Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, April 2, 2001

Avid gardeners look to their roots

By Evelyn Fowler

Gardening is part of our past, as old as its first mention with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

Gardening is presently a briskly growing business with millions of dollars spent each year on pots and baskets of brightly colored geraniums, petunias and vinca vine.

Ask the Winsted gardeners, featured later in this story, why they garden? Most would reply that it's part of their past, part of their roots, and for some, an intense desire to satisfy a need to nurture and grow things. Those reasons seem to be repeated, beginning with the first settlers to avid gardeners in Winsted today.

Wild Geranium, Blue Flag, Hyssop, Feverfew, and Chamomile, to name a few, were among the possessions of the first settlers in Minnesota.

Initially, finding shelter occupied the families' energy, followed by the other urgency, food. The wagons that carried their belongings also contained seed and rootstock for their first crops. Potatoes, beans, and corn were planted in roughly cleared fields.

Close behind the need for food was the need for simple remedies to cure common ailments. Traditional cures were passed down through the family. What they needed then would be referred to today as kitchen gardens ­ informal beds close by the house where everything could be grown together. Planted in those gardens were: Feverfew, good for a toothache; Hyssop for asthma and colds; Wild Geranium, a nerve remedy, to name a few.

From those beginnings, seeds and slips of flowers and shrubs were solicited from friends and family to create a calming place that set the house apart from the wilderness around it. Lilacs, daylilies hydrangea, and old roses, especially Harrison's Yellow Rose, flourished.

As new towns sprouted in the late 1800s, so did gardens.

City dwellers planted gardens similar to those in the country, but with an essential feature, a fence. The fences were decorative, but also served to protect vegetables from roaming livestock.

After trees had been cut to make way for construction, people began replacing them to obtain shade.

While Minnesota offered many growing challenges, the pioneers persevered. Immigrants yearned for the homelands they left and were determined to keep their heritage with them in the form of the flowers and shrubs they knew and loved.

The turn of the century heralded the Victorian era. Gardens became larger and more elaborate. Money was lavished on anything green and growing.

Identifiable remnants of that era can be found in St. Paul Como Park, Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis, Oakland Cemetery in St. Paul, James J. Hill House, St. Paul; Glensheen Mansion in Duluth, to name a few.

Many communities had their progressive thinkers of the time. They recognized the benefits of open space by providing parks or recreation areas "to provide for the human need of relaxation and pleasure after toiling in factories amid grime and clamor," a Minnesota history book says.

Gardens with trees, shrubs and green space were highly sought after. The City Beautiful movement arrived in Minnesota by 1910, fueling a civic movement for more green space and public area. Garden clubs were organized by leaps and bounds.

And so it went until October 1929, and what is commonly referred to as the Depression.

Gardening became one of the stabilizing forces. People focused on creating an intimate, safe haven while dealing with lack of money and the drought. Rock gardens became popular, as well as wishing wells and windmills and other bric a brac.

World War II brought the Victory Gardens and the slogan "Food will win the war." Every square inch of space was looked at with garden possibilities. Purely ornamental gardening took second place until the end of the war.

Two key factors came into play with the thousands of young people returning from World War II to reclaim their lives.

First, affordable housing was a scare commodity.

Also, two popular landscape designers promoted designs with hard edges, wide open landscapes, and plants used only to soften and accent. The new look made vines, ponds and trellises obsolete. Houses had a look-alike rectangular appearance, with proper placement of foundation evergreens and shrubs to blend the house into the lawn.

Generous weed-free lawns typified the post-war years. Families wanted a place to play ball and barbecue. By the mid 1960s, it was difficult to find a rock or water garden so popular 30 years prior, or an arbor. The landscape was reduced to a broad lawn and pots of annuals.

Gardens in Winsted

It probably is quite amazing that passionate gardeners still exist. Housing lots are small, and lifestyles have changed dramatically.

A drive around Winsted would tend to prove that point. Some yards sport a token circle of annuals and/or a pot or two on the steps leading to the front door, but it's the lawn care that takes time.

But for those with a passion to grow things, gardening is far from dead in Winsted. The following is the result of a little networking. The gardens are tended by young and old, but all with a common thread ­ gardening is exciting.

Margie Heilmann stops traffic in Westgate with her front yard. She has been planning, planting, and creating a cottage, English style garden for seven years.

As with most gardeners, her beginnings were small and humble, but, today has almost literally run out of space.

Her favorites are old-fashioned type plants: delphinium, hollyhocks, daylilies, along with English roses, peonies and hostas. The landscape also contains a water garden, rapidly rising in popularity among gardeners and wannabe gardeners.

The Star Tribune featured the Heilmann family in an October issue of Home & Garden. Heilmann recently completed the Master Gardening program in Carver County.

Judy and Dick Langenfeld also cover many square feet of their backyard with perennial flowers, shrubs, and bulbs.

Judy has a floral design background, but obviously, has a passion for growing them also. Her goal is to have continuous bloom from spring to frost. Among the blooms are carefully placed decorative items such as a variety of birdhouses, a bench, and old hand pump.

The Langenfelds are anticipating hundreds (thousands?) of blooms from daffodils and tulips this spring. The show will end in the fall with the chrysanthemums, with many shows in-between.

Mixie Schlagel has been gardening a long time. Yet age has not dampened her enthusiasm for spring and a new gardening year, looking to see what has survived the winter, new plants from family and friends and new varieties to try.

The garden behind her house is home to a host of perennials: delphinium, iris, coneflowers, rudbeckias, and glads. Probably an equal amount of annuals are planted each year, with an ever-changing color palette.

On South Shore Drive, Rosemary Stifter puts tall bearded iris at the top of her list.

A rough estimate is that she has planted over 96 iris plants on the way to the gazebo, situated near the shore of Winsted Lake. Many are heirloom varieties inherited from family. Peonies, daylilies, dahlias, and hosta are also present in numbers.

Hybrid tea and floribunda roses were once abundant, but disease and their care dictated a change.

While she once raised a large amount of vegetables, now that her family is raised and gone from home, it is simpler to get them from the store.

Down the street at Lou Ann Laxen's house is a slightly different story. While the Stifter yard has plenty of sun, the Laxen property does not. In fact, raising any quantity of vegetables is a chore, but she still perseveres.

Hostas, Asiatic lilies, astibles and daisies are the mainstay of the Laxen garden. Several planters on the rear deck and a sunny front yard offer her a place for a wide variety of annuals.

Not far from Laxens, Sue Fynboh has inviting front and side yard plantings to lure the visitor to the backyard. She also has chosen to plant fewer vegetables, but has mainstays of asparagus, raspberries and strawberries.

In their place are Asiatic and Oriental lilies, tulips, and carefree perennials reminiscent of a cottage garden.

Mabel Lacina is a different type of gardener. Her backyard is bursting with a little of this and a little of that without a formal or organized look. Her years of gardening allow her to share that knowledge with others seeking advice.

Gardeners of another era

Sally Millerbernd gave people a reason to stop and look at her garden.

While the gardens she lovingly attended have disappeared into the lawn since her death, friends and relatives still recall the border of annual flowers, usually petunias and marigolds, planted on two sides of the lot. The heads of phlox, black-eyed susans and others waved from the backyard.

The large vegetable garden planted by Ervin Sexton on Linden Avenue was impossible to miss. Anyone accessing Northgate subdivision could take note of the large quantity of corn, cucumbers, squash, and tomatoes, to name a few raised each year.

Across from the telephone office in Winsted, the large garden planted by Leonard and Mildred Bisping was immaculate. Most of the back/sideyard was planted into enough vegetables to feed an army, as well as strawberries, raspberries and more.

Many of the above featured gardens are hidden from view, for the most part. It is certain that others exist and can be found.

Like others with common interests, gardeners seem to be drawn to each other. As long as the exchange of plants and knowledge goes unabated, there will be gardens.

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