Master Gardener’s Yard is a Permaculture Paradise

Master Gardener Elaina Moss’ enchanting edible yard is an urban delight

Photos by Andrea Rugg

Year-round, one will find Master Gardener Elaina Moss smiling in her South Minneapolis garden.

Elaina Moss’ yard is an edible landscape, and it’s not just Moss and her family eating. Bees, lacewings, and countless other insects are also welcome diners who, in turn, add value to the many fruit bushes, trees, and more on the property. “The clover lawn provides early food for bees that pollinate our fruit trees,” says Moss. “Other native plants attract insects that help me not need pesticides.”

A Hennepin County Master Gardener, Moss has created a wonder of small-scale agriculture in her South Minneapolis yard. Virtuous, too, because she follows a permaculture philosophy—minimizing outside inputs such as fertilizer and purchased compost. Instead, Moss works pulp from the family juicer and castings from a worm bin into the soil. She also starts many plants from seed, sometimes outdoors in winter. “It’s so easy,” she explains. “Take one of those big plastic containers that salad comes in, add soil and plant seeds, and set [it] outside. Brassicas work best, although I’ve even done tomatoes.”

Among the trees, bushes, flowers, and vegetables, there are several unique aspects within the property, including a clover lawn.

Astonishingly, her small city lot has 18 fruit trees, including apple, peach, plum, pear, and fig; plus 40 berry bushes, four varieties of grape, two hardy kiwi vines, and numerous floral varieties. Her favorites? “For native flowers, I like Meadow Blazing Star because it attracts monarchs and Echinacea purpurea for the bees,” she says. “On the edible front, kale is the perfect Minnesota vegetable. You can start it early and harvest late, even in December or January. And peaches! More people should grow peaches in Minnesota. My Contender peach tree produces a ton of fruit.”

Raised hugelkultur beds (mounds built on rotting wood, twigs, roots, etc. that provide continuous nutrition and hold water) on the boulevard and side yard are the key to her success, along with a little patience and a lot of TLC. Moss bags ripening apples and peaches to discourage pests, because squirrels seem to love the peaches as much as Moss’ family. One of the upsides of eschewing chemicals is that her kids (ages 6 and 8) and their friends can pick and eat without worry.

Bagged fruits hang from trees to discourage pests.

Moss’ bee-friendly lawn and boulevard garden have been a change for her neighbors and inspired one to install their own sidewalk berm planting. The lawn is trickier: “One of the challenges is that some people on our block have lawn services that spray for weeds, and that drifts over and kills the clover,” she says. “But it’s a process, and most people have been supportive.”

Master Gardener | Elaina Moss

Where do you go for plants? Mother Earth Garden for natives, perennials, and fruit trees, but Egg|Plant Urban Farm Supply in St. Paul has such good stuff—even in the winter.

What are your essential gardening tools? I love my hori hori soil knife and use it for everything. It’s a trowel with jagged edges on one side and built-in depth markers.

How much time do you spend in the garden? In the spring, a lot. It’s the excitement of getting out there and tackling projects like new planting areas. After that, not too much. I have automatic waterers and don’t need to weed very often.

Advice for starting a clover/bee lawn? It’s not all or nothing. At my house, the front yard is a mix of fescue, thyme, and clover, which makes it a little more conventional looking and sturdy, but still drought-resistant. The backyard is all clover. The University of Minnesota Extension is a great resource and everything you need to start a bee lawn. Seed mixes can be purchased at local garden centers like Mother Earth, Egg|Plant, and even some hardware stores.

After the sun goes down, the backyard patio comes to life and becomes the ultimate family hangout.

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