Growing up in north Minneapolis during the Great Depression, Harriet Reed learned to garden at a young age. On narrow strips of land between the rented rowhouses, Harriet and her mother would plant rows of radishes and lettuce. “She had a deep love for growing things,” said her daughter Linda Stover.
After graduating from vocational high school where she studied art, Harriet worked at a dry-cleaner and as a photo developer before marrying George Lazaroff and joining his family’s vegetable farm in Brooklyn Park, where they raised their six children.
“She wore a lot of hats — bookkeeper, payroll, and she was always out in the field,” said daughter Colleen Held.
The wearer of many hats died Sept. 11 at age 87 in a Golden Valley nursing home after battling heart and lung disease.
The Lazaroffs were “truck farmers” who transported their produce to grocery stores. Harriet pitched in with that, too.
“She could back a truck in anywhere,” said Stover. “The men would watch to see what she would hit. But she’d zig-zag. She could do it every time.”
Harriet put her artistic skills to use designing packaging under the brand Lilac — for the lilac hedges that bordered their farm. “She had a passion for flowers,” said Held. After visitors repeatedly admired her garden and asked if her flowers were for sale, she persuaded her husband to add a garden center.
At its peak, Lazaroff Gardens employed about 100 seasonal workers, inner-city youths whom Harriet would pick up and drop off, then later, migrant families that were housed on the farm. Stover remembers her mother routinely hauling a pickup full of kids, plus a cooler packed with sandwiches, to the State Fair to give workers a day off.
She was a star in the kitchen — canning and freezing produce, and whipping up “big feasts” for her large family. “Everything was made from scratch,” Held said, including lefse and bonitza, a Bulgarian treat.
She also was stylish, with long red hair worn in a braid, and distinctive fashion choices — turquoise pendants, boots, hats, scarves, Western wear and toe rings. “She had a lot of flair,” said daughter Deborah Larson.
Harriet’s hands were always busy drawing, sewing clothes for her daughters and their dolls, wood-carving and even a nude self-portrait — “very tastefully done,” said Larson. She was gregarious and loved socializing. Saturday was “date night” when the Lazaroffs and friends would venture into the city to dine at favorite spots including Little Jack’s and Nye’s.
“Harriet was a one-of-a-kind person. She told stories like no tomorrow,” said berry farmer Bruce Smith, who joined the couple on weekend outings. The Lazaroffs were almost a generation older, he noted, “but very young at heart. She was always game for going places.”
The Lazaroffs retired from farming in 2007, but Harriet protected her domain until the end. Smith recalls the day she bought a pump pellet gun to scare away the deer that were devouring her plants.
“She was shooting away, and a whole boatload of cops came,” Smith said. “They see little tiny Harriet, she had to be 75 — and said, ‘Harriet, you can’t shoot a gun. You’re scaring people.’ ”
Harriet was preceded in death by her husband, George, in 2009. She is survived by her sister, Marlene Vander Martin of Alexandria, Minn; children Linda Stover of Elk River, Diane Morales of Brooklyn Park, Nick Lazaroff of Monticello, Deborah Larson of Brooklyn Park, Colleen Held of Corcoran and Jody Lazaroff of Brooklyn Park; 12 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren. A celebration of life service will be held Sunday at 5 p.m. at her daughter Colleen’s farm, 22415 County Road 50, Corcoran.