Bringing back the bloom

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 18, 2002

&uot;We’ve had offers of money and help and we’ll utilize both,&uot; says Les Schroader of Alden. He’s the president of Shades of Jade Regional Garden Club, the organization which has accepted the mission of perpetuating and revising Higbie Gardens.

The gardens are located in Albert Lea’s Shoff Park, across the railroad tracks south of St. John’s Lutheran Home and visible from State Highway 13.

This designated garden spot in a city park is named for Floyd C. and Dorothy G. Higbie. The couple became well known in the region for their expertise with flowering plants and their small business, Higbie Gardens Nursery. However, the original gardens were located in another part of the city.

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Floyd was a graduate of the University of Minnesota School of Agriculture, worked for a plant nursery in Eden Prairie, and came to Albert Lea in 1926. After marriage in 1927, the couple established their large flower garden near the corner of St. John and Southeast Broadway Avenues.

In time, the large outdoor garden became a local attraction and scenic spot for people coming into the city from the south on Highway 65. There was a variety of colorful plants. And the one plant area gardeners still associate with the Higbies is the iris.

By the early 1970s, several factors led to the demise of the gardens developed by the Higbies.

First, a widening project for Highway 65 (S.E. Broadway Avenue) took a portion of their property. Second, Bill Evans wanted to purchase their property for the expansion of his adjoining business, Evans Motors. Third, the Higbies wanted to retire. Yet, they hoped to at least preserve the plant in their gardens, even if it involved transplanting to another location.

By 1974, the Higbies had moved to a new home on nearby Manor Avenue. However, an attempt to re-establish the gardens in Memorial Park, just across the street, didn’t work out.

About this time, the Albert Lea Lions Club was involved in a project to convert a large plot of city land next to State Highway 13 into a park. Over a two-year period the club spent over $7,000 to lay out a parking lot, build a children’s play area and a picnic shelter, and provide a small footbridge over the stream dividing the proposed park area. Much of this work was done by Lions Club members, plus volunteers.

The members of the Albert Lea Garden Club decided they would help with the project by transplanting the Higbie Gardens to this site.

In 1976, the new Higbie Gardens and park area was turned over to the city. The park was named for Dr. Niles R. Shoff, former Albert Lea mayor and Lions Club member.

Through the years the members of the Albert Lea Garden Club, with help from the Higbies, maintained the large cluster of flowers and shrubs on the north side of Shoff Park.

Floyd C. Higbie died in April 1988; Dorothy G. (Gray) Higbie died in October 1993. And in time the Albert Lea Garden Club faded away.

Schroader says the Shades of Jade Regional Garden Club, which includes members of the earlier Albert Lea Garden Club, started in the early 1990s. He added that the present club now has 23 members.

&uot;This is a big year for us. We’ll be busy planting and moving plants around to make colors match.&uot; he said.

Schroader added that the club’s volunteers will be revising the Higbie Gardens with the addition of two elevated earth berms and a new garden area.

&uot;We’re following a plan for landscaping laid out by Tom Jacobson,&uot; he explained.

&uot;The city has been very good to us,&uot; Schroader said. &uot;They’re letting us take it over. The Park and Rec people have helped us with soil, wood chips, digging up the ground, and installing a backdrop of tamarack trees and shrubs.&uot;

&uot;We’ve been blessed with people who have volunteered to help,&uot; Schroader said. &uot;Now all they have to do is find the time.&uot; This is confirmed with the fact that the club members also have their own gardens to prepare for a new season.

He said many of the iris plants now in the Shoff Park plots are from stock which originally came from the Higbie Gardens on the city’s south side. Schroader added that some of the plants now being added to the flower beds are coming from the club members’ own gardens.

One of the special projects for the club members is the creation of a new children’s garden. This will be a special area for the children from the nearby Albert Lea Community Child Care Center St. John’s Site. Schroader said this new addition will be dedicated to the memory of Mary Ann Hopper, a garden club member who dfied in February 2002. He added that material for this new garden will come from Freeborn Lumber Co.

Officers of the Shades of Jade Regional Garden Club are: Les Schroader, president; Iris Bell of Hartland, vice president; Jeanne Park, secretary; Agnes Sherman, treasurer; and Igaborg Reindal of Alden, corresponding secretary.

Sherman said a donation of $250 has been recieved from the Wa-Tan-Ye Club, plus $100 from the Lions Club.

&uot;We have a big project. We’ll get it done,&uot; she emphasized.