Susan Mandelko is seen with one of the first areas she landscaped in her rural Preston yard. It was an area the riding mower would not fit, so she planted flowers there. (Submitted photo)
Susan Mandelko is seen with one of the first areas she landscaped in her rural Preston yard. It was an area the riding mower would not fit, so she planted flowers there. (Submitted photo)
Landscaped settings of flowers and fountains in the yard of Susan and Steve Mandelko provide almost a park-like setting at their rural Preston farm. Susan enjoys spending time there, saying that working there is almost like being on a vacation while being able to stay home.

One might say the decorating started with an area where Steve set up a fire ring years ago with a cast-iron tripod and kettle above it, used for outdoor cooking and the gathering of friends. Wood is stored right there for ready bonfire access. Also, amazingly, cactuses grew each year.

But since that early beginning, the yard has become Susan's province.

She didn't have the flower displays in her yard when her two boys were growing up. A memorial flower display she set up for son Justin, who tragically died in an accident in 2000 before his graduation, was one of her first forays into the power and beauty of flowers. His name was painted on a flat rock and placed in the hands of an angel figurine.

Another of the first areas she decorated was a small corner of lawn between a parking area by the garage and the sidewalk to house door. Susan explained it was an area the riding lawnmower couldn't quite reach so she decided to plant flowers there. Later, she added a cute birdhouse in the display.

In 2001, the Mandelkos constructed a deck on the front of their house and then added a pond. Susan likes water and one will find many fountains both inside her home - which is decorated with dolls and Victorian-style pieces - and outside. This pond features recirculating water.

Last year she added a porch swing to the deck. While they sometimes sit on it, it's also used to show displays of statues. She likes using angels and cherubs. Susan enjoys looking out the windows in her home to see the deck, flowers, planters and more.

"I plant a lot of annuals," she noted of her flowers. Favorites are begonias, snap dragons, dahlias, geranium and hostas, the latter of which she says are easy to grow.

No, she said, she was not into flowers as a kid. However, looking back, Susan said her mother, Pearl Yaste, had a lot of flowers. When the Preston home where Susan grew up - the home of her parents, Pearl and Wyman - was purchased and torn down by the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) around 2005 for the reconstruction of Highway 52, she did take some perennial flowers from the yard and transplant them. She also took a glider bench of her father's that had always been around, repainted it and placed it in her yard to hold potted flowers.

Now their other son, Nathan, his wife, Cassie, and their children, Jada and Jacob, all from Chatfield, visit the yard and enjoy when Steven sets fireworks off. Susan says she tries to keep some on hand for summer visits since the grandchildren enjoy them so.

Patio, gazebo and advice

Four to five years ago, the couple built an addition on to the house, also creating a patio and a second little pond outside its wall. It includes a goldfish pond and a lovely, arched wooden bridge over the pond, which includes a "mister" that creates fog.

Susan has advice for anyone wanting to get lawn decorations and furniture: wait until the end of the season when one can shop and get items on clearance.

That's how she eventually ended up with a gazebo, the favorite spot in her yard. It all started with finding a huge fountain offered on clearance. She had to have it. Then she needed somewhere to place it.

She mentioned it to some of her coworkers in the Fillmore County Department of Social Services, where she's a financial worker. Susan thought the fountain would look great in a gazebo. A person suggested a gazebo that they knew someone was getting rid of. The Mandelkos got it, hauled it back to the farm and Steve's cousin, Merlyn "Fluff" Krueger renovated it, braced it and painted it.

"I love the gazebo," said Susan.

She placed the fountain in it, as well as a small table, two chairs, a loveseat and lighting.

The logistics of handling so many spots decorated with flowers in her yard requires some thought, as well as time.

"In the spring I spend time in the yard till it's nearly dark out. I get the ground ready and the flowers planted. I water them nightly. That's good exercise," she stated. As opposed to running long hoses from the house to the various areas, she chooses to carry water to them.

Those displays with lighting and other electrical needs are kept close to the house to be plugged in. There are six or seven electrical outlets used.

"Every year I say I won't do quite so much, but I do more. I see the flowers I like and I get them."

It's a lovely yard and it continues to evolve with Susan's good shopping skills, offering color, peace and enjoyment. Steve will sometimes give tours of the yard, as well as the house. The inside is also very unique with all its fountains, decorations and dolls... but that's another story for another day.