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RYAN BAKKEN: GF Horticulture Society knows how to grow 'em

I didn't know a peony from a pansy from a petunia -- nor did I care to. Plus, the words "horticulture" and "society" were intimidating, suggesting members were out of my social and cultural class. Then, there's that whole thing of flowers having ...

I didn't know a peony from a pansy from a petunia -- nor did I care to. Plus, the words "horticulture" and "society" were intimidating, suggesting members were out of my social and cultural class. Then, there's that whole thing of flowers having stuffy Latin names.

So, when asked if I wanted a sneak preview of the Grand Forks Horticulture Society Garden Tour, it seemed the equivalent of an invitation to play the cello at the next Greater Grand Forks Symphony Orchestra concert. But, I did it anyway. That's how starved newspaper columnists are for ideas.

Now, I still don't know a peony from a pansy from a petunia -- but I do care. That's because my tour guide, GFHS public relations honcho Anne Smith, showed me early that she was no flower snob with the words "dandelions are good."

Here's why: 1) The leaves are tasty on a salad; 2) they're early bloomers, far ahead of the hoity-toity flowers; 3) they provide early food for bees; 4) they make good wine; 5) they're free; and 6) they've made heart-touching bouquets and necklaces for mothers for generations.

Smith is very nonjudgmental. "A weed is a plant out of place," she said.

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The owners of the homes on display at this weekend's tour aren't nearly as big of dandelion fans as Smith. I spotted a grand total of one dandelion in the yards of the four yards/gardens we visited. When garden queen mother Irene Larson of rural Tabor was told of Smith's fondness for the dandelion, Larson was gracious: "Well, they are pretty when they bloom, but otherwise they're a big nuisance."

Larson's farmyard makes the Hanging Gardens of Babylon look like a window planter. Blooms that cover every part of the rainbow jump out in her four gardens, which have grown increasingly larger for 45 years, mostly from the perennials reproducing.

"I'd guess I have three of four city lots of garden," she estimated.

She's 81 years old, but she uses a shovel, not a roto-tiller, to turn the soil. For weeds, she bends at the waist and pulls rather than a hoeing. A hoe just creates more weeds, she said. The garden tending takes six to eight hours a day.

"People ask me if I'm nuts," she said. "But I'm not. This is my love, my life, my everything. I don't even care anymore if they ask if I'm nuts."

Smith is nuts about the garden tour, which produces much of the club's money, used most notably for a huge flower garden on the west end of University Park.

She knows how to stir interest in flowers. Just when my interest lagged after the dandelion endorsement, she found a new way to gain my attention.

"Flowers are all about sex, about reproduction, about plant porn," she said. "You need sexy flowers to attract bees and sexy fruit to attract birds. You need those creatures to eat and distribute the seeds elsewhere so the plant can reproduce."

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If the professor had only explained it that way, I would have received an 'A' in botany.

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