A growing love affair

Milly Kriss, of Bear Lake, will grow anything that catches her eye. Her love for flowers sprouted in her home country of Bulgaria.  (Courtesy photos/Jeanne Barber)

Milly Kriss, of Bear Lake, will grow anything that catches her eye. Her love for flowers sprouted in her home country of Bulgaria. (Courtesy photos/Jeanne Barber)

Flower lady of Bear Lake continues to spread beauty of nature

BEAR LAKE — The flower lady of Bear Lake will grow anything that catches her eye.

“Except for geraniums,” said Milly Kriss. “Geraniums always remind me of cemeteries. But other than that, I’ll grow anything that catches my eye.”

 Milly Kriss, of Bear Lake, is all smiles as she shows off the hand-sewn doll clothes she made that represent her native Bulgaria.

Milly Kriss, of Bear Lake, is all smiles as she shows off the hand-sewn doll clothes she made that represent her native Bulgaria.

Milly’s rainbow patchwork of flower gardens will catch your eye, alright.

The daisies, cosmos, peonies, irises, black-eyed Susans, California poppies, lilies and other flowers that surround her home are carefully groomed and cared for by Milly’s gentle hands and gentle spirit.

When in bloom, those flowers are home to the birds and the bees, ladybugs and butterflies, and other gentle creatures of the wild.

And of course, they are the home that surrounds the home of the 94-year-old flower lady of Bear Lake.

A love affair with flowers

Born in 1921 in Bulgaria — the “old country” – Milly moved to America as a war bride when she was 26 years old.

She remembers much about growing up in the tiny European country that borders the Black Sea, especially when her country was occupied by the Soviet Union.

“It’s funny what you remember,” said Milly. “The Soviets took everything. They controlled everything – even the roses. They wanted our roses, for their perfume.”

Before coming to America, Milly became a teacher, and then worked for the Ministry of Interior in the capital city Sofia.

Once in America, she and her husband, George, lived in Jackson, where they raised their two children, Darlene and Victor. While in that southern Michigan community, she and her husband were owners of a hardware and party store.

Bright flowers grown and dried by Milly Kriss, and then photo-copied, decorate a ceramic coffee cup. (Courtesy photo/Jeanne Barber)

Bright flowers grown and dried by Milly Kriss, and then photo-copied, decorate a ceramic coffee cup. (Courtesy photo/Jeanne Barber)

Years later, in 1980, they moved to Bear Lake, where Milly worked in a hospital gift shop in Frankfort.

“From the old country, to here, I always loved flowers,” she said. “I was working in a hospital gift shop (in Frankfort) when someone noticed the different things I made out of flowers – dried flowers. And they liked what I made.

“One day our daughter bought me a flower press. It takes a long time to take all the butterfly-bolts off the press, put the flowers inside, and then put all the bolts back on, so that they can be pressed flat.

“I keep the flowers in the press for two weeks, or so, until they are dry,” said Milly. “And then I take them out and make things with them.”

Milly’s daughter helped her to use a computer to make copies of the dried flowers, and those images are then transferred onto cards, cups and more.

Her flower cards have become quite popular with family and friends.

“I can use just about any flower I grow on a card or something,” she said. “Where the flower will eventually die, the art I make out of those flowers can live forever. I grow the flowers. I dry them. And then I use them in my art. I’ve slowed down, a bit – a lot – but I still have my gardens.”

Everywhere you look in Milly’s house, there are flowers – in vases on tables and counters, hanging from walls, and on the floor.

Some flowers are natural, while others are made of plastic.

“I always wanted only the natural flowers,” said Milly. “They had to be real. But as I got older, I began to realize that the plastic ones are easier to take care of.”

Smiling, Milly shrugged her shoulders, and raised both palms face up.

“So, now I like my plastic flowers, too,” she said, smiling. “Though I never thought I would.”

Milly and George remained happily in love and married, until George’s passing in 1999.

“He loved our flowers, too,” Milly said of her husband of 52 years. “He always encouraged me with them.”

Daisies, cosmos, peonies, irises, black-eyed Susans, California poppies, lilies and other flowers grow around Milly Kriss' home in Bear Lake.

Daisies, cosmos, peonies, irises, black-eyed Susans, California poppies, lilies and other flowers grow around Milly Kriss’ home in Bear Lake.

Beautiful creations

Darlene Johnson, who is employed at Michigan State University, has always loved the way her mother has grown and cultivated flowers, and then turned them into works of art.

“It’s a passion that she’s had ever since I can remember,” said Darlene. “She’s very creative. The things she makes are very beautiful. That’s what she does – she tries to make things beautiful.”

As she walked near the gardens that surround her home, Milly reached down and gently touched several.

“I love them all,” she said. “Even the wild flowers, I love them, too. I could just sit and look at them all day.”

Over the years Milly hasn’t limited her creativity to making things with just dried flowers. She’s also enjoyed making clothes for her doll collection.

She’s dressed one special doll in clothing that represents her native country, Bulgaria, of which she kept a special love.

On her mantle hangs a picture of her mother and father, Veliko Kotchev and Denka Kotcheva (the letter “a” is added to the female’s last name), from “the old country.”

“My mother and father also loved the land – the flowers and trees – especially my mother,” said Milly. “It could be so beautiful, in the old country. And then the war came. And then I became a war bride. And then the Soviets took over. And everything changed.

“So, we came to America. We brought (our love of) flowers with us,” she said.

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Posted by David L. Barber

David L. Barber is the retired editor of the Manistee News Advocate. He contributes columns weekly for the News Advocate. You can contact him at dlbarber1006@gmail.com.

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