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Gardens run the gamut: 2018 tour features exotics and natives, commercial displays and private retreats

An elf doorway leads into a crack in a honey locust tree at the home of Bill and Jessie Blanchard. (Lowell Anderson / Echo Press)1 / 3
Apples at Country Blossom Farm are starting to turn red. (Lowell Anderson / Echo Press)2 / 3
A bee lands on a purple coneflower at the home of Bill and Jessie Blanchard. (Lowell Anderson / Echo Press)3 / 3

This year's Tour of Gardens on Sunday, July 8, showcases five gardens that are very different from each other and include commercial sites and private homes.

"It's such a great time to get ideas for how to plan a garden, if you want to plant a little garden or a big garden or a unique garden," said Carol Gaffaney, co-chair of the garden tour committee that is part of the University of Minnesota Extension's Master Gardener program.

On one end of the tour, the Alexandria Golf Club accents its beautiful course with flowers and landscaping. Meanwhile in Farwell, Tara and Dennis Bitzan tend big country gardens and tuck flowers, birdhouses and wooden and iron items along a walking trail. Perry Evans specializes in cut flowers, while Country Blossom Farm grows apples and berries for market. Native plants dominate Bill and Jessie Blanchard's 1,300-square-foot garden.

"All of these natives were chosen because they were attractive to various pollinators," Bill Blanchard said.

Each year, 300 or more people take the Tour of Gardens, Gaffaney said. Gardeners answer questions, and two master gardeners are always at every property.

At just a third of the way into the growing season, the gardens still have plenty to offer.

"Things have grown so much in the last week, I'm amazed," she added.

The tour runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tour participants visit the gardens in the order they wish, paying $5 at the first garden they visit. Children are admitted free. Pets are encouraged to remain home.

For more information or a tour brochure, call University of Minnesota Extension, Douglas County, at 320-762-3890 or stop at the Douglas County Service Center Building at 720 Fillmore St. in Alexandria.

Tara and Dennis Bitzan

13373 County Road 27 SW

Farwell

At a home that has been in Tara's family for three generations, the yard and gardens include a large vegetable and flower garden as well as strawberries, raspberries and rhubarb. A two-bin compost system is conveniently located at the edge of the garden. The flower garden contains a variety of perennials, with added color from annuals and also clematis on the archway. Tara's potting shed displays treasures from previous generations.

The waterfall by the patio trickles peacefully down the rocks, amidst mature oaks and evergreen trees, many planted by Tara's father and grandfather. A wooded nature path promises surprises around every corner, including more than 20 bird houses, bird feeders, plants and garden décor. A lakeside walking trail is an added bonus.

Country Blossom Farm

Tracy & Troy Heald

1951 Englund Road SW

Alexandria

Country Blossom Farm is a Sustainable Agriculture Demonstration Farm in conjunction with the University of Minnesota. Tracy and Troy have owned and operated the 100-acre farm since 2009. They follow conventional farming practices along with many organic methods. Their weather station provides information on how and when to treat for destructive insects and plant diseases, helping them to minimize the use of chemicals.

Farm tours will be provided at one-hour increments from 10:15 a.m. through 3:15 p.m. Their orchard of approximately 8,000 trees has 14 varieties of apples, including SweeTango, Honeycrisp, Haralson and Sweet Sixteen. They offer U-pick days for strawberries, honeyberries, aronia berries and fall raspberries. Two high tunnels of fall raspberries extend picking into November.

Perry Evans

3233 Vonderheide Drive SW

Alexandria

Perry began gardening when he retired four years ago. This year he added a large flower garden and a fountain surrounded by dusty miller and lobelia, and is already planning the next garden. His new garden features the dark-red leaves of Wyoming cannas and the variegated foliage of Stuttgart cannas as well as many unique plants like Ismene (Peruvian daffodil), snaggletooth, pineapple lily, King Tut grass, datura, foxtail lilies, and a double yellow tree peony.

Perry uses his cutting garden to create floral bouquets that he shares with others. He added a Montreal rose and a Quebec rose to his rose garden this year. One of his favorite flowers, the Mexican petunia, is flanked by Mexican heather and Mexican hat flowers. Beyond the cutting garden is a deck and terraced steps. The fast-growing "sem" spirea line the steps going to the lower yard and lakeshore. Watch for these potted plants: bougainvillea, gardenia, trumpet flower and voodoo lilies.

Bill and Jessie Blanchard

1016 Fillmore St.

Alexandria

Nestled behind a white picket fence, Bill and Jessie have created a retreat filled with native perennials to attract butterflies, hummingbirds and bees. Benary giant zinnias greet visitors on the right as they enter the yard. Some plants are seedlings and may not be blooming yet. Bill and Jessie are participating in the Great Sunflower Project by planting Lemon Queen sunflowers; they then track the number of bees that visit to shed light on the effects of pesticides on pollinators.

A new garden area in the backyard includes many pollinator-friendly plants, such as compass plants, royal catchfly, late figwort, sweet black-eyed Susan and giant purple hyssop, as well as coneflowers, lobelia, lupines and several types of native liatris that rabbits and deer won't touch. They have a bee balm garden, a surprise garden and whimsical yard art.

Alexandria Golf Club

2300 N. Nokomis NE

Alexandria

The Alexandria Golf Club welcomes the public to view its golf course. The club takes great pride in its well-maintained greens, bentgrass fairways, colorful flower beds and lake views. Club members will take visitors out in golf carts to share the beauty of the grounds. The terraced landscaping and flowers by the clubhouse, patio and first tee-box are a "must-see." The clubhouse will be open to anyone interested in buying refreshments or food during the tour.

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