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Gardeners plant mixture of vegetables, flowers

Kim Fundingsland/MDN Michael and Athena Mort, Minot, stand next to tall sweet corn and towering sunflowers in their backyard garden. Their garden was planned, in part, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The corn is much taller than the gardeners. Mammoth sunflowers tower over the height of the garage and turn with the sun. Eyes on the cabbage keep a close watch over the plants. Bees and dragonflies move from plant to plant. Plants strain to stand tall under the weight of ripening tomatoes.

“We’ve never done a big garden before,” said Michael Mort. “We thought it was a good time, stuck at home with social distancing and everything. We had some extra time on our hands.”

Mort’s wife, Athena, has always had a knack for growing plants, mostly house plants, certainly never on as large a scale as what the Morts have produced this year at their northwest Minot residence. What used to be an overgrown area of their backyard is now a lush garden filled with a wide variety of vegetables and flowers.

There’s corn, several varieties of squash, beets, cucumbers, potatoes, tomatoes, pumpkins, watermelon, musk melon, garlic, carrots, onions, kale, Swiss chard, spinach, beans and cabbage. Even some okra.

“The neighbors enjoy it as much as we do,” said Michael Mort. “They stop by and visit. I think it’s brought us closer to all our neighbors. We’ve got to meet some that we haven’t met before.”

Kim Fundingsland/MDN Charlene Webb, Minot, checks on the progress of beans in a garden that includes several varieties of flowers growing amongst vegetables.

Michael Mort researched and planned the garden well before planting time. The soil had to be worked up, weeds removed and peat moss and fertilizer added. Planting was done according to which plants are known to be beneficial to each other. Watering is done from barrels that collects rainwater draining off the roof of a house and garage.

“This is the first year we’ve really attempted such a garden,” said Athena Mort. “If it was up to me, I’d probably have done the whole thing in tomatoes. I love tomatoes!”

Athena Mort made certain the garden would have plenty of color, planting flowers throughout the layout that add color to an already impressive display.

“I like to grow flowers in with the vegetables. I kind of love the poppies. We’ve really enjoyed how they are out here with companion planting.” said Athena Mort. “They say corn is supposed to be knee high by the Fourth of July. I think ours was waist high.”

Charlene Webb, Michael Mort’s mother, spends considerable time tending to the garden. She says it comes naturally. Her parents were farmers in Arkansas. Still, she says, this garden is different from what she is used too and also has been done with a different purpose.

“We planted with our friends in mind,” said Webb. “We have a lot of friends that live in apartments and don’t have a garden. With the grocery store situation like it is and some of those people that can’t get out we have a mind to share, especially the potatoes.”

Webb said the early harvest has already resulted in two batches of pickles. Many other plants will be harvested in the coming weeks. One of several huge cabbage plants has been dubbed the “cabbage patch doll” because a neighbor added a couple of whimsical eyes to it.

Each of the three successful gardeners has a favorite or two growing in the garden. For Michael Mort it is the tree-like plants anchoring one end of the garden.

“I really like those mammoth sunflowers just because they are so spectacular,” said Michael Mort. “Also, I think, it’s the variety that I really enjoy because they all complement each other so well. I think it tells us a lot about our creator.”

The greenery, blossoms and flowers cover what was once a forgotten and somewhat unsightly piece of ground.

“It was a weed patch. You could hardly mow it because it was so rough,” said Webb. “It was never really cleaned up that much from the 2011 flood.”

What a difference a little tender loving care can make, and at a time when the coronavirus pandemic effects live in many different ways.

“It is nice to know we’ve got a little bit of a backup and we can put a little away for the winter and the coming months,” added Michael Mort.

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