HAWKEYE--As he eases into retirement, Wayne Wenthe ascribes to the title of part-time farmer and full-time gardener.
After he plants corn and soybeans on 700 acres of crop land in the spring, Wenthe's trades farm machinery for a hoe and a drill with an auger attachment and begins planting some of more than 4,000 annuals in the yard of the rural Hawkeye home he shares with wife, Cheryl.
"We basically have two seasons," he explains. "There's the five months we spend at our home in Arizona when we pay someone to do the landscaping," he laughs, "And the other five months we spend here and garden in Iowa." In the remaining two months' time, Wenthe says he's planting or harvesting corn and soybeans. Once the former dairy farmer no longer had cattle, he knows himself well enough to know he has to stay busy. Thus, upon "retirement", he began planting shrubs and perennials and reading Better Homes and Gardens books.
That was eight years ago. While selling hay at a Mennonite Auction in Elma, Wayne learned that there were also flower auctions three times a week. He then returned, and he's been hooked ever since. It takes seven to eight days each year for Wayne to do all the planting, with help from Cheryl. His method is to attach a six-inch auger to his 19-volt hand drill. Hethen he goes to work making holes in which to set the potted plants. Cheryl often follows along helping to add fertilizer or drop plants into the holes.
After his first trip to the Mennonite Flower Auction this season, Wenthe said he returned with 230 pots of Geraniums, 30 assorted Tuberous Begonias, three flats of Salvia, a flat each of Geratum and Dusty Miller, and three flats of Snap Dragons. There were also 30 pots each of yellow and blue Petunias, fifteen pots of Osteospermum, thirty pots of Dahlias, fifteen pots each of Bidens (similar to an Aster), Ageratum, Calibrachoa, and Heliotrope.
Last week, he returned to the auction and brought home twenty-one flats of Marigolds, five flats each of Zinnias and Gazinnias, and a few more big pots of Geraniums and Petunia baskets.
Even with all the previously-named flowers that Wenthe's bought at auction, he says some of his other favorites are Cleome and Cockscomb, which he'll probably pick up at one of his favorite local greenhouses. Cannon's, K&K Gardens, and Fox Produce are popular haunts for the couple. Cheryl's particularly loves her wire men, posed in gardens around the yard. She occasionally adorns scarecrow-like figures with t-shirts to dress them up, or serve the purpose of directing guests like Hawkeye Garden Club members, to specific areas.
Wayne says his main tools-- a drill, a special hoe, and his golf cart, loaded up with a dump box, help make his work more efficient. That, combined with the help of his wife, who not only helps pull weeds and grass, but also spends countless hours deadheading the Geraniums. "I guess you could say I spend our vacation money on flowers," Wayne says. The couple doesn't travel beyond the time spent in Arizona, but both feel they have been extremely blessed to be able to do what they do.
Wayne had a knee replaced and double bypass surgery in the late 1990's. Since then, he's had a diagnosis of chronic Leukemia, which has slowed him down a little – but not much. Overall, he says he's fortunate he's able to do all the bending necessary for gorgeous gardening.
"Life is good," says Cheryl. And her husband nods agreement.
Both are then immediately up out of chairs and headed outdoors. After all, there's still much more growing to do.