Our Yard Is On A Garden Tour

Two days from now, on Saturday, somewhere around 300 people will be coming to check out our gardens as part of the Hennepin County Master Gardener Learning Garden Tour. Our house is one of 11 stops on the one-day tour, and we have been working like maniacs for three solid months to get the place in shape.

Front Yard “After”

Front Yard “Before”

Truthfully, as you’ll see from the photos I’m posting, we’ve been working on our yard for six summers in a way that would probably seem nutty to most people. But when I volunteered us for the tour, we really had to kick things into high gear and we have now completed EVERY project that we had on our to-do list for the yard. Had it not been for the tour, we probably would have stretched those projects out over three years or more. So while we’re exhausted, we’re also really glad to have little more than weeding and watering to do next summer.

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How Not To Prune

It’s a good thing shrubs can’t talk because, boy, if they could, some of them would have some mighty hateful words for their tenders.

I go on walks a lot, so I see shrubs all the time that have been scalped, sheared and otherwise dismembered in all manner of ways. But this sad lineup really took my breath away. I’m sure this gardener means well and has trimmed and denuded these shrubs for years in an attempt to keep them in a neat, hedge-like formation.

As you can see, though, things aren’t working out as planned and he’s (I’ve seen him at work) ended up with bare sticks topped with foliage that looks like unruly hair pieces rather than lush shrubs. What did he do wrong? Well, too much to explain well here without making your eyes glaze over. So, instead, let me give you some links to a few good resources that explain pruning in understandable, easy-to-follow terms.

Too often I hear garden gurus say pruning is easy, blah, blah, blah. What? I’m here to tell you that that’s just not true. Sure, once you get the hang of pruning things get easier and easier. But understanding the best ways to prune different types of shrubs and trees takes time to learn, and you learn even more by experience. The most important thing to remember is that you want to maintain a shrub’s natural shape as best you can. So comparisons to “haircuts” are off the mark.

I hope these links are helpful.

Virginia Cooperative Extension: This publication offers good descriptions and illustrations.

University of Missouri Extension: Check out the explanation of different tools.

University of Minnesota Extension: Good info. on pruning trees and shrubs.

Utah State University Extension: Very helpful 5-minute video.

Is Aquaponics the Way We’ll Farm In the Future?

Aquaponics has been on my “Must Learn More About This” list for a long while. So when I found out Garden Fresh Farms in nearby Maplewood was giving free tours of their aquaponics facility, I signed right up to go. The tour was scheduled for the middle of a week day and Maplewood is a pretty long drive out of the Twin Cities, so I didn’t expect much of a crowd. Whew! I was so wrong.

All of the tour dates booked up fast and when we arrived, the back room of the building where the tour started was already bustling with people eating cookies and waiting to head inside. If you don’t know much about aquaponics, no worry. I’ll do my best to explain, albeit simply because goodness known I am no expert on this.

Essentially, plants are grown in water rather than soil. Lights do the work of the sun, and fertilizer is provided by fish in the water (tilapia and trout in this case) who generously contribute their nutrient-rich poo. In turn, the plants’ roots help filter the water for the fish.

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Container Plantings of the Rich

Rich people may have money, but that usually doesn’t keep their gardens from being stuffy snooze fests of unearthly green grass bordered by close-clipped hedges and dotted with a weird topiary or two.


This being the case, I just had to stop the car and take pictures the other day when I spotted some amazing, over-the-top container gardens flanking the gates of an otherwise bland-looking mansion on Minneapolis’ swanky Lake of the Isles.


And I wasn’t alone. Several other people had stopped to stare or take pictures, too. As you might imagine, we don’t see too many tropical displays of this magnitude in these parts. So what did we do? We all behaved as if we were in a library and didn’t make a sound as we blinked in the morning sun.

There were clearly other containers to be gawked at in the front yard too. But nobody ventured up the steps to peek inside the gates. It seemed kind of rude.I  was really hoping someone would see us and just come on out and invite us inside in that grand way that Willy Wonka invites Charlie, his grandpa and all of those dreadful other people into the chocolate factory.

Perhaps it’s all for the best that it didn’t go that way, really.


Veggies Gone Wild

Our friends at Bossy Acres gave us this gorgeous lettuce to plant.

Minnesota is known for extreme weather. We think nothing of  a few 90-degree days followed by a 50-degree week, the drastic temperature changes producing everything from thunderstorms and hail to eerie green skies teaming with funnel clouds. “Meh,” we yawn. “We have basements.”

This year, though, things are really weird. After a winter that wasn’t, spring came early and between the already excessive rain, heat and humidity our gardens have gone wild.

Some of you might remember a column I wrote a few weeks ago about how we made a raised bed out of a livestock trough. Well, the tomato in that trough is huge now and the chard, kale and peppers are well on their way too.


We bought this iron fire ring at a discount steel place and turned it into a raised bed.

I’ve never grown so many edibles in pots and raised beds, so every day when I go outside to check on them I’ll thrilled to find that everybody is still alive, even thriving—this despite the ravenous squirrels, rabbits, chipmunks and racoons that call our yard home. (We even saw a possum scuttle under our neighbor’s porch once.)

Here are a few pictures I took of the garden yesterday that I thought I would share. If you notice I’m doing something that you think could be a problem, please tell me! Like I said, I’ve never tried growing some of these things and I’ve certainly never tried putting so many edibles together in containers to maximize space.


Potatoes are new to the garden this year. I’m growing them in a fabric bag from Gardener’s Supply that I’m product testing. You fill the bag with soil as the potatoes grow. So far so good.

Growing potatoes in a bag.

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