Gardens of Eatin’

Home Demonstration Gardens: Summer Vegetables & Herbs

Gardener Ted Pew designs six special gardens for your home. On display at the Arboretum, these gardens give many examples for how you can fit nature into your home. During the summer months the home demo gardens display many vegetables easy to grow in Minnesota. Ted Pew and his crew will tell you what we are growing and how to take care of it, from watering, weeding, and fertilizing, to harvesting all summer long so your gardening skills and your garden can grow along with us.

This summer we are battling the Japanese beetles, pests like the rabbits and chipmunks, and many other challenges that face our favorite vegetable garden. 

What is Ted's crew up to this week?

This week in home demo we are preparing with the rest of the Arboretum for Toast and Taste, where local companies set up booths throughout the Arboretum. There is food, wine, beer, and other wonderful things for guests to snack on while enjoying the beauty of the Arboretum. This week we have also fertilized the Nelson Shrub Rose Garden. In the Shrub Rose garden, located on three mile drive after the sculpture garden, are our low maintenance roses, this means that the roses require little intervention from Ted and his team. Still it is a good idea to fertilize them once a summer. For our shrub roses we use milorganite, a nitrogen fertilizer used for many purposes. 

Our Very Own Butterfly:

Home Demo gets our very own Big Bug, a part of our summer 2016 exhibit. This beautiful butterfly may be the hardest of the big bugs to find, tucked away next to our Garden for Small Spaces and Herb Garden, this butterfly steals the show. 

Japanese Beetles: The Midsummer Battle

Every morning Ted’s crew wanders into the home demo gardens armed with plastic cups full of soapy water or rubbing alcohol. As July brings us crops it also brings Japanese beetles, small iridescent bugs that bite holes in our plants and wreak havoc. The only sure fire way to get rid of these little pests is to drop them into a glass of soapy water or rubbing alcohol to avoid damaging the plant while destroying the pest. In the morning they are sluggish and easy to shake off making it the optimal time to dispose of them.

Ted Pew and many of the other gardeners at the Arboretum avoid pesticides as much as possible, although this would also take care of the Japanese beetles. Pesticides can run off into bodies of water and kill other beneficial organisms; this is also a potential downside to spraying soapy water onto the plants in an effort to get rid of the Japanese beetles. Although time consuming and often frustrating, the soapy water cup is the most effective and safe option for riding your garden of Japanese beetles.  

The New Corn Plot:

Who doesn't love corn? The Arboretum has a new corn plot run by Ted Pew and his crew.  Situated next to the picnic shelter, the plot contains rows and rows of sweet summer corn. Last week we tore up the grass, laid down new dark and rich soil, tilled the plot and then seeded it and we’ve been watering like crazy every since. Now you can see the amazing progress this area has made. Whose ready to eat some corn?

Home Greenhouse:

In the Home demonstration gardens we also have a small greenhouse. This is an example of some of the cacti or succulents that might do well in a home greenhouse or even in a warm area of your house with high sun.  Some of the plants are useful and fun like agave and aloe plants. 

Plants that climb?

Throughout the home demonstration gardens you might see many trellises. These are placed along the outside of the vegetable garden and even within the square foot gardens. These trellises are little helpers for our plants that like to climb; if they are not allowed to grow up they will grow out and choke out the other plants. Our trellises help our grapes, squash, cucumbers, zucchini, and even some Honey Crisp Apples grow healthy and out of the way of our other vegetables. 


There are several different kinds of fertilizer we use for the home demo vegetables and the three rose gardens. Most of the vegetable garden gets mixed fertilizer which has several amino acids nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus for example which create a optimal environment for vegetable as it addresses the roots, the shoots (above ground), and the plant as a whole. For our azaleas and rhododendron we use a acid fertilizer, these plants thrive in an acidic environment. For our roses we use both fish emulsion and a nitrogen fertilizer. The Wilson rose garden, the high maintenance roses get the fish emulsion (nitrogen rich) which is a water solution and can be more effective. The Nelson Shrub Rose Garden gets a general nitrogen fertilizer, a pebble-like fertilizer that is sprinkled around the roots.

The good and bad of fertilizers:

Like humans plants need food, their foot comes in the form of amino acids rather than our FDA approved pyramid diet. If your soil is not rich in these naturally it can be highly beneficial to use a fertilizer, different crops like different amino acids and therefore there are a million different products on the market along with homemade fertilizers. Unfortunately fertilizers also can create problems, often fertilizer will run off, particularly fertilizers that are mixed with water previous to use.  When fertilizer ends up in bodies of water they create large algae blooms that overtake lakes, rivers, etc. When these blooms die the decomposition process removes the oxygen from the water creating a "dead zone" where fish either die or move on.

What should you do? Use fertilizers sparingly, if your crops are doing well, don't use them at all. Use rich soil when you are planting to avoid the use of fertilizers. Try not to fertilize near bodies of water. Do your research about what fertilizer is right for your plants and whether or not homemade fertilizers are right for you. 

Flower Arrangments:

Flower arrangements are fun way to bring flowers into your home and include them in your events. Here at the Arboretum we have a crew of flower arrangers who spend their time in the home demo cutting garden and then putting together flower arrangements for our restaurant and events. You can see these beautiful arrangements all over the Arboretum. 

Square Foot Gardening:

Square foot gardens are what most of our vegetables in the home demonstration gardens are planted in. Square foot gardening is one of the easiest forms of vegetable gardening. It is easy to plan and set up and allows us at home demo to show you many different examples for your own garden. Square foot gardening also takes up less space allowing you to keep your lawn but still enjoy a garden. Our square foot gardens are set up in 4x4 plots both in our main vegetable garden and in our garden for small spaces. The squares are separated by white string and the 4x4 plots are separated by stone walk ways. Square foot gardening isn't right for every space but if you want a small organized garden they might be right for you. 

What's in our garden?

A partial list of plants in the home demo vegetables gardens

Cutting Garden – Ideal for plants you wish to cut and put into bouquets, full sun

Hybrid Dianthus, Fortress Yellow Statice, Caucasian Pincushion Flower, Strawflower, Globe Amaranth, Giant Imperial Blend, Mealy Cup Sage, Dahlias, Hybrid Penstemon, Calla Lily, Hybrid Lobelia, Plumed Cockcomb, Statice, Gladiolus, Zinnia, Snapdragon, Black eyed Susan

Herb Kitchen Garden – Ideal for herbs you wish to cook with, full sun

German Garlic, Red Vein Dock, Dwarf Lady’s Mantle, Anise Hyssop, Culinary Sage, Creeping Germander, Common Sorrel, Curly Tansy, Greek Oregano, Lemon Bee Balm, Lemon Thyme, Lamb’s Ear, Golden Lemon Thyme, Oregano, Sweet leaf, French Tarragon, Chives, Garlic Chives, Orris Root, Koran Mint, Southernwood

Garden for small spaces – An ideal garden for someone with a small amount of space who wants to grow vegetables, set up in 4x4 plots, full sun

Lettuce, green cabbage, parsley, Chinese cabbage, cilantro, purslane, celery, red onion, tomato, carrots, orache (saltbush), snap peas, broccoli, endive, cucumbers, red cabbage, radish, romaine lettuce

Main Vegetable Garden – A large demonstration garden with space for many plants, set up in 4x4 plots, full sun

Rosemary, Cilantro, Basil, Parsley, Correnta Spinach, Cucumber, Red and Yellow Onion, Broccoli, Bell peppers, Golden Beets, Rhubarb, Sweet corn, Honey & Pearl Corn, Zucchini Squash, Watermelon “sunshine”, Green Onion, Zucchini, Asparagus, Kohlrabi, “All blue” potatoes, “Red Cloud” potatoes, Spinach, Brussels Sprouts, Straight Yellow Swisschard.

Here's some additional gardening tips from Ted:

  • Watch out for Powdery Mildew: this is a fungi which create powdery white spots. Host plants are often vegetables, landscape plants, fruit trees, and grapes. To prevent, plant these in full sun with good air flow. There are some chemical control options including: chlorophaniln il, potassium bicarbonate, and sulfur. 
  • Watering: do not use a fixed watering schedule. Use a rain gauge to see how much rain the plants get. Leave time in between watering to allow for draining. Water early in the morning to avoid evaporation. 

Check out some of Ted's garden plot designs to see his thought process and some of the specific cultivars he selected.

Peruse these yummy recipes perfect for vegetables from your home garden from Flavors of the Arboretum Cookbook.

Nature Notes Blog 

See Ted's garden plans for the home demonstration vegetable garden above.