Gardening brings neighbors togetherThe Northland’s horticulturalists aren’t all the solitary introverts you might think they’d be as they work quietly in their yards. Rather, the green thumbs have been sharing stories about gardening with each other — and anyone who will listen — for years.
By: Thomas Vaughn, for the Budgeteer
The Northland’s horticulturalists aren’t all the solitary introverts you might think they’d be as they work quietly in their yards. Rather, the green thumbs have been sharing stories about gardening with each other — and anyone who will listen — for years.
Mary Robinson has been a gardener for more than a decade and works seasonally with Engwall’s Florist & Greenhouse in Hermantown. She reminisces about moving to town 12 years ago.
“I found it very helpful to join a garden club, and there are many around town,” she said. “Sharing ideas and plants, going to seminars and hearing from other gardeners who have experienced this climate has been great for me.”
Brian and Mary Grover live on Park Point and operate Solglimt Bed and Breakfast, distinguished by its floral landscaping. It, too, is a communal effort, says Brian Grover. “We have guests that like to help us do some gardening during the spring and some share plants from their gardens with us,” he said.
Dale and Betty Sola live near the Grovers on Park Point. As they develop a new Japanese Zen garden, many friendly impromptu conversations have taken place as those passing along the street watch their designs emerge. The Solas appreciate the positive feedback.
“Lots of people walk, bike or drive by,” Betty Sola says. “Some come back repeatedly and bring their out-of-town relatives, or they will mail us pictures that they have taken. Others have said that they are going to try some of the ideas they’ve seen in our garden at home. This makes us feel very good.”
Betty also works closely with her neighbor Patti Peters on a large parcel of Park Point land. Over the past five years, they have developed a garden on the long plot across from the Sola’s home.
“It had been rubble and weeds for 50 years,” recalls Betty. The two women began hauling in loads of dirt along with some large rocks for borders and small rocks for beach paths. “Just when we declared, ‘Done,’ someone would give us a wheelbarrow full of perennials and we would expand again.”
Like pets, gardens beg for attention, and enthusiasts seem willing to oblige. Conversations and stories are easy to share, given that gardening is often a trial and error activity — with a lot of trials to go through. The wide variety of possibilities may intimidate some from starting their own gardens. Sola suggests keeping the first few forays simple.
“Once you get going and see the beauty of your work, you’re hooked,” she says, “just like we were.”
So, how do you start?
Natasha Strand of Miller Creek Garden Center encourages people to think about what they really want long-term before shopping because, “there are a lot of choices.” Some of these are whether to plant perennials that bloom every year after going dormant during the winter or to plant annuals that die at the end of the season, but keep their bloom all summer long. If small trees are part of the plan, then height of final tree growth is an issue. Maintenance is also something to think about, given our challenging growing climate.
“Nothing goes out of our lot without the recommendation of getting bags of topsoil, garden soil or compost,” Strand says. Several choices are available — cypress, cedar, humus and manure, to name a few.
Any garden must be supported by excellent soil. Robinson, of the Kenwood neighborhood, shares her approach.
“When it comes to amending my soil, it’s kind of like making a pot of soup,” she said. “I just throw in some good ingredients — local WLSSD compost, topsoil, some peat moss and mix it all up.”
The Grovers must deal with a different type of soil than Robinson has, as she lives on the hill. “The Park Point soil demands a lot of work due to its sandy nature,” Mary Grover says. “We amend the sand with black dirt, sphagnum moss, WLSSD compost and we use worm compost and worm juice.” The worm juice is a by-product of the worm composting process. It drains from the bottom of the worm composting bins. The Grovers mix it with 20 parts water for use in the garden.
Funny stories make for good memories. Betty Sola recalls the time she grew 20 pumpkins in her garden. Just before harvest, a big storm came up on the lake. When it was over, 20 pumpkins were bobbing around out in the bay.
Local garden clubs are an excellent way to meet others sharing one’s interests. Mary Robinson belongs to the Hart-Haven Garden Club and Mary Grover is a member of the Park Point club. The Duluth Garden Flower Society homepage offers information on these and numerous other clubs that meet in the area.