Bursting into bloom

Nancy Edmonds Hanson

Charlie and Shelly Pingel of Bloomfield Garden Center in Sabin display two of the new Crazytunia introductions this year — Sugar Beet (left) and Hell’s Bells. (Photo/Nancy Hanson.)

The dirt is flying at last in Moorhead gardens, as winter-weary green thumbs are drawn to area garden centers like bees to honey.

“We didn’t really have a spring this year. We’ve had ‘sprinter,’” Charlie Pingel quips, looking out over tables of brilliant petunias at Bloomfield Garden Center near Sabin. “Our customers are really anxious to get dirt under their fingernails.”

Charlie and his wife Shelly know that spring crush of blossom-seekers well. As the second-generation owners of the venerable flower and vegetable vendor formerly known as Levi Runion’s, they welcome many of the same plant lovers year after year. Now in its 50th spring season, the big red barn with its surrounding skirt of greenhouses has brightened the gardens and the hopes of area plant-lovers with an ever-changing selection of annuals, including an explosion of vivid cultivars that has only picked up velocity over the years.

“There’s not a lot of spectacular new finds this year,” Charlie admits. “Instead, we’re seeing all kinds of new cultivars of familiar favorites. They’re bigger and better than ever.

“Take petunias. The Crazytunia series has given us a lot of interesting, unusual colors and patterns this year.”

Not to mention their interesting, unusual names. The Bloomfield petunia house, for instance, contains a cultivar called Sugar Beet, sure to entice home growers not only with its maroon edge and yellow center but also its name. The greenhouse is already nearly out of the brilliant new bright orange blooms christened Hell’s Bells … perhaps because, paired with deep, dark Black Mamba blooms, they’re a perfect match with the Spuds’ team colors.

Strolling the fragrant aisles of his greenhouses, Charlie points out other favorites – sun-tolerant coleus cultivars with deeper colored foliage; thunbergia (often called black-eyed Susans) in a broader range of colors; geraniums in red, pink and, he says, “orangier orange”; and new varieties of cucumbers and tomatoes. Like petunias baited with memorable names, creativity has christened some of those new veggies: Who, after all, can resist a cherry tomato called Sweet Baby Girl?

Charlie’s parents, Art and Ardith Pingel, got the business growing back in 1974. “I’ve been working here since I was 7,” their son laughs, “though I don’t know how much help I was back then.”

After graduating from Moorhead High School and enlisting for four years in the Navy, he came home with no intention of making the move permanent. “I was between jobs, and Dad said he could use my help for a month of so,” he remembers. “I never left.”

He met his wife of 29 years in the Levi Runion’s greenhouses. “I started working here while I was going to MSU in 1990,” Shelly reports. “I happened to meet this boy who was on leave from the Navy. He helped me and my roommate move some furniture at the dorm. Then she ditched us.” That canny woman became her maid of honor when the Pingels were married in 1994. They now are raising two sons on the grounds where Charlie grew up, 14-year-old Tyler and Timmy, 12.

The Pingels swapped the venerable Levi Runion’s name for Bloomfield eight years ago, though veteran gardeners still seek out the former moniker. It’s the name of Charlie’s great-great-grandfather, an itinerant photographer in the late 1800s. “We changed it to ‘Bloomfield’ because we sell blooms, and we have a field,” Shelly – who majored in marketing – reveals. “We were just tired of people asking for ‘Levy Reunion’s.’”

Charlie observes that more has changed in their business, which they purchased in 1999, than its name and its variety of varieties. “Back in the ’70s and ’80s, most of the plants we sold were going to be planted in the ground. Now a majority will be growing in pots,” he notes.

“When I was a kid, people would come out to buy a geranium or impatiens, a spike or Sprengeri fern, and some vincas. That does still work,” he says, “but growers are much more adventurous now. We have hundreds upon hundreds of varieties to choose from … more every day. Now it’s all about finding specific cultivars among all kinds of colors and growth habits and taking a look at our specialties – begonias, ornamental grasses, bidens…” (These totally apolitical bidens sport daisy-like blooms.)

The age of Bloomfield’s customers has been seeing some growth, too. “Since Covid, more people seem to be getting into growing. In the past, we didn’t see many customers in their 20s and 30s,” Charlie says. “Now, a lot more of them are coming in.

“They’re discovering it’s fun to watch things grow, and you even get to eat some of them. You reach a certain age and you figure out, ‘Maybe Grandma was onto something.’”

Bloomfield Garden Center is located northeast of Sabin at 6970 70th St. S. More information is available on its website, www.bloomfieldgardencenter.com/

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