dykstra gardens

BLOMKEST, Minn. — Anyone who has visited the gardens of Bill and Helene Dykstra goes away refreshed in spirit and filled with wonder that two people could accomplish such a feat.

There are ponds with water lilies and lotus, miniature gardens with succulents, and thousands of annuals and perennials planted in rock gardens and reaching back into the grove behind their house — all interspersed with a gazebo and other points of interest. They have a daughter in a wheelchair, so all of it is wheelchair accessible on paths of crushed granite.

The Dykstras have lived 40 years on their acreage south of Willmar, Minn., near the unincorporated village of Roseland.

“We’ve always had large gardens,” Bill said. Raising five children, the early gardens featured mostly vegetables, which they sold at the farmers market in Willmar. Even then, Bill was planting large floral scenes of American flags, farms, and trains along the road. The vegetable gardens diminished as the children grew and left, and Bill and Helene began to move the flowers in closer where they could enjoy them. From there, it just grew.

Bill has two greenhouses where he typically starts 20,000 annuals from seed and plugs. This past winter he lost one greenhouse to the snow, so he’s down to about 18,000 plants this year. When the frost danger has passed, all 18,000 are transplanted to the gardens. He is especially fond of lantanas, salvia, and coleus, and last year tried a new annual — popcorn plant. The name comes not from the yellow blossoms but from the scent of buttered popcorn exuded when the leaves are rubbed.

“We have a lot of wind, so I like plants that will take wind, don’t need a lot of deadheading, and that will take drought,” said Bill. “Typically, if we have a dry spell, I wouldn’t consider watering unless it doesn’t rain for six weeks.”

He also plants 100 bags with wax begonias — a flower he says is very forgiving even when it is not well-watered. That’s important because 50 of those bags spiral around a tree trunk, and the top ones can only be watered by spraying with a hose.

The rocks on the place have all been hauled in by Bill, from farmers who let him raid their rock piles. That all started with a fireplace.

“We had put an addition on the house,” Helene said. “Our son built the fireplace out of stones Bill hauled in. Then he added ponds and it just kind of kept growing. We’d give him rocks and he would make walls.”

All of the walls are freestanding. Other rocks serve as ornaments in the garden plots.

In 2000, a small tornado came through and took a lot of the big trees out of the grove, so they began extending the garden located in the back of the house.

Bill said it takes about five weeks to transplant all of the annuals. The soil has to be turned by hand since he can’t use a tiller among the rocks. Helene starts a month before to clean out the rocks. She’s a stickler for neatness, so debris doesn’t accumulate. She also creates miniature gardens with succulents and figurines in a variety of containers and among the rocks.

Once everything is planted, then comes the weeding. They don’t use spray; all is done by hand.

“When it gets overbearing, I think of what I’m doing it for. I’m doing it for Guatemala,” said Helene.

While the Dykstras love the beauty, their gardens serve a larger purpose. There is a mission in Guatemala that has camps for people in wheelchairs, and the Dykstras support it with money to buy wheelchairs.

Small groups can schedule luncheons to go with their tour of the garden. Helene bakes fresh buns and serves salads made with their fresh garden vegetables. There is no charge, but people are invited to make a donation, with all money going for wheelchairs in Guatemala.

“It’s kind of to make sense of all this madness,” Helene said, suggesting that beauty for beauty’s sake is fine, but the work is more worthwhile when it has a larger purpose.

By the time the tours begin, the plants are big enough to shade out weeds and they are able to relax a little and enjoy their visitors. While Helene oversees the luncheons, Bill is working the vegetable gardens, where he staggers plantings so fresh vegetables are available all season for the salads.

In the fall they pull out all of the annuals, take in the miniature gardens, and cut back all of the perennials.

If you ask why he doesn’t save labor and fill the gardens with perennials, Bill will tell you that the perennials blooming time is brief. With annuals, he will have color in the garden until frost.

“I’ve always enjoyed doing gardens,” Bill said. “As long as I’m getting carried away, I want to make it worthwhile.”

Bill is 75 this year, Helene is 70, and they show no inclination to slow up. In fact, Helene has been cleaning out more of the grove. But they don’t intend to plant annuals there. They’ve planted ferns and will leave it with a more natural look.

The Dykstras freely talk about all the physical labor it takes, but never as though it was a chore. Somehow the pleasure they derive from the gardens, and from seeing other people’s pleasure, shields them from thinking of it as a herculean task. Plus they know it will also yield more wheelchairs for Guatemala.

The gardens are there for people to enjoy, and folks often drop in and walk around. Only if you want a luncheon or a formal tour do you need to schedule ahead. July to September are the times to view.

 “We like to share it,” Helene said. “It’s a lot of work and there are a lot of things to look at and we enjoy it all, so we like people to come and enjoy it.”

The address for the gardens is 20201 37th Street SW, Blomkest, Minnesota. For information on tours and luncheons or other questions, you can reach the Dykstras at (320) 978-8622 or helenedykstra49@gmail.com.