LIFE IN EASTERN IOWA

Bring on Spring: Sharing plants, knowledge with fellow gardeners

The perennial bed

in Hinzman Howard's front

yard showcases daylilies,

purple cone flowers and

purple liatris putting
The perennial bed in Hinzman Howard’s front yard showcases daylilies, purple cone flowers and purple liatris putting on their annual summer show. Submitted photo
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Lisa Hinzman Howard has made it her mission to teach people that anyone can garden — no matter their experience level or garden space available — and that it can be done without a lot of money.

“You don’t have to spend a fortune for fabulous,” said Hinzman Howard, 48, of Cedar Rapids. “Cheap tricks are something I’m really passionate about, in that there’s so many ways you can save money while gardening. It’s all about bringing accessibility to gardeners.

“And not just ‘gardeners’ — as in accomplished gardeners — but brand-new, just-getting-started gardeners.”

Hinzman Howard has been a Linn County Master Gardener since 2011, volunteering her time to help with community gardens and teach classes.

She also started a garden consulting business — MidwestGardenGal.com — because “contrary to popular belief, Master Gardeners don’t go to residences and design your gardens for you.”

“I was helping friends make some decisions in their gardens. And then it was friends of friends. And then it was a friend’s friend’s friend,” she said. “And then somebody said, you should make some money on this. And I was like, you know, you’re right, because it’s time and effort, and I really commit a lot of passion to it.”

As both a teacher and a consultant, Hinzman Howard has seen interest in home gardening flourish. While “Cheap Tricks” is her most popular class, she’s also seen an uptick in people interested in growing their own food and planting for pollinators.

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She has done both in her own garden, with nine raised beds and several pots devoted to vegetables and a sea of perennials and annuals to attract pollinators like bees and butterflies.

“I try to be intelligent in choices. I plant en masse so it’s more impactful,” Hinzman Howard said.

She grows things she and her children — son Dylan, a sophomore at Kirkwood Community College, and daughter Riley, a senior at Jefferson High School — like to eat, such as peppers, carrots, peas, lettuce, beans, Swiss chard, kale and tomatoes.

“Not corn,” she said. “It’s a space hog.”

Hinzman Howard’s interest in gardening began early, when she would spend her afternoons and summers with her maternal grandparents in Cedar Rapids.

“My grandfather maintained a vegetable garden, and my grandma always did her flowers. So it all goes back to that,” she said. “We were always just planting seeds. Or amaryllis that grew in a pot inside, we’d be planting those. It wasn’t everything we did, but there were definitely opportunities to plant seeds and grow things.”

When Hinzman Howard moved into her home almost 15 years ago, the quarter-acre lot was mostly grass, with a dogwood tree in the backyard and evergreen shrubs out front.

“There were a couple of dreadful barberry bushes,” she said. “No offense to barberries, but I don’t like to be stabbed when I’m gardening. So I took those out.”

She added fencing, with sections of wood that taper into chain link for more openness, and to also keep her two standard poodles corralled.

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She added raised beds in the backyard for vegetables and greatly expanded the previous small area for annuals and perennials. She plants marigolds and nasturtiums that not only are beautiful but also a natural insect repellent. Annuals like zinnias provide color from May until the fall frost.

She’s proud to have done 100 percent of the design and installation herself.

Hinzman Howard edged her flower beds using one of her cheap tricks — farm rocks. Each spring, she said, farmers walk their fields and remove the rocks brought to the surface by freezing and thawing. They end up with piles of rocks they’re usually happy to get rid of.

“I like the look of rocks, rather than that black plastic edging stuff,” she said.

She knows spring has people wondering when it’s safe to plant. She says cold season crops — such as leaf lettuce, kale, peas and radishes — can be planted as soon as you can work the ground. Flowers and warm season crops — tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, squash and cucumbers — need to wait until all danger of frost is gone. After Mother’s Day, May 10, is a good rule of thumb.

Hinzman Howard loves to have people visit her garden, where she shares her knowledge and her plants.

“I like to say that I have lots and lots of friendship gardens all around, not only in Iowa,” she said. “If friends come or if I have a small group that comes, I’m very free with sharing clippings, or we can get out the shovel and divide something on the spot. Perennials love to be divided.”

Hinzman Howard, whose full-time job is in public relations at Alliant Energy, also teaches marketing and business classes at the University of Dubuque’s Cedar Rapids campus.

“My overarching thing is I just love to teach,” she said. “I love to teach in the classes I do in the community, I love to teach when people come into my gardens or I go to their house and help them learn.”

Vertical Gardening Can Be An Easy Place To Start

“Anybody can grow their own vegetables, even if they’re just in an apartment. If you even have just a very small yard and all you have is a patio, you can do it,” Lisa Hinzman Howard said.

Vertical gardening is one way to accomplish this. Any vining plant can be grown vertically using trellises.

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Here are just a few of the vegetables and plants that can grow up, not out, in a small pot or garden spot.

• Pole beans

• Tomatoes

• Butternut squash (even though they grow large, the vines hold the fruit)

• Gourds, mini-pumpkins

• Cucumbers

• Summer squash

• Vining flowers, annual or perennial (avoid morning glory for a residential garden — they are beautiful but invasive)

Gardener Shares Some Of Her Favorite ‘Cheap Tricks’

• Use a rain barrel to collect rainwater from your gutters and downspouts for watering your plants. The rainwater also is better for your plants than chemically treated water out of a hose.

• Cattle panels, available at many farm equipment stores locally, make excellent trellises.

• Shower curtain hangers work well to hang birdhouses, wind chimes and hummingbird feeders in trees. They are easy on the bark, lock shut and are waterproof so you can keep them in the trees for years.

• Instead of insecticides, kill Japanese beetles with a couple of drops of dish soap in a bucket of hot water. Take the bucket into the garden early or late in the day when the beetles are less active and brush them off of your plants into the bucket.

• Save lettuce and berry containers for starting seeds.

• Place coffee filters over drainage holes in the bottom of pots. They keep the soil in but let extra water drain out.

• If it can hold soil, it can be a pot — old shoes, leaky watering cans, leaky fountains, etc. Just make sure they have drainage.

• Found things are fun — scour flea markets, thrift stores and garage sales for ways to add whimsy to your garden.

A Recipe For Better Soil

Lisa Hinzman Howard suggests this recipe for raised garden beds:

• Mix together one-third compost, one-third peat moss and one-third vermiculite.

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• It’s best to do the soil recipe on a day with little wind because peat and vermiculite are very light and will blow away.

• When combining the “ingredients,” layer them, as you would lasagna, and mix with a pitchfork.

She highly recommends the compost available through the Cedar Rapids/Linn County Solid Waste Agency at 2250 A St. SW, Cedar Rapids, near Mount Trashmore. “It’s wonderful, and it’s free,” she said. Learn more at solidwasteagency.org/mount-trashmore.

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