Chesterton Tribune

Time to remember and honor garden volunteers

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August is for ..... remembering the example of Jeanette Schleifer.

I came upon her last month tending an overgrown shady patch at the Dubuque Arboretum and Botanical Gardens. It was hot. Very hot, so beside her were the staples of her mission --- water and bug spray.

I had been told the 52-acre Dubuque botanical gardens had one of the largest public hosta collections in the United States. With more than 13,000 hosta plants of more than 700 varieties, it did not disappoint, but we’ll return to that later.

Established in 1980, the gardens are maintained by volunteers like Jeanette. No fancy staff of horticulturalists here. Once a week Jeanette, who lives 20 miles away in Wisconsin, volunteers her time. “They needed help weeding and I certainly know to do that,” she told me.

A senior citizen, I asked Jeanette what prompted her to volunteer. “If I’ve got weeds in my garden, so what? But here, people will notice. You do your best thinking weeding.”

The area Jeanette chose to renovate was near the fine new Japanese Garden. From one approach you enter this area near a grotto of stone slabs down which water deceptively trickles into a pool. Then giant rocks a short distance away begin to mound toward the top of a waterfall that rushes down a steep slope with ledges on either side for plantings including hostas in their native habitat of rock outcroppings.

The falls break into cascading streams and visitors often walked onto the flat rocks for photographs, including guests and members of wedding parties whose ceremonies were at the botanical garden this day.

The garden is an All-American Rose Selection display garden. ’Razzledazzle’ caught my eye with its white reverse on the raspberry petal backs, and the yellow ‘Honey Perfume’ smelled heavenly. Because Dubuque is similar in climate to us, we should be able to grow them, too.

The botanical garden has one unexpected deficiency: there is no cafe. I made the assumption there would be so I had bottled water from a vending machine and a bag of M&Ms I dug out of my purse for lunch.

The perennial garden area was a bit disappointing as there weren’t a lot of truly unusual ones, but catching my eye was the huge lily ‘Cote d’ Azur’, a cream, recurving dandy with a pale apricot stripe. Vicki Urbanik, who is an avid gardener as well as a fine journalist, said her lilies this year were outstanding, too.

The garden has several other plant collections and areas, a library with older books and current periodicals, a tiny gift shop and a dwarf conifer section I never did visit (by this time I was starving and needed real food).

But oh, those hostas. Seeing a mature ‘Lakeside Black Satin’ or ‘Elvis Lives’ was like meeting a friend I’ve “visited’ in catalogs many times. As elsewhere in the botanical garden itself, nearly every plant was labeled, which made coveting new hosta varieties even easier.

Seeing the collection reinforced the value of species hostas like undulata and kikutii, those few wild plants from which today’s hybrids are derived. It also was neat to see the mature form of familiar hybrids, and the difference in flower types.

As if my list of want-to-buy hostas isn’t long enough, I now have even more scribbled “Get!” in my notes.

I chose this weekend to visit Dubuque because the Midwest Great River Hostas 2004 convention was going on downtown with many events open to the public. Here vendors brought their newest hostas. The streaked and spotted ‘Gunther’s Prize’ was discounted from $200 to $150. Also new to me (among so many others) were ‘Flap Jacks,’ streaked ‘Winter Lightning’ and the heavily twisted ‘Corkscrew’.

The convention had a new sports and seedlings contest classification. Taking home ribbons was a very excited “Indiana” Bob Balitewicz of Jackson Township, who hybridizes for the unusual. His huge, dark green with edge variegation ‘Captain America’ was tame compared to the half-veined, half-puckered leaves of ‘Half and Half”.

Then there’s what will be named ‘Pipe Dream,’ its leaves rolling like a cigar. “There’s nothing like it. It’s a freak, They like that,” said Bob.

My first cut-leaf flower show, each single hosta leaf carefully positioned in glass bud vases, was fun to see. Of six ‘Sagae’ leaves, each one was slightly different. One ‘Slick Willie’ leaf was twice as large as the other entry. Commented one man, viewing a ‘Lady Isobel Barnett’ leaf 12 inches across, “I didn’t know our Lady was supposed to look like that.”

While I was doing my hosta thing, Bernie visited Dubuque’s National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium, an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution. He enjoyed and recommends it. The new river campus houses a discovery center, a riverboat museum and boatyard.

The historic Old Main downtown area of Dubuque is fun to visit; one balmy night we enjoyed a benefit concert along the nearby Mississippi River Walk while watching river traffic from jet skis to barges make their way. But you can’t be in Dubuque and not visit Galena on the Illinois side of the river.

This is tourism on steroids. Block after block offers shops, restaurants and specialty stores galore. Come hungry and eat often. Shop till you drop, but please don’t drop the bag containing the $16 bottle of Madagascar bourbon pure vanilla extract you just bought in the gourmet food and cheese shop.

It’s not a pretty sight, but it sure smells good.


Posted 8/26/2004