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Stop and smell the roses

Albert Lea man loves growing, sharing flowers with others

Albert Lean Lester Perschbacher loves talking about flowers.

But he’ll be the first to tell you he doesn’t think he has a green thumb.

“It’s a lot of trial and error,” the 87-year-old man says of his success with flower gardening. 

“If it works, it works. If it doesn’t, don’t try it again,” he said.

The friendly flower enthusiast, who by profession is a milk tester for dairy herds all over the area, said he gained a love of flowers from his late wife, Cathy.

He said Cathy started the gardens in the backyard of their house off of Richway Drive, but he remembers he really got involved in October 1992 when they went to Edenvale Nursery south of Mankato. He and his wife liked to visit nurseries.

That day, he said, there was an auction — one for trees and one for flowers. All the roses sold for $5 apiece, and they ended up buying $205 worth of flowers — mostly roses. They bought more than could fit in their vehicle to take home in one trip and had to go back the next day to pick up the rest.

The greatest share of the plants they purchased that day were hybrid tea roses, along with nine shrub roses, and such began his love, particularly, of roses.

At first, he said, he liked the red roses best, specifically one called “Hope for Humanity,” but when his wife died 11 years ago, he received one called “My Girl,” which is now one of his favorites.

In addition to roses, he enjoys daffodils and tulips in the spring, and other flowers such as crocuses, hydrangeas, daisies, lilies, clematis and forget-me-nots, to name a few. He estimated he had over 200 daffodils, at least 150 shrub roses, 36 hydrangeas and probably about 60 lilies.

He works in the gardens around his milk-testing schedule — most days he is home around 2 or 3 o’clock. If he’s not working, then he can work as long as he wants in the gardens, though he does not do any yard work on Sundays.

Perschbacher said most of his flowers are perennials and grow back automatically every year, though he has some annuals that he brings inside during the winter, such as calla lilies, that stay in his basement until the weather gets warmer each spring.

He also has a room at the back of his house, which he calls his greenhouse room, where he has a series of plants, such as geraniums and other potted plants.

What does he enjoy from his hobby?

“The pure enjoyment of seeing them and seeing them bloom,” he said.

After his wife died, Perschbacher said he joined a widowers support group, and every year on the fourth Monday in June, the group’s members come and tour his gardens. There are usually about 30 to 40 people there, and he serves them ice cream or rootbeer floats.

He enjoys when people stop by to look at the flowers — he remembers one day there were two cars that stopped at the same time, one of which was a landscaper, who gave him a tip for his hydrangeas.

It’s also not uncommon for him to thin out his plants and leave some on the curb for the taking, and they disappear quickly, he said.

Or, he doesn’t mind if people stop by and ask for a plant. He says if he only has one of the plant, he won’t give it away, but if he has multiples of something, he will divide them up for people at request.

“I enjoy it, I want people to have them, and you have to thin them out anyway,” he said.

Though Perschbacher has had a lot of success in the garden over the years, he said he has had his share of challenges over the years — he consistently battles deer and in the past has also struggled with slugs and Japanese beetles. In 2018, he had a mild stroke, though he was grateful not to have paralysis of any kind.

Though new gardeners will likely come across something along their gardening journey, too, Perschbacher encourages people just to dive in.

“You just gotta take a chance,” he said.