RURAL MURDOCK -- The garden statue made from terracotta pots that marks Melody Stohlmann's driveway near Murdock is wearing an apron embroidered with the words "The Garden Junkie."

"There's a reason they call me that," she said and waved her arms at the land and buildings around her. Stohlmann loves finding other people's junk and turning it into the treasures that dot her rural landscape -- metal sculptures, artistic stacks of gently used china, wooden garden art. She's sells some, displays others and uses them all as a background for her garden oasis and plant sales.

But organic gardening is the priority on Stohlmann's green space.

It's a passion. It's a business. It's a way of life.

This is the third season for Stohlmann's enterprise, which sprouted on four family-owned acres -- "I started from zero," she said about the original landscape. Now her vegetable garden is producing everything from green beans to radishes. Herbs like chamomile and tansy provide natural pesticides, and she promotes environmental practices and companion planting.

Some of her instincts came from her mother and grandmother, who were avid gardeners. Then, Stohlmann took Master Gardener training in 1988 and has used that knowledge over the years to tend to her own garden and offer instruction to others.

Stohlmann's conversation is peppered with favorite plants, such as "Sweet Autumn" clematis, favorite art projects, such as mosaic objects, and her love of butterflies; she has several mini-gardens to attract them.

At 62, she starts her days early and does everything from hauling 18-plus loads of mulch in her John Deere gator to painting and puttering and planting. Family members -- from her husband to her grandchildren -- help when they can. Right now, the pace is fast and furious because she opens to the public Tuesday.

The charm of her destination spot comes from the pastoral setting and Stohlmann's artistic background. She painted an unused out-building bright blue, nailed small wooden bird houses around the entry and uses the structure as a potting shed and workshop. A white two-story farmhouse serves as her "studio" and is filled with growing plants, almost-done succulent-topped birdhouses and totes of broken china.

A metal building is being transformed with a concrete slab in one-third of the space. She has been collecting abandoned wooden doors to form a wall separating the area from the rest of the contents and plans on using it as a gathering spot for groups that come for her classes and presentations.

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A terracotta statue marks the entrance to Melody Stohlmann's Garden Junkie, a rural nursery near Murdock. (ROBERT BECKER/Lincoln Journal Star)

The centerpiece of her nursery is a vintage camper trailer that she salvaged and, with the help of a nephew, remodeled the interior and painted. Now the windows flip up, there are grow lights inside, and it is a perfect spot to sell bedding plants.

There is a motive to her entrepreneurial operation. Each season she hopes to clear enough profit to fund a project on the grounds; last year, the money was used to re-roof the farmhouse. If she has enough this year, her dream is to add a pergola and porch that wraps around the house.

There is no lack of ideas about what to do next. Adding bees is on the list, to buzz around her butterflies and pollinate the flowers, she said. She is collecting cast-off bicycles for another big project and can't wait for more ways to show off succulents.

And next week, customers will come and go as she puts out the finishing touches. For one month, the season will be in full swing from Tuesdays through Saturdays. But from June to October, she is only open on the second Saturday of the month (except to pre-arranged groups).

And that is perfect for Stohlmann, who will continue to garden and listen for the meadowlark who sings across the road.

​Reach Kathryn Cates Moore at 402-473-7214 or at


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