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Trees, shrubs mix with colorful flowers in Front Yard Garden of the Week

A gentle evening breeze wafted the sweet aroma of a nearby mock orange shrub across Ireta and Bob Larson's front yard gardens last week. Nestled closely together in this picturesque small yard at 807 Third St. S.E. are fragrant shrub roses, huge hostas, abundant day lilies and lingering irises.

Speaking like a true gentleman, Bob credits his wife, Ireta, with doing most of the work. They're a team, he said, sharing duties at a ratio of 65/35. He does the heavy work like lifting sod, and she does the lighter chores. Together they create gardens throughout their yard with the intent of eliminating most of the grass. In fact, that's how it began about 15 years ago after they were married. Rather than having a yard of grass to mow, they decided to design a yard of colorful perennial and annual flowers with trees and shrubs forming the foundation.

"It's an English garden look," Bob said, "with small spaces and lots of plants of different colors."

Trellises support the William Baffin climbing rose and Jackmani clematis with foxglove, lady's mantle and bleeding hearts reaching up from below. An empty space is quickly filled by a division of one of the mature perennials or a blooming annual. The Yellow Rose of Texas shrub rose peeks up anywhere there's room, including between the low-growing juniper beneath the corner fences. There are no sensitive hybrid tea roses in these gardens; only the hardy shrub roses, mostly rugosas, are included because they're survivors.

Ireta, a farmer's daughter from the Red River Valley area near Hawley, Minn., grew up digging in the dirt. Her mother grew vegetables because she HAD to and flowers because she WANTED to. Ireta grows both, with vegetables tucked in behind the house in raised beds. If you aren't in a hurry, drive around to the back of the lot and cruise slowly down the alley to see the lush plants growing on the ground and up fences. Flowers popped in here and there add color and interest. One of Ireta's favorite flowers, the iris, is quickly dwindling, but sturdy Asiatic lilies covered with buds show promise of a colorful July.

Bob prefers the incredible hostas that offer so many varieties in size and shape. "I never knew there could be so many!" he added, while showing off his pride-and joy, the rare Egyptian Princess hosta. Day lilies are also his favorites, with early blooming Stella de Oro to late-bloomers in the autumn.

With car windows rolled down and a light breeze blowing, you may be lucky enough to hear Bob's hand-made 30 pound chimes that hang from a nearby apple tree. Made from fence tubing and wire, Bob got directions from Chuck's Chimes on-line to create these musical chimes. Most of their yard and garden art is hand-made, with help from grandchildren. That really makes their gardens a family affair.