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Front Yard Garden of the Week: Gardener enjoys trying new things

Jan Maas' garden at 4275 Connelly Circle N.E., the Front Yard Garden of the Week, features lots of color and variety. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

I must provide a disclaimer here. I know Jan Maas. She is a gardener to be admired. She is knowledgeable, works hard, tries new things and is willing to share what she knows. She also is an accordion player, like myself. What a bond!

Jan lives in a "rural" area, although her address, 4275 Connelly Circle N.E., is within the city limits. Rural means deer and plenty of them in the Maas neighborhood. Jan met the deer challenge head on. Jan and her husband built fences, high ones. They are made of dark nylon netting and are 8 feet high. They are attached to wooden posts, with gates so humans can enter the garden area. Bunnies figured out a way to get under the netting, so Jan had chicken wire dug into the ground on the outside of the netting. Now, no deer, no bunnies.

Jan's home is located along the Mississippi River. The back yard faces the river. The front yard faces the gravel road running past the home. There are both vegetables and flowers in the front yard garden.

The vegetable garden includes raspberries, blueberries, asparagus and the usual green, root and climbing vegetables, all placed to take advantage of the sunshine. This year the tomatoes are planted in recyclable black bags with special North Dakota soil. The bags stand on the ground, all the nutrients go directly to the plants and hopefully there will be no blight. The bags are located in the sunniest and hottest area of the garden, near to the road. The black color of the bags should attract plenty of heat, further enhancing the tomato production. Jan ordered the bags from a catalog and got the special dirt from a local garden center. I will be curious to see how they work.

Jan uses a variety of things to design and maintain the garden area. She has bamboo stakes tied together for the climbing vegetables. There is a special wooden support that she and her husband built. It is handsome - tied together with grapevine. A mailbox sits on a post in the middle of the garden. It is used to store small garden tools and other items necessary to maintain the garden. It saves many trips back to the house.

Jan enhances the soil with compost that is produced in a wooden container adjacent to the garden. Jan uses nitrogen as fertilizer once a year. She sprinkles it over the soil in the spring, much like time-release granules. The nitrogen is available at the local Cenex. It should be noted that nitrogen should not be used in this manner in containers. Better to use some other type of less concentrated fertilizer, such as Miracle Grow. It is wise to look at the numbers printed on these fertilizer bags, which cite the percentages of nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus present in what you are buying. Phosphorus, in particular, is harmful to our lakes and streams. The soil in our area generally has plenty available without adding more.

Jan puts down mulch after the ground has warmed up. Mulch consists of the prepared compost, dried grass clippings and shredded leaves. Jan recommends a leaf shredder as one of their favorite tools. Water is provided by overhead spigots from a system which uses water from the river.

Jan has a wonderful variety of flowers in this front yard garden. She has been somewhat dismayed at the lack of sunshine these past few weeks, thus the lack of flowers in bloom. She places her plants carefully, taking advantage of the sun and shade patterns in her front yard. There are plenty of trees, which are a challenge. They love to be fertilized and watered and are the first in line to absorb both.

Some of the perennials in this garden include iris, phlox, lilies, false dragons head and poppies. Jan has peony and lilies from her mother's garden. Other perennials include buttercup, cranesbill, heliopsis (a variety called Lorraine Sunshine), Husker Red penstemon, viburnum (Blue Muffin variety), monkshood and red yarrow. The red yarrow does not spread as much as other yarrows. A favorite perennial of mine throughout this garden was ligularia. There were several varieties with differing sizes and colors of foliage. I stood by one long enough so I think I may be getting a "starter." A new little plant was peeking out by the large plant and Jan will carefully dig it up and with luck, it will be in my garden soon.

Annuals in the garden include "Zowie" zinnias, snapdragons and blue salvia along with many others. Jan is known for her seed starting. Many of her "babies" are growing in this garden.

Two pots of amaryllis are sunk into the ground nearby. Jan saves these from year to year. She brings them outside, still in their pots, when the ground has warmed. She does not cut off their long leaves, just lets them survive in the perennial garden. In the fall she brings them into the house, cuts off the leaves, and puts them in a cool, dark place.

About 6-8 weeks before she wants them to bloom, she places them in a sunny window, waters and fertilizes and waits for the gorgeous blooms to appear. What a great way to prepare for Christmas or even Valentine's Day. It is a money-saver as well.

Near the house Jan has well placed hanging baskets. My favorite is a speckled-leafed angel wing begonia. Jan brings this in the house during the winter where it does well in a sunny window.

The border garden near the house is watered by a drip method. Hoses are placed throughout the garden and small spouts lead off from the hose directly to the plants. The Maases have been happy with the results. It also was easy for them to install themselves.

And now, a special treat. What is not garden in the Maas front yard is mowed once a summer. The area is shady, grass does not thrive and the area is left looking natural. The weeds are under control and the lawn area is pleasant and relaxing to look at. How much more fun than fertilizing, mowing, fertilizing again and watering all summer long.

So, there you have it. A gardening pro who took on the deer and the bunnies and now lives relaxed in her garden. Jan shared ideas for watering, fertilizing, soil and lawn care, in both sun and shade. She even came up with a plant for me to take home.

The only thing we didn't do during the visit was play the accordion. Maybe another day when the neighbors aren't home.