking dinner!  She made this fabulous spread of chicken and cheese chimichangas, a black bean salad, and churros.  Muy delicioso!

While I enjoyed having the night off (part of the homework was even cleanup!) and the yummy food, I kept coming back to that black bean salad and dreaming about the few months from now where we can just walk outside and pick the ingredients right from the garden.

Growing up, my dinners came straight from the garden.  In the winter they came straight from the root cellar where our ‘garden’ was canned.  Right before dinner, my 3 siblings and I would be told a list of items we needed to go pick (or get from the cellar).  Talk about fresh.  Everything was right there – vegetables, herbs, and we also had fruit trees.  We even had chickens that supplied the eggs and meat.

While my mom probably could have come up with 90% of the ingredients to my daughter’s dinner without visiting a store, my own reality differs greatly.  I try to feed my own family as fresh as possible, but circumstances prevent the freshness I knew as a child.  But we do what we can; I have fruits, vegetables, and herbs interspersed in my perennials, we buy from a farmer’s market or produce stand when possible, we trade with friends, family, and neighbors to get the things we don’t grow.  There won’t be a chicken coop in my backyard anytime soon, but my sister-in-law shares and I don’t have to deal with the sound or the mess!

Black Bean Salad
2 cups chopped tomatoes
2 cans black beans, rinsed and drained
1 clove minced garlic
½ cup chopped onion
1 cup corn
3 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
1 teaspoon each cumin and chili powder
Salt and pepper to taste
¼ cup olive oil
1 cup red wine vinegar

Mix together all ingredients.  Chill at least 3 hours.

What do you grow?  How are you creative with your space?  What do you do to eat fresh?

Stop and View the Grasses

Picture courtesy of Irving Park Garden Club
March 30th, 2011
I love ornamental grasses.  They have always been one of my favorite parts of a garden.  They can be used in container plantings and in perennial beds.  They can be used for borders, backgrounds, or accent plants.  Most have winter interest and not only look good in the cold months, but provide food for birds and other animals as well.  And best of all, they are really easy to care for.  Most require a quick whack once a year, maybe a little fertilizer, and then every few years they may need dividing.

Grasses sway in the wind.  Their form and texture as they wave back and forth are mesmerizing to watch.  The rustling sound they make is relaxing, makes you feel as though you are not alone.  Grasses catch sunlight in just the right way creating a wonderful scene.  I especially love grasses in late fall sunsets.

Picture courtesy of All the Latest Dirt
The upright arching habit of the Purple Fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum') is so graceful as it flops over its companions, giving them a big hug.  The amazing purple color adds dimensions to the container with its hues.

The spiky fescues (such as Festuca ‘Elijah Blue’) add just the right contrast to the flowing, rounded flowers surrounding them.  And the silvery foliage is a welcome sight among the standard greens.

I was on vacation visiting a friend in Milwaukee last week.  One day I was drawn to the computer (even though I swore myself a respite for the week) and remembered that there was a webinar on ornamental grasses I had signed up for.  I began watching it.  I was soon joined by my berating daughter who knew the promise I had made to stay away from technology.  She quickly switched from “You said you wouldn’t go on the computer” to “Why would you want to waste your time watching slides and listening to boring people talk about grass?”  I have to agree on the boring people talking about grasses part.  The horticulture industry needs more people who can get excited and relate info in a non-boring, non-scientific way.  But that was beside the point. 

Waste of time?!  Look at all these cool grasses!  Check out how the seed heads of the Purple Lovegrass (Eragrostis spectabilis) have this purplish-pink glow when they ripen.  Look at how fluffy the Japanese Silvergrass (Miscanthus sinesis) is and imagine it blowing in a breeze.  They are amazing!  The webinar was given by someone in California, so I was also seeing a lot of grasses that were ‘new’ to me, grasses that aren’t hardy in the cold tundra of zone 4 in MN.  Fu-un!  Look what they get to grow! 

My friend walks in and hears the tail end of my purplish-pink hue explanation.  She starts teasing me.  It amazes her I can get so excited about grass.  It becomes a source of fun for the rest of the week. 
We go for a walk everyday and I steer us toward the grasses, I point out the height, the feathery texture, the sound, the pink hues.  We go to the Milwaukee Home & Garden show and I have to stop and view the grasses.  It becomes a metaphor, instead of stop and smell the roses, stop and view the grasses.  My friend and her family will never look at grasses the same again.

What excites you in the garden?  What is it, that when you talk about it, your passion shows through?  What do you want to share with everyone so they like it as much as you do?  What do you need to stop and appreciate?

Winter Rest for the Weed Warrior

February 21, 2011
6 to 10, 12 to 15, 18 to 21.  The inches expected keep getting bigger and bigger and so does my smile.  Snow is dumping down from the sky , an easterly wind (at least I think it’s easterly, it’s blowing so much out there, who can tell?) is blowing huge flakes fiercely around, drifting in unusual places.  I don my under armor, extra socks, Carhartt, Sorels, hat, and mittens and head out.  I am a Snow Warrior.  I love winter.  I love snow.  I love the cold, the extremes.  How can a gardener love winter everyone wonders?  “Do you ski?” I am often asked.  The explanation I have is usually that I hate the opposite.  I hate, hate, hate HOT.  And the second reason is that the dormancy of winter (especially with the length of it here in Minnesota zone 4) makes me appreciate the growing months all the more.  It makes me be efficient in what can be accomplished in one season.  Winter allows the rest period that is so needed.  Winter rest is an actual term (from the German term Winterruhe) and is defined as a state of reduced activity of plants and warm-blooded animals during winter.   The law of growth is rest.  We all need to take a break, to nurture our own bodies, to heal our souls, to re-center.  Winter does that for me.
I head out to the driveway with the snow blower, but the pile the city snow plow made at the end is too big for the snow blower to tackle it on its own.  I have to chop it down into bite size pieces the snow blower can gobble up.  After working at this pile for some time, my sides and back can feel a slight ache.  I’m sweating.  I’m smiling.  I’m waving to my neighbors and asking if they need help.  I love this.
Today, though, my smile is two-fold.  The digging I’m doing with my shovel is the same motion as digging in the dirt.  I think about how spring really isn’t that far away, this snow is just a temporary blanket, and I’ll be digging in the real dirt soon.  I feel the ache in my sides and back and can’t wait to feel that after an afternoon of working in the garden.  There is such a satisfaction in the aches after a good days work.  Even though it’s cold out, I can still feel the sun on my face and am reminded that I will soon feel that warm spring sun.  (I can’t look too far here and think of the hot summer sun or all of my happy thoughts will disappear!)  And lastly I’m thinking about comradery.  My neighbors and I collaborate with our snow removal.  We share snow blowers and shovels and gas and stories about what’s going on inside our homes.  The same thing happens in the summer, only then we swap plants and mowers and tips on getting the rabbits out of our gardens.  Shoveling for me, just like gardening, is a social event.
For now I am a Snow Warrior and loving every minute of it.  In another 2 months (or less!), I will become a Weed Warrior again.  I better hunker down and continue my dormancy in preparation.