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Rural gardeners are awash in color, deer and rabbits

Dave Burkel seeds zinnias each year. This year they're a bit late because of the cold spring. He buys seeds in bulk. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)1 / 3
Dinah Burkel and Nick rid the garden of weeds and bunnies. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)2 / 3
The Burkels' yard is filled with whimsical touches such as gazing balls, benches, bird feeders and birdbaths. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)3 / 3

It's Dave's zinnias you notice from the highway.

Traffic-stopping spectacular.

This year they're about three weeks late due to a cold spring.

Still spectacular.

But if you could see the main gardens of Dave and Dinah Burkel that wrap around their home, there would be major congestion and more than a few fender benders on Highway 34.

Dinah actually walked by the "Garden of the Month" award sign bestowed on the couple for several days, thinking it was an advertisement for a woman renting their barn.

And although she's thrilled about the honor, "there are gardens that are ten times what this is," she says.

The home two miles west of Park Rapids is recognizable by a turkey etching on a large stone in the yard.

The couple owned a turkey farm in Menahga until 2004. They purchased their rural home in 1998.

Dinah was going to move her perennials to the new place but most were plowed under before she got the opportunity.

"I left lots and lots of flowers," she said.

So she thought she'd put a few flowers around the new place. Her daughter had other ideas.

She and a helper plowed a wide semicircle around the house and a masterpiece slowly took hold.

"I have lots of trouble with the deer and rabbits," Dinah apologized. "They love Asiatic lilies."

Boston Terrier Nick spends his days chasing bunnies, frogs and anything else that might pose a threat to an enchanted place.

Clusters of color spring up from every inch of the semi-circle, cobalt-blue larkspur, yellow and red gaillardias, pink monarda.

And then there are the lilies.

Rows of daylilies line one barn and soon will line a second. Daylilies in a dozen hues mix with tiger lilies, hostas with leaves the size of elephant ears and purple cluster bells interspersed with splotches of orange and yellow everything in the semi-circle.

"It's just a hodge podge kind of thing," Dinah explains. "It's like a cottage garden, a mish-mash of everything."

She says she doesn't color-coordinate the flowers so much. Her philosophy is more of, "If something didn't do well, I just poke something else in" the hole.

"I try to keep the height in back," she said.

But the secret is the turkey manure she and Dave use for fertilizer, that and the bone meal she uses on the lilies.

She comes from a family of flower growers. Both parents and two sisters grew flowers, she said.

Dave trucks for a living since they sold the turkey farm.

When he's home, there's a game plan.

"He's very regimented about what he wants to get done," she sighed.

The couple recently hooked up a dandelion sprayer to the four-wheeler. She drove; he sprayed. Then the wind came up.

"The drift did some really strange things to some of them," she said, pointing out misshaped leaves and a flower here and there that seemed to have mutated from outer space.

But mishaps aside, the gardens are filled with bird feeders, benches and charm.

Dinah has mixed feelings about the honor from the Park Rapids Garden Club.

Although appreciative, she said the few hours a day she spends in her floral paradise "are not as much as I would like."

Sarah Smith

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

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