Charlene Gates . . . How does your garden grow?

Charlene Gates in her “International” garden.

By Marcie Klomp

Flowers, flowers everywhere! That is the way Charlene Gates enjoys her garden.

She came by her love of gardening naturally. Her mother, the late Leila Tienter, was a gardener and allowed the kids to have a small patch of garden to call their own. Gates recalls, “It was small, maybe six ft. by six ft. I planted my first seed at age three.”

She’s been gardening ever since. A person can drive by the Gates corner, near the elementary school in Lime Springs and see her and husband Larry either in the garden or sitting on the front porch.

Charlene loves her flowers and you can tell with how many beds she has. She counts 12 beds and five areas with plants.

Her older perennial beds have a lot of phlox in them. “They usually bloom around Sweet Corn Days, but as you can see, they are blooming early.”

Her favorite beds are the annuals. She calls them her International gardens. “I trade mostly seeds, but some plants, with my Internet friends.”

After her mother passed away, Charlene didn’t have anything to do on Sunday afternoons. She started going on the Internet and found a flower board—just to look around. Eventually she started responding to conversations and found some new friends as interested in gardening as she is.

Those she trades seeds and information with come from Canada, South Carolina, South Dakota, Kentucky, Virginia, Tennessee, Ohio, Illinois, New York, Nebraska, Oregon, Minnesota and Iowa.

They have even met a few times. In 2009, they went to Virginia, in 2010 they met at her brother, Lair Tienter’s, place in Farley, Iowa and in 2011 they met in the Adirondack Mountains of New York. She said, “This year we’re taking a break because everybody is busy watering.”



The flowering board trades seeds, so many of their beds have similar plants, but they grow differently according to the zone the person lives in.

“People think I spend thousands of dollars on flowers, but I don’t. This year I spent about $50.00 and most of that was for postage. One person will order a packet of seeds and doesn’t need all of them, so we split them up and share,” she explained.

She might not spend money, but she does spend a lot of time on her flowers. She starts all her annuals (this year about 2,200) from seeds, beginning the first of January. “They like to be warm, so I start them in this closet in my kitchen. After about a week, I put them under fluorescent lighting in the kitchen.” She then moves them to the south windows and this year, in March, she moved them to her greenhouse. Then, of course, they are transplanted to the beds.

Charlene commented her favorite beds are her annuals as they can be changed every year. “I have three annual beds where you can change the colors year after year.” She also uses annuals to fill in spots in perennial beds.

This is the first year the Gateses have had to do a lot of watering. With their huge yard, it takes about four hours to water. “I usually catch rainwater from the roof. With one inch of rain, I can save 200 gallons of water,” she noted. Part of the house does not have an eaves trough so it falls into five buckets. For the part that does have an eaves trough, the water is guided into three garbage cans. This has been a very dry year, so there isn’t any rainwater left for the plants. The dry conditions also cut down on weeding.

Charlene explained, “Right now, I’m not doing a lot of weeding because the weeds shade the ground and keep in the moisture.”

One of Charlene’s rules of thumb is to follow the suggestions for the plants. “If they say to plant it in full sun, plant it in full sun. If it says plant in the shade, then plant it in the shade.”

That can be troublesome when a big shade tree is cut down, like happened to Gateses a few years ago. Charlene then had to replant her beds to take the shade and sun into consideration.

Basically, Charlene is busy from the first of the year until fall with her flowers. But she continues to be busy, even in the fall. Every year, she has a lot of geraniums and other plants. “I do cuttings and start the smaller plant in the fall and throw away the bigger plant.” She had to cut down, otherwise her house was jam packed with plants.

She joked her favorite flower was whatever was blooming at the time! But some of her most cherished plants include the heirloom perennial plants she has received from family and friends. She also has kept a plant from Larry’s grandmother from 30 years ago. “I just take a cutting and grow it over the winter,” she claimed.

Charlene has a huge flower garden but just a small vegetable garden. The family used to have a bigger vegetable garden, but that has been reduced to just a few plants over the years. Their vegetables consist of tomatoes, Swiss chard, kale and tatsoi.

One of Charlene’s favorite times of the day is in the morning, when the fragrance from the flowers is stronger, but even in the late afternoon they are a smell to behold!

Although Charlene is not a Master Gardener, she is happy to discuss tips on growing with others and even shares some of her plants with family and friends.

What she shares most, though, is the variety, color and beauty of her flowers with passersby.




2 Responses

  1. Marcie… internet friends would like to see the additional photos from the garden article about our yard. I recall that they were on the backpage. Is there anyway I can share the photos with them? Charlene

    • Sorry I didn’t get back sooner. I just saw this. We changed emails and these things don’t come to me right away. http://www.mynewsphoto have the pictures I print each week. They can go here, click on LS Herald and the week or week before it ran and they can see all the pics.
      Sorry again. Marcie

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