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Splendid flower gardens prove our region's grow-power

Prakash Mathew of Fargo believes flowers are like people: When you invest in them, they respond beautifully. David Samson / Forum News Service1 / 2
Don Kinzler2 / 2

FARGO — Have you noticed I never refer to our region's growing conditions as harsh, severe, challenging or any other negative adjectives, as though we're the last outpost on the way to the Arctic Circle?

That's because our gardening region is positively wonderful, with more than enough flowers, vegetables and fruits to occupy anyone's gardening lifetime.

Inspiring examples are all around us, like the flower gardens of Prakash Mathew, of Fargo. If his name is familiar, it's because he was North Dakota State University's Vice President for Student Affairs, greeting tens of thousands of new students during summer orientations over the course of nearly 40 years, until retiring.

When I saw Mr. Mathew's beautiful flower gardens, I asked if I could share them as an example of our region's grow-power. Although Prakash hesitated, not wanting to give the impression that his efforts were somehow special, I recognized the care that was quietly and successfully given to a beautiful backyard gardening oasis, and that's inspiring. Prakash graciously shares the following thoughts with us:

"Gardening gives me much joy and gratification in my life. It is a very fulfilling and therapeutic hobby. People often ask me about my green thumb. Well, my definition of a green thumb is very simple: What you put in is what you get out. Just like with people, when you invest your time and effort in plants or people, your get great results with both. When I was at NDSU speaking at the new student summer orientation program, I often shared the gardening analogy, relating it to the students' growth and development in their own college life.

"Preparation for planting is one of the most important factors in gardening, improving the soil, mulching, fertilizing, weeding, cultivating and watering. To improve the soil, each year I add Miracle-Gro garden soil and peat moss to the flowerbeds, incorporating it in.

"People often ask me about the number of hours I spend gardening. In the first two weeks of the season, I invest many hours. After the busy spring, I average one hour a day for maintenance, weeding, deadheading, watering and fertilizing. You need to let the plants know you care, and they almost always respond positively!

"Since I experiment with different plants every year, I scout garden centers within a 100-mile radius for certain varieties. In my backyard, I have about 60 percent perennials and 40 percent annuals, so something is blooming all the time.

"My favorite perennial is the delphinium. I have two or three different colors of tall varieties and each flower spike lasts about two weeks. They are very elegant but challenging to maintain in our windy weather, so I stake them with thin metal plant props.

"Although many people are not familiar with it, lisianthus is my favorite annual flower and perhaps my all-time favorite plant, with flowers in purple, pink, yellow, and cream that look like roses. About a decade ago, I learned about lisianthus in a garden book, and although it took several years, two or three garden centers in the Fargo area now carry this plant.

"My loving departed wife was very encouraging of my gardening activities. She, too, had some favorite plants such as snapdragons, pansy, lisianthus and zinnia. I continue to grow these plants in her memory."

Thanks, Prakash. Your gardens are living proof that time invested yields amazing results.