Having a green thumb takes cultivation
June 24, 2022
The back of her big red truck is filled with healthy green plants, as Wanda Pearcy pulls into a space at the Cloquet farmers market. People soon gather around to see what's new or find a special perennial to fill a gap in a flower border. And they tend to linger, because Wanda is more than willing to share advice and insights from her years of gardening experience.
Pearcy didn't start out with a green thumb.
"I was not a gardener; in fact, I killed all my houseplants," she said.
But when she bought a home that came with a small garden, she decided to try to keep it alive. "I thought, who would know the most about dirt and plants? Well, it's going to be farmers."
Pearcy sought advice from farming friends and Master Gardeners, volunteered at Wrenshall's Food Farm and worked at greenhouses to develop her skills. She learned that a home garden, just like a farm field, starts with the soil. "You've got to maintain and think about building soil, feeding the soil."
She also learned plenty from her own garden failures. "Every time I fail, I just say, 'Next time is going to be better.'"
She added compost, sand and fertilizer to her garden and gradually turned her backyard into a lovely, peaceful space filled with carefully chosen perennials, flowing paths, and sculptural accents. Her home project turned into a garden business, which eventually led her to the local farmers markets.
Pearcy brings to market strong plants grown in a special-recipe soil mix, in larger pots than usual. She believes that these can better survive the stresses of transplanting and establishment, especially for novice gardeners.
Years of experience have also steered her toward resilient flowering plants.
"I like plants that deer don't love," she said, laughing. Bleeding heart, peonies, astilbe and iris are less tasty to four-legged foragers, and they're also hardy in northern Minnesota's climate. Cultivars of native plants such as brightly colored Monarda (bee balm) attract hummingbirds, and the sweet scent of Cimicifuga (bugbane or cohosh) mark the beginning of fall.
Pearcy spent many years as a fine arts educator, so she likes to encourage garden creativity in addition to focusing on soil and plant health. She suggests that beginning gardeners choose a few plants to start, create the garden soil where they'll be happy, and not let setbacks discourage them from pursuing a creative idea.
"I'm motivated by plants I love, and I try to create their best environment," she said.
The Carlton County farmers market is open 9 a.m. to noon Saturdays through Oct. 21 in front of Premiere Theatres in Cloquet. The Carlton site is open 4 to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through mid-October in McFarland Park, Highway 210 and Grand Avenue.