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On your mark... get set... GROW!

Clara Helvig finds and repurposes containers for her hen and chick garden south of Perham. She uses old silo blocks, shoes, bowls and bird cages. She has been a hen and chick gardener since the early 1980s. Elizabeth Huwe/FOCUS

With the arrival of June, the memories of winter months have finally started to recede like the long-melted snow. Taking up that space in the mind now are thoughts of grass, flowers and all things green and growing.

Gardeners have been waiting for this time of the year practically since the first hard frost of 2013. Now, it’s finally time to get outside, turn some dirt and put some plants in the ground.

Options for perennials in the Perham area might seem somewhat limited when compared to milder climates, but there are still plenty of hardy plants to choose from for gardeners who get creative.

Clara Helvig is one of these gardeners. In her yard south of Perham, Helvig has planted more than a dozen types of hen and chick succulents.

“They do just fine,” Helvig said of the plants’ tolerance of Minnesota weather. They do need to be covered in the winter, but they can take the summer heat well.

“When you take the blankies off in the spring and there’s all those babies… I just love it,” Helvig continued. “They give me joy.”

For Helvig, her garden provides a place for memories and reflection. It also gives her a project to “putz on all summer.”

Boots from family members who served in the military now house clusters of plants under miniature American flags. Blocks from a silo that once stood on Helvig’s farmstead stand once again in the background. Figurines of St. Francis are tucked away throughout the garden as well – as a memento of her school days at St. Francis High School in Little Falls, Minn.

Carol Rethemeier, a local Master Gardener, said hen and chicks do very well in Perham’s sandy soil, and don’t require much water.

Even better? Pesky nibblers, such as deer and rabbits, leave these plants alone.

“We haven’t found anything that eats them,” said Rethemeier.

Another unique perennial option for northern zones are varieties of sedum.

Sedum have waxy, rubbery leaves that store water and also grow well in sandy areas, said Rethemeier. They are easy to split and replant: just pull off a stem, pluck off the bottom leaves and stick that stem back into the dirt.

Finally, Rethemeier said, ornamental grasses are the unsung heroes of the garden.

“I like that movement,” she said of when tall grasses sway in the breeze. “It’s pretty cool.”

One variety she has in her own garden is giant miscanthus – a wind-tolerant grass that grows 12 to 15 feet tall.

Although some grasses are marked as being suitable for hardiness zone 4, they can still thrive in this area. Rethemeier said that in years with late or cool springs, the grasses simply don’t grow quite as tall or may not plume.

However, she said, they self-seed and “do their own thing” without needing much help.

Ultimately, there are plenty of unique and eye-catching perennial options that will grow here.