The Secret Garden

Hettinger resident has little known plant sanctuary on Main Street

Kathleen Brackel has planted flowers to bloom in the shape of a heart in her garden next to KB Jewelers. (Photo by Cole Benz/The Record)
Kathleen Brackel has planted flowers to bloom in the shape of a heart in her garden next to KB Jewelers. (Photo by Cole Benz/The Record)

Record Editor |

It’s her secret garden. Though you wouldn’t know it by just walking by, but the little section of space between KB Jewelers and the building to the north has been transformed into a haven of vegetation and blooming flowers by store co-owner Kathleen Brackel.

Guarded by a tall, brown fence, the little section of land was originally nothing more than a pathway for trucks to drive up to White’s Hardware’s propane loading tank.

Brackel has many different types of vegetation in her garden. (BOTTOM MIDDLE) Brackel uses multiple decorations throughout her garden. (Photo by Cole Benz/The Record)
Brackel has many different types of vegetation in her garden. (Photo by Cole Benz/The Record)

Thirty years ago, Kent and Kathleen Brackel bought the lot, with the hope of giving their kids some yard to play in as they grew up.

“We had children and they had no place to play,” Kathleen said. “Instead of a backyard, we had a side yard.”

The gardening and floral decorating occurred after Kathleen and Kent (her husband) became empty nesters.

Currently she has nearly 10 different garden plants growing, including cucumbers, tomatoes, beets, swiss chard, carrots, beans, eggplant, celery, and green peppers. Kathleen told the Record that she needs to have specific types of plants because the area has limited sun exposure, but at the same time the exposure her plants get tends to make the area very hot, so she needs plants that can tolerate the temperatures, like tomatoes.

“I have over the years, had less sunshine, because the trees just got bigger,” Kathleen said. “So  now I just plant things that tolerate less sun.”

After you enter the garden from the gate on Main Street, you walk past the garden and are treated to different flower arrangements. One, which lies right in the middle of the garden, was designed by Kathleen to grow and outline the shape of a heart, and another that spells out their initials, KB.

There also is an ornate floral design under a wooden-built pergola at the midpoint of the side-yard garden. Kathleen said she has planted specific breeds of flowers so that she will have plants that bloom throughout the spring, summer and fall, ensuring her garden will always have at least some plants in bloom. Some of her flowers are planted directly into the ground, and some are potted so she can rearrange for weather or even if the mood strikes her right.

The work and cost of garden upkeep is diminished as she has ‘save over plants.’ She has certain plants that she just brings inside and puts under artificial lighting during the fall and winter months. Shortly before spring, she will trim and fertilize them for regrowth as the weather warms and she’s ready to bring them back outside.

“I just take a hedge clipper in the spring and cut them down to maybe four inches, and within maybe two weeks [they’re grown],” Kathleen said.

Some plants she has kept around for more than 20 years. She has over 70 potted plants (half of which carries over from year to year), and even more that are buried in the ground. Combine that with the vegetation, Kathleen tends to well over 100 plants.

The garden also features a decorative fountain. She had always wanted one and her late son always encouraged her to go buy it if she wanted it. Kathleen always said she would wait for her birthday or Christmas, and her son used to tell her she was acting like a ‘typical German-Russian, can’t just go buy something because you want it, it has to be for a reason.’ While on a trip to Minneapolis, she finally found her fountain.

Most people don’t know about Kathleen’s little secret garden, and said people are surprised when they do see it. But she’s not bashful about displaying it, and often likes to share it with those hoping to take a gander at it.

The soil under her garden is unique. The hardware store previously hauled in coal to lay on the section to hold the truck traffic lining up to use the propane loader. Now, more than three decades later, remnants of that coal are buried in the soil. In addition, Kathleen said she saves leaves and grass clippings to be tilled into the ground each fall. As those elements decay they are turned into nutrients, which the plants feed on throughout the spring and summer.

“This soil is different than other soil, because it’s full of little tiny clinkers [of coal],” Kathleen said. “So it’s real organic soil.”

Gardening is in her blood, her family has always played in the dirt and hopes that she has passed the trade on to her kids. Often phone calls between each other begin with “how’s your garden doing,” Kathleen said.

She puts in many hours before the season and throughout, just to keep the garden blossoming with lush plants and vegetation, but she doesn’t look it as labor.

“It’s not work,” Kathleen said. “It’s fun.”