Finding her soul in the garden

Published 5:00 pm Saturday, May 23, 2020

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Woman’s flower garden provides an outlet of inspiration for herself and others


When it comes to flowers, Freeborn County resident Holly Hunnicutt is like a walking encyclopedia.

Ask her the name of a flower, and it rolls off her tongue like it’s second nature.

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Hunnicutt, who lives in the northwestern part of the county, started gardening about 19 years ago after attending garden tours in Wells.

She said she would take a notebook, pen and camera with her to the tours and take photographs and write down the names of the plants she liked. She learned a lot about the art of gardening from the Rev. Eugene Stenzel, and it quickly became an addiction.

“I always say, ‘Into the garden I go to lose myself and find my soul,’” she said.

Now, almost two decades later, her gardens continue to provide her with daily inspiration, and they are inspiring others as well through tours each summer in June and August.

Her approximately 100-foot-by-150-foot garden features 45 kinds of roses, over 75 irises, 26 different types of hydrangea and 50 kinds of coneflowers — and that’s just the start.

There are over 20 varieties of bee balm, 26 types of peonies, along with rose mallow, gayfeather and swamp milkweed, to name a few more. Six of the peonies are special tree peonies.

She has fairy gardens, walking paths and a pond and even has specific areas to attract butterflies. She has her own hatcheries where she collects caterpillars and releases them when they transform into butterflies.

Hunnicutt said she and her fiance, Mike, purchased the property where the gardens sit about four years ago. Some of her flowers, however, are much older and have been transplanted from a home she had in Matawan when she first started gardening and from the property of her fiance’s father, where they lived before moving to their current property. Little by little, she has built up the new gardens, and they contain pieces from flowers of friends and loved ones from over the years.

One of the centerpieces off of the main walking path in the garden is a shed that belonged to her fiance’s grandmother, which she and her fiance recently extended electricity to and that they plan to re-side this year.

“That shed is one of the most special things I own,” she said.

On most days in the summer, Hunnicutt said she is out in the gardens all day after finishing her animal chores, grabbing vegetables from her vegetable gardens to snack on throughout the day. Her vegetable and spice gardens are also extensive and are behind the flower gardens.

After a difficult childhood, Hunnicutt said her gardens have became a source of comfort and healing along life’s journey. They have helped her cope with both physical and mental pains and anxiety.

“When I’m out there in the warm sun, surrounded by the colors and the fragrance and the sounds of the birds and the bees and the butterflies and the waterfalls … I’ve had a really hard life, and I don’t think about that stuff when I’m out there,” she said. “I just focus on my garden and what I need to do.”

Hunnicutt encouraged others who are interested in gardening to take up the hobby, too.

“It just really refocuses me away from those other things that are not helping,” she said.