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Spring is at gardeners' desks and on their minds

On a gardener's desk in midwinter, you'll find a bumper crop of inspiration for the season ahead. There in the dog-eared pages of seed catalogs, reference books and gardening magazines, in well-worn notebooks stuffed with plant labels and pressed flowers, the garden is already springing to life.

"This is an exciting time," says Pat Friesen, a Johnson County, Kan., Extension master gardener who is planning a big vegetable garden this year.

Friesen and her husband, Chuck Jasper, were inspired last year by the style and scope of the Heartland Harvest Garden at Powell Gardens in Kingsville, Mo. Jasper built 15 new raised beds for vegetables in their backyard in Leawood, Kan. It's too soon to plant, but it is never too early to make plans.

IN THE WORKS

Helen Thompson, a garden designer in Leawood whose pretty spring garden fills six pages of the latest issue of Country Gardens magazine, is growing amaryllis on her desk and weeding through folders full of ideas.

She is planning to expand her vegetable garden and make a new nursery area in her backyard. She's also choosing plants for a new perennial border and a butterfly garden.

There's not much to do outside, she admits, but in her sunny office, surrounded by books and papers and dreams, you can almost feel the kiss of May.

Curling up by the fire and dozing through the cold days just doesn't seem to suit local gardeners. Many have been busy planning garden tours, workshops and plant sales. Designers are networking, building relationships with collaborators and clients.

As the days grow longer, so do seed and plant lists. And in the thaws between snowstorms, spring is just starting to show — the green tips of daffodil foliage are poking up through the mulch around town.

"Things are going on all over," says Janese Reed, a garden designer in North Kansas City who is president of the Garden Center Association and a member of the board of the Friends of Powell Gardens. Lately, she has been reading books by speakers who will be in town next week for the biennial gardening symposium organized by the association and the Friends of Powell Gardens.

"It's one of the things that keeps me going," says Reed, who is a Missouri Extension master gardener and a supporter of the Heartland Tree Alliance.

She also is researching easy-care hydrangeas and roses, plus reviewing pictures of her clients' gardens from last summer, working on ways to make them more beautiful.

SEEING THE POSSIBILITIES

Andy Wright, a landscape architect at Landworks, launched a blog (alwright.wordpress.com) and a Web site (andrewlwright.com) this winter. His computer claims the largest plot of space on his desk, and it holds an extensive archive of projects and possibilities. Front yards deserve more attention, Wright says, flipping through designs that show welcoming gardens designed around pretty porches and front walks. He's studying outdoor lighting and working on patio designs.

"Patios give a garden a sense of stability," he says.

Before the season arrives in a rush of planting and deadlines, Wright is polishing his portfolio and taking the time to remind himself and his clients about the beauty of a well-designed garden in winter. A recent blog post shows his garden at Lake Winnebago, with summer and winter views side by side.

"I bundle up and walk around my own garden every day," says Beth Houlihan, the city gardener of Gladstone.

Houlihan is also a garden designer, a master gardener and a new Missouri master naturalist. The naturalist program, a partnership between the Missouri Department of Conservation and the extension office, works like the master gardener program: Participants receive training and certification in exchange for volunteer work in the community.

Right now, Houlihan is setting up a seed-starting station and "daydreaming about new hardscape I want to put in."

During a thaw just a few weeks ago, she planted two grocery bags full of spring-flowering bulbs — end-of-season leftovers from Planters Seed & Spice Co. in the River Market area .

VEGGIES AND BEES

Matt Bunch, horticulturist in charge of Powell's Heartland Harvest Garden, is up to his elbows in projects for the garden's second summer.

"We've been wattling," he says — making 4-foot-tall woven fences for the kitchen garden near the Harvest Garden's barn. "It really works your elbows and shoulders."

The gardeners are making the fences with whips of gray dogwood pruned from the woods around Powell Gardens.

Bunch is also placing plant orders, including one for knobby fingerling potatoes, which will be planted in March and featured on the menu this summer in the garden's Cafe Thyme.

Vegetable gardens need bees to pollinate the crops, and Liberty, Mo., gardener Chris Veach has become a bee expert this winter, working with fellow Missouri master naturalist Linda Williams.

"Bees have a place in nature, and humans, in our great expertise in solving every problem, have hurt the bee population," Veach says.

Solitary mason bees are among the most efficient pollinators, she says, hard at work in early spring.

"Never use a pesticide when anything is flowering," Veach says. "Pesticides kill bees."

Meredith Klamm, another Liberty gardener who made a bee house in a workshop taught by Veach and Williams, is busy scattering poppy seeds outside and propagating coleus inside. She's feeding the birds, chasing squirrels away from her birdfeeders and working on plans for the master gardener plant sale in May. It all helps make the winter seem a little shorter, she says.

The cardinals are already beginning to sing a springy song in the trees, she has observed, and they echo her own sentiments.

"I'm sick of this weather," she says. "I'm ready for winter to be over."

The garden awaits.

TIPS, PLANTS AND IDEAS FOR THE SEASON AHEAD

Gardeners at Powell Gardens will plant 40 different tomatoes this year in the Heartland Harvest Garden. Among them: heirlooms "Flame," "Cherokee purple," "Japanese Trifele black" and "Brandywine." They're also planting the fingerling potatoes "Rose Finn apple" and "Peanut" (sometimes called "Swedish peanut").

Take a winter tree walk, Chris Veach says. She is a member of TreeLiberty (www.treeliberty.org), a group that helps take care of trees in the Liberty, Mo., area. "Winter is an absolutely wonderful time to look at trees," Veach says. "It is also a good time to prune, because you can see the structural defects."

Single-color flower beds have a lot of pop, says Beth Houlihan, city gardener of Gladstone and a garden designer (her business is called Belles of Ireland). She is working on an orange-hued garden. "If you try all one color, it can be awesome," she says.

Plant a vegetable garden with a friend, says Pat Friesen, a Johnson County Extension master gardener. "Go beyond one pot of tomato plants," she says. She and her husband will plant indeterminate tomatoes, which should produce all season long. She ordered seeds of "Fourth of July," "Napa grape" and "Orange Wellington," among others.

Feed the birds. When it's too cold to be outdoors, you can enjoy watching the birds at a feeder, says Meredith Klamm, a Missouri master gardener. She is also in a garden book club, which is reading "Mrs. Whaley and her Charleston Garden" by Emily Whaley.

(c) 2010, The Kansas City Star.

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