Warts and all: While Nels Melgaard battles cancer, pumpkin patch returns to his nursery | Photo gallery

 Enjoying his first pumpkin patch in several years, Nels Melgaard has made a mental note to plant more “warty” pumpkins next year. His involvement in the nursery varies as he battles colorectal cancer. He is optimistic about the nursery’s future, and hopeful about his own prognosis following surgery in six weeks.  - Carol Ladwig/Staff Photo
Enjoying his first pumpkin patch in several years, Nels Melgaard has made a mental note to plant more “warty” pumpkins next year. His involvement in the nursery varies as he battles colorectal cancer. He is optimistic about the nursery’s future, and hopeful about his own prognosis following surgery in six weeks.
— image credit: Carol Ladwig/Staff Photo

The two Winnies found it together, a spooky greenish-grey gourd, just lying in the pumpkin patch, waiting to be discovered. Triumphantly, they both picked it up and showed it to their moms, but before an argument could begin about who got to keep it, both girls had said the other could have it, and moved on to find more traditional pumpkins.

It would have been a fun, if not a little disappointing, moment for pumpkin patch owner Nels Melgaard, if he’d been there.

“I bet we planted close to 30 varieties,” said the owner of the Nursery at Mount Si, who hasn’t been out to the patch much lately, not since his early-August diagnosis of colorectal cancer.

He had just finished a five-week course of chemotherapy, and was almost done with a six-week course of daily radiation treatments which wore him out, he said, and “fried my guts,” so he won’t venture far from a bathroom.

The pumpkin patch may be a little too distant for him to visit often, but it’s still a pet project of Melgaard’s. For its much-anticipated comeback year, he made sure to plant the patch with pumpkins, squashes and gourds of all colors, shapes,  and sizes, something for everyone, but “not enough warty things,” he said.

They were much more popular than he expected.

“Not enough warty things,” agreed staffer Christine Earl, but she says she saved all the seed packages, so they’ll know what to plant next year.

Good crew

Earl is trading duties at the cash register and in the Halloween “haunted greenhouse” that is also part of the pumpkin patch attraction on a brilliant fall afternoon, while dozens of Encompass students and their parents raid the pumpkin patch, pose for photos, jump in a hay pile and explore the nursery.

“This morning, we had 39, and that’s the biggest group we’ve ever had,” she said.

The “ever” she’s talking about includes past pumpkin patches, grown before the Snoqualmie Valley elk herd started wiping out the nursery’s pumpkin and fruit crops in 2009. Thanks to an eight-foot fence that staff built over the summer, the pumpkin patch and the orchard are producing again this year, but Earl thinks it will be several more years before the fruit trees recover completely.

As for how the nursery will handle Melgaard’s illness, both she and the boss are staying positive.

“Things are going good, we haven’t really had to change anything,” Earl said. “He really hasn’t been a big participant, for maybe a couple of years.”

Melgaard agrees, “This crew functions pretty well without me.”

As proof, another staffer walks in the door and asks Earl to cover him in the Halloween haunted greenhouse for a while.

They switch off, while Melgaard continues doing what he usually does, making recommendations, cutting deals, taking calls and connecting with his customers individually.

A blessing

Those connections go both directions, of course, and Melgaard has to pause a few times as he talks about the customers’ and the community’s response to news of his illness.

“Last Monday was a rough day for me, body-wise…. a guy I hadn’t seen in two years came in… I hadn’t really been in great contact with him for a couple of years, but he knew what was going on, came in, brought his experience his wisdom, and a very generous check….”

“That’s like the second time I cried,” he said.

“It was almost overwhelming that the Valley Center Stage chose to do the Night for Nels… the sellout crowd. It was just a blessing.”

Especially when his 16 year-old son came into the theatre that Thursday, Oct. 4, reporting that the staircase was lined with people, as well.

For his sons “to witness a caring community was just great,” Melgaard said. “Not that I think they’ve ever taken that for granted, but it’s a great testament to the place we live, for sure.”

Just before leaving the cash register, Earl told him, “You don’t know this Nels, but there isn’t a day that goes buy that a customer doesn’t come in here and volunteer to help out… It’s wonderful!”

Melgaard’s battle is not over. After giving his cancer treatments thus far about eight weeks to continue working, he will go in for surgery to remove the lime-sized tumor, and assess the tissue damage. Shortly after the surgery, he’ll start a four-month course of chemo.

“We don’t know until we know, but it’ll be big,” he said.

Melgaard shrugs off the pall of his uncertain future, though, and focuses on the blaze of fall colors, the laughing children, and the still-warm sunshine in front of him, in the nursery that he built and where he plans to stay.

“The nursery is part of the community, and it has a life of its own. It needs to grow as it can, and be where it is,” he said. “It truly is, it’s a magical place. We think it’ll be OK.”

• Learn more at:, or on Facebook. The nursery is located at 42328 S.E. 108th St., North Bend.



Alex Callahan and Connor McClain have a ball in the hay jump on their visit with Encompass to the Nursery at Mount Si.

Encompass student Cole Taylor gets a little help carrying off his prize at the nursery patch.


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