Two pastimes that seem completely unrelated are, in reality, almost exactly the same – writing and gardening. Both require patience, dedication, hard work, a little know-how and creative genius to grow something from tiny seed of an idea into an enjoyment for all to see. A professional at both pastimes, Eric Bergeson is on a tour of the 50 biggest cities of North Dakota sharing his knowledge of gardening and his new book, Successful Gardening on the Northern Plains.
By Melissa Anderson
Bergeson visited the City of Langdon and Walhalla on Tuesday, June 4 but will continue to travel across North Dakota over the month of June. The traveling gardener spoke for about an hour, and despite a strong wind blowing from the north, Bergeson packed decades of knowledge into a quick breakdown and answered dozens of questions.
“A lot of the information out there is in scientific terms. Extension bulletins are all good and all true, but sometimes they take a small problem and make it look bigger than it need be,” Bergeson said.
Making a small problem bigger and a non-existent problem a huge focus is especially true when gardeners within North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota tune into national gardening shows and channels. Bergeson explained that this region is very unique, both in terms of climate and in soil.
“We do not get the attention of the national gardening media, and what they tell us is frequently very wrong,” Bergeson said.
Bergeson is the author of several books, with his most recent taking a patch from his life where things grew for the better, Successful Gardening on the Northern Plains. Prior to his time as a traveling author Bergeson was also a newspaper columnist for 20 years in Minnesota. Growing plants runs in his family as his grandfather, Melvin Bergeson, started Bergeson Nursery located in Fertile, Minn., in 1937. Bergeson bought the business from his parents and has since sold the well-known nursery to his brother, continuing the Bergeson legacy.
“I really like reading his stuff, and I want to go and see his garden in August when they do their garden tours,” one person in attendance at the Langdon stop said.
Bergeson shares experiences of his own and collective family experiences over their many years as nursery and greenhouse owners. The main point of Bergeson’s talks to is to encourage those who attend to garden, garden well, and garden effectively. The reach has expanded as Bergeson’s book brings tips, tricks, and ideas on how to grow a successful garden in the tricky areas of North Dakota, Minnesota, and South Dakota.
“We know one thing – we are cold. Everybody knows that we are Zone 3 cold, and if you know the zone system it works. It’s self-regulated and self-governing, and it works,” Bergeson said. “There is another factor that makes us even more odd and that is our alkaline soil.”
Within his book, Successful Gardening on the Northern Plains, Bergeson covers everything that a beginning gardener needs to know. The book is also useful for the experienced gardener as well, providing new ideas and tips that may give the established garden a boost. One such tip is the importance of soil quality.
“Get the soil right, and you’re going to have fun,” Bergeson said.
This was Bergenson’s focus as he visited with gardeners from the area. Spend as much money on soil as you do on flowers that first year, and you won’t have to buy as many flowers in later years. Soil health is also very important. Be aware of the pH levels in the soil and take this into consideration when gardening.
“There shouldn’t be a box of lime within 700 miles of here, but yet you go to the Wal-mart and what do you find? Lime! Because HGTV says you need it,” Bergeson joked.
A secret that Bergenson made well-known to those in attendance was how a successful garden can be grown on peat. Sharing his family story, Bergeson explained it was a unique peat that gave Bergeson Nursery its start when his grandfather planted strawberries in 1916 and managed to make enough of a profit to pay for the land his family farmed on. From what kind peat and fertilizer to the depth at which plants need to be in order to survive the winters, Bergeson shared his knowledge.
The advantages for the area are quite distinct, giving the area an edge in the gardening world of growing beautiful gardens. What helps area producers grow crops with exceptional yields also helps area gardeners have beautiful flowers and vegetables.
The climate can only help so much in making a productive yard. Bergeson explained that work is what makes a good gardener more than knowledge “and then you have to do the work right”. Following the same old guidelines may not be for everyone, and for Bergeson, gardening outside the lines of accepted standards may prove to be very fulfilling.
Experimenting with plants in the garden is also something that Bergeson encouraged as you never know what can be grown until you try. Having a good variety of trees, vegetables, flowers, and even fruit bearing plants can break up the monotony of the typical North Dakota garden. Some proposed plants were very surprising to the crowd.
“We can grow grapes here, and people don’t know that, “ Bergeson revealed. There are hardy grape varieties that can survive the North Dakota climate. Bergeson shared that the misconception that grapes are a lot of work comes from the persona associated with vineyards where every little thing must be done correctly in order for the business to make money.
“Put the thing in the hole, and it’ll grow, and you will have grapes,” Bergeson said.
Other fruit bearing trees that Bergeson states grow well here and that should be in every yard are apple trees. In fact, within the Bergeson Nursery catalogue, there are 24 varieties of apple trees that can be grown in the temperamental Zone 3.
“They are so much fun; they bear like crazy if you get the right varieties,” Bergeson said.
While the average age of the serious gardener is usually 40 or older, the enjoyment of gardening can begin at anytime.
“When you say you are a new gardener, don’t be worried about doing something wrong cause 90 percent of the people are wrong already – so you can only improve on that,” Bergeson said.
“I don’t really garden, but I would like to learn how. I thought he was very knowledgeable and very funny, but he was over my head. I’m going to probably have to get the book,” said one attendee said following the Langdon stop.
For those unable to attend Eric Bergeson’s Successful Gardening on the Northern Plains, his book can be purchased online at Amazon or on his website: www.ericbergeson.com.
Be sure to follow Bergeson as he gives updates and tips straight from the source on his Facebook page, Country Scribe.
Bergeson Nursery in Fertile, MN, is open to customers Monday through Friday and can be contacted at 218-945-6988.