Starting with a patch of Irish moss, an Edina couple created a fanciful garden worthy of any Hobbit's house.
When Steven and Rosanne Malevich bought their Edina home 20 years ago, the yard was a 50-by-200-foot blank slate with grass, some big trees and a lot of appalling orange landscape rock.
Today the lawn has shrunk, many of the big trees are gone and gardens have taken over. Despite the Maleviches' best efforts, they keep finding more of that never-ending landscape rock.
The yard's transformation began years ago with Rosanne's fascination with Irish moss. She wanted something to dress up a stone walkway in the front yard, and ordered 12 plugs of Irish moss from a catalog.
"That's how it all started," she said.
"It" is an artful landscape that never feels artificial, despite being planned right down to the pebbles between steppingstones. Carefully placed trees on the yard's perimeter shield the narrow back yard from neighbors, creating a green screen that makes the lot feel wider than it is and private, as well.
"We spend a lot of time sitting on the deck, looking at it," Rosanne said. "It's meditative, and it's tranquil."
The front yard is laced with hosta- and impatiens-lined paths leading to the front door and running around the side of the house. A neighbor girl used to take her shoes off to walk on the soft, bright green mounds of Irish moss that fill the gaps between steppingstones.
Near the front door, under the swooping roof of the 1930s stucco home Rosanne calls "the Hobbit House," a tall Limelight hydrangea hugs the wall, ringed by a semicircle of white Henry Hudson roses. Near where a giant ash tree once stood, there's an island bed filled with perennials and anchored by a linden tree with a pointy top that mirrors the peak of the house's roof.
The Maleviches are interested in landscape design; Steven is a dry-stone mason specializing in fences, patios and retaining walls. The stone walks are of Sandy Creek sandstone, and all the gardens are edged with rock. Every decision about the garden, the couple said, is made together.
Tolkien and Seuss
Shapes, colors and themes are repeated through the gardens, linked by the stone paths and moss that weave through the yard. The openness of the front yard ends when visitors come to a wisteria-draped gate at the narrow side yard, where an undulating path leads to the back of the lot.
Along the way, an espaliered apple tree grows flat against the side of the house ("We get enough for a pie each year," Rosanne said). Trees mask the view into the back yard. That's intentional: Rosanne said she and her husband wanted to create a feeling of passing from room to garden room.
"We like the idea of surprises and corners," she said.
While Steven has been able to stop Rosanne's enthusiasms from running away with her -- "I would junk up the yard with wrought iron all over the place if he didn't keep me in line," she said -- he has been helpless in the face of her passion for weeping trees. They seem to go with the Tolkienesque appearance of the house, Rosanne said.
And so in the back yard there are several tall, shaggy, skinny and slightly off-kilter "Acrocona" spruce, a tree that looks straight out of Dr. Seuss. In the spring, new cones on the tips of the trees' drooping branches glow a bright raspberry red. Nearby is a weeping mulberry, a mop-top of a tree with glossy green leaves that the Maleviches keep in check with careful pruning.
Seven or eight years ago, Dutch elm disease claimed a towering elm that had dominated the back yard. When the tree was removed, the Maleviches had a woodcarver shape the stump into the shape of a sofa. A picture taken shortly afterward shows their black lab, Elsie, sitting on the new wooden seat, surrounded by an expanse of naked dirt and a stark picket fence.
Today, the sofa has become a cozy back-yard retreat, fronted by a patio-like expanse of enormous stepping stones and flanked by a towering arborvitae. Behind the seat, a weeping white pine masks the fence, dangling its hanging branches over the sofa like a curtain.
Past the sofa, two big catalpas shade an assortment of hosta.
"I love them," Rosanne said. "We like their uniqueness, and their airy quality. ... Trees are really a key part of this garden."
But if unusual and dramatic trees provide the garden's backbone, clumps of bright pink impatiens and blue ageratum offer accents, often planted near clumps of hosta.
Another theme is rabbits. It started as a joke about the real rabbits that like to raze the hosta. Steven began buying ornamental and concrete rabbits for Rosanne on her birthday. Now more than a dozen are scattered around the yard in nooks and crannies -- a tiny rabbit near the apple tree, "shy rabbit" hiding under the arborvitae, and a big one known as "The Mayor" watching over the vegetables.
"It's bad luck to put a bunny where you can see more than one at a time," Steven said.
"I love design," Steven said. "Sometimes you just piece things together. ... This is not a formal garden. Nothing is in a row."
But Rosanne has one iron-clad garden rule: No matter how much watering, weeding and fussing the Irish moss needs, it will always be No. 1 in the garden.
"Anything that messes up my moss has to go," she said.
Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380 Twitter: @smetan