Over 34 years, an Edina couple transformed their plain back yard into a hidden garden oasis.
Walk into Linda White's Edina back yard, and the suburban street and neighbors' yards seem to fade away between the green leafy walls of a secret garden.
Narrow trails wind through dense borders of perennials under the shade of ash and birch trees, leading from one garden "room" to another. A wood trellis patterned after one White's grandmother had marks the entry to one area, which features peonies that came from her grandmother's garden near Lake Minnetonka.
"It feels so peaceful," White said last week, standing at one end of the garden and looking at what appeared to be endless green. "You don't know where it ends."
White's yard is featured this year on the Edina Garden Council's garden tour, an event to raise money for projects in Edina city parks. The Sunday tour features six gardens in the city's northwest corner (see box for details).
There was no elaborate garden when White and her husband, John, bought their rambler in 1978. The yard was average-sized and plain, with a chain-link fence and some simple plantings near the house. But White wanted an English-style cottage garden, and in 1994, she hired a landscape designer to plot a new yard.
That plan led to big island beds in the front yard and a sheltered retreat in the back yard. The garden has evolved since then, with White adding plants and letting others spring up where they may, making a garden that has a semi-formal design both personal and sometimes wry.
A climbing rose throws up a brilliant pink spray of flowers from a cane that grew between the slats of a bench. An antique brass bedstead found by John highlights the border next to the house and a gnarly piece of silvery driftwood backs a group of perennials. Hydrangea flowers sit in little vases that are mounted on metal rods along the garden paths.
White said she was more controlling of the garden once, but now she has the confidence to enjoy the informality that comes with plant volunteers popping up in surprising places.
"When I was younger, I would have taken care of those," she said. "I don't go so much by sun and shade anymore. I put the plant where I want it and see what happens."
All of the annuals that provide summerlong color in the back yard grow in pots, so it's the different sizes, textures and leaf shapes of the perennials that keep the garden interesting. The garden feels natural, not sculpted, with a mossy little pool that lures frogs and grandchildren and tall, imposing plants like ligularia and Joe Pye weed that screen the chain link and adjoining yards.
At the edge of the garden's undulating borders, continuity is provided by long stretches of massed small perennials: dew-covered lady's mantle in one place, fat-leaved bergenia in another, and a neat row of gray ornamental allium with corkscrewed leaves near the house. All through the garden run dense edgings of a short astilbe with shiny green leaves and lavender flowers.
The Whites have been known to pull over on the side of a rural road to pick up an interesting rock, and in one corner of the yard they created what they call "The Berm" by piling up dirt and covering it with rocks. The waist-high mound is a sort of fairy garden, with a big birdhouse from Linda's grandmother as the centerpiece. Forget-me-nots, a reminder of a departed friend, are planted there, too.
There are seats there for a weary gardener, as there are in what Linda White calls her "living room" garden. There, a big pergola draped in wisteria looms over a couple of comfortable chairs. White said she rarely sits there. But sometimes, she said, there's a tussle over the best seat at the dining-room table, which faces a window that overlooks the garden.
"I call it the catbird seat," she said. "That's where I want to sit."
Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380 Twitter: @smetan