Beautiful Gardens: A fanciful landscape in a small Minneapolis lot

  • Article by: LYNN UNDERWOOD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 25, 2014 - 5:06 PM

A Minneapolis couple didn't let a compact city yard stop them from creating a fanciful landscape of waterfalls, shade and sun beds, and even a hobbit house.

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Cordelia Anderson and John Humleker believe in hobbits.

And fairies.

And gnomes.

That’s why, over the past 10 years, they’ve created fanciful gardenscapes in the front, back and side of their south Minneapolis home.

They transformed the back yard into a tranquil getaway where they can listen to a waterfall and watch koi dart in a pond while sitting in a bright teal and orange “hobbit house.” Beyond a twig arbor, they’ve planted the side yard with a variety of wispy weeping trees.

Lastly, Anderson and Humleker designed their front-yard gardens to share with the neighborhood, encouraging kids to hunt for gnomes and fairies, and inviting passersby to view a rushing waterfall from a stone bench.

But the couple’s most amazing accomplishment is the way they created their free-flowing composition of color, texture and whimsy all on a compact city lot.

“When you have a teeny-tiny little yard, how can you make it feel expansive?” asked Anderson. “By creating so many little awesome places that can capture your imagination, it seems much bigger than it is.”

Just add water

Anderson’s passion for water sparked the couple’s first landscape venture: building a water garden in the back yard. “I’ve always wanted to live on water in a warm climate, and I love the sound of waterfalls,” she said. “Well, at least I got the water part.”

The couple dove right in without researching pond installation or taking a class. They dug a hole, piled rocks to create an incline and installed a pump. Not surprising, the pond and waterfall continuously leaked. (Poor design and a low-quality liner were to blame.)

That first failure only made them eager to build a bigger, prettier, more natural water garden, “not just a pile of rocks,” said Anderson.

But this time, they did their research and got bids to have someone else build it — only to discover the projected costs far exceeded their budget. Still, they were drawn to the work of Jeff Mittelmark of Aquatic Water Gardens, so they worked out a more affordable deal. Mittelmark would provide instruction and expertise and they would do the grunt work.

“Jeff helped us with the design to get the water flowing and make it more efficient with the right pumps,” said Anderson.

That pond and waterfall is the centerpiece of their back-yard retreat. Anderson planted a Japanese maple and placed a stone lantern at the top of the double-sided waterfall. They filled the pond at the bottom with aquatic plants, including yellow water lilies, zebra grass and cigar-shaped miniature cattails. Tropical water cannas add height and color along the pond edge.

Seven Japanese maples have a starring role in the landscape for their delicate wine-colored foliage, said Anderson. (She admits she wraps the Zone 5 trees before winter to ensure they’ll make it to spring.)

Beyond the pond, they laid a flagstone walkway leading to a bluestone patio, where they set a “European bistro” table — made of stone — to sip wine. “We found the 290-pound flat stone at Bachman’s and the iron base at the Reuse Center,” said Anderson.

Sadie Humleker, their teenage daughter, suggested the hobbit-like house.

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  • Project: Beautiful Gardens

    Tuesday March 25, 2014

    We discover several spectacular private gardens each year in our Beautiful Gardens contest. From October to April, we'll bring you into one Twin Cities garden a month.

  • John Humleker installed lighting to highlight the “hobbit house” he built and the surrounding water garden of lilies, grasses and other aquatic plants.

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