She adds color to city parks

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 24, 2002

Lee Bjelland says, &uot;I love being outdoors in the summer.&uot; And proof of this can be seen in the flower beds in several city parks.

As a result of her works with these flower beds, the colorful blossoms can be enjoyed by area residents, visitors to the city, and even by the birds, bees and butterflies.

&uot;My love of flowers was inherited from my mother,&uot; she said. Lee, incidentally, grew up on the Stalheim farm near Lake Mills, Iowa.

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Lee retired in 1986 after 33 years with the Agriculture Stabilization and Conservation Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Albert Lea. Then a few years later came a part-time position with the city’s Park Department.

Lee’s first assignment came about 10 years ago at the then-new Euclid Park. For five years she worked to develop this particular place near the corner of Euclid Avenue and Court Street.

&uot;I planted nine beds of day lilies to represent the nine homes removed to make this park,&uot; she explained.

Then, five years ago she was given the added challenge to take care of the flower beds in several other parks.

One of those places was Shoff Park and its Higbie Gardens. Lee worked with the maintenance and upkeep of this large flower bed with its historic connection with the past. Now the perpetuation and improvement of this particular place has been assumed by the Shades of Jade Regional Garden Club.

At present, the flower beds Lee maintains are in Euclid Park, New Denmark Park on the city’s north side, and in Fountain Lake Park near the new gazebo. Across the street, near the corner of North Broadway Avenue and Fountain Street, is a circular flower bed at the site of what was once Sander’s Drive-In Drug Store, and before that the Wilson and Co. Garage. Another place where Lee can be seen with her shovel, rake or hoe is at both the Clark Street side and the lower lake side of the City Center. Then there are three flower beds in Edgewater Park she maintains. Still another place with a flower bed assigned to Lee is at the Albert Lea City Garage on Commercial Street.

One of her smallest flower beds is at the site of the former boy and girl statue in Faville Park at the corner of Lakeview Boulevard and Grace Street. And the smallest of the flower beds is in front of the marker at the site of the city’s first dwelling, located across from Salem Lutheran Church and near the corner of Washington Avenue and Water Street.

Bjelland anticipates that there will be a new flower bed next season around the just-installed New Denmark Park sign next to Bridge Avenue and near the dam and the two Danish statues.

Her work season starts in the spring.

&uot;I start working the last part of April,&uot; she says. By this time, the park department’s horticulturist, Terry Walraven, has had the flower beds mulched and tilled. He also orders the plants from area florists and draws out the plans which show the rows and varieties of plants for each flower bed in the parks. Then the actual planting takes place approximately May 15.

&uot;I can plant about 450 annuals a day,&uot; Lee said. &uot;This year we planted 3,000 annuals and 75 to 80 cannas.&uot;

For the rest of the growing season she says the flower beds get 10-10-10 fertilizer three times a year and watered when needed. Lee weeds, tidies up the beds, and checks for diseases. In the fall she cleans out the flower beds and has all the material taken to the landfill.

And as far as pests go, she says, &uot;The mosquitoes don’t bother me during the day.&uot;

The Bjelland talent with flower planting now includes Decorah, Iowa.

&uot;For three years I’ve planted flowers at Vesterheim (Decorah’s famous Norwegian-American museum). It’s

a long way to go to plant flowers, but it’s something we enjoy doing, and it’s a fun thing to do,&uot; she said.

The 200-mile round trip to Decorah has an added bonus. There the Bjellands can visit a granddaughter who is student at Luther College.

Lee and her husband, Dick, have two daughters. Julie Bernau and her husband Martin live near Emmons. Julie is a flower-growing expert like her mother and grandmother, and a teacher in the Glenville-Emmons school district. Their other daughter, Carol Bjelland, is an attorney and lives in Westlake Village, Calif. The Bjellands have a grandson and a granddaughter.

Lee is a member of the Sons of Norway organization, a volunteer at St. John’s Lutheran Home and the Albert Lea Medial Center, and an active member of Our Savior’s Lutheran Church.

&uot;They’re wonderful people to work with,&uot; is her comment regarding the people at the city’s park department.

Albert Lea’s Superintendent of Parks Joe Grossman said, &uot;Lee is indispensable, contentious, and loves those plants. She’s the best mom those plants could have.&uot;