‘Food for the Soul’ garden inspires, educates other gardeners

University of Minnesota Extension master gardeners from Anoka County have been offering inspiration and education to area gardeners at the Blaine Community Garden for the past four years.

Master gardeners have named this year’s plot at the Blaine Community Garden “Food for the Soul.” Photo submitted
Master gardeners have named this year’s plot at the Blaine Community Garden “Food for the Soul.” Photo submitted

This year, the plot is called “Food for the Soul” by the team of master gardeners who designed the space based on a French potager or kitchen garden.

“By incorporating herbs, flowers and vegetables in an aesthetically pleasing design, we’ve created a place that you want to be – even if you have to weed,” said Master Gardener Laura Burtness of Andover.

This potager garden is a symmetrical shape with a narrow walking path intersecting the squares. The garden is distinctive from others primarily because it is “fenced” with 10-foot sunflowers, state fair zinnias and dozens of marigolds. It also has a box of master gardener materials and encourages other members of the community garden to check out resources such as the University of Minnesota Extension’s “What’s Wrong with my Plant” web tool.

“I can’t tell you how many people ask if the marigolds keep out deer. They don’t!” said Master Gardener Lee Blowers of Ham Lake. “But they are pretty and attract beneficial insects such as lacewings and lady beetles, so we always include them.”

The Blaine Community Garden offers residents, particularly those in townhomes or senior housing, the chance to garden, said Tom Godfrey of the city of Blaine.

Resident requests for such space prompted the city to begin the garden, which is located in the southeast end of the city hall’s parking lot at 10801 Town Hall Drive. The master gardener plot sits next to the field to the south and borders the parking lot.

“We continue to learn from experience, too,” said Blowers. “Last year, we planted beans on the outside of the garden border but they were decimated by deer. This year, the beans are well protected.”

“We also learned to have a better plant succession plan. Last year, after some vegetables were harvested, we had empty spaces which attracted weeds,” said Master Gardener Nancy Helms. “This year, we put early crops like radishes, next to later crops, such as beans. Now there are fewer open spots and fewer weeds. We also used mulch.”

Burtness, Blowers and Helms began planning this year’s garden last summer.

“We wanted a design that featured an ‘organized’ garden for smaller spaces, which many of us deal with,” said Helms, who lives in a townhome.

Burtness added, “We sat down at a local coffee shop and poured over ideas, discussed herbs and debated vegetables. We looked at crop rotation practices and University of Minnesota recommendations for seeds and plants that are disease resistant in our climate.”

The final result? Seventeen herbs from lemon grass to tarragon; 12 vegetables, from dwarf kale (hint – it’s not dwarf!) to eggplant; and a variety of flowers, including nasturtiums, zinnias and dusty miller, combine to form a breathtaking and aromatic vista. And it’s a 20-foot plot.

The gardeners are quick to point out that they couldn’t have created “Food for the Soul” without the generosity and support of Malmborg’s Nursery, which donated many plants.

The Anoka County Master Gardener program, which is part of the University of Minnesota Extension Service, trains thousands of volunteers to educate the public about a variety of horticulture subjects using readily-available, up-to-date research-based information.

In Anoka County there are 100 volunteers that contribute over 6,000 hours of volunteer service. Information about the Master Gardener program can be found at http://blog.lib.umn.edu/mgweb/anoka/ or by calling 763-755-1280.

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