The life-size knickknacks are the tip of the iceberg that first draw attention to the garden that is Arnie and Velma Schweiss’ yard at 1018 North Broadway St. A sign at the end of the paved driveway invites those who are interested in, and that’s when the rest of the iceberg is revealed.
The most visible of the knickknacks are the horses. They total six in all. There are also chickens with a fox, a pig, a calf and several other fiberglass creatures in the yard. Add the gnomes, turtles, snakes, dogs, stepping stones, bird houses, bird baths, flowers and plants, and it’s soon difficult to decide where to look first.
Arnie Schweiss acquired his first fiberglass horse about five years ago. At that time, John Deere farm implements lined the side of the yard. “They got rusty, and I decided rather than sand-blast and repaint them, I’d do something else.”
One horse led to another, then came the other statuary. Soon, there was no room for the implements. “Arnie kept putting in cement for these things to sit on, and I had to move my plants,” Velma says.
When the two married in the 1980s, both widowers, there had been grass to mow in the yard. “I put in a winding path of hostas. It was beautiful. Then Arnie went to mow the grass, and mowed them all down.”
In his defense, Arnie counters that he “had no idea those things were flowers. I don’t know flowers.”
No need to worry about mowing down flowers now. There is no grass, so no need to mow. The entire yard is a garden.
With the exception of a few showy herbs, the garden is made up of flowers, shrubbery, foliage plants, and stepping stones and statuary. With the statuary, Velma says she likes to depict scenes. For example, a small fox sits among a patch with various-size colored chickens. Some of the gnomes are engaged in farm work. Many of the lizards, frogs, toads and snakes are in an area together.
There are even a couple of pink flamingos in the yard. Near one plant is a stepping stone with am etched message: “I Don’t Remember Planting This Here.” Another reads: “Show me your garden, and I shall tell you what you are.”
But until one is in the garden, the most prominent feature is the horses. The 90-year-old Arnie says his love of horse statuary is not because of farming with horses in his youth. Arnie always preferred tractors to horses. When he told his dad he was selling the horses, the argument that ensued led to his leaving the home farm and moving to town to become a plumber. To this day, Arnie works as a plumber.
Velma relays the story her husband tells about retiring, which he confirms. “He says he’ll retire when he gets his ride. That ride will be in a big black Cadillac with a door in the back.”
“I actually retired once. I sold all my equipment in 1988. I decided I didn’t like it, so I bought more (equipment) and went back to work,” he says.
The first horse the Schweisses acquired is the horse that is harnessed to a buggy on the side of the driveway. The others have come since then, one by one.
Both Schweisses love the attention the horses, flowers and other garden features draw. A few years ago, some fences were put around a couple of special “rooms” in the garden, Velma says. Under the apple tree next to the house, three benches are set. “It’s like sitting under an umbrella,” Velma says.
That area is also a favorite of Arnie’s. “When people come through, sometimes I get the concertina and play them a piece or two.” Other times, a couple of his concertina-playing friends stop by, and they stage a mini concert for anyone passing by.
Each horse costs “a couple thousand dollars,” Arnie says, so he’s happy they are enjoyed. Although they weigh only about 150 pounds each, they are anchored to a 600- to 800-pound base, including concrete and rocks.
Often, people with young children hoist them onto the back of a horse for a photo. “We don’t mind,” Arnie says.
All the Schweisses ask is that visitors behave themselves, and remember to sign the guestbook in an old mailbox tucked in the garden.