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Amazing Vase open for pickin’

June 30, 2008

Cheryl Niemela is opening up her flower gardens to customers

By Kristen Miller
Staff Writer

Delphiniums, lupines, peonies and more – whatever flower one can think of, master gardener, Cheryl Niemela can grow.

Niemela, of Cokato, was used to growing vegetable gardens. Then, she began slowly adding perennials and found she really liked flowers.

In 1999, Niemela thought it would be special to grow her own daughter’s wedding flowers.

“When it was all finished, I realized I enjoyed the entire process,” Niemela said.

The process included researching, planning, and planting, and of course, harvest, she explained.

Through this experience, Niemela decided it was something she wanted to continue to do.

That following winter, Niemela took a master gardener class through the University of Minnesota Extension Service in Litchfield.

Through this class, Niemela gained the confidence she needed for developing her own cut flower business, which she now calls Amazing Vase.

Since Niemela loves being outdoors, she immersed herself in researching plants and flowers to get her through winter and prepare her for the upcoming planting season.

She ordered seeds, perennials, and woody ornamentals such as lilacs and viburnum to start her garden.

In 2001, she sold her first flowers, and each spring since then, her garden has expanded.

Also through those years, Niemela began to realize what really worked in her garden and consolidated those plants, while weeding out the ones that didn’t.

She currently sells both wholesale and retail, but recently has received a number of calls asking the question, “Can I come to your garden and pick?”

That’s when she decided to expand her retail and focus on what the customers want.

So now, by appointment, customers are welcome to come out to Niemela’s country home and pick their own flowers from her gardens.

Not only do customers get to pick the flowers they desire, but they will also be able to experience the quiet country atmosphere she herself so enjoys.

“It’s a haven for me,” she said. “I’m so fulfilled and content when I’m working in my garden.”

One can imagine that with all those flowers, there is a lot of nectar attracting hummingbirds, dragonflies, and bumblebees, which Niemela has an abundance of in her gardens.

When working in her garden, Niemela feels close to nature.

“I’d love to share that with others,” she said.

If anyone is interested in picking their own bouquet of fresh cut flowers, call Niemela for an appointment and directions at (320) 286-5384.

Depending on the type of flower, prices range from 50 cents to $1.50 a stem.

Niemela is also willing to give tours of her gardens. This summer, a Red Hat Society group will be coming out, and in September, Niemela’s gardens are one of six in a tour as part of the state’s master gardener’s conference taking place in Hutchinson.

What makes a master gardener, a master?

Being a master gardener doesn’t make Niemela a know-it-all. But it means she is knowledgeable and experienced in the area of gardening, and it also allows her the resources to find answers to garden-related questions.

In order to get the status of “Master Gardener” one must volunteer 50 hours the first year after completing the master gardener course. Helping to design or plant a garden for an institution or organization would be an example of volunteer time.

To keep the status from year-to-year, a master gardener must complete 25 hours of volunteer time teaching others, and five hours of continuing education each year.

Lessons from a master gardener

Niemela recommends cutting flowers either in the morning or late evening to get the best desired vase life.

With the heat of the day, the flower’s carbohydrates go down into its roots. When the air temperature cools off, the carbohydrates travel back up the stem, making it firmer and easier to hydrate.

“If you cut during the day, you won’t get the vase life you would if you cut in the morning or evening,” Niemela said.

“Morning is usually the best, depending on the heat,” she added.

With peonies now in season, Niemela shared an experiment she found to work quite well.

To get the peonies to last well past their season, Niemela cuts them when they are in their “marshmallow” stage – still a bud, but slightly squishy like a marshmallow, she described.

Then, she strips most of the leaves off and puts the stems to dry in a nice plastic garbage bag (a couple grocery bags should work, too), and seals it tight.

After that, she places them in the refrigerator making sure they are away from any fruit which gives off ethylene gas causing the buds to bloom quicker.

Upon removing from the refrigerator, the stem ends must be recut and placed into water; an hour later, the peonies will fully open.

When done correctly, peonies have been held in the refrigerator as long as two months, she said.

“There’s a lot of fun, little tricks I’ve learned through the years,” she said.

Unfortunately, there is nothing one can do to get rid of the lingering ants on peonies, she said, but rest assured, they won’t hurt the plant.

For longevity, Niemela recommends using professional preservatives instead of homemade preservative recipes.

If one chooses to make their own preservative, Niemela recommends changing the water every day.

To help with pesky weeds, Niemela does a number of things including using a stirrup hoe, which slices through the ground; manual weeding, placing fabric between the rows, and spreading mulch around the plant.

For more information about Amazing Vase or to ask gardening questions, visit Niemela’s blog, http://good-thymes.com/wordpress/.

If interested in cutting flowers, call (320) 286-5384.

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