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Kevin Blaeser and Cooper Hipp's garden contains many perches from which to view it.

Joel Koyama, Star Tribune

They aren't afraid of change

  • Article by: BILL WARD
  • Star Tribune
  • January 30, 2012 - 2:27 PM

Tucked near the nexus of Kevin Blaeser and Cooper Hipp's back yard, not far from a wooden bear scaling a tree, a cascading pond and waves of bee balm and phlox bursting skyward, sits a hammock. As tastefully appointed as the surrounding fountains, furniture and fauna, it might just be the least tended item in this Golden Valley Eden.

"In all these years," Blaeser said, "I think I've used it maybe 2 minutes."

This is no lamentation. Blaeser and Hipp have plenty of other perches -- a cushioned pergola bench here, twig chairs on the flagstone patio over there, rattan on the decks -- from which to survey the distinct areas of the garden that flow together as smoothly as the water features within them.

"We are out here 90 percent of the time" during Minnesota's tolerable season, Hipp said. He declined to say what portion of that time is work vs. leisure. By way of answer, he said "Summer is so short here, we want the garden to always be beautiful in color and texture."

That means succession planting, fueled by a treasure hunt that runs from the opening of the Minneapolis farmers market ("a very big day for us," Blaeser said) through garden centers' end-of-season sales.

Actually, the quest never really ends. Blaeser said more than a quarter of their plants came from friends' yards, and that "we drive around and look a lot."

On a dismal late-autumn morning last year, Blaeser spotted two banana plants in a stranger's yard. "It was going to snow the next day," he said, "so I just went up and asked about it." A short while later, Hipp recounted, "It's raining and cold and I'm digging up this big plant. It was just crazy."

Another time, Hipp said, "Kevin called me about this outdoor fireplace he'd found on Craigslist. He was in Hawaii, and the fireplace was in Minneapolis." Now it rests on their multi-tiered deck.

"If we ever sold the house," Blaeser said, "I would walk around and tell people how hard all these things were to find."

A forest no more

When Blaeser bought the house two decades ago, the back yard "had so many trees you couldn't grow grass." He had enjoyed his family's vegetable and flower garden while growing up in Bismarck, N.D., and had become a container-plant aficionado as a young adult. But his new property was daunting, his ambitions minimal.

"The first plot was on the north end, where there had been an old woodpile," he said. "I thought, 'This is gonna be my little flower bed [laughs],' and the soil was so rich from that rotting wood." His voice trails off, "and it ... just ... kept ... going."

Trees came down; beds and brooks and accoutrements came in, with "a lot of trial and error," Blaeser said. Out front, he put in a perennial flower bed, "but it looked junky, so we put it back to grass." (He's being modest, as there are gorgeous flowers and a spectacular brass elephant from Thailand on the steep slope leading to the house.)

The main focus, though, has been on the sprawling back yard north of their Golden Valley rambler, which eluded last spring's tornado by a mere two blocks, "with barely a leaf out of place," Hipp said.

Structures large and small are strewn across the undulating property: birdcages, birdbaths and birdhouses; a perpetual-motion metal sculpture, lanterns and Buddha statues; a split-level pond and double fish fountain among several waterworks. Containers of all sizes proffer succulents, candelabra plants and spot-on melanges of annuals (but "no red geraniums -- ever!" Blaeser said). Fences, arbors and pergolas provide framing, and at least a dozen seats offer roosts from whence to soak in the sights, scents and sounds.

Taking refuge out back

Those vistas vary throughout the season; this garden is a work in progress both year to year and month to month.

"We do more color as summer progresses," Blaeser said. "We plant what we enjoy. There's never really a plan. We'll just see something and go 'That'll be cool.' So many times we'll go 'Oh, this will be the last thing.'"

Actually, theirs is an orderly but not overly precise layout, soft and smooth and ever-flowing. Hipp calls it "diverse but united" and gives all the credit to his partner of seven years. "This is all Kevin's vision," said Hipp, a consultant. "I just like getting my hands dirty and moving rocks."

Their efforts have been directed toward a common goal: creating an oasis to savor and share with friends and relatives.

"It's a very peaceful, tranquil, private area where I go into another zone," Blaeser said. "You certainly don't feel like you're 5 minutes from downtown."

Also residing in their back-yard haven are two dogs, a cat, a Senegal parrot and a tortoise, the latter of which inspires one of the yard's recurring motifs, in the form of turtle fountains, benches and sculptures.

"Maybe we love turtle statues so much," Hipp said, "because they're a reminder to slow down."

Bill Ward • 612-673-7643

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