One of the first things Lynn Waddell LeBoutillier did when she and her family moved into their new Elk River home in 1997 was start a garden path.
"I didn't have a yard, I didn't have a garden, but I started digging a path," she said.
Oddly enough, the path led to an unimproved lot behind the house. It wasn't just any lot, however. It was the lot on which her parents were going to build their new home.
When Lynn's home was under construction, her parents, Barbara and John LeBoutillier, had visited often to check on the progress.
"My dad used to tease my mom and say, 'Let's buy the lot behind them and build on it,'" she said.
After one of their visits, her dad realized he wasn't kidding. So, with the approval of Lynn and her husband, Jeff Waddell,, Barbara and John sold the Bloomington home they had owned for 40 years and bought the 2 1/2-acre lot behind their daughter's 2 1/2-acre lot. And while their house was under construction, Barbara started a garden path, too.
"She started on her end and I started on mine and we met in the middle," explained Lynn.
The long and winding path they created not only connected the two yards, it also drew the tightly knit families even closer together. And it turned out to be the start of more than an acre of flowering gardens and a deeply rooted partnership.
All six members of the extended family -- including Lynn and Jeff's two children, Patrick, 16, and Matt, 14 -- regularly travel the well-worn path, which is lit at night and cleared of snow in winter. But Lynn and Barbara alone built it. Working without a plan or heavy equipment, they painstakingly carved the path -- and the gardens that surround it -- from a thicket of heavy brush.
In Lynn's large, sunny, sloping yard, the path is clearly marked with a picket fence and neatly bordered with limestone. Large stands of purple and white coneflowers, daylilies, phlox, hollyhocks and lilies line the borders of the path until it ducks into a stand of trees, which mark the boundary between the yards.
From the nascent shade garden Lynn has started among those trees, the path opens into Barbara's yard, where it passes through a pergola (built by John) that supports several clematis and hanging baskets of ivy geraniums. It curves past a wildflower and vegetable garden, passes a large perennial garden -- filled with rudbeckia, liatris, cosmos and coreopsis -- then climbs to the house, past a lady's slipper garden and a shade garden planted with astilbe, bleeding heart, hosta and iris.
In summer, the daily routines of mother and daughter become as entwined as their gardens. Once school is over Lynn, a special education assistant at Elk River High School, meets her mother every day for lunch and afternoon tea. Gardening occupies much of their conversations.
"We talk about the same things every day," said Lynn. "What we're going to dig out, what we're going to move where...and we never get tired of it."
They attend garden tours, study gardening catalogs and magazines and shop for plants together, where they "race to the door to get best pick of plants," said Lynn.
But even though she got her first plant (an iris) and quickly thereafter inherited the gardening bug from her mother, Lynn is no carbon copy gardener.
"We both have very different styles," she said. "My mom is a meticulous weeder and dead-header. I'm messy."
Barbara's favorite time to garden is in the morning, Lynn prefers the evening. Lynn uses mulch and packs her plants in tightly to keep the weeds down. In her mulch-free garden, Barbara likes to give plants plenty of breathing room.
"I want to get in there and weed," she said.