Visitors to Karen Johnson's garden might feel as though they've stepped into Willy Wonka's chocolate factory. Johnson isn't growing any candy plants, but there is a strong smell of dark chocolate as soon as one walks through the gate. It smells like someone is cooking with chocolate chips - or like there's a chocolate waterfall just around the next corner.
It's actually the cocoa mulch Johnson puts around her plants.
"I use it because I like the smell, and it degrades better," Johnson said. "Also it doesn't carry insects."
-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Karen Johnson looks over a Oncidium orchid in the orchid section of her large backyard garden. Her home is the first stop on this year’s Fort Dodge Federated Garden Club’s annual Tour of Gardens.
-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
A new section of Karen Johnson’s garden contains a whimsical ant pushing a cart with a flower in it.
This garden is the first of nine on the 11th annual Tour of Gardens by the Fort Dodge Federated Garden Club.
"We have a mix of all kinds of gardens, some are vegetables, some are ponds, some are patriotic," said club President Marilyn Peterson-Shipp.
"There's a beautiful garden with hostas and rocks. That's because I like rocks," said Vice President Johanna Fawcett.
If you go:
WHO: Fort Dodge Federated Garden Club.
WHAT: 11th annual Tour of Gardens
WHEN: 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Nine gardens around Fort Dodge. Tour will begin at the northwest corner of Crossroads Mall.
TICKETS: $10; children under 14 free when with an adult. Available in advance at Becker Garden Center, 1335 First Ave. N., or Saturday at the home of Karen Johnson, the first garden on the tour.
The tour will be from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are $10 for adults, available on the day of the tour or in advance at Becker Garden Center.
Peterson-Shipp said the Garden Club has 69 members, but only two of the gardens on the tour belong to club members.
Fawcett said they find these gardens by "word of mouth, or people who want their garden on the tour, or if we drive around and see something we like, we ask. I found this one with hostas and rocks on a walk."
Johnson is one of the club's newer members; she joined last year. Her garden is described by Peterson-Shipp as "whimsical creatures hidden in this beautiful backyard."
Johnson was a nursing teacher at Iowa Central Community College for 44 years, so she didn't have much time to spend on her garden. She's always loved gardening, though, and kept a flower garden.
"When I retired I joined the Garden Club and I've been expanding my garden. It looks better than it used to look," she said. "It takes at least a couple hours every day, watering and weeding, just maintaining."
The cocoa mulch has advantages and disadvantages, she said.
"It has to be applied sparingly to avoid fungus and mold. And it is toxic to pets," she said.
Fortunately, her two dogs don't seem to like the stuff.
Her garden features orchids, begonias and a large collection of cacti and succulents. She also keeps some milkweeds, to bring in the monarch butterflies. Ornamental peppers can be found, with tiny purple fruits curling upwards.
Throughout the gardens, wire sculpted bugs push wheelbarrows. Metal chickens live in old painted car tires, and wind-powered birds bob their heads on whirlygigs. Many of the decorations were presents from Johnson's husband, who passed away last year. She also used pots created by her daughter, an art student at the University of Northern Iowa.
Also in the garden are Swedish gnomes, or tomtens, Vilhelm and Tovik.
The garden tour is one of two fundraisers done by the Garden Club, Fawcett said. The money is given to various things, including scholarships. The Garden Club's annual flower show will be in August.