The Northwoods is known for its shining lakes, its canopy of trees and the beauty that is the outdoors.
It’s a corner of the world that many love to visit.
And while there are so many who love to participate in raising vegetables and flowers during the growing season, gardening the Northwoods’ soil is a challenge that many work hard to perfect.
For Amparo “Pat” Carlsen, whose garden is one of the six that will be open to the public this weekend, the challenge has been a lifelong effort that began as a young child and continues to this day.
Like the other local residents selected to participate in the 11th annual Garden Walk and Ice Cream Social to benefit the Seasons of Life Hospice, Pat and her husband, Bill, will open their home tomorrow, Saturday, July 19, as part of the walk from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The walk, which will feature a total of six gardens spread across the Lakeland area, will benefit the Seasons of Life Garden located on the facility’s grounds in Woodruff.
For Pat, she is delighted to share her love of gardening for such an important cause and talked last week about the importance of gardening in her life.
Born in Columbia, South America, Pat said her introduction to gardening came very early in life.
Both of her grandmothers were very involved in gardening and farming.
“One loved the vegeteable gardens and the other flower gardening,” she said.
“The work I got to do was to go out with a burlap bag and collect all the dried cow pies. They weren’t heavy and it was fun to go out, collect them and get chased by the cows.”
She also understood that her early task of collecting the cow manure played an important part in helping her grandmother grow the food and flowers that made life rewarding.
Those were lessons that Pat has carried on with her own gardens.
At the age of 10, Pat’s parents sent her to the United States for an education because they wanted her to learn English.
So they sent her to the Milwaukee area to live with her aunt who had been living in the states for a number of years.
Pat continued her grade school, high school and the university education in the United States.
She graduated high school in 1969 and met her husband-to-be not long after. They were married in 1971.
After their marriage, the couple moved to Minnesota for a number of years and then back to Milwaukee before eventually landing in Lac du Flambeau where they now live full-time on White Sand Lake.
Through her entire life and in spite of the several places they have lived, gardening continued to be an important part of her life.
Raising four children and moving with them has been a challenge, but something Pat has taken in stride.
Through it all was her love of gardening.
“I continued to garden, especially since I got married – I’ve been devoted to gardening ...”
With their moves, she has also had to adapt to the type of gardening that was best in different locations.
“When we lived in Delafield we had more of a vegetable-type garden,” she said.
“But there was a big difference in the kind of gardening even from Milwaukee and Minneapolis – the biggest part was having to deal with the extreme temperatures.”
In fact, it has been nature’s curve balls that has allowed Pat to learn and adapt.
“More of the challenges over the years have ben related more to weather than the dirt. You can work with the dirt anywhere,” she said.
It has been the wise advice of her grandmothers that has seen her through.
“They always said that you have to use what nature gives you. They always had a way about the gardens. They said you could never destroy anything that nature gave you. Nature always saves itself, protects itself, and reproduces itself ... and that’s never been so true for me.”
The neighbors also take notice.
“Sometimes they call me a tree-hugger,” she said. But they mean it in a good way.
Since moving to their Lac du Flambeau home about eight years ago, Pat has been busy growing and developing the five separate gardens that surround their home while also making sure she gives back and nurtures nature.
Just this past year, they were dealing with a standing water problem and how best to get it back into the lake, as well as building what turned out to be a raised garden.
After visits by landscapers and other experts, Pat eventually built their newest raised garden by using granite that was in their driveway as a base and then filling it with soil and bordering it with boulders.
Not only does she now have a large raised bed for growing her plants, but there is also an area that helps drain the excess water back through the soil and into the lake.
That’s just one of her projects.
Scattered across their property, they also have various other gardens that feature a variety of plants and flowers.
Pat loves lillies.
“They are so happy looking and bright.”
She also loves orchids and hydrangeas, as well as black-eyed Susans and hostas.
“The hostas have a stunning beauty – they are all so different. Their flowers are just amazing and beautiful. I just like everything.”
But it hasn’t been easy for her.
The challenges of weather have been great, but so have the challenges raised by Mother Nature herself and the critters of the Northwoods.
Rabbits, deer and snakes have been problems in the past, but because Pat is what one may consider an organic gardener, handling those pests has been difficult.
For the rabbits and snakes, relocation has been tried and has been successful. As for the deer, she has resorted to purchasing a deer repellant from the store. Though she admitted she didn’t like going to that extreme; it became necessary this past spring because of the damage the deer were doing to her plants.
Now that it seems she has nature in check, she continuously looks for ways to make her gardens better.
One of those ways is her continuing efforts to compost ... a task that has been successful and sort of fun – that’s because she is never sure what she’s going to uncover.
“Nature smirks at me sometimes,” she said.
That’s because many times there are voluntary plants that spring out of the compost – plants that were thrown into the compost pile will come up the next spring when the composted soil is used.
“The things I throw into the compost come up in the strangest places,” she said.
And that’s what garden walkers will experience when they arrive at Amparo’s Garden this weekend.
They will see artwork amid the flowers – artwork that has special meaning and different stories to tell. They will see a shoreline that has been restored with rip-rap to prevent further erosion.
But most of all, they will see gardens that have been raised through the loving efforts of a woman tied to her past – a past that not only glorifies Mother Nature’s best, but does it utilizing the time- and tradition-honored advice of grandmothers who knew a thing or two about respecting what nature has provided.
Raymond T. Rivard may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org