An ambitious green thumb and her helpful husband team up to tend a winning garden in Lake Elmo -- and to collaborate on a humorous his-and-hers gardening book.
Most gardeners tend a plot or two. But Chris Trevis is an overachiever. She has 30 gardens, spread over 1 1/2 acres in Lake Elmo, a landscape so extensive that friends have dubbed it "Arboretum East."
All her gardens have names, some literal, some descriptive and some just plain quirky. "The Butterfly Patch" contains plants designed to attract butterflies and bees. "Sunset Corner" offers the best vantage point for watching sunsets. "Frank's Place" is presided over by a statue of St. Francis. "Saddam Hussein's Garden" got its name because it was "the mother of all gardens" the year it was planted. Then there are the Three Sisters, "Agnes," "Bertha" and "Cecilia." Why those names? "I have no idea," Chris said.
She's always ready to dig up another patch of lawn and turn it into a garden. "I love planting a new bed. That's my favorite thing," she said.
At her side, shovel in hand, is her husband, Jim. "He's my laborer," she said.
He's also a huge fan of his wife's garden. (He's the one who nominated it for the Star Tribune's Beautiful Gardens contest, and he marvels at the "passion and energy" she brings to it.) But that doesn't mean he's always on board with all the work it takes. "I enjoy it to a point," he said.
Chris enjoys it well beyond that point. "I'm out here till the ground freezes," she said. "I can be out here all weekend. He has to come out and say, 'It's dark.' Or I'll say, 'Make me stop. I have to come in.'
"We do have some tension when I want to expand," Chris said. "I have to be careful when I bring it up. If he's had a bad day ... "
But mostly the couple can laugh and banter about their garden differences. Both communication professionals, they're even collaborating on a book, "She Plants, He Rants." It's "a humorous look at the artist/slave relationship that often exists when one is married to a passionate gardener," Jim said.
And Chris is passionate about her chosen art form. "I'd have loved to be a fine artist, a painter," she said. "But I have no talent at all. This is one way to put beauty into the world."
There were no gardens when the Trevises moved to their home in 1986. Chris was interested in gardening, but the couple had two jobs and two small children and little time for outside hobbies. "I puttered at it," she recalled. "Once [their son] could get his own apple juice, I started a garden. I remember sitting on the side porch and thinking, 'It would be nice to have a little flower bed to look at.'"
Since that first flower bed, she's continued to add at least one new garden area every growing season. "I kept getting ideas," she said.
Jim's happy to help -- most of the time, at least. But he'd just as soon spend time in their quaint "belvedere," an 8- by 12-foot screened cottage that was built in their yard as part of a Family Handyman magazine project. (An editor was a friend of the couple's, and their site was selected because of its photogenic gardens.) "I write in here," said Jim, who recently completed his first novel, "A Mile of Dreams." "I need it quiet, and this is the perfect place." It's also the perfect place to sit and relax. "It's cool in summer. It's our sanctuary. It feels like we're up north."
Not that relaxing comes naturally to Chris. "I like physical work," she said. "I sit for my paying job. I don't want to sit in an armchair and sunbathe. I'd go crazy."
They never vacation during the summer, she said. "I'd rather be here. We go away in the off-season when we don't have to worry about watering."
And who needs a summer getaway when you're surrounded by wildlife right in your own back yard? "We don't need a cabin," she said. "We have so much nature here."
Regular visitors to the garden include songbirds, butterflies, turkeys, pheasants and, of course, deer. "They're our nemesis," Chris said. "I love them, but I wish they'd eat poison ivy and dandelions."
Instead, they nosh on her daylilies, phlox, hydrangea, asters and hosta. "This is like a buffet to them," Jim said.
Chris has tried to deter the deer with repellents. But "when it rains, it's a challenge; it washes it all off," she said.
So she lives with the destruction as part of having a nature-friendly landscape. "I'm trying to make room for wildlife as much as I can," she said. "We share the planet with other critters." And supporting wildlife is one way of balancing her own environmental impact. "We drive a lot," she said. "So I'm hoping our garden makes up for that."
Kim Palmer • 612-673-4784