Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Margaret’s Monet garden June 27, 2012

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This overview shows you the size of Margaret’s sprawling flower garden on Faribault’s east side.

OH, WHAT AN ABSOLUTE JOY to be Margaret’s neighbor, to gaze across the street into her flower garden reminiscent of a Claude Monet painting.

But, alas, I live down the hill, over the river and into the valley across town from this eastside Faribault garden.

I happened upon Margaret’s sprawling, Impressionist style garden on a recent Saturday morning. And because I’m not at all shy, I popped out of the van and approached Margaret as she weeded her flowers.

She obliged my request to photograph her flowers (but not her) and also answered my questions like, “What is that?” or “Is that …?”

Low-lying fuchsia sedum add a jolt of brilliant color.

Loved these dainty, pale pink flowers. Gardeners, what are they? No, I couldn’t ask Margaret to identify every single plant.

Margaret didn’t tell me I couldn’t photograph her hand. She kept working while we talked, bucket of tools nearby. She had more gardening tools in the garage, she said.

Margaret knows her flowers and her passion for them is irrepressible. She simply loves to garden. That’s apparent as her flower garden stretches nearly the entire 180-foot length of her and her husband’s lot and then extends 30 – 40 feet from the edge of the sidewalk, down the slope and to the garage. She began planting the garden about five years ago, partially so her husband wouldn’t need to mow the slope of the lawn.

From daisies to bee balm, sedum to clematis, lamb’s ears to lilies and dozens of other perennials, Margaret’s garden is awash in color and blooms. Her pride and joy, though, are her 50 some rose bushes.

Margaret’s garden is a rose lover’s paradise.

“I just love roses,” Margaret says. “They just have beautiful flowers and smell wonderful.”

Roses and more abloom with pieces of art tucked in among the flowers.

One of the many English rose bushes, which are Margaret’s favorite for their thick layers of petals and scent.

I roamed the perimeter of the garden, snapping photos as rain pittered and hastened my photo shoot. Yet, I took time to inhale the heady perfume of Margaret’s beloved English roses. English and shrub rose bushes compromise most of the roses in her garden.

The most gorgeous clematis I’ve ever seen, in full bloom.

Just look at Margaret’s eye for color, pairing purple clematis and coral roses.

I noticed this gardener’s talent for pairing colors—especially the striking contrast of royal purple clematis next to coral-hued roses.

Who knew a rain gauge could also be a piece of garden art staked next to lilies?

I appreciated, too, how she tucks garden art among her flowers with the skills of a designer.

A snippet overview of a portion of Margaret’s Monet garden.

If Margaret’s garden was a painting, surely it would be a Monet.

Margaret mixes the jewel tones of raspberries with flowers. She’s also incorporated strawberries and tomatoes into her flower garden.

FYI: Margaret’s garden is located at 1325 11th Avenue Northeast, Faribault.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Discovering a Monet painting near St. Charles August 25, 2011

A section of downtown St. Charles, Minnesota, on a recent summer afternoon.

A quilt made by local southeastern Minnesota Amish and sold at the Amish Market Square.

MID-AFTERNOON ON A TUESDAY and we are dining at the Whitewater Café in downtown St. Charles.

We’ve driven to this southeastern Minnesota community of 3,300, sandwiched between Interstate 90 and U.S. Highway 14, because we’re meandering home from a family vacation to Wisconsin.

I’ve specifically placed St. Charles on our route back to Faribault for two reasons: the Amish and the gladiolus.

Before dining at the fishing-themed Whitewater Café in downtown, we stopped at Amish Market Square just off I-90 where you can gas up, eat, buy products handmade by the Amish and pose for a photo in an Amish buggy. While I admired the stunning hand-stitched quilts—priced around $1,500—and the wood cutting boards and more, I didn’t climb into that buggy for a photo. I wanted authentic Amish, not tourist Amish.

That would come later, after lunch downtown, next to “The Table of Knowledge,” aka a group of local guys who gather each morning and afternoon to shoot the breeze, drink coffee and, when asked, give directions to the gladiolus fields and Amish farms.

I didn’t get any of their names, but one of those friendly club members—and I use that term loosely here—found a Winona County map in the restaurant and highlighted a route that would take us southeast of St. Charles past Amish farms and then back north to the glad field just south of Utica. He praised the hardworking Amish, two of whom were working on a fence on his farm at that very moment. He picks them up in the morning, then drives them home at the end of the work day.

These friendly locals at the Whitewater Cafe gave us directions to the glad field and Amish farms.

We left the restaurant, opting to view the flower field first by following Highway 14 east of St. Charles, turning south onto Winona County Road 33 into Utica until we found the rows of gladiolus just outside of town. It should be noted that the flower-growing location changes annually to keep the plants disease-free. Last year the glads were grown next to St. Charles, so the knowledgeable locals told us.

Up until that moment, I’d thought mostly of gladiolus as “funeral flowers,” a moniker that has stuck for decades based on my memories of glads at every funeral I ever attended as a child. Interesting how you associate something with an impressionable event, isn’t it?

As we slowed the car to get an overview of the gladiolus in the field below, I felt as if I was viewing a painting by Claude Monet. Soft pinks and purples and blues—punctuated by splashes of brilliant red, and broken by lines of green, tight-clasped buds and foliage—created a surreal scene against the backdrop of corn, farm places, sky and a distant tree line.

A view of the gladiolus field just south of Utica along Winona County Road 33.

This is as close as I got to the glads, standing along the shoulder of the road photographing them.

I hoped for a close-up look, but found no signage indicating we could stop at a next-door building site to view or purchase flowers.

And so we drove on, further south and then west past several Amish farms—past the horses and wagons, the laundry on clotheslines, the shocks in fields and the Amish men throwing bundles high atop a wagon, their arm muscles bulging from seasons of labor.

An Amish farm site southeast of St. Charles.

We came upon this pastoral scene south of St. Charles, where the Amish were pitching bundles onto wagons.

Heading back into St. Charles, I wished I could spend more time here, in this town promoted on its website as “The Gateway to the Whitewater Valley,” and made world-famous by Carl Fischer, now deceased. He was the world’s leading hybridizer of new and distinctive gladiolus and established Noweta Gardens in 1945.

Each August this Minnesota town celebrates Gladiolus Days, which is happening right now and continues through Sunday, August 28. For a schedule of events, click here.

I fully intend to return some day to experience this festival, to this place where, if you look, you will see southeastern Minnesota’s version of a Monet painting.

The gladiolus field before me could have been a Claude Monet painting.


The main road through downtown St. Charles, the "Gateway to the Whitewater Valley."

I discovered these weathered doors, found them charming, so photographed them in downtown St. Charles.

More downtown St. Charles businesses.

The post office and a pizza place along St. Charles' main drag.

I refused my husband's offer to photograph me in this Amish buggy at the Amish Market Square just off I-90.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling