He’s got flower power

By: 
Jen Kocher

Allen Friesen admits he may have gotten a bit carried away with the Miracle Grow this year. Standing beneath a towering row of sunflower plants with stalks as thick as tree trunks, he squints up at the plate-size flowers craning their necks toward the early morning sun. The shortest plant is at least three feet above the roof-level of his corner apartment in the back lot of the Weston County Senior Center, where he’s lived for the past four years.

“The maintenance man is going to have to bring his chain saw,” he said, chuckling at the need for such a tool when it’s time to chop them down. 

He shrugged with a sheepish smile. The bigger, the better, as far as he’s concerned when it comes to making people happy. He hears that a lot these days from the numerous visitors who stop by to see his sunflowers and pick flowers out of his backyard garden.

The pickers hit again last night, he said, as he pointed to a dozen or so empty holes within the otherwise bright yellow, white and fuchsia dahlias, some the size of soup bowls. He suspects the culprits were his daughter and granddaughter, who frequently stop by to pick some blooms.

He used to deliver to their places of work and elsewhere, but since his last back surgery earlier this year, the 80-year-old confesses that he’s been slowing down. 

“I don’t do deliveries anymore,” Friesen said, a big smile lighting up his face. “And I told anyone who wants a flower, they have to come by and pick it themselves.”

Many people have been taking him up on the offer, including neighbor Jenny Egge, whose own garden is not nearly as lush. 

“I talk to them, but they just don’t do as well as Allen’s,” she said, cradling a vase in her hand.

“You probably don’t cuss them enough,” Friesen joked. “You gotta let them know who’s in charge.”

Egge laughed. She’s not buying her friend’s false humility. She knows the work that’s involved in babying such a garden along, and even though Friesen adamantly denies it, there’s no doubt in her mind that he was born with a green thumb, which he attributes to hard work and countless hours digging in the ground.

He’s been gardening his entire life, a passion he shared with his wife, Patricia. The couple always had a large garden in their home state of Nebraska, where Friesen lived until 14 years ago when he moved to Newcastle after Patricia’s death. Gardening was something they always did together, and as such, he said, it brings him peace to carry on her memory.

Before moving into town four years ago, Friesen had a much larger garden at his house north of town. His current garden is modest in comparison, according to Friesen, though it seems to get a lot more attention.

This morning he looked out his window to see four people with noses pressed to flowers or taking pictures. The fact that everyone seems to think that dahlias should have a pleasant scent delights him. 

“Everybody sniffs,” he said, laughing. It turns out that the beautiful blooms are deceptive, and despite their lush colors and velvety petals, they are pretty much scentless. 

And this lack of a fragrance is exactly why Friesen plants them – deer don’t like them either.

“Everything in here is deer resistant,” he said, pointing out colorful rows of blooms rising above his shoulders as he tromps down the row of decorative flagstones running through the middle. 

His wife loved dahlias and planted them in her garden, he said. Dahlias, which come from Holland, also happen to be hearty plants that are able to withstand Wyoming’s fierce winds and weather, such as the fierce storm earlier this summer that whipped through, bending a row of plants in half. 

That was a hard one for him to watch, Friesen admitted, especially because many of the plants were outside of cages. He got a late start this spring because of his back surgery, and combined with the unseasonably rainy and cold season, his flowers were not nearly what they were last year.

Not that anyone is noticing.

In the four years since moving here, word of Friesen’s garden has continued to spread as he gets more and more visitors. This morning he counted four people leaning over the blooms to sniff them or take photos.

One visitor asked him if he would mind parking his truck elsewhere because its hulking body was obstructing her view. Now he parks on the other side of the shed.

He doesn’t mind. He loves the attention and the fact that his garden makes so many people happy.

“I don’t know what it is about flowers,” Friesen said, shrugging, “but people sure seem to like them.”

Including himself. With the bill of his cap shading his eyes, Friesen leaned over to examine a purple and white dahlia with feathery edges. These are his favorite, but he can’t tell you their name. He compares the bloom to the others around it. 

“No two flowers are the same,” he said, examining the petals in his hand with wonder.

This variety was last year’s Royal Horticultural Society favorite, and each year, Friesen said, he tends to choose one of those picks. 

Don’t ask him how much he spends on seeds each year or how many catalogs he now gets. 

“You don’t want to know,” he said. “I try not to think about it.”

Nor does he log the hours he spends tending to his plants, which depending on the week, amounts to a full-time job.

The only thing that competes with his gardening is his love of sports, which is why the garden is lagging a bit right now, he explained, due to last week’s U.S. Open Tennis Championships.

As an honorary Newcastle Dogies super fan, a lot of Friesen’s time is devoted to attending high school sports events, and he remains both an active fan and booster supporter.

“I don’t like sitting still,” he said, and today’s project involves setting up the new rock fountain that his children gave him for his birthday on Labor Day. Overall, he feels pretty lucky, he said. Along with two children who love him, the family in general remains very close. 

Mostly, he loves watching his family and strangers stopping to pick flowers and enjoy his garden.

“I don’t do it for myself,” Friesen said. “I do it for others to enjoy.”

As to whether he’ll do it again next year, right now he’s not so sure. Then again, as he pointed out, that’s what he says every year, and yet he returns to the garden each spring.

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