BACKUS -- Rene Mayer has loved flowers ever since she was a little girl.
"Show me an unhappy gardener. It just doesn't happen," she said.
Mayer, an English teacher at Pequot Lakes School the last 28 years, enjoys having summers more open to work in her gardens.
Tippi, her young English springer spaniel, likes to "help" when she gardens, but sometimes laps up more water than her plants get and sometimes digs where he should not. The remains of a rose bush sat in his water dish.
Her front yard is a typical English country garden, with banks of flowers wrapping around a grassy walkway from which to enjoy the blooms. There are trellises, birdhouses and birdbaths. Butterflies, bees and hummingbirds dip in and out among her flowers. Bluebirds fly through her yard.
She estimates she has 14 kinds of roses and at least 45 other varieties of flowers in her gardens. White roses are the most fragrant, she said, but she has many pink varieties as well.
Her favorite, the peonies, were beyond their blooming stage before the late July tour, but her roses were in full bloom. Hydrangeas are another of her favorites.
Her favorite rose is the Carefree Beauty, developed at the University of Iowa by Griffith Bucks, who is better known for the corn varieties he developed. Most of her roses are winter hardy for northern Minnesota, but she takes in each fall her Queen Elizabeth.
"I see everything as a planter," Mayer said. In most cases, no one can tell what Mayer has used for a planter, because her flowers overflow their containers, hiding them. She creates new combinations each year in her window boxes to enjoy the variety.
Gardening starts in January when the seed catalogs arrive. Her favorite is White Flower Farm in Connecticut. Mayer grows many perennials, so plants or seeds she buys are usually new varieties she does not already have.
She hangs her geraniums in a cool, dark place over winter to carry them into the next season and replant. She saves seeds from this year's flowers to plant for next year's garden.
Mayer's hollyhocks began from seeds her late mother, Jean Hurd, collected from plants at Ah-Gwah-Ching when she worked there. She passed new season seeds from her own garden to her daughter.
Mayer starts seeds in her sunroom during the winter and manages to have cut flowers in her house in early spring. By late spring, she moves young plants into planters and her garden.
The process does not end with the blooming season for each variety. If you go to find a can of soup in her cool, dark pantry, you likely will find blooms tied with a string and suspended upside down from cupboard doors, drying.
She fills her house with arrangements of dried hydrangeas, larkspur, roses and other flowers. Some, she gives to friends.
Mayer created the leaded glass windows in her sunroom and at the entryway door. She hated the work, she said, getting cut fingers and wondering whether she risked lead poisoning. But she found the final product always was worth it after she completed each window.
There are other crafts she would like to try. For now, her next project will be back in the garden. She has begun experimenting with growing herbs and incorporating more herbs into her cooking.
She traces her gardening interests not only back to her parents, but also to her grandfather, who was a groundskeeper for a family estate on Gull Lake.
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