Landscapers and garden centers gearing up for spring

By Sue Webber

Contributing Writer

Fire and water – sometimes used together – are features many homeowners are pursuing this spring.

Mark Laberee, president of Lan-De-Con Landscapes in Excelsior, said some homeowners opt for a copper bowl, with water spilling into the bowl from all sides, and fire in the middle.

“It’s attractive; it’s pre-made and available for people to install,” he said. “There’s a lot of fun stuff with fire and water.”

He’s also seeing more gas fireplaces being used outdoors, as opposed to wood. “Wood is fun, but it’s a full-time job, and it’s smoky,” Laberee said. “The rules are restrictive and it ends up out in the yard. A lot of people want the fireplace right on the patio.”

Along with the trend toward living and eating more healthfully and even organically, Laberee said fancy raised gardens have become popular. “They’re easy to control, they’re attractive and they’re easy to fence,” he said. “Busy people who don’t have much time can get an awful lot of produce from an 8×16 raised garden.”

Produce even is being used in landscaping, Laberee said. He recalled a project at an upper bracket home in Wayzata that had a long stairway leading to the lake. Instead of using conventional plantings, the couple opted for planting pears, plums, cherries, blueberries and raspberries. “The owner and his wife love to dish up ice cream and then pick their toppings right off the bushes,” Laberee said.

CONTAINER GARDENS

Container gardens continue to grow in popularity for those who want to exercise their green thumbs.

Donna Atallian, the “plant guru” at Lynde Greenhouse and Nursery in Maple Grove, noted that many people who no longer maintain huge gardens are doing more plantings on their patios, perhaps in whiskey barrels. “A lot of people like a mixture of colorful plants that will take care of themselves,” she said. “It looks nice, and it’s easy to care for.”

The nursery also now is selling apple trees in a clump of three, instead of a single tree, Atallian said. “There’s more pruning to do, but you only have one tree to plant,” she said.

Hydrangeas are always popular flowers for gardeners. Geraniums are a spring tradition, though many people are planting a variety of flowers in the same pot, according to Atallian.

This spring, the nursery is offering planting parties, at which participants are invited to pick out the plants they’d like to have in a pot or hanging basket, and then the nursery will do the planting, watering and fertilizing of the planted pots or baskets until they’re picked up in time for Mother’s Day gifts.

Greg Eisele, the fourth-generation owner of Eisele Greenhouse in Lakeville, also is seeing the current trend of container gardening – mixing a variety of plants in the same pot of hanging basket. “That’s here to stay,” he said.

Eisele noted that whereas people 20 or 30 years ago bought flats of plants and put them into half-acre garden beds, the younger generation doesn’t have time to do that.

Some gardeners are now are gravitating to what he called “frilly, more dainty” colorful plants to use in containers, such as Calibrachoa (once known as Million Bells). “Bright, bold plants are popular, for use in smaller placements on a deck or stoop,” Eisele said.

NEW VARIETIES, COLOR

Eric Pederson, owner of Bloomington Garden Center, said he’s always looking for new flower varieties and new colors of traditional flowers. “A petunia called Night Sky that we had last year was really good,” he said. “It was blue with splashes of white, and we sold four times the amount of those, compared to others.”

Ornamental grasses are still popular, according to Pederson. “You prune them down to nothing once a year, and that’s all you need to do,” he said. “The new growth comes up all bright and fresh, bigger and fuller.”

CHANGING USE OF SPACE

Karen Bachman Thull, Director of Marketing and Corporate Communications for Bachman’s, represents all six of the company’s retail garden stores, in Richfield, Apple Valley, Maplewood, Plymouth, Eden Prairie and Fridley. She is the fifth generation in the company’s 132 years of operation.

Bachman’s 670-acre farm in Farmington grows annuals, perennials, trees and shrubs to supply all six stores.

“We’re seeing changes in how people are using their space,” Thull said, noting that people who have small patios or balconies or lofts are opting for container gardening. “It could be a matter of time and commitment, too,” she said. “Containers are easy to accomplish.”

Edible gardening often focuses on vegetables, rather than fruits, Thull said. “It could be a salsa garden with peppers, tomatoes and cilantro, or it could be a cocktail garden with mint or thyme,” she said. “People take a great level of pride in making their own salsa.”

Small fruits and fruit trees are very popular, Thull said, including strawberry pots that provide a great activity for the family to do together.

Smaller living spaces with a balcony or patio, such as lofts or apartments, also lend themselves to bistro sets or “chat sets” for seating, according to Thull. It’s easy to combine some cheerful, small sets in bold colors with a few containers to make an appealing outdoor space for relaxing, she said.