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Published September 16, 2011, 12:00 AM

Creating a master gardener

Decades of planting perfection
Park Rapids, Minn. - Long ago, a seasoned gardener offered a bit of wisdom to Donna Holmes: “Whatever you do, don’t make gardens so big that it becomes work, especially flowers.”

By: By Jean Ruzicka, Forum Communications

Park Rapids, Minn. - Long ago, a seasoned gardener offered a bit of wisdom to Donna Holmes: “Whatever you do, don’t make gardens so big that it becomes work, especially flowers.”

“I forgot to heed her advice,” Holmes said with a grin.

Holmes’ gardens are a grand mix of experience, whimsy and compost.

“Making compost is the first lesson in gardening,” the Park Rapids Garden Club’s horticulturalist of the month asserts.

Her splendiferous “Gardens of Weedin’ ” span more than an acre, a 33-year work in progress.

Earl and Donna Holmes moved their home from what became the Pamida location on Highway 34 to the current spot on Lake Sweitzer in 1978. Their Arabian horses once roamed the fields in Park Rapids that have now become commercial sites.

“It was nothing but trees,” she recalled, thinking of her new territory. Clearing soon began, gardens replacing forest. The award-winning floral arranger initially planted just flowers.

She began entering the 12th District Horticulture Society flower shows in 1977, claiming Grand Champion her first show. She reprised judges’ acclaim year after year, up until the past four.

Her arrangements undergo five or six revisions before their debut. “I almost didn’t take a lot of (what became) the grand champions to the show.”

Veggies now claim a third of the Holmes terrain.

“The monsters dominate,” she said of cucumbers circumnavigating the climbing beans. Squash climb the apple tree and overtake the raspberries. “It’s been a crazy summer,” she said of the slow start that took off when the hot spells began.

“I couldn’t keep up with the raspberries. I called the neighbors and told them to come pick.”

Holmes began gardening at 25, having gained tutelage from her father. She has peonies that were given to her dad that she estimates to be over a century old. “We had peonies so huge we needed a tractor to move them.”

Holmes’ gardens undergo revisions, updates and revamps.

“I’ve raised just about every annual and perennial that grows up here,” she said. “Now I’m switching to flowering shrubs,” which require less maintenance.

Up until this year, she’s started seeds in her greenhouse, originally erected in 1983 to produce flowers for her daughter’s wedding.

The retired master gardener and her cohorts started the first “Spring Fling” in Park Rapids in 1989, offering classes to the public throughout the day.

She went on to become certified as a horticulture judge

Her “colorful past” includes a diploma from Clown College

She and husband, Earl, headed to La Crosse, Wis., returning as Punkie (Earl) and Posie (Donna) a week later to add some Bloomin’ Fun to the landscape.

Earl collects tractors – mini to standard; Donna has an affinity for sewing machines.

“Every time he buys a tractor, I get a sewing machine, that way we keep the tractors limited,” she said.

The “tomato lady and tractor man” started the Heritage Living Center garden in the mid ’90s, with carpenters constructing raised beds for the residents.

Now, at 80 and 84, the couple are considering moving to a condo. “But I’m not sure I can handle it, looking at other people’s gardens. … It’s been so many years,” she said of the rebirth each spring, the grand evolution each summer.

“It’s so ingrained.”

And it’s a venting mechanism. “The family’s rule of thumb: If Mom’s in the garden, working like crazy, stay out of her way.”


Ruzicka writes for the Park Rapids Enterprise.

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