As I sit here at my desk today, I'm cold. I have the heat cranked, a space heater pointed at my feet and I'm wearing four layers on top and two on the bottom. It's about 13 below with a "feels like" of 29 below...yet, I'm thinking about plants. I don't know that there is ever a time when I'm not. Since love is in the spotlight this time of year, I'm pausing to reflect on my affair with flora and the joy plants have brought into my life.
I grew up here ^^^. My parents still live on this 75-acre farmstead, between Detroit Lakes and Callaway, MN. "Here" didn't used to have any trees; at least not many. The farm was known by our neighbors as, "The Old Swante Coleman Place" and had been vacant for seven years before my parents occupied it. Dad spent countless hours planting thousands of tiny spruce trees around the perimeter of our maintained yard. Each day, he would haul five-gallon pails of water to his little babies and tenderly nurse them along. Competing weeds and browsing deer were his nemeses, yet he never compromised his, "live and let live" philosophy." I talked to him two days ago. His voice was gleeful as he talked about fat Partridges in the crabapple tree and how they knocked down fruits for the deer to eat.
Throughout this COVID situation, Dad has maintained his sanity outdoors. Since he can't plant or tend anything right now, he's been clearing and burning and generally cleaning up the property. It's such a blessing that he can do that as an octogenarian. Nature has been Dad's constant companion, making isolation tolerable for a very social man.
My love of nature was fostered by my parents. Mom was a homemaker who always made time for nature hikes with me around our little pond. The two of us would pick chokecherries in the road ditches and plums from the thicket. Then we would spend way too much time transforming them into jellies. Mom is probably less outdoorsy than Dad. She's pickier about temperature and less enamored with the more physical aspects of gardening, but she's cleared her share of Caragana and put up plenty of veggies. Mom prefers to view plants and wildlife from a comfortable place, but she is no less inspired by the beauty around her. Last year she painted a mural involving a window basket full of brilliant, red Geraniums. While not botanically accurate, it's absolutely beautiful and depicts a clear picture of the lovliness she sees. Mom is definitely more of a stereotypical lady than I am, but that didn't stop her from having a Praying Mantis as a pet and mourning its loss when she attempted to introduce a spider companion.
I grew up making mud soup and watching Monarchs transform. I learned at a very young age how to snap off asparagus below the ground and hunt for potato bugs on the undersides of leaves. I nibbled on the lobes of Columbine and the basal petals of red clover and revelled in their sweet nectar. I learned to whistle through a blade of grass. An aquarium on the porch usually had a couple of snails and some leeches in it, just for observation. Every now and then, I would take a walk up to "Pooh Hill" (so named after the bear and the enormous oak tree that resided there) to poke a giant ant hill with a stick. While this seems rude in retrospect, I loved to watch them work. Activities like these formulated my interests in biology and horticulture, but they were so integrated into daily life that I just didn't realize it.
As an adult, it took me a while to rekindle my passion. I lived in Minneapolis for a little bit while attending school for Radio Broadcasting. After that, my boyfriend (now husband) and I lived in an apartment in Victoria for a considerably longer bit. Our building was relatively small and we had a great relationship with our kindly landlords, the Schusters. I just Googled their last name to make sure I spelled it right and stumbled upon Shirley's obituary. I suppose it's been a really long time. I never really saw her as elderly and was surprised to learn how shortly she died after we lost contact.
The Schusters allowed me to do some planting in front of the building and dig out a small veggie garden in back. I welcomed our co-tenants to share in the bounty. Annuals were my thing at the time because they made such an impact. Fragrant herbs were also a favorite of mine. The soil was pick-axe hard in these little beds and each year I fought to incorporate peat moss and compost. My efforts were a labor of true love and through them, I found my purpose. During that same period, I enrolled in the Carver/Scott County Master Gardener program. Core courses and volunteer opportunities taught me a great deal and that gave me the confidence to apply for jobs in the horticultural field. In March of 2002, I began working at Nature's Bounty Garden Center for the Kahnke Brothers.
About a year and a half later, my man and I ended up buying a home in Silver Lake, Minnesota, and embarked on a whole new adventure. We were quite young and very comfortable in our cozy apartment. Taking on the responsibility of a home was daunting at first. However, it didn't take long for me to begin messing with the yard. Once I started, I opened a can of worms that could not be re-sealed. Perennials became my thing. They were just a better investment. Boss Man gave me a really good deal on plants, which enabled me to plant more and learn more. My observations helped me make better buying decisions and translate more accurate information to our customers. When I got comfortable with perennials, my next assignment was shrubs. When I mastered shrubs, it was time to learn trees. I cared for houseplants, started vegetable seeds and tended the greenhouse. Watering, planting, weeding and culling were regular activities. I loved it all.
That's when I realized that I would never know all that there was to know about horticulture. I learned that I could take the flowery path wherever I wanted to go. In winter, I enjoy my houseplants. In spring, I get to look forward to the emergence of daffodils and crocuses. In summer, there are weeds to pull and holes to dig. By fall, the apples and grapes are ready for harvest and preservation. There is always something to do! At home in isolation during the pandemic, all I had to do was go outside for entertainment. Plants have always been there for me. They're no fair weather friends. They are out there beneath the snow, just waiting to say, "hello". That's why I love them so very much.
My name is Connie Kratzke. I have worked with Kahnke Brothers for 16 years. During this period, I have done everything from watering the plants to designing our website. My role at the nursery involves selling stock, managing inventory, marketing plants and overseeing the production of shrubs and perennials. Sometimes I sit at a desk and other times I can be found in a Bobcat. During my career here, I have become a MNLA Certified Professional. I am also an at large member of the Minnesota Grown Promotion Group/Minnesota Grown Advisory Committee. Currently, I serve as City Arborist for Silver Lake, Minnesota, and a member of their planning commission. My focus is on helping our clients succeed with their landscaping efforts. Education is a huge factor influencing that success. Keeping it real is my strategy. Through sharing my experiences at the nursery and at home, I hope to debunk myths and eliminate concerns. At the same time, I want people to be aware of what doesn't work. Living things are somewhat unpredictable, but they all have basic needs. Understanding how to fill those needs while simultaneously achieving landscape goals is a process that I want to share with as many people as possible, because I truly enjoy it.
May - November
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