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.

ShowSpaces - Room to play

by Jeanette T

The black-eyed susans are in full frenzy and the sunflowers are eight feet tall and blooming but everything else is slowly fading.  I am cutting more and more spent blossoms and starting to think about what plants I should leave up for winter interest.  This is a needed break in the season of gardening.  A chance to slow down and watch the last flowers as fall swings in and reminds us to hurry and finish our chores before the snow comes.

For this ShowSpaces post I decided to find the opposite of the last garden, which was cozy and packed full of plants.  Too little space can be a frustrating problem in the city but out in the suburbs the problem becomes what to do with all that space?  I thought of sharing a certain house that we have worked on for a few years that has found some creative solutions.  In gardens not immediately close to the house,  there are simple mass plantings that are attractive yet easy to maintain and still look good from a distance.  Another key is to use plants that pair together well and help each other stand out. 

The house is set back in the forest and is reached by a long driveway.  At the top of the drive way is a raised garden with boulder walls and simple plantings of grass and black-eyed susans.

In the middle of the driveway is a small bed.  There are several small trees for structure and it is planted so something is blooming throughout the season.  Peonies are the first to bloom, then comes the clematis and fall is brought in by the sedum.

In front of the house is a beautiful perennial garden with a lot of color.  To ease the transition to the stone patio, we have lined the edge with containers of bright annuals.

Coneflowers stand out beautifully against the soft foliage of the cypress tree.

 The deep autumn yellow of the black-eyed susans is complemented by the warm tones of the fall blooming grass behind it.  The background is a shady dark forest. 

 Here, mass plantings of grasses, sage and more rudbekia serve to steer the eye away from the fence surrounding the pool. 

A border of hydrangea shrubs are easy to maintain and bring some lightness to the side of the house.  In the fall and winter their dried blooms provide structure.

A lot of backyards run along a forest or some other wild area.  Here, we gradually transition from the more formal beds surrounding the house to less structured beds running along the perimeter.  A thick layer of mulch in front keeps the forest plants from spreading and low maintenance bee balm provides some height and color. 

In the front yard there is a large hosta garden.  Groups of large hostas give contrast to the smaller leafed hostas that line the edges.  Clumps of ferns and bleeding hearts break up the mass plantings.  From a distance, the forest foliage is echoed along the ground by the season long greenery.

 This yard also uses containers beautifully.  They help brighten up dull spots against the side of the house and bring color and softness to stone patios.  The above container is placed on a south facing patio that can get very dry quickly.  With that in mind, we used large containers that hold water longer, and were careful to choose plants that would do okay in hot and dry conditions.

Autumn is coming and a few accents here and there can extend the warmth and color of the beds as the rest of the flowers fade away.

Finding Hope in the Hopeless

by Tami Gallagher

My garden this year has been trying to say the least.  I have had many losses, bugs, and mishaps:

Dead Dahlia
~ One day I had beautiful magenta dahlia blooms, the next I had a completely dead plant.  Who knows.

~ My cute little tabby grass in my early spring container grew to be about four feet tall when transplanted into my sunny window box but my Kong Coleus must have been mislabeled because it isn’t so much as Kong as it is all of three inches tall.

~ I haven’t had a single ripe strawberry.  The rabbits and I both think, “Oh, that will be perfect tomorrow!” but they must get up earlier than I do so now where there used to be strawberries, I just have crunchy brown leaves.

~ We adopted a four-month-old dog, Toby, last December and he has been wreaking havoc in all his puppy energy. He ate the cucumber plants, ran through the Hydrangea shrub destroying all the big beautiful blooms, peeled all the bark off of an Ash tree like it was a banana, broke off all the lower branches of my Japanese Lilac, and then there's all the holes... I had to give up my plan for re-designing the backyard this season. 

Blossom End Rot
~My first bag of potting soil had some grass/weed seeds in it and they of course sprouted in their new happy environment.

~The trumpet vine I removed two years ago seems to have gathered force underground last season and decided to sprout up shoots all over my garden; I'm giving up on the battle for now, but not the war!

Unwanted Grass in Potting Soil
~My Roma tomatoes have blossom-end rot.

~The Mugo pines I put in last year died.  OK, maybe I should have watered them more…

~The Sea Oat grass I put in last fall didn’t even make an effort to come back.

Dead Mugo Pine
~With the early spring, I pinched back by false indigo too late and only had two blooms.

~The kids are as bad as the dog and big portions of my dianthus were sacrificed in a neighborhood game of capture the flag.

~I have aphids on my Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’, Japanese Beetles on my Basil, and squash bugs on my zucchini. The squash bugs on my zucchini were so bad, I had to pull all the plants out.    

It was the squash bugs that sent me to adding up my garden troubles this year.  With all these trials, I wondered why I keep trying.  

But I know ultimately it's because I love gardens. They bring me hope; hope for the future and that I can always do better. Every season is an opportunity to grow better and brighter. Next year I will be more vigilant, I'll cover my new fall plantings better, and I'll watch for bugs more attentively.

And Toby will be the wise old age of two.
Example of what the Gallagher Gardens look like in a good year

ShowSpaces- S. Minneapolis

by Jeanette Torkelson

It is late afternoon and as the sunlight yellows around me, I am reminded that in a few months we will be sitting in darkness at this time, our gardens blocked from view by the reflections of our lamp lit interiors.  It might seem early to think of autumn but I am seeing signs of it in our flowers.  The late fall blooming sedum is already flowering, leaves are starting to build up in the nooks of garden beds, and the mornings have been almost chilly.

As the oppressive heat of summer gives way to cooler nights and days, it is a good time to think about changes we want to see in our gardens.  You've heard it many times, but fall really is a great time for planting and for rearranging!

To help inspire all of us, we are starting a series showcasing gardens that we maintain throughout the Twin Cities metro area.  From grand poolside gardens to cozy urban patio gardens, we will share what you guys have been creating- and with the little bit of maintenance help-how it stays beautiful year round.  

This is a garden we have maintained for years in South Minneapolis.  Even though the owners had a very small backyard and most of it taken up with a concrete patio, we have still helped create a beautiful environment.  

It is a lush space.  Ferns and hosta provide leafy structure along the walls and paths.  The ground cover is allowed to creep between the plants and grow along rocks.

The colors of the garden warm as the season progresses and even without many blooms the backyard is lovely.

One of the key reasons this garden is successful is the diversity of plants.  The varying heights and leaf textures provides interests year round. 

The patio has sharp corners that we softened by letting the shrubs stay a little looser.  

 This garden works well for this particular space but any gardener can take away some lessons.  Remember to use variety!  Notice the deep red of the hibiscus in the photo third from the bottom.  It is just one bloom, but it adds a lot to the space.  It brings your eye to the farther corner of the garden and helps the space feel a little bigger.  To do this, we did have to trim away some of the blooms from the hydrangea tree but WAIT!  Don't toss those lovely blooms out.

Ever Evolving

by Tami Gallagher 

Last fall Jeanette and I were doing a clean-up on a particularly large property.  The job took about 25 hours (our average property is 4 hours.)  After working about 6 hours or so, Jeanette looks up and says with a sigh, “Wow, there’s a lot more to go.”  I told her to look down and focus on what was right in front of her. Then, ever so often, look back and see how much she had accomplished.

I was struck by a metaphor for the grief I was then, and still am, enduring.  My brother killed himself 9 months ago, a few weeks before the weeding session mentioned above, and every day requires mental and emotional fortitude.

My brother and I were very close.  I am overwhelmed at the thought of living the rest of my life without him.  However, my words to Jeanette echo in my mind.  In handling my grief I must remember to do today’s work, feel and process the emotions that come about today and then, ever so often, look back and appreciate how far I’ve come.

Like a garden, we should never be complete or stagnant but rather a work in progress; ever evolving. I am a different person than I was 9 months ago.  There is a heaviness in me that may always be there in some form, but I am not broken. In fact, I am wiser and more aware than ever the awe as well as the fragility of life.

Thank you to all my wonderful clients and employees for the amazing support and patience you’ve had with me over the last 9 months.  I am so blessed.

Weed Barrier: A Weed's Best Friend

We all mean to do well for our gardens.  It can be hard to make the right choice when surrounded by so much hype from unnecessary products.  There is one product, however, that is very commonly pushed onto gardeners that is one of the worst things you can put down.  I’m talking about weed barrier, also known as landscape fabric.

Many of us have heard the supposed benefits about using the black plastic fabric and some of us might have it in our gardens.  Maybe you moved into a garden that had it in, or were convinced by a company of the usefulness.  My garden came lined with the fabric, and by the time I moved in, there was no mulch left, just an ugly expanse of black fabric with weeds growing straight through.

That’s the funny thing about weed barrier. It prevents weeds for about a year, but after that, they start popping up, as happy as ever. And they’re impossible to get at because they have a nice barrier separating you from their roots! 
Weed barrier also interrupts the natural flow of nutrients.  As plants drop leaves, and the mulch decomposes, those nutrients go straight back into the soil.  Weed barrier prevents this.  In many cases, the mulch decomposes enough that weeds start growing on top of the fabric, and eventually those roots will break through the fabric and into the soil underneath.
 It is very difficult to move your plants around once weed barrier is put down.  Also, perennials need space for their roots to grow and many companies don’t cut big enough holes for the plants to grow in.  I’ve rescued many a plant that had started growing half on top of the landscaping fabric and was struggling to reach soil and water.  The fabric also prevents water from getting down to the roots.  With this hot summer, our plants need every drop they can get. 
 Weed barrier is not the prettiest material.  No matter how much mulch you put on top of it, rain, foot traffic, wind and the slippery surface of the fabric will cause bare spots to be exposed.  The dark surface of the fabric will heat up faster than the soil and encourage the ground to dry up a little faster.
 Are you going for a lush full cottage garden?  Often those gardens rely on plants that reseed every year, and landscape fabric will prevent those seeds from sprouting and taking root.
Some people use weed barrier to kill off a section of lawn or weeds.  A good alternative is cardboard or black and white newspapers underneath a layer of mulch.  This does the trick of preventing light from reaching the weeds and when you’re ready to plant in it the next year, the papers will have decomposed nicely!
The weed barriers are made out of non-recyclable plastic and are not environmentally friendly.

With a little creativity, you will never need to use weed barrier and your plants will be much happier because of it.

These photos showcase one of our gardens and also demonstrate that even in difficult hilly and rocky areas weed barrier is not needed!  Some mulch and some weeding keeps this garden looking gorgeous all year round!


How Does Your Garden Grow?

by Heather Ford-Helgeson

Heather's Raised Garden - early June 2012
If you read my previous post, you'll know that I started my first vegetable garden this year; a raised bed pictured above. Though small, it is causing big changes. I absolutely love it. If I want some herbs, I go pick them. If I want a salad, I go pick from my variety of greens. Most of the tomato plants are next to the raised bed and I also planted some corn there. The chipmunks got almost all the corn but the tomato plants are thriving and if all goes well, my family will have a plethora of juicy ones from which to pick. Every morning I water and tend to my plants almost as lovingly as I do my two-year-old. There is no doubt I am hooked and I have already mapped out an area in my back yard of which I am going to dig up in the fall for next years LARGE vegetable garden adventure; Can. Hardly. Wait.

I am constantly on the look-out now for urban vegetable growers and I'm amazed by people's use of space. A young guy in my South Minneapolis neighborhood has turned his entire boulevard into a vegetable garden. A couple in the same area put a couple of raised beds in their side yard, mixing it in with their landscaping.  There's a woman around the corner from me who has turned her front-yard into one large food-producing garden and made it beautiful to-boot and a couple of blocks from me a family has turned all the land next to their garage into a huge garden. I have seen window boxes turned into herb gardens, planters used entirely for tomatoes, planters with mixed vegetables and flowers, wheel-barrows as raised beds, large tires filled with tomato and bean plants, and one of our long-time clients had HSG transplant a bunch of her perennials that were next to her pool and then turned the whole area into a vegetable garden. These are but a few examples of great ingenuity.

Are you tending to your own produce garden? Please tell us about it in the comment section below. We love to hear about what you're growing and how it's going. You can also ask us any questions you have on any of your gardening needs.

Great growing and we will write again soon.

If You Build It...

by Heather Ford-Helgeson

Hello everyone!  It is so good to be back garden blogging again and all of us at Home Sown Gardens look forward to writing for and with you this year. The winter here in Minnesota was mild and many of us are a bit apprehensive about what this may mean for our spring and summer. But we have no control anyway so better to be optimistic and enjoy every warm minute we get.

If spring is any indication, this could be a stellar year of gardening.  I'm looking out my window right now and I'm amazed at the size of my hosta, peonies, tiger lilies, and my grapevine is heavy with leaves...(oh, and the grass needs some serious attention, yikes, I'll have to get on that.) Anyway, my landscaping is looking good so now I can move on to the project I've been looking forward to all winter; building raised beds for vegetables.

If you receive the Home Sown Gardens Newsletter hopefully you have read our piece on easy-to-build raised garden beds. HSG's hope is to inspire as many of you as possible to give a try at vegetable gardening this season and tell us how you do by emailing us. In fact, we urge you to share any of your gardening experiences and questions with us and periodically throughout the season we will post your findings and comments in this blog as part of a section we are calling Garden Share

I will keep you posted on my progress and I hope you keep us posted on yours. Good gardening luck to you all and you'll hear from one of us again soon.