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.

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?