Nirvana in the Twin Cities

The 2014 Metro Blooms Garden Awards celebrate Minneapolis gardens and the people who create them.

Laini Devin

For Bob Wolk, gardening is a secret language and passion that he loves sharing with his community.

“Plants tend to talk to me,” Wolk said. “I love to lie down next to a bed of flowers and spend the whole day lying there picking out weeds. It sounds weird — my neighbors are used to me doing that.”

Metro Blooms is a volunteer-based nonprofit that aims to protect the environment, beautify the community and honor the people who do so. On Thursday, the organization will host its annual garden awards ceremony — an event that is given preparation year-round.

A garden must be nominated before it gets an evaluation, and Wolk was originally a self-nominated participant. However, his garden has worked its way up through the ranks of Metro Bloom awards over the years.

Wolk first joined forces with Metro Blooms after hearing about the organization’s mission in an advertisement that came in the mail with his water bill.

Now, he’s a board member for the organization.

“At our 50th wedding anniversary, to celebrate, we gave each of our neighbors — all 10 of them — a rain garden, and we paid for excavation and everything,” Wolk said. “I walk out my door every day and I look at my park.”

For this act, the Wolks received Metro Blooms’ most prestigious award — the Nate Siegel award.

Garden evaluators look for five factors, said Alexis Troschinetz, a Metro Blooms board member and evaluator.

Evaluators appraise gardens based on their visual impact; plant variety; and health, design, maintenance and environmental stewardship, she said.

“Each of us evaluate anywhere from 12 to 20 gardens a year,” said Troschinetz, who runs an annual mandatory training event that Metro Blooms evaluators attend.

“[The training] usually [is] a couple of hours, and we actually look at PowerPoint photos of gardens and as a group evaluate them together,” she said. “[We] talk about why it has a good element of the rating scale so we can learn from each other before going out to do the evaluations.”

Evaluators also keep an eye out for unique intricacies that make gardens an aesthetic asset to the community.

Wolk’s definition of aesthetic beauty played a factor into how he decorated his garden, he said, adding that used appropriate tchotchkes.

“We like to get kids involved in the garden. In our front yard, about 10 or 12 feet long, we have a Noah’s ark theme in it,” he said.

Wolk encourages kids to go into his garden and play with the 20 to 30 pairs of animals on display.

“I like it when they get physically involved and move the animals around,” he said.

The backyard houses a bridge lined with movable toy cars.

Former award winner Anna Erbes enjoys the gratification of having community members pass through her garden.

“When you get people who go out of their way to find you working in your yard and [they] say, ‘Your yard brings me joy,’ can it get any better than that? I don’t think so,” she said.

The thing that collectively brings gardeners and plant lovers together is the experience of having a “little bit of nirvana in the city,” Erbes said.

The process begins as early as 6:30 a.m. for serious gardeners.

“I’m out in the garden at about 7:30, and I come in reluctantly to have a bite to eat before going back out around 8,” Wolk said.

Erbes also begins her gardening bright and early.

“I love walking the yard every day. Getting up, grabbing your cup of coffee and seeing how everybody is doing. You nurture these plantings, look at who is doing well,” she said.

“People who garden are beautifying the land — making it a place where people want to live and appreciate it,” Troschinetz said. “And for that, I want to show appreciation.”

 

What: 2014 Metro Blooms Garden Awards

When: 7 p.m. Thursday

Where: Columbia Manor, 3300 Central Ave. NE, Minneapolis

Cost: $30