Grandma Marie always lived with us when I was growing up and so consequently I was the little girl who resided in the fairy tale cottage on Coronado Avenue in Long Beach, California. It was a small white house, surrounded by a picket fence and entered through rose arbors – two in the front, one on the side, and two on either side of the front door. Our hydrangeas were enormous and deep, deep blue. Our fuschias made wondrous dancing ladies when I pulled out all but two stamens. And all around the periphery of the small lot, hundreds of daffodils and sparaxis bloomed in the spring. Strangers drove by just to see our yard in full profusion. It made me happy, but I took it for granted.

Sparaxis in my yard

When I was a young mother, we visited my mother’s cousin, Alida Olson, who lived on a century farm (having been in the family that long) near Glenwood, Minnesota, and it all came back to me. While everyone visited inside, I strolled, open mouthed and amazed around her enchanted country garden. In that moment I was hooked and wanted more than anything to be able to recreate the magic.  To plant and tend and inhabit the spirit and essence of Alida and Marie. Since then, I have tried, with varied success, in every place we have lived.

A few years ago, through her local garden club, my cousin Marlene was introduced to a book about Minnesota gardeners: “Growing Home, Stories of Ethnic Gardening” by Susan Davis Price. One chapter entitled “A Fairy Cottage” was about our own Alida, now 95 in 2000, the year it was published, and still going strong. I had hoped to revisit her upon moving to Minnesota, but she now would have been 107.

This part of our family, like all the branches, started immigrant life in a dugout. Alida  tells the tale of a great storm when the oxen were covered with ice and her grandmother used twine to get to the barn and back. “Everyone around here spoke only Norwegian then,” she is quoted. And I remember our visit in the mid 1970’s and how amazed I was that her two bachelor brothers, then in their 70’s, who had been born in Minnesota, spoke not a word of English.

The author explains how Alida’s neighbors often worried about her behind the heavy cultivator and mowing her big country yard. At 95. The glory of her garden was such that passersby thought it was “a nursery.” I thought it was heaven.

Her “Love lies a bleeding” (polygonum orientale), which Alida called “kiss-me-over-the-garden-gate” was spectacular, six to eight feet high, self-sowing every year. I’ve made a note to look for seeds.

Here on Mt. Faith I have the perfect setting and blank slate for just the sort of garden that Marie and Alida perfected, yet I’m not certain that I received the physical stamina genes along with the desire. However, with my heroines in mind, I’m making a start.

On the front south lawn, I’ve drawn out my first perennial bed. I used Marlene’s suggestion for an easy way to avoid sod digging and tilling. After drawing out the shape with a hose, I laid down newspapers, hosed them, covered them with compost and mulch. The grass should break down into good rich soil and I can plant anytime by moving the mulch aside and just digging down. Just in time for the annual Fergus Falls Garden Club plant sale.

I’m hoping my combinations work well in the three tubs by the back door.

Tub 1: Ornamental corn, nemesia, Licorice Plant

Tub 2: Purple fountain grass, fuchsia Gartenmeister, veronica (speedwell) and impatiens hawkeri, pink frost.

Tub 3: At garden club I won a drawing for a dahlia “Sorbet Blend”, which should come up on my “tree branch stake,” surrounded by petunias.

Now if I can just figure out where to put the love-lies-a-bleeding!


Mystery solved about the lovely pink blooming shrub beside the drive. Thank to Cyndi in the Fergus Falls Garden Club – “flowering almond,” and according to your source, either named prunus japonica or prunus triloba. (I wish they wouldn’t do that with the Latin names; we expect it with the common monikers.)








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