She’s got the gardening gene

Published 9:10 am Saturday, May 5, 2012

Column: Carol Hegel Lang, Serendipity Gardens

Recently I was asked to write a gardening article for the Telesoga (a small periodical for descendants of Norwegian immigrants from the Telemark region of Norway) discussing my family inheritance of genes toward gardening. You might think that rather strange that I would have inherited a gardening gene in my DNA but I feel it is true.

Carol Lang

My great-great-grandparents arrived from Telemark, Norway, in 1842 and 1843, settling in the community of Old Muskego, Wis., after their marriage in 1844. They moved to Spring Grove about 11 years later and purchased land to farm. My great-great-grandfather was known as the strongest man in Norway, and many stories have been written about him and his incredible strength. I prefer to talk about great-great grandma Aslaug Twito instead as she was widowed young with eight children and through her strong religious beliefs, love of family and her desire to succeed in her new home country she was a remarkable woman.

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I don’t know if Aslaug was a gardener but most homes in Norway always had flower gardens and so I tend to believe that she probably tended both a vegetable and flower garden. She moved to Lake Mills, Iowa, in the early 1870s after the devastating grasshopper invasion in Emmet County, Iowa, ruined their crops. She was a tough woman, and she moved her family again and bought another farm.

The next woman in my gardening line was great- grandma Carrie Twito, the daughter-in-law of Aslaug. In every photo that I can find of great-grandma Carrie there are flowers in the background. Peonies, tulips and bridal wreath spirea abound in her gardens. When two of her daughters wrote their memoirs they included much information about her gardens. She had wildflowers, fruit trees and many perennials. Another remarkable woman who was widowed with young children, she managed to survive during those hard times.

Carol Hegel Lang’s mother, Fern, in her own garden years ago.

Great-grandma Carrie had a daughter named Alice who was rather sickly most of her life. After great-grandma Carrie died, Alice bought a small house next door to her brother Harry where she gardened and wrote poetry. As a child visiting Aunt Alice at her home and in her gardens were a common place to find me. In Alice’s spring garden were tulips, irises, peonies and bridal wreath spirea. Sitting in the middle of this garden was a small gazebo that I loved to sit in and read her poetry. She also loved to tell me about the birds that visited her birdbath and feeder. This is surely where my love of nature and gardening was incubated. I just knew that when I grew up my gardens would be much like hers.

My grandma, Regina Twito, raised a family of 12 children so I always thought she would not have had time for flower gardening. This past month while I was scanning photos from my uncle Don’s (her son) scrapbook, I was so surprised to find that she too had many flowers growing in her huge yard at the “Big House” in Lake Mills. In nearly every photo the people were standing in front of beautiful flowers that included tulips, daylilies, peonies and of course bridal wreath spirea.

When did this woman have time for flowers when she was baking numerous loaves of bread for her family in addition to cooking, cleaning and tending this large family in a time of little of the conveniences we have today? She was another amazing woman in my gardening footsteps of life.

As a child I loved to sit in the swing in the early morning hours and listen to the birds singing and taking in the flowers of my own mother’s flower garden. My mother, Fern Twito Hegel, had a flower garden that was situated along the sidewalk where everyone walking or driving by would see it and admire her beautiful garden. My mother had so many lovely colorful flowers in springtime that it was like taking in a little bit of heaven. Bachelor buttons in colors of blue, pink and white self-seeded every year and would multiply to make this garden a lovely quilt of flowers. Along the driveway were the proverbial bridal wreath spirea, poppies and peonies so that come Memorial Day we would have flowers to put on the graves of our ancestors. Tulips in reds and yellows, a very fragrant old-fashioned pink rose, gaillardia, Shasta daisies and so many others were scattered throughout her garden; people just loved to stop and gaze at the garden.

So now it was time for me to inherit this gardening gene and pass it along to my daughter and granddaughter in a long line of succession.

My passion for gardening and nature seems to have been carefully orchestrated through the years by all of these remarkable women and I can only hope that I have done them proud. If Aunt Alice knows that I am writing a gardening column I think she would be very pleased to learn that all of our little gab sessions at her house and in the garden were not wasted on a young lady who listened in awe trying to remember everything she talked about. What an inspiration she was to me and yes, I also love poetry as well as my granddaughter who is following in her grandmother’s gardening footsteps.

This quote from Abram L. Urban seems to sum it all up: “In my garden there is a large place for sentiment. My garden of flowers is also my garden thoughts and dreams. The thoughts grow as freely as the flowers, and the dreams are as beautiful.”


Carol Hegel Lang is an Albert Lea resident and local green thumb. Her email is