As you enter the long driveway of Master Gardener Susan Kuennen Mossman’s farm by Clermont you will be met with a whole building of morning glories growing to the top of the building. Many may know Susan as a pioneer basket maker, using home grown willow to weave and demonstrate at places like the Fort Atkinson Rendezvous in late September.
Working together to enjoy nature’s bounty is important to Susan and her family. The relaxation therapy of digging in the dirt and the exercise is another factor. “The calming connection between man and soil,” explains the Festina native about the significance of toiling in the soil.
Susan and her late husband Jim Massman bought the 160 acre farm together late in life in 2010. She has spent many long hours landscaping with her variety of gardens. She describes the beautiful rolling hills as “Highly erodible soil with a wide diversity of ecosystems ranging from woodlands, wetlands, Bell Creek, springs, crop land, rock, sand, clay, and prairie.”
As we began our quick tour of her many different gardens last spring, we knew after an hour that we wanted to come back again in late summer to see more. We weren’t the only ones who had to come out and see her lovely landscape; she had a Master Gardeners garden tour there this summer. The work is labor intensive to deep up the vast gardens as many of you gardeners know. Fertilizing, weeding, watering, and mulching, putting down mulch materials, just planting a wide variety of flowers to have something blooming from early spring until frost, besides harvesting the vegetables. She also has certain plants, shrubs, grasses and trees to add winter beauty and food for her songbirds. On the tour she explains each garden and plant. “Jim and I were like painters with a fresh palate and new canvas…dreaming, creating, and planting together. We built four Leopold benches for sitting. We established a vineyard with 18 various grape vines (later she enlarged it to 70 vines with five rows with each one 105’ long). In the spring of 2011, Jim and I attended an ISU workshop on grafting apple trees and then planted several more apple, cherry and plum trees with four various orchards of four to five trees each. This past spring, 2014, my son and I attended an apple tree grafting workshop at Seed Savers near Decorah. We each grafted three trees—his three took and only on of mine did. Jim and I planted raspberries, blueberries, asparagus, about a dozen hostas each around 12 trees near the house and about 15 varieties of hostas around the perimeter of our back yard. Last year I cleaned up brushy area, saving the jack in the Pulpit, Blood Root and other natives to extend the shaded area now know as the “Garden of Knowledge” aptly named because of old college text books being utilized for mulch. Jim helped me plant the Cana’s around the fuel barrel, cleared a small hillside to plant a variety of lilies, lilacs and other perennials. In 2013, my son and his fiancé helped me plant 50 hardwoods (red oak and black cherry). This spring I purchased 100 oak trees from Winneshiek Pheasants Forever and with help from friend Lori Moore we planted them in April. I have planted over 150 varieties of named hostas, tree lilies, Asiatic lilies, Oriental lilies, over 200 named, hybrid day lilies, and calla lilies. I also have a few beds including a variety of basket weaving willow that I have started. Jim and I used the old well pipe to put up a bat house. We attached twine to the roof line of the old summer kitchen which now is my ‘Bell Creek Basket Weaving Studio’ for Grandpa Ott’s Morning Glories,” says Susan as we tour her expansive gardens.
She grows a vast amount of vegetables in her 80x25 feet garden along with lots of different flowers. In another area she bent hog panels into a dome for climbers like squash, cucumbers and gourds. She has pumpkins, watermelon, strawberries in two raised cattle feeder bunks that look right at home on her farm and perfect for not having to bend down to weed and harvest. Between the house and summer kitchen is her herb garden with a variety of mints (chocolate, apple, spearmint, peppermint, sweet mint, pineapple, orange and more!) stevia, tarragon, garlic and onion chives, cilantro, sage oregano, basil, and more.
She gives the fruits of her labor away to friends and family and also to a place called Hope Lodge in Rochester, MN, which is a facility where a family member stays with the patient who is undergoing chemo /radiation therapy for cancer treatment. “Jim and I stayed there for two weeks in August of 2011 when he was receiving treatments.”
When this modern day pioneer lady is busy with her flowers, fruits and vegetables, she thinks fondly of her late grandmother Anna (Hackman) Schmitt. Anna saved flower seeds every year, especially yellow tomatoes. She would save the seeds on a newspaper and when dry she would fold it up, tie it with the string from a flour sack, mark and date it. “My grandmother Anna Hackman Schmitt was a first cousin to Helena Hackman Ott, the grandmother of Diane Ott Whealy, the co-founder of Seed Savers near Decorah,” says Susan with a smile.
Susan would like to encourage everyone to plant a garden, even if it’s a patio tomato in a pot! “Continue to educate yourself by joining a garden club, sign up for a Master Garden workshop through Iowa State University Extension services, attend garden open houses, expos, visit a nature center, enjoy programs on wild flowers, attracting birds and butterflies to your yard,” says Susan.