To say that Karol Emmerich’s daylily gardens are spectacular does them a disservice. At peak bloom, they are beyond spectacular. I had the privilege of visiting Karol in her gardens this past July during peak season.
Karol is a world-class daylily hybridizer and grows over 25,000 daylilies on the estate that she and her husband, Dick, have owned since 2000. It covers 250 acres, with Springwood proper occupying about 110 and is located approximately 30 minutes south of downtown Minneapolis.
The location is steeped in history. A railroad builder and Swedish immigrant named Frederick Erickson purchased 1100 acres in the area in the early 1860s. He built a family home there that had a distinctly European look. Called Oak Farm, it was completed in late 1862.
The sandstone walls, fronted with brick, are two feet thick. Giant granite boulders and huge timbers were used to build the foundation and the cellar. The cellar resembles a fortress with its small barred windows, shaped like shooting ports. Most likely one of its purposes was to serve as a fort to fend off attacks by Native Americans, although none ever materialized.
Erickson hired some 30 men, housed in an adjoining structure called the “menhouse.” (Seems like the boss may have had a good sense of humor.) There was also a humongous barn that housed up to 150 horses as well as a machinery shed said to have been as large as a city block. A feed mill and a blacksmith shop rounded out the buildings on the property. Over the years, other owners bought and used the property, but eventually all of the buildings fell into disrepair and were torn down, except for the family house.
So how did Karol find this place? “One of my passions has been to paint the world with flowers, which we’ve done on a couple of acres at our place in the city (and at many of our friends’ homes from the seemingly endless supply of plants from our garden). This passion has grown to include creating new varieties of daylilies. But in order to do that, we needed a place to install outdoor test beds for thousands of seedlings and construct a large greenhouse. We hoped to find about five acres with a small house where I could sleep and eat during hybridizing season. A building where Dick could store his hunting gear would be a bonus.”
“To our amazement, we stumbled onto the place we now call Springwood. It reminded us of Monet’s home at Giverny and we fell in love with its possibilities. Portions of the house were remodeled in the 80’s and 90’s, but much has been untouched. And the land has been neglected for decades. So, despite the fact that we’re at an age when most folks think of downsizing home and gardens, we’ve decided to wear ourselves out [she says with a smile] by spending the rest of our lives working on a project of epic proportions.”
“Why? Because it’s here. Because of its possibilities. Because we love working with our hands and with the earth. Because of the sense of adventure and excitement we feel when we’re at Springwood, and our desire to share that with others. Because we feel God has given us a work to do here . . .”
CREATING WORLD CLASS DAYLILIES
Karol’s goal is to produce cutting edge, northern hardy daylilies. They must perform well in Minnesota’s Zone 4 gardens as well as elsewhere, must be distinctive, must have beautiful, clear color or interesting patterns, and must “put a put a smile on your face when you look at them,” she says. She grows about 3,500 new seedlings each year and has registered 176. When it comes to naming her creations, she favors inspirational ones: ‘Achieving Dreams,’ ‘Faith that Moves Mountains,’ ‘Love Never Fails,’ ‘Peace Beyond Understanding,’ ‘Secret of Contentment,’ ‘Triumphal Procession,’ ‘World without End.’
There are slightly darker names, too: ‘Clash of Civilizations;’ ‘Blood, Sweat and Tears;’ ‘Cosmic Struggle;’ ‘Dark Night of the Soul.’
Karol is no stranger to adversity. As she works and basks in this Shangri-La of the North, she carries with her the results of a Lyme-Disease-related incident. Advised to get a shot for the disease because of deer in the area, she dutifully complied.
Something went horribly wrong. After the inoculation, she became so disabled that there were days when she couldn’t get out of bed. Her mind became so foggy that even turning on a light was beyond her ability. Gradually, she emerged from the fog, continuing to improve steadily. Today the only visible evidence of any disability is the golf cart in which she rides around Springwood. She can walk, but still has trouble with balance.
It is obvious to any visitor that none of this has diminished her winning smile and charming, kindly spirit.
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