Anyone who scans celebrity magazines has read the cliché about the actress who arrives for an interview, dewy and radiant, described as not bothering with a lick of makeup.
A jaded reader might suspect that it takes a lot of effort to achieve that I-do-nothing look.
Such is the case with Jeremy Mayberg’s Edina garden, one of six chosen from more than 150 garden nominations received by the Star Tribune last summer.
“This is a heavily landscaped garden that happens to be 90 percent native,” said the retired architect of his spectacular backyard, which features about 120 species of native plants and grasses. “This looks natural but there’s intentionality here. It’s a lot of freaking work.”
Motorists whizzing by have no idea that a prairie paradise thrives on the other side of the fence that contains Mayberg’s double lot. A deck and patio overlook the garden oasis, which features a reflecting pond, a fire pit, shade garden and textured paths that divide the space into eight “rooms.”
From spring to the first snow, Mayberg works outdoors for hours each day, tending the structures and nurturing the whimsically named native plant varieties — whorled milkweed, prairie smoke flower, cardinal plant.
“I want people to know they can use native plants and not be afraid to sprinkle them into their garden,” said Mayberg. “It’s not about purity, it’s about beauty.”
Mayberg’s passion for natives is relatively new, ignited when he and his wife, Amy-Ann, purchased their midcentury modern house in 2007. It was winter, the backyard was hidden under a layer of snow, and the Maybergs had little curiosity about what was beneath it.
“Before that, my gardening focus was lawns, shrubs, perennials and annuals. I’d never given native plants a second thought,” Mayberg said, admitting that he was not a fan, considering them to be unkempt weeds and wildflowers.
On the December day after the Maybergs moved into their new home, the previous owners, Marty and Jeff Rice, knocked on the door bearing muffins, coffee and the fervent hope that they could spread the gospel of native gardens. Marty had cofounded the Twin Cities chapter of Wild Ones, a national organization devoted to the natural landscaping movement. Over the previous eight years, the couple had converted the backyard, gradually replacing sod and creating an ecosystem based on sustainable prairie plants.
Their evangelism fell on fertile ears. Mayberg caught the bug and went to work, putting his stamp on the next iteration of the garden.
Where his predecessor took a laissez-faire approach and focused on restoration, Mayberg uses landscaping to coax an appealing blend of color and texture from the clay-rich soil. He’s added more than 400 plants and divided or transplanted many more, replaced grass paths with pebbles and, at his wife’s suggestion, added a circular fire pit as a new spot to sit and relax.
“My job in the garden is to pick up sticks for kindling; we get deadfall from the birch tree,” Amy-Ann said. “That’s a task like laundry; you know when you’re finished. Jeremy is different; he never wants to be done.”
Mayberg’s first fascination with gardens began when he left his university studies as a young man in the 1970s and moved to an 80-acre communal farm in Wisconsin, cultivating and selling bushels of vegetables.
“I learned that I liked the smell of dirt,” he said. “I knew how to grow stuff in rows.”
In retirement, he’s found joy in learning a new style of gardening.
“Now I’m doing what I always wanted to do. I come in bone-tired after a day in the garden, but it’s a good tired,” he said. “The garden is a gift.”
Kevyn Burger is a Minneapolis freelance writer.