Tag: Gardening

Natural Plus Nursery Tour + Gardening Tips For People Who Treat Plants Like Tamagotchis

My mother and her mother grew beautiful roses. They loved to garden and my childhood home was surrounded by snapdragons and peonies. A magnolia tree grew beneath my bedroom window and I looked forward to spring when it would bloom. Back then, I had to stand on a little rock in the garden to sniff its blossoms.

I did not inherit my family’s green thumbs. When we lived in Fargo, I was determined to have a bountiful container garden on our apartment patio. In typical Jeni-style, I became extremely excited about my vision of a glorious container garden and moved forward with zeal.

To begin, I bought big garden pots, lots of dirt, and heirloom seeds which I started too early. The herbs sort of grew, but the vegetables didn’t. It became apparent that I just wasn’t going to grow beets and carrots in pots on my patio. When we went out-of-town for a weekend in July, everything died. The situation reminded me of that time I got tired of taking care of my Tomogatchi and threw it under my bed. This time, I felt way worse because the plants were real, living things. I call it the great container garden disaster of 2012. It was a lot of work to haul all that dirt back down the elevator. Now, we live in a condo development. The beets will have to wait, but I think I could bring out those containers again for an herb garden.

My friend and blogger Mary owns Natural Plus Nursery in Clear Lake, Iowa with her family. She and her husband recently bought it from her in-laws who started the business in 1978. The A-Frame house below is made from recycled barn wood. She invited us over for a tour and garden-themed snacks prepared by Beth.


For this post, I thought it would be fun to ask Mary for advice she’d give to hesitant gardeners like me. I wanted to know what’s her quintessential garden tool and what plants are easiest to grow.


Mary responded that her motto is:

 “Just plant it!”

She adds that gardening isn’t rocket science. If it grows, that’s great. If it doesn’t, that’s ok. You can always try again.


For plants that are easiest to grow, Mary recommends basil and any perennial (as long as they have enough sun). She explained how starter plants can be easier to begin with, since they are already established and you don’t have to begin them from seed.


She simplified gardening to plants needing two main things: Water and sun. “Don’t forget to make sure there are drainage holes in the bottom of the pot,” she added.


For new gardeners like me who are completely starting from scratch, she recommends obtaining gardening gloves. For planting a vegetable garden, she considers her tiller an essential tool, adding that they are sometimes available to rent.

More plants are arriving in time for their Open House during May 1st-9th. Learn more about Natural Plus by visiting their website or Facebook page. Mary gave the North Iowa Bloggers a $100 gift certificate to give away to one of our readers. The Rafflecopter entry form is located at the bottom of this post. Enter by selecting one option or multiple. It’s really up to you!

What advice would you give to a new gardener?


puppy chow

Dirt N Worms

Never too old to eat dirt and worms dessert.


Yes, this is a mini margarita.

Natural Plus Group Photo

a Rafflecopter giveaway

My Readers Teach Me How To Make The Best Salsa: Their Tips & My Take

I’m notoriously bad at growing things.

During my first couple years after college, I worked at a church and inherited an office full of Peace Lilies. Try as I might, I couldn’t keep them alive and so all the plants were confiscated from my office never to return. And then there was the container plant garden disaster on my Fargo balcony in 2012. . .

I’ll try again when we aren’t living in a town home development, but, for now, I’ll happily accept any of your extra produce. My in-laws cultivate a beautiful garden of fruits and vegetables in the backyard of their East St. Paul home. After our last visit, they sent us back home to Iowa with a sack full of salsa veggies and burstingly-ripe tomatoes.

I’ve prepared pico de gallo before, but wanted some new ideas for making salsa-making, so I sought the advice of my readers and friends. Here’s what they had to say:

  • Ally of Ally’s Sweet & Savory Eats: Ally makes salsa once a week. She recommends blending eight tomatoes, one onion, one jalapeno with seeds, one clove garlic, a handful of cilantro, salt, pepper, cumin, and the juice of one lime (cutting up the larger vegetables). Check out her recipe for “Copy Cat Chili’s Salsa.
  • Jenny of Prairie Californian: Jenny roasts her salsa veggies at 400℉ and zips them in a food processor with salt, pepper, sugar, cilantro, oregano, and lime juice.
  • Kate of Kate in the Kitchen: Kate broils her salsa veggies until charred and blends in a food processor. She seasons her salsa with cumin, smoked paprika, ancho chili and kosher salt to taste.
  • Sara (my cousin-in-law married to Brian Dahlen): Sara transforms these salsa vegetables into homemade enchilada sauce by roasting and blending them.

Salsa Collage

As always, their advice was spot-on. We love our golden, roasted salsa and practically eat it like gazpacho. It tasted especially refreshing accompanying simple cheese and spaghetti squash quesadillas.

My Take: 

  1. Cut tomatoes and peppers in half. Cut onion in quarters.
  2. Arrange in a single layer on a sheet pan along with a few cloves of garlic still in the skin. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt.
  3. Broil until softened and blistered. Flip one-two times for even blistering.
  4. Peel the roasted garlic and zip everything in a blender or food processor with a lime juice and a handful of cilantro until chunky with a drizzle of olive oil.
  5. Season with red wine vinegar, thinly sliced green onion, oregano, salt, sugar, black pepper, and cumin.
  6. My salsa needed more of a kick so I blended-in an additional clove of raw garlic.

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