Workshop encourages novice gardeners

The ground has just begun to thaw, yet experienced gardeners have been planning their summer landscape for more than a month.
But members of the University’s Minnesota Landscape Arboretum held a spring gardening workshop Saturday in order to give the novice gardener a chance to catch up.
“Your Emerging Garden” was a full-day workshop with speakers and programs that included advice on water-wise gardening, creating an edible landscape and attracting birds. The arboretum, the Metro Cluster Master Gardener Program and the Minnesota Extension Service hosted the event to inform fledgling gardeners about new plants as well as the latest techniques.
Seminars at the arboretum, located in Chanhassen, are designed to encourage even the most perennially challenged to give gardening a chance. Director of the Hennepin County Master Gardener Program Bob Mugaas said gardening shouldn’t intimidate people — it’s not rocket science. It is as easy as understanding several main components.
“You must know what the land space is like,” said Mugaas, “and know what kind of plants belong there.”
Mugaas said the biggest mistake beginners make is raising their expectations beyond the restrictions of their time and resources.
“People want to grow everything, but it is more important to learn how some plants grow and how to take care of them,” he said.
The Adult Education Manager at the arboretum, Shirley Mah Kooyman, also added some advice in her edible landscape presentation. She said gardening doesn’t always have to be straight rows of vegetables in the backyard, with the pretty flowers in the front of the home. She encourages gardeners to be creative and have fun with whatever mix they choose.
“There is no specific recipe to a garden,” said Mah Kooyman, “you must break the boundaries and see how it fits into your lifestyle.”
For those people who do not have space to replicate Monet’s Garden or even a vegetable patch, Mah Kooyman suggests something as simple as a window box to introduce the hobby.
“Having a miniature garden outside your window full of lettuce and peas is enough for your own homegrown salad,” she said.
To Mah Kooyman, the word “creative” extends beyond the arrangement and choices of plants to their uses. In her presentation, she explained that vegetable plants can be mixed with flowers for an equally enchanting garden, and flowers are more than just pretty petals.
For example, both the petals and buds of daylillies are ideal for a salad ingredient. Chinese cuisine uses certain varieties of chrysanthemum to make a cooling tea to remedy fevers. Mah Kooyman said the blooms from the squash can be used in hors d’oeuvre, and a syrup can be made out of pansies.
If the idea of starting a garden is tempting, but still a little confusing, the arboretum and the extension services are there to help.
“The arboretum is a teacher that all starters can use,” Mah Kooyman said.
The arboretum has nine different home demonstration gardens for use as a teaching aid, staff members trained in either botany or horticulture and a library full of resource materials. The extension service also offers a World Wide Web site and a home hotline.
Officials from the arboretum also make it possible to learn while enjoying the fruits of someone else’s labor. They host guest lecturers and conferences year round, from a symposium on wildflowers to a seminar on designing Japanese gardens.
Of course, behind all of the extra knowledge that comes to a master gardener with experience, said Mugaas, horticulture instills a sense of “patience, effort and time.”