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Renee Wickman stands on a small bridge overlooking her pond and water garden. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

Garden is therapeutic for caregiver

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If you've ever imagined what the Garden of Eden must have looked like, there is a living reincarnation of it tucked into a shaded residential neighborhood in north Park Rapids.

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And the "garden of the month" designation for Renee Wickman's North Street yard almost seems like a slight rather than an acknowledgement of what this diminutive woman has transformed her yard into.

From curb to boundary lines, it bursts with vibrant color, charm and tranquility.

"I like flowers, even since I was a little kid," Renee said. "Everywhere I go if I see seeds, I'll pick them."

Gazebos, trellises, arches and latticework hold up morning glories, flowering vines and bougainvillea. Bird feeders fill every inch of open space in between the flowers.

"I like my birds, too," Renee said, looking around. "This makes me happy."

A container garden lines the front driveway under massive pines. The soil was too acidic to plant a bed there, Renee said, so some of the flowering containers come indoors for the winter, along with the hibiscus and bougainvillea, seeds, bulbs and tubers of the more exotic plants such as calla lilies that can't survive a Minnesota winter. But the 600 other lily bulbs usually snuggle down into the soil for the winter.

She points to a front bay window in the living room facing south.

"I fill this up," she said.

You would think only a woman with unlimited time could keep all this alive and flourishing.

That's not the case.

Twelve years ago Renee and husband Allen were on vacation near Rapid City when they got into a horrendous head-on crash.

The other driver had veered into their lane. Although Allen tried to steer off the roadway to avoid him, the two cars collided at an estimated 70 mph, Renee recalled.

The other driver died on impact. Allen Wickman was in a coma for three months, Renee broke several ribs and bones in her lower spine.

She has been her disabled husband's caretaker since.

"I bring a timer to the garden with me," she said. "Thirty minutes." Then she checks on her husband, who was her pen pal when she was a girl growing up in the Philippines.

"It's therapeutic for me," she says quietly, without a hint of self-pity.

Above average rainfall this summer has brought out the best of the garden, which includes monstrous rhubarb hedging for the vegetables.

The backyard sidewalk is lined with tulips in the spring. When they die down she plants marigolds, petunias and other brightly colored annuals.

Rudbeckia, cosmos and phlox have spread like wildfire throughout the front and back yards.

Renee has a water garden and waterfall in the back yard. There's a grotto shaded in the deep trees that's adorned with colorful impatiens.

Four-foot high lilies sprout up in spots. She has some that grow 6-8 feet tall.

But the abundant rainfall has its downside.

"I don't like the petunias this year," she said, pointing out a clump that's starting to straggle. And Renee is particularly bothered by mosquitoes, so she rarely ventures outside without protective netting covering her. Some days she can't venture out.

The wet summer has made bees scarce, so she pollinated her zucchini flowers with a Q-tip, swabbing pollen from plant to plant.

She loves cooking with her garden stock, especially the rhubarb.

And if there's a spare square inch among the flowers she tucks a rogue pepper plant among the blooms.

"It's a lot of work," she admits.

By bringing in the tropical plants, she has blooming flowers all winter long.

She made her own wave petunia holder, a massive fence frame holding heavy-duty black plastic. Hot pink petunias spill out of it 6 feet into the air near the side doorway.

The couple moved much of their Elbow Lake garden to Park Rapids when they settled here 33 years ago.

In the fall she brings in all the heavy pots herself and starts the growing cycle all over again.

The couple didn't have children and Renee's beloved companion dog passed away last year.

"These are my children," she says overlooking her flowers.

The flowers seem to wave back in agreement.

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ssmit

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers Hubbard County, courts and breaking news.

(218) 732-3364
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