Many people literally stop and smell the flowers as they pass by Mike and Mary Lou Cotton’s place at 406 West Broadway in Decorah. The couple even put a stop sign out welcoming people to do just that in their garden that is right out their front door.
With little space for a garden in the back, they decided to plant in their front yard. Now everyone can enjoy the fragrant variety of colorful blooms that flank the sidewalks all the way up to their porch. The show stoppers at the moment are the impressive big plate dahlias, but each season new plants bloom and take center stage.
Mike comes out with a ruler to measure the width of the dahlias, many almost a foot wide! Mike explains that he is a retired truck driver and spent most of his life away from home. Now in the morning he enjoys being at home tending his garden. The couple also enjoys sitting outside in the evening as visitors come by to chat and admire the garden.
“Mike loves to garden, but always said we didn’t have a big enough yard. When I took a trip to England with the Girl Scouts the first thing I noticed was the gardens. In England the houses are really close together and any patch of earth between houses, in front of houses and even on the top of the roofs had flowers. I took pictures of the flowers and ‘Grandpa’s Garden’ took root," smiles Mary Lou.
“You will never know what is going to be in our garden from one year to the next. We will try something and if it doesn’t work we try something else. Mike doesn’t plan his garden according to size, color or variety. He usually will plant something where there is space. In the spring you will see some snowdrops, crocuses, tulips, bloodroot, bluebells and even one little dutchman’s britches that has been coming back for years. We also have hyacinths, lilacs, bleeding hearts and a weeping pussy willow tree. Next you will see and smell the peonies, roses and the lilies. There are mostly perennials of different varieties, all different colors and sizes. The winter was especially hard on our roses this year we lost 10 bushes. The old fashion roses were the only ones that really were hardy,” continues Mary Lou. They plan on planting dozens of spring bulbs of tulips, crocuses, daffodils this fall to replace the roses. They also found out that their two heritage roses are hardier and more fragrant and will purchase that type in the future.
“Now you will see the dahlias, some annuals and the tomatoes growing. I love the dinner plate dahlias. They take off and over shadow some of the annuals but they are beautiful. Between the dahlias and the tomatoes on one side of the garden you can hardly see the small pine tree that our grandson planted when he was in Kindergarten five years ago. But it is doing well, and I think the other plants are protecting it quite well,” says Mike.
As we enjoy the view of the patchwork of color from the front porch as the sun is low in the sky, Mary Lou turns and says with an appreciating smile, “Mike is the gardener. He’s the one working out in the cold and heat weeding, watering and fertilizing. I get to just sit back and enjoy the sights and smells.”