Why do you garden?
Ilse: The first time I planted my own vegetables I was a college student. It was spring, and the gray, cloudy days were warming. I awoke one Sunday morning with an irresistible urge to grow something, so I started some lettuce seeds in a planter on my porch. The following year, I expanded to tomatoes, and continued growing these basic salad ingredients on various porches and balconies until I bought my first house. I love to be outside, tending to plants.
Kelli: I’ve always been drawn to the time when greenery juuuuuust starts to grow. It’s kind of spiritual. And of course, I love a good challenge and the literal fruits of my labor.
How did you learn to garden?
Ilse: I grew up with gardening, and so it makes sense that I absorbed at least some of it. My grandparents’ small city lot was a Victory Garden in the 1940s, and although the vegetable portion of the yard decreased over time to allow some grass on which their grandkids could run around, we always ate amazing tomatoes in endless quantities during our summer visits (my childhood favorite: tomato sandwich on rye, with mayonnaise and pepper). In addition to assorted summer vegetables, my parents produced enough broccoli and string beans for the entire winter (stored in the freezer), as well as potatoes that lasted several months beyond the growing season.
Kelli: Total trial and error, reading books, trying stuff out. My parents have a decent amount of space but it’s terrible land – it’s on what’s called the Anoka Sand Plain, which is like a huge sand beach plunked across a good portion of two counties in east central Minnesota. So it was great for the potatoes people grew back in the day, and not much else, and we never grew anything to eat growing up, though my hubby and I have had several years of pumpkin crops since. I have always had a lot of shade in the places I’ve lived as an adult, so haven’t had much in the way of veggies, but am getting better at ornamentals and design, and have lost some fear of transplanting/removing/giving away ill-suited plants.
What does your garden look like?
Ilse: My first real garden was in Arizona. I found that the lauded raised bed made no sense there and created a sunken garden instead, to hold precious rainwater and stay cooler. My Minnesota vegetable garden consists of 8 raised beds and various spaces in my landscaping beds where I currently grow fruits and vegetables. I have fruit trees and berry bushes all around our 1/3-acre lot, but the vegetable garden has a deer fence around it.
Kelli: A hodge-podge of mostly hostas and some other shade-loving groundcover like wild ginger. For edibles, it’s two new raised 4×4 beds in the sunniest corner of our lot, which is bounded by alley and parking on all sides. One will be raspberries (where is that order, anyway . . . add that to the to-do list) and the other tomatoes. At my parents’ we’ll put in pumpkins again. I plan to tuck some lettuce right close to the house and might try some in a strip next to the garage too. A few containers with basil, and I think I’ll stick some carrots and beets in near the deck. It’s really where I can fit things in around life since the littles, dog, bunnies and squirrels have priority use of the yard, I guess!
What is in your garden this year?
Ilse: I finally got some seeds into the garden in mid-April, about 3 weeks later than I usually plant the cold-hardy vegetables like peas, kale, collards, broccoli, spinach, etc. My strawberries are starting to leaf out, and I am hoping that the asparagus I planted last year survived the cold January we had with no snow cover for protection. I always grow lots of leafy greens, tomatoes, peppers, and herbs.
Kelli: Ooh, now I want to plant kale again. So easy! So forgiving! I still have the seeds you gave me many years ago, Ilse! I should dig them out and see what I can get to still germinate.
Ilse: Kelli, collards are even easier to grow than kale!
Can you share any successful or unsuccessful garden experiments?
Ilse: After a couple of years of gardening in Minnesota, I realized that fantastic fresh vegetables are available for very low cost at the farmers markets, and I decided to grow more fruit. I’ve grown strawberries for about 15 years, and they are incredibly easy to grow… and they make more and more plants, which are a fantastic ground cover. Asparagus has been less successful for me. I’ve seen it growing wild around the area, so I know that it can grow… but my first roots died after a few years. I replanted last year, and am hoping the roots survived our vicious winter.
Kelli: Tomatillos have done really well for me both times I planted them, actually. And we LOVE growing and harvesting our pumpkins and squashes in the years we’ve done those. The year we had a full sun community garden plot we got so much zucchini we couldn’t see straight. Then I got preggo with my first and had a food aversion to . . . you guessed it . . . zucchini. Not so successful were the lingonberries the bunnies enjoyed down to nubbins.
What are your favorite plants to grow?
Ilse: The ones that grow really well! And also herbs… I love to garden around herbs, releasing their scents as I pull weeds and harvest. I added a smaller garden near my back door dedicated to herbs so that I can quickly get fresh basil, dill, oregano, chives, parsley, rosemary, or cilantro just before serving dinner. I usually try to bring some of them inside for the winter, but they never last very long.
Kelli: I’ve tried that with herbs too! Maybe I should do that again as well. On the decorative side of things, I love the spring woodland perennials like columbine. We have a few different delicate kinds.
Do you have any entertaining gardening stories?
Ilse: My second summer here, every night around 3AM, I heard the lid of our large trash bin slam. That was the announcement that the raccoons had arrived for the night. I heard them chattering as they climbed the fence into our yard, and I knew that the next morning I would find more holes in my tomatoes. They took a bite out of each tomato and left it hanging on the plant. That same summer I had planted what I thought was an enormous number of green beans, because I knew the rabbits would eat some of the fresh greens. I was right about that, but not about the quantity that they would eat, because they ate all of them. That was the summer that we began construction of the deer and rabbit fence!