Whenever Mark Addicks jogged around Lake of the Isles, a Dutch Colonial on a bluff above the lake always caught his eye.
“It looked like a forest up there,” he said. But Addicks “envisioned gardens and designed them in my head.”
In 2009, the gambrel-roofed Colonial went on the market. Addicks and his husband, Tom Hoch, a Minneapolis mayoral candidate, jumped at the opportunity to buy the historic 1890s Minneapolis home, one of the oldest on the lake.
The couple planned to renovate the home, but they were equally excited about “the once-in-a-lifetime chance to create gardens from scratch on a sensational piece of property,” said Addicks.
The excavation and building equipment used in the renovation made the yard a clean slate. Only some remnant lilies and a few perennials remained.
Addicks and Hoch, both experienced gardeners, wasted no time tackling the sloped, pie-shaped lot. First, they tested the soil and enriched it with manure and peat moss. Then they worked with a landscape architect from Sticks and Stones Designs in Minneapolis to design and install the bluestone pathways that would shape the planting beds.
Finally, Addicks and Hoch chose their trees, shrubs and cottage-style perennials to create a mini-version of the Butchart Gardens in Victoria, British Columbia. Though they’d never visited the famed display gardens, they had seen photos showing “big swaths of plants and color,” said Addicks.
That first summer, they packed beds with more than a thousand perennials, planting two dozen each morning before they headed to work. Now, their yard is dense and lush, thanks to smart soil amendment and 25 bags of cocoa bean mulch each spring.
“The garden is a totally creative palette,” said Addicks, a retired marketing executive who teaches a marketing class at the University of St. Thomas. “You can do what you want [when gardening] — and don’t have to take a meeting.”
The garden is designed as a series of secret rooms, starting from a wooden gate at the street entrance.
“When you enter the gate you feel like you are somewhere else,” said Hoch, “not in the heart of the city.”
A bluestone pathway, bordered by a forest of massive amur maples, evergreens and shrubs, leads you from garden room to room. Burgundy ajuga, a prolific groundcover, spreads across the stones and helps to keep weeds at bay. In the spring, hedges of pink-flowering rhododendron and azaleas lure you down the path.
“Then you hear the water, and wonder where it’s coming from,” said Addicks.
A gurgling antique French fountain, unearthed at an estate sale, anchors the main garden room, which is appointed with wispy salvia and a colorful composition of bee balm, coneflowers and black-eyed Susans, all of which draw butterflies and bees.
Nearby, Boston ivy and purple clematis climb a wooden pergola, which shelters a patio where the men often entertain.
The last bend in the path offers a glimpse of Lake of the Isles and leads to the genteel front porch of the house, which is abloom with Limelight and Pinky Winky hydrangeas in midsummer. Down the hill from the porch, astilbe, coral bells and goatsbeard flourish in the partly shady beds.
“We try to orchestrate color, texture, height and bloom periods in each section,” said Addicks, who is currently in the Master Gardener program. “Everything is so alive, it’s hard to believe you can’t hear the ground moving.”
Novice to know-it-all
Addicks and Hoch gather garden inspiration from a variety of places, including the display plantings at Stockholm Gardens in Wisconsin, where they buy many of their perennials.
“The owner’s mix of textures and colors looks informal — but it’s pretty planned,” said Addicks.
When he was a beginning gardener, Addicks learned a planting trick from a grower at a farmers market.
“She said if I wanted my garden to always be in bloom, come to the farmers market every week and pick a plant that was flowering,” he said.
Now they extend the growing season by planting dozens of tulips for spring blooms and clusters of turtlehead in the fall. There’s no need to fill in their overflowing planting beds with annuals.
“The azaleas take off like a Monet painting in spring,” said Addicks.
The men also contribute their growing expertise to the public garden along Lake of the Isles Parkway. They signed up to plant and tend the beds two years ago and have spent scores of hours weeding and spreading cocoa bean mulch among the pink coneflowers, native grasses and lollipop-shaped allium.
“When we’re working,” said Addicks, “people say thank you or bring us coffee.”
This summer, Hoch may have to squeeze in weeding between running for mayor of Minneapolis, which he announced last month.
But the men will always make time to tend their beds on a hill above East Lake of the Isles.
For Addicks, early morning is the best time in the garden. “I like to see what’s unfurling and every day is a surprise,” he said.
“It’s a gift that keeps on giving,” added Hoch.