An Artist’s Garden Blooms for Ida Grove’s Theatre

Ken_Darts_072216On a recent Saturday morning, Ken Harskamp of Ida Grove enjoyed his 5:30 AM coffee, walked two miles, watered a friend’s garden, and mowed his lawn… all by 11AM. “I like to be busy,” said Harskamp.  Busy-living is the mantra for this man who has been an Ida Grove resident since 1961.

Harskamp came to our county seat to own and operate his own hair salon. “I worked at a restaurant back in my hometown of Sioux Center,” said Harskamp. “I used to deliver meals to the hairstylist there. She would tell me about the trips she’d take during the winter. I wanted to have a job that would let me enjoy life too.

“At the time, I was going to college to be an art teacher and told my mom that I wanted to go to cosmetology school instead. She told me, “Do it. Don’t tell your dad.”

Harskamp looked to Ida Grove where the current stylist would retire in a year.  There was potential to inherit clients if he performed well.  “As a male in the business, I would also be different from anyone else. I like the unusual.” It was a marketing tactic that worked well for Harskamp in the age of the 1960s style of Beehive hairdos.

“We built a building on south main that was immediately too small for our growing business,” stated Harskamp. “We had to hire more stylists to keep up with demand. Residents were parking in front of the store just to watch us work.” Harskamp attracted clients as far as 60 miles outside of town. In the 1970s, Byron Godbersen – Midwest Industries, Inc. Founder and CEO – built a strip-mall style building where Mr. Ken’s found the right-sized venue until Harskamp’s retirement in 1999. Currently, Trendue fills that spot today. “My brothers told me years later that my dad bragged about me quite a bit. Who knew?”

Before Harskamp dreamed of retirement, his creativity had gone beyond his stylist business. His parents moved to California, and one of the first things he noticed on a visit was how large and beautiful their gardens were. “I thought, ‘Why can’t I have that in my own backyard?’”

Today, Harskamp has a 120’ wide by 120’ deep lot, grape vines obstructing the view from passers-by; in fact, until his wife Darts and he invited me over to discuss a fundraising idea for our King Theatre, I had no idea that this oasis existed. Within the Harskamps’ backyard, there are seven garden areas, each exploring … well, like Harskamp enjoys… the unusual: a Magnolia tree that blooms pink in the spring, dozens of Harskamp-built birdhouses, a pond where large goldfish live year round, hundreds of potted arrangements, and – my favorite, a burgundy-spike-blossom, herb-fragranced Bee Balm.

Harskamp has lived in his 103 year old home since 1967, only the third owner. He built the south greenhouse in the 1970s where he winters over a selection of his annuals. The east greenhouse, where he prepares flowers for the spring, was built in the 1980s. All of his flowers come from cuttings, a process of using a stem to produce growth faster than starting from seed. “I like to create a mixture of plants and flowers in pots and watch them grow,” said Harskamp, who still exhibits his stylist artistry: “I give them a haircut when they need it.”

It’s a backyard that is over 40 years in the making. In 1979, he expanded his lot to its current size by purchasing and selling the home to the north. At that time, he dug out a swimming pool and filled in the vacant home’s basement with the dirt. “I always wanted to have a lake home, but my business wouldn’t allow it,” stated Harskamp, “so I decided to bring the water to my backyard.” Vibrant arrangements border the pool on all sides.

Harskamp’s green thumb, even within the privacy of his backyard, has not gone unnoticed. Shortly after ‘retiring’ in 1999, Bomgaars asked him to manage Ida Grove’s seasonal gardening business. “[Owner] Roger Bomgaars sends other stores to us to learn how to manage a garden center,” said Harskamp, who uses his wealth of experience to guide his practice. Both Ken and Darts continue this service from April through June each year.

In 2006, Sioux City’s KTIV recognized Harskamp’s sanctuary as one of six ‘Yard of the Month’ selections. At the end of the summer, his yard was chosen best of the six. “I won a $2000 riding lawn mower,” said Harskamp. “I sold it for $1600 the same day. I don’t have that much lawn; it’s mostly taken up by flower gardens!”

And it is a garden home worth visiting. If you enjoy working with flower gardens – or just enjoy flowers – come to their Garden Party August 6th any time between 9 am – 4 pm. Ken and Darts will give tours that day with treats and lemonade provided by Darts – who I’m told knows her way around a kitchen. 100% of the proceeds ($15 individual/$25 per couple) will benefit our King Theatre renovation. If you ask, you might get to see one of Ken’s award winning watercolor pieces – that’s a story for another Backyard.

Theatre Board Members will be available to answer questions… if you can avert your eyes from the outrageously stunning Bee Balm.

About the Author