By Tim Krohn
Free Press Staff Writer
MANKATO — Dan and Margie Larson are partners in developing and caring for their large yard and gardens, and Dan knows his job.
“I’m the builder, the heavy lifter. I’m the grunt,” said Dan, standing next the gazebo and pondless waterfall he built.
The Larsons’ yard was one of the stops on the Blooming Pretty Garden Tour Sunday, an annual event hosted by the Zonta Club of Mankato.
They’ve been in the home, on Bittersweet Lane near the Mankato Golf Club, for 39 years. “When we started it was all sun here and we had a small vegetable garden. We moved to shade gardening as the trees grew up,” said Margie.
The yard is filled with hostas and other shade-loving plants, as well as a treasured group of peonies that were transplanted from her father’s yard. “They’re about 60 years old,” she said.
Margie, an artist with a studio at Emy Frentz art center, made several artistic garden pieces, including bowling balls covered with glass beads and even pennies.
The relatively large waterfalls was more than Margie had hoped for. When she told Dan she wanted a water feature in the yard, she was envisioning a small fountain like the ones sold at garden centers. Dan started hauling in loads of Kasota limestone and digging a pit.
“I didn’t say anything while he was building it. I thought if he wants to build a big one, great,” Margie said.
Lorraine and George Stoops’ expansive gardens and yard were on display at their Highland Park home.
Lorraine said the today’s results started innocently enough shortly after they bought their home in 1989.
“There was an old lilac bush we cut down and somebody gave us three trees. Then our neighbor started me on a few plants, including a yucca plant that we still have.”
She had grown up on a farm, but thought she had no interest in working the soil. “I knew that when I got married I didn’t want to marry a farmer because I’d had enough of farm life. Now they call me the farmer in the neighborhood. And they call me a gardenholic,” she said.
“I guess you can’t take the farm out of the farm girl.”
The yard features a variety of trees, flowers, grasses, a running stream and a pond with Koi fish. “We put in the pond in 2001 and then things really took off,” she said.
The Stoops rarely use any power equipment to care for the large gardens. “I do most everything by hand shoveling.”
Lorraine is not the type to develop and follow a master plan for the yard.
“I go to nurseries and say, ‘Oh, that looks neat.’ I see a lot in gardening magazines and I tear out articles in the newspaper about gardening. I’m still learning and that’s good.”
The yard, which is located next to a ravine, is also a big draw to birds that the Stoops feed. “We just love watching them.”
Kelly Fleming, chair of the Zonta garden tour, said the group took over the garden tour from the YWCA about 10 years ago. The tour featured nine gardens in Mankato and Madison Lake.
“It’s a great event,” Fleming said. “When you’re out walking around and see a nice yard, you’d always like to go see the back yard. This is a chance to do it.”
Money raised from the $10 tour tickets and a raffle go to two scholarships: one for young women who show a commitment to leadership in public policy, government and volunteer organizations; and a scholarship to a woman in college who is pursuing a business degree.
Zonta International has more than 1,100 clubs in the world, with a mission of empowering women.