Dragonfly Garden: “See it, laugh at it….or do it.”

Tom Kalb, you are one funny guy. Especially for a horticulturist.

Well, perhaps ALL horticulturists are funny, I don’t know, because I think he’s the first one I ever met, but man, he was funny!

As I looked back over my notes of this session, actually the first one I attended on Friday, Feb 3rd at the Dakota Grown Local Foods Conference in Fargo, I had all these funny random quotes from him. Such as his comparison with some cuddly garden pests, such as the “rabbits the size of baby kangaroos”, and, his noting that research has found dwarf fruit trees that are hardy in Siberia. “If they can survive in Siberia, they can…probably…survive here in North Dakota.”

But, behind the rapid-fire one-liners (most of which you probably had to be in the room with me to actually “get”, so…make plans to attend next year is all I can say. We’ll carpool.), was a heart dedicated to teaching, educating, and expanding the development of growing things in North Dakota.

Tom told us about an awesome garden he’s developed at the United Tribes Technical College in Bismarck, ND. The creation of the Dragonfly Garden, to research and test plants for their suitability to our climate, and sustainability.  With a unique medicine-wheel design, this garden helps North Dakotans to expand their list of plants to grow in their own gardens, and to consider the opportunities of developing products for market.

One such product that is not grown much in ND – yet – is cut flowers. Tom and his team are experimenting with all kinds of hardy roses (these aren’t the long-stemmed variety, but with shorter stems, much like you would make a small table or restaurant arrangement), and other perennials and annuals. Two that looked great to me for my backyard garden were:

Irish Spring Rudbeckia. The unique eye of the flower is green, rather than brown.

Cappuccino Rudbeckia, developed in Italy. Anything that refers to coffee belongs in MY garden!

Those of you reading along who have been to other farmer’s markets, such as markets in St. Paul, MN, or the regional village markets near Milwaukee, WI,  you’ll often notice beautiful flower bouquets for sale. This is a real growth potential area for expansion in ND. But how do you know what to grow? Enter the Dragonfly Garden. Tom encourages visitors to come to the garden, and see what’s growing – and what’s not. “Some of the things are like, oh man, that’s miserable –” come and learn from the garden’s mistakes, he said.

But, the garden has other goals as well. “We want to bring technologies, science-based technologies, to the community. We want to get the community involved in gardening. We want to get these kids [as he referred to a slide with area children helping in the garden] away from their video games. There’s more to life than killing a Pokemon – we got to get them outside.” Amen, Tom.

Check out all the amazing resources on gardening, from the comfort of your home, “At 2 am, in your pajamas”, Tom said, on freetv.org , the Dakota Public Access website. Once you’re there, click to search Channel 12, and in the first box of the search, type “Dakota Growing”. You’ll find a large list of education videos to encourage and inspire you!

Tom Kalb invites all to visit the garden and get ideas. There are three ways you can proceed, once you see all the variety of plants growing in the Dragonfly Garden. “See it, laugh at it….or do it.”

More on Tom and the opportunities he presented to market growers and backyard growers in Friday’s post!

Question: What unique plant (flower, herb, vegetable, or fruit) would you like to try to grow?