Dedicated volunteer saves flower beds

FAIRMONT – The flowers at Lincoln Park have been a highlight of the public space for years, but with fewer workers and funds to maintain the gardens, the city was planning to raze the flowers and plant grass.

Fairmont resident Craig Nelson didn’t want to see that happen, so two years ago, he volunteered through Fairmont’s Adopt a Park program to take care of two flower beds, a responsibility that included purchasing the flowers. Then he added two more flower beds, and then two more, bringing the total to six.

“In the six beds, there’s somewhere between 1,000 to 1,200 flowers,” he said.

Nelson was introduced to gardening as a 4-H participant, back when the Martin County fairgrounds were located where Five Lakes Centre mall is now. Several of the flowers in bloom at Lincoln Park were grown from seed on his patio, like a brilliant orange marigold hybrid, several types of coleus, and a low-growing pretty blue flower whose name evaded Nelson’s memory.

When it comes to selecting flower varieties and designing gardens, he looks at “height, spacing, color, sun or shade. I remember flower names about as well as I remember people’s names,” he admitted.

While Nelson may lack the technical knowledge of a Master Gardener, he isn’t wanting in passion.

Almost all of the flowers in the beds he maintains are annuals, which amounts to a lot of leg work on Nelson’s part in the spring as he must stoop to spade and place each plant in the ground.

The work continues into the summer, with weeding and watering, and even in the winter, Nelson is planning to research perennials – plants that can survive Minnesota’s cold winters and come back on their own in the spring, which would free up more of his time and money. His goal, however, is not to put in fewer hours volunteering for the city. By improving his efficiency as a gardener, he actually wants to expand Lincoln Park’s flower beds.

“I’m hoping to add two more next year,” he said, describing an arc of flowers that would provide a scenic backdrop for the weddings held at Lincoln Park each year.

Most people wouldn’t understand why he bothers, and some might even call him crazy, Nelson acknowledges, but that doesn’t bother him.

Craig has lived throughout the United States, and he moved back to Fairmont six years ago. He loves his hometown, particularly the natural beauty it has to offer, but Lincoln Park is particularly special to him. He describes it as the “crown jewel” of the city’s park system.

“This park is incredible,” he said. “You see the water on the lake, the lay of the land, the variety of trees. It’s gorgeous. … This is a park where you can come and think and reflect and just enjoy the beauty of nature.”

Nelson, who also serves on Fairmont’s park board, is encouraging more people to consider participating in the Adopt a Park program. He praised parks superintendent Nick Lardy and his employees for their enthusiasm and hard work, but said they can’t do it alone.

For more information on adopting a park, contact City Hall at (507) 238-9461 and ask to speak with Public Works director Troy Nemmers.