10-year anniversary for church garden

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St. Joseph's Church garden in Garnavillo is celebrating its 10-year anniversary. From left, Carol DeSotel and Carolyn Koopman, garden caretakers, stand surrounded by the beautiful lush and expansive garden. (Photo submitted)

By Caroline Rosacker

Flowers always make people better, happier, and more helpful; they are sunshine, food and medicine for the soul. —  Luther Burbank

The above quote from horticulturist Luther Burbank is one of the first entries in the St. Joseph's garden scrapbook. The Catholic church and accompanying garden are located at 206 West Oak Street in Garnavillo. This year marks the 10-year anniversary for the lush garden oasis. 

Carol DeSotel and Carolyn Koopman — designers, caretakers, brick paver layers and all around jack-of-all-trades — are responsible for the magnificent, peaceful garden that lies north of the Catholic church. The women are cousins and give their grandmother credit for passing on the "gardening bug" to the gals.

Koopman told The Press, "Several years ago the church council decided to tear down the aging rectory. My husband thought the extra space might be best used to extend the parking lot. As you can see, Carol and I were not too keen on that suggestion," she said with a laugh. 

When the demolition crew brought down the rectory they laid aside the salvageable bricks, which were used to build brick walls and columns in the garden. 

DeSotel shared, "Of all the garden projects our favorite has been designing and piecing together the brick paths."

The pair had a vision for the space but was concerned how they would ever fill it up. "We worried we would never be able to buy enough plants to fill out the space. It wasn't long before parishioners stepped forward with donations of money and flowering perennials from their own gardens. Proceeds from the annual garage sale also added to our funding," Koopman said. 

The professional layout of the garden was a result of happenstance. DeSotel shared, "We put some thought into laying out the garden in the beginning, but over the years things have just fallen into place naturally." 

St. Joseph's Garden is an ever-evolving piece of natural artistry. "Some plants work in the garden, and others don't. When a certain species grows out of control we have to remove it. Some plants and trees have died off throughout the years and had to be removed to make room for another variety. The shovel is the gardener's plant eraser," Koopman explained with a laugh.  

DeSotel, who is also the caretaker of the Prairie Winds Garden located in Garnavillo, is in charge of the day-to-day upkeep of St. Joseph's Garden. "I put several hours in each day, deadheading, weeding and mulching."

Koopman admits, "My husband Jerry and I help with the larger projects." 

The gardeners utilize grass clippings from the lawns of Garnavillo residents. "Grass clippings are an effective, economical way to add nutrients to the soil and provide ground cover for weed control," they said. 

The pair commented, "We hardly ever have to water the gardens. The grass clippings keep the enriched soil hydrated." 

The certified monarch garden is also home to a large collection of exquisite religious statuaries. "Over the years we have received multiple memorial donations in the form of statues, trees, plants and shrubs. We have devoted a section of the garden to include engraved memorial pavers. At the present time the garden is at full capacity for these forms of remembrance. Any memorial money we receive now will go toward the purchase of solar lighting and replacement plants," they shared.  St. Joseph's garden has been a learning experience for the ambitious women. "On an incredibly hot day Carolyn and I learned how to lay bricks from Tom Nelson of Prairie du Chien. On another hot day a local retired mason and a neighbor shared their combined expertise to show us how to lay brick and mortar for the statue bases," said DeSotel. Both men, advanced in age and hard of hearing, made the educational experience one the two women won't soon forget. "After that we decided to use landscape adhesive for any upcoming brick structure projects," they said with a hearty laugh. 

The garden also provides a learning experience for the neighborhood children. DeSotel explained, "When I am working in the garden, the neighborhood kids like to come over and help out. I taught them how to deadhead the lilies, spread grass clipping, and pull weeds that crop up in between the brick pavers and the names of the flowers." 

The community is grateful for the well-maintained beautiful garden. "People enjoy strolling through the winding paths in the evening. Many people have their family pictures or wedding photos taken surrounded by the gardens," they shared. 

These two women were such a joy to visit with. The opening quote by Luther Burbank rings true – flowers do make people better, happier, and more helpful. I will also add more joyful.

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