Barbara Burgum had completed an extensive restoration and renovation of her 1905 classic Craftsman in Deephaven. With the help of David Heide Design Studio, she meticulously preserved the home’s vintage Arts and Crafts aesthetic, while giving it a needed update.
Then, she focused on the two-acre wooded property, filled with oak trees older than the house, which deserved its own time-capsule transformation.
“This home is designed to be in a natural setting,” said Burgum. “It has all these porches and terraces and big windows to look out at the landscape and be surrounded by beauty.”
Her artfully planted collage of native prairie and rain gardens and cottage-style perennial beds is one of six chosen by a panel of judges from more than 175 submissions in this year’s Beautiful Gardens contest.
And it all started with an aversion to turf.
The grand historic lake home is perched atop a hill sloping down to the shoreline of Carson’s Bay. Burgum often sat on the gracious wraparound porch to gaze at the lake glistening in the sun. But the expanse was blanketed in green grass, hardly the glorious setting the retired landscape architect had in mind.
“For me, lawns are dull,” she said.
Instead of grass, she chose ecologically smart, native Minnesota plants to transform the property, while re-creating a small piece of the past: a time when the state was covered with prairies and savannas centuries ago.
Tough, deep-rooted natives are drought-tolerant, low-maintenance, control erosion and would thrive in the Deephaven setting. “And many varieties are magnets for butterflies and bees,” she said.
Burgum is passionate about promoting natives because she feels they’re underappreciated. “They have such beautiful structure, foliage and fragrance. And they’re not fussy.”
With such a large, challenging site, Burgum turned to the experts, Prairie Restorations, based in Princeton, Minn.
The Prairie Restorations team installed and established a native plant landscape with bags of mixed prairie plant seeds and hundreds of plugs of coneflowers, butterfly milkweed, asters, bee balm and other prairie perennials. They also helped her learn how to distinguish the plants from the weeds.
“It looked like heck for the first two summers,” she said. “Black-eyed Susans were the only ones that came up quickly.”
Over time, Burgum joined Wild Ones, a local organization that promotes native-plant landscapes, and filled in with her own assortment of natives, adding deep purple baptisia, bristly flowered rattlesnake master and showy foxglove penstemons for their texture, structure, foliage and color.
Ten years later, the lakeside landscape is a prolific, profuse, dense mass of blooming prairie perennials, tall waving grasses and woodland plants. Her free-flowing medley of favorites include cotton-candy plumed Queen of the Prairie and 8-foot-tall cup plants, which she allows to get out of control.
“They’re fun, trouble-free and add high drama,” she said. “I like to see birds drinking water from the cup.”
Burgum has infused her sunny native beds with far more vibrant flowering plants — for the colors and benefits to pollinators — than the typical tall prairie grasses.
“I’ve gone with shorter, fuller grasses like prairie dropseed, and like a big diversity of flowers for season-long color,” she said.
And while she likes a dense, lush look, she’ll yank plants if they start to get overcrowded in areas. “I like goldenrod, but not everywhere,” she said.
When it comes to plants that benefit pollinators, though, she draws the line. If a swamp milkweed is sprawling across a path, “I won’t cut it down because there might be monarch eggs on it,” she said.
Burgum’s gardens are shaped by a curving brick walkway and a new fieldstone wall, which was dry-laid by Landscape Renovations, to replicate pieces of an original Old World-style stone wall and pillars on the site.
The property on the front entry side of the home also underwent a dramatic transformation.
During the home renovation, it was a gravel lot for heavy equipment and trucks. Today, a 40-foot-long cedar pergola is the centerpiece of densely planted cottage-style gardens, called the “Barboretum” by her friends.
Wisteria, clematis and other vines climb the massive pergola, which also helps keep rabbits and deer from her raised vegetable beds. Mexican sunflowers and ruby red bee balm turn the gardens into a pollinator paradise.
For the expansive front and backyard gardenscapes, Burgum has had plenty of input and feedback from two friends, Frank Fitzgerald and Fred Rozumalski, both landscape architects who all met as classmates at the University of Minnesota in the 1980s.
Rozumalski helped design and plant the three rain gardens. Fitzgerald is a pro at creating eye-pleasing plant combinations.
As of last year, Burgum has been able to share her gardens with not only family and friends, but with the whole garden-loving internet community.
The “Deephaven Burgum Garden” is spotlighted in the Garden Club of America archives at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., which documents the history of American gardens and landscapes from 1920 to the present (https://sova.si.edu).
Members of the Lake Minnetonka Garden Club, to which she belongs, nominated her for the national honor and took photos of her gardens throughout a year.
“It’s a huge honor,” she said. “It’s important to document gardens because if I move, they could disappear or change with new ownership. A garden is like an ephemeral plant.”
Today, lounging on her century-old Craftsman porch is “heaven on Earth” with prairie grasses waving in the wind and monarchs flitting on butterfly weed.
“I love seeing the changes from day to day,” she said, “and all the impossibly perfect details of each flower.”