Irene Jacobson and her daughter, Linda, have a beautiful garden on Main Street in Wykoff.  Though it is nearing the end of the growing season, there are still flowers blooming — enough to attract hungry honeybees.  GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE
Irene Jacobson and her daughter, Linda, have a beautiful garden on Main Street in Wykoff. Though it is nearing the end of the growing season, there are still flowers blooming — enough to attract hungry honeybees. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE

Irene and Linda Jacobson's burning bush lives up to its name.

"When it blooms, people think it's just like fire," said Wykoff gardener Irene Jacobson, referring to the burning bush planted on her yard, a sentinel for the flower garden that she and her daughter, Linda, have tended since they moved into the corner house on Main Street in 1966.

Irene, 93, recalled how the lot-and-a-half garden was begun with a simple single plant - an expensive one, but a single plant nonetheless - on the family's original lot.

"I got a fern peony from Fred and Esther Faupel. They lived in the country near Fillmore, and Esther moved to Stewartville after Fred died, and she had a fern peony that she didn't want anymore, and then, because I used to have picnics here for the relatives from Iowa, I gave pieces to three nieces, so I almost didn't have any fern peonies, but I got another one. My sister, Laura, who was living in Pocahontas, Iowa, had a pretty creeping phlox, and in the spring, my husband, Burton, and I went down there and got a piece of that to put out front."

The next addition to the garden was a sedum that Irene got while visiting a friend's mother. "I got sedum from Liz Schultz's mother because Liz and I would go see her mother and father when we got done working at the school cafeteria...I was there about 20 years, and Liz was there a little longer," she said. "Forty years ago, I suppose, was when the gas stations started giving out packages of seeds as premiums, and I got gloriosa daisy seeds. I started them, and I got daisies like crazy."

The daisies took over, the roses insisted on being tended, and from there, the Jacobsons were dug in, hoe, peat and trowel...and when the neighbors' house had a spare half lot for sale, there were few questions about whether or not to purchase it and expand the garden. Irene observed, that the flowers didn't start out being this many, but Linda loves working with them.

Linda concurred, "I find it very peaceful...I lose track of time in the garden. I don't wear a watch, but I find that I lose track of time. I find it very relaxing, enjoyable, fun to see things growing and coming up."

Some of Irene's favorite plants have come to her yard because of travels around the area. She was in Wabasha in the spring, and she saw this bush that was blooming at a house where they were at a garage sale, and she went to the door and asked about it. She got another one time when she was on her way to a Twins game.

And then there came the purple dome asters. On her way up from Cresco she came through Cherry Grove and saw some blooming there in a yard. She asked the people where they got them and she went to Rochester to get some of her own.

"They're so pretty," she said.

Though fall is soon descending, the yard is still alive with flora, including Russian sage, bright red poppies, purple dome asters, coneflowers and sedum, as well as buzzing with honeybees hungry for a last-minute pollen snack.

"I bought some coneflower plants, and I had just a few plants that spread," Linda pointed out, surveying the vast view of orange-red blossoms.

The ladies' garden has some particularly unusual residents - there are Easter lilies blooming in September, thanks to castoffs from Irene's church congregation at Wykoff United Methodist Church (WUMC), as congregation members often choose not to take them home after Easter. Joan Kidd first gave her lilies from the church, so she started putting out lilies from the church.

The Jacobsons' garden isn't just a flower haven for found beauties and castoff lilies - they also grow some tasty veggies.

"Out to the south, every spring, we put in romaine lettuce and kale by the back door. Carrots are nice, and we've had watermelon growing out front. It's nice to pick raspberries in the summer...they're good and good for us," said Irene. "I like being able to grow our own vegetables - I don't use any sprays on them. I have pear trees, and I still can beet pickles and pears, and we got some apples from Kathleen Roberts, so we've made applesauce."

Irene and Linda have an "open garden" policy, welcoming visitors to wander past. They're never surprised to see WUMC member Connie Bicknese stopping by to pick bouquets for the pulpit at church, or impromptu brides choosing posies for weddings. "Connie has always gotten flowers here. She doesn't have to knock, but she always worries about it," Irene commented. "We know she's here, and it's OK. I like to share."

Linda agreed, "We don't mind letting people come to pick our flowers. After all, why would we pick them and bring them in the house when we can just look out the window and see them all around?"

Once snow has covered the blooms and halted the spring planting and summer weeding, watering and admiring, Linda spends her winters planning for the next spring.

"In the wintertime, I look in seed catalogs and dream," she said. "I look at vegetables and flowers, and I imagine how it could be. It doesn't always turn out as I imagined it, but I try again."

And each spring, Irene gives thanks for another season of nimble knees and sharp wits. She concluded, "I'm just glad God lets me be able to do this. It's such a blessing."