Fortneys have a flowering fortress on Howard Avenue

Diane and Gary Fortney have been chosen as the July Yard of the Month in Wadena.

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Diane Fortney hangs out in her inviting yard, where wildflowers bloom throughout the season.
Michael Johnson / Pioneer Journal

WADENA — The home of Diane and Gary Fortney is becoming increasingly vibrant thanks to their efforts to establish garden in place of grass in southwest Wadena.

Their work has garnered them the Wadena Garden Club’s Yard of the Month for July. It’s the first yard to be recognized for 2022.

Taking a drive by you may catch a glimpse at the colors that dot the front and side of the yard. A closer look reveals the Fortneys have been busy turning their rectangle of grass into something they can enjoy and share with others.

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Tiger lilies dress up the front of the Fortney Home on Howard Avenue in Wadena.
Michael Jonson / Pioneer Journal

There are oodles of flowers including hostas, sea holly, candytuft, lilies and many more. There is a raised strawberry bed, honey berry and raspberry bushes. Trees include cherry, apple and hawthorne. There is even a water lily tank with two goldfish. You can hear it burbling away as a turtle fountain keeps the water moving.

Her husband has certainly left his mark on the yard. You can spot his tennis shoes near the walkway, which are now home to hen and chicks, a succulent variety. They seem to have gained a good footing there.


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Gary Fortney gave up his old tennis shoes to provide a home for some hen and chicks, which are now thriving there.
Michael Jonson / Pioneer Journal

Work began on the yard when the couple moved here in 2019. The couple have a history of moving about the country, always leaving the place better than they found it.

“Wherever I go, I always have a garden,” Diane said. “It’s therapeutic and helps bring me close to the Lord.”

In a previous property Diane worked extensively to replant over 100 feet of shoreline with native vegetation to improve the health of the shore and water. While she’s been dealt health concerns with a recent back surgery, she and her husband continue their “on the ground” work of building up the yard and garden.

The year 2020 was a big year for work to get done in the yard as is shown by the abundance of plants that bear that year. That’s one of the other unique features of the yard is that each planting has a plaque that tells visitors the plant name and when it was planted. It’s a very valuable addition to help the owners remember what everything is and how long it’s been around.

As Diane walks about her garden she’s reminded of all the friends who have offered her plants, or places she’s plucked them from. Each has a bit of a story to go with them.

“I like a variety of different things,” she said.

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A honey bee goes to work on a flower in the Fortneys flower garden on July 5, 2022.
Michael Jonson / Pioneer Journal

You’ll find that in the side yard, where she has a bee friendly wildflower patch.There’s even bee houses. She tries to have such a variety that something is blooming throughout our entire growing season.

“I just spread them all over here,” she said. “Other than that, I just let come up what wants to come up.”


Her efforts in the garden are apparent as she is a regular submitter of flowers to the Wadena County Fair. She garnered 11 blue ribbons this year.

She’s very much an organic gardener and enjoys being down to earth, pulling weeds and smelling the flowers surrounding her. You may find her or Gary here if you pass by their home at 210 Howard Avenue Southwest. Look for the Yard of the Month sign that should remain there through the month of July.

Michael Johnson is the news editor for Agweek. He lives in rural Deer Creek, Minn., where he is starting to homestead with his two children and wife.
You can reach Michael at or 218-640-2312.
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