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Tom Carew's red dahlias likely ended up in an artfully arranged bouquet. Carew's garden is a fearless use of color, texture and height. "I like it full," Carew said.

It's not what you do with the soil, it's all about how you arrange the growth.

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It's not what you do with the soil, it's all about how you arrange the growth.
Park Rapids Minnesota PO Box 111 56470

Tom Carew has spent a lifetime with flowers. And the reluctant subject of this story apologizes for the brown tones throughout his flowerbeds - in early April.


Who among us has blooming flora in early spring?

But if 2010 is anything like 2009, those beds surrounding the back entry of Tom and Rita Carew's home on Long Lake will come alive with vibrant color and an elegant but casual appearance, one he spends about two hours daily to achieve.

"Really, I'm not a gardener," he protests.

His home seems like an appendage to the stunning flower gardens filled with annuals and perennials. He's so gifted with his green thumb that his annuals come back spontaneously - annually.

"I really just grow these to give away and let other people enjoy," he said. The flowerbeds are stock for the vases he artfully arranges.

Carew is a lifelong floral designer who spent 50 years in the business. It seemed a natural pursuit for the art major at Hamline University who happened to love gardening.

Cosmos, Johnny jump-ups, moss roses, dianthus and other flowers like the west shoreline he lives on.

Carew owned a floral business for 20 years, then worked for a floral supply company 20 more. "I always liked greenhouses so I bought one," he said. Then a few more that he ran with eight to 10 employees.

He and Rita have had a cabin on Long Lake for 40 years, but 10 years ago the couple built their permanent home.

The flowers came naturally, liked their new abode, and spread like weeds, Tom maintains.

"I'm a big fertilizer," he said, pointing out an eight-foot high clump of golden glows in 2009.

"I had to use tomato cages to keep them up; otherwise they just fall over," he said.

Most folks around Hubbard County have the large yellow flowers, but theirs generally don't attain such lofty heights.

In late summer 2009, daughter Julie Mutch visited with the grandkids from Larimore, N.D. She and Tom toured the flowers before he took a spin at the helm of his boat, hauling waterskiing teenagers.

"Look at your four o-clocks!" she exclaimed.

She walked alongside her dad admiring the view.

"I think I'm going to take some of these Johnny jump-ups home," she announced. No problem. The remaining flowers grow like ground cover and will quickly fill in any hole.

"I use more annuals than gardeners," he says, once again distinguishing him in the "non-gardening" group.

A bush of huge red dahlias sits next to a yellow bush of daisies with variegated leaves.

"Now you're gonna ask me what that is," he says grimacing. He can't remember.

"I'm an artist, was an art major in college," he said. His fearless use of color is evident throughout his gardens - and inside the home where red walls are next to mottled gold tones. The lower level of his home is a display for his antique decoy collection, surrounded by bright red walls to showcase the ducks.

In the garden, different shades of red blend seamlessly with the pinks, purples, yellows. You wouldn't be caught dead wearing such color combinations, but in Tom Carew's garden, everything mixes and matches. There's harmony.

Every Sunday he arranges a huge bouquet of flowers for Hubbard United Methodist Church's alter.

"It's something Rita and I can give back," he explains. "I like high style, top-heavy arrangements," he said. And although he does traditional arrangements, he likes to put daring, off-balance displays together. He supplements them with what he calls "gifts from the wild," pussy willows cattails, bittersweet and branches.

He also arranges silk flowers when live ones are out of season.

The church hosts a garden tour and fundraiser during the summer of 2009 that raised more than $8,000 for the parish. It's an elegant affair made more so by the bouquets that grace each table and the dessert buffet.

They're all arranged by Tom Carew, using his own flowers and others he buys from wholesalers.

"I enjoy sharing my flowers and designs with my church," he says.

He makes sure his gardens are full. He doesn't use landscaping rocks or ground-covering chips. He'd rather fill the space with color.

The flowers only grow in the backyard where there's a 7-foot electric fence to separate the beauty from the deer. Carew leaves the front yard in its natural state.

After all, there's only so many miracles his hands can perform.

Sarah Smith
Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.
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