It was a short move -- from one side of Chanhassen's Lotus Lake to the other -- but for Tricia Frostad, the new place meant "initiation by fire."

Leaving a log cabin with no yard to speak of in October 2002, she and husband Todd settled into a 1-acre property with a smallish front yard and a woodsy back lot that careened precipitously down to the lake. Beyond helping her mom plant tulips and filling a few containers at the former home, she had no gardening experience.

So how did a suburban mom evolve from someone who "would look at a catalog and think 'That's way too technical for me'" to a master gardener with a great eye for color and design?

"I caught the bug," she said.

And with it came some cramming that would make a college student blush. The textbooks: "Perennials for Minnesota and Wisconsin" and "Annuals for Minnesota and Wisconsin."

"I'd go to our cabin [on Pelican Lake in Orr, Minn.] and spend the whole time reading," Frostad said. "I'm a very visual person, so it was eye candy for me, I guess. I'm definitely self-taught. I got to where I could go to the [garden] store in spring and tell what a plant was just by the leaves."

Armed with that knowledge and enthusiasm, Tricia transformed a drab front yard to a panoply of colors, shapes and textures that would stop traffic -- even if it weren't at the end of a cul-de-sac.

In mid-August, normally a gardener's most challenging part of summer, her yard was resplendent: waves of phlox, dwarf blue spruce, monarda, rudbeckia and Joe Pye weed, playing off vibrant annuals and potted herbs and framed by white pines imported from the Orr cabin.

Oh, deer

While Tricia was still creating this cornucopia, she turned her attention to the heavily wooded back yard. She and Todd started with one premise: They didn't want to have to mow that steep slope.

It was Todd, Paul Douglas' business partner at WeatherNation, who surfaced with the idea of turning to water.

"He just had this vision, like 'Wouldn't it be cool if it had a pond and little stream and then another pond and waterfall?'" said Tricia. "He's not so good with plants, but he had the vision."

The Frostads originally put in two ponds, then decided they wanted a third. While a crew installed the water works, Tricia surrounded them with ajuga, hostas, daylilies and other shade-friendly perennials.

Only one problem:

"We have a herd of 13 deer out here, and they would be out there chewing lilies with my daughter banging on the window. They got all my alliums, all my lilies, the hostas, too," Tricia said. "We go through a lot of Liquid Fence [deer repellent]."

The constant battle with the deer makes Frostad's slope a work in progress, but it's a rare gardener who considers his or her yard "done."

And the Frostads have the treat of being able to see -- and hear -- their back-yard water garden from the screen porch and a deck.

Tricia doesn't limit her gardening to the front and back yards. The deck also features several of her signature urns of many colors, while the porch is enveloped by a cottage garden that includes several Endless Summer hydrangeas. Tricia admits she's not so sure about those supposedly winter-hardy blue hydrangeas. "Some master gardeners call them Endless Bummers," she said.

She should know. In September, she earned master gardener status. Next summer, her garden will be on display during a Carver/Scott County Master Gardeners tour.

That means Tricia might be putting in even more time in her garden than her usual four hours a day once the weather warms. Especially since it has become a labor of much love.

"Pulling weeds and planting flowers is relaxing, de-stressing, a good time to think," she said. "I'm not big on housework, but I could work in the garden all day." And by all indications, she has.

Bill Ward • 612-673-7643