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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

According to Allen, tending one's garden is therapeutic, even spiritual

Monday, March 26, 2007

Lois Allen says her years as an educator has given her a methodicial approach towards gardening.
Fastidiously emptying a packet she stores inside the sleeve of an old photo album, Lois Allen gingerly removes a solitary seed with the aid of a pair of surgical clamps.

Using a piece of parchment that originally separated bacon as her template, she methodically drops the seed into a pot of dirt sitting on her kitchen counter.

"All of my vegetables begin inside," Allen says as she perform the ritual one more time. "This is how they begin their germinating process."

As the seeds take root, she'll transfer them once again, this time, to a larger pot before taking them to one of the three gardens located outside of her Le Mars home.

"In time, they'll will produce beautiful Sweet Baby cherry tomatoes," Allen remarks as she taps the seeds loosely into the damp soil. "They'll be juicy and wonderful."

"You must think I'm pretty weird," she laughs, "don't you?"

Nah, we just think Allen is doing what she's always loved to do.

Allen has never been the type of person who wanted to spend her senior years, vegetating in front of the boob tube.

As she likes to say, she'd much rather grow a potato than become a couch potato.

"There's definitely something therapeutic, maybe even spiritual about tending to one's garden," says the Remsen native and Le Mars Community High School graduate.

Growing up during in the height of the Great Depression, Allen remembers a time when tending a garden was less a hobby and more a necessity.

"I grew up on a farm with a large, blended family," she explains, "with many uncles and aunts and cousins."

"Well, if you didn't grow your own vegetables back then," Allen recalls, "you didn't eat. So we all learned a thing to two about gardening as kids."

Growing up, she married and moved away, becoming an art teacher for the Fort Dodge and West Des Moines school districts.

"Once I became a wife and a mother," Allen mentions, "it was hard to find time to garden."

"In fact, it was to find time to be anything recreationally," she admits. "I just didn't have the time."

Once her kids had grown, Allen discovered she had missed her horticultural upbringing more than she thought.

"I had so more energy," she smiles, "that I decided: why not start a garden?"

Reclaiming her former green thumb, Allen threw herself into gardening with a renewed sense of passion.

"It's so important to stay alert," she offers, "and to keep alert. With a garden, you're doing plenty of both."

Allen soon became a Master Gardener for Woodbury County, a noted horticulturist, and a much-in-demand public speaker and a gardening columnist for the Daily Sentinel as well as other newspapers.

Ironically, it was when she and her husband moved to Le Mars that Allen fell into a deep funk.

"I didn't know why," she admits, "My husband and I had lived on a big farm with plenty of space. Too much space, to be honest. But when we moved to Le Mars, we decided to live in a duplex. A smaller space, fewer headaches. It should have been perfect."

"Then I looked out the window," Allen offers. "Ah-ha, no garden!"

"Well, I knew that was going to have to change," she says decisively. "And once I did, I started feeling better."

Though she had less space to work with, Allen had a plan.

Or rather, a curriculum.

"I had been an educator for so many years," she explains, "that I knew I'd be lost without a lesson plan. It would be absolute pandemonium without it."

While working in a much smaller space, Allen took the same methodical approach towards gardening that she did when teaching a roomful of students.

"Planning, planning, planning," she emphasizes. "That's the key."

Allen begins prep work for her summer garden in early winter.

"I get several seed catalogs in the mail," she explains, "and I start organizing as early as December."

"I like having variety," Allen mentions. "I don't want to grow the same thing every year,"

She divides her garden into grids, allowing maximum space for her plants to bloom.

Though experts says you may start moving plants outside after May 12, Allen thinks there is a certain amount of latitude.

"When I lived in the country," she contends, "that was the general rule of thumb. In the city, you can generally take your plants out earlier without much fear of freezing."

Allen steps out onto her back deck. She looks at the sky and then at her still-barren garden.

"When I talk to people, there's only one thing on their mind," Allen maintains, "and that's gossip. Who's doing what to whom. That's not living. That's not making the most out of life."

"They're missing out on a world filled with art," she continues, "and a world filled with beauty."

"That's a shame," Allen says, shaking her head.

"I've always had a very positive attitude towards people," she mentions, "and a very positive outlook towards life. If you set your mind to it, anybody can be an artist and anybody can be a gardener."

"The only thing you need is an imagination and a passion for life."

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