Loved ones rarely have trouble figuring out what to get Diane Harvey for special occasions.
“One year my husband asked me what I’d like for my birthday,” she said. “I told him, ‘A big rock.’ ”
“You mean a ring?” he asked.
“No,” she told him. “Like a giant boulder.”
Another birthday, her husband, John, got her a two-wheeler for hauling plants.
That big rock sits near the driveway of the couple’s home in East Bethel, where Harvey has hauled around hundreds of hostas, coneflowers, daylilies, elephant ears and zinnias. Her colorful garden is one of six chosen by a panel of judges from more than 175 submissions in this year’s Beautiful Gardens contest.
Bit by bit, over the years, Harvey and her husband have turned their ¾-acre property on Coon Lake into a verdant playground. The lawn and gardens are tough enough to handle the golden retrievers that the couple have rescued and adopted, and also provide ample space for their children and grandchildren to throw balls, play in the dirt and splash in the water.
“Some people take vacations and travel,” Harvey said. “We don’t go on trips. Our trips are right here.”
Art abounds. A large green dinosaur from a Sinclair gas station, acquired from an auctioneer friend, holds court in one garden. Ceramic fish adorn the banks of the fish ponds, and a collection of frog statues are nestled in the mulch. At the lakeshore, a life-size blue heron made of steel is ready to take flight.
The Harveys purchased the Anoka County property in 1993. It had a small, 800-square-foot rambler, built in 1985, and great views of the lake. With four daughters under age 6, Harvey hardly had time to garden.
“I didn’t get anything done until the youngest was about 5,” she said. “I had them help dig.”
As the footprint of their home expanded, so did Harvey’s yearnings to plant. And her ambitions grew along with her daughters, now in their 20s and 30s, who all live within 10 miles of their family home.
“My mother has put so much hard work into her beautiful gardens and koi ponds,” said Harvey’s oldest daughter, Rachel Bokelmann, 33, who nominated the garden.
The couple’s second oldest, Lauren Downie, 31, held her wedding on the lawn — a rainswept affair that set her mother’s gardening perfectionism on edge yet resolved with rainbows over the lake during the marriage vows.
“There was so much rain, people were pushing the koi fish back into the ponds,” Bokelmann said. “It was a spongy, soggy mess.”
The Harveys are business partners in John’s HVAC business. He makes the house calls; she keeps the books. Those clear lines of responsibility hold true with yard work, as well.
John, 57, handles much of the hardscaping, and leaves the vision to his wife, 61. After 34 years of marriage, she’s figured out the art of gaining cooperation.
“I always have these big ideas,” Harvey said. “I have to catch him after he’s had some coffee.”
Many of the big projects have been group activities. After a pine tree died, a retired neighbor brought in his tractor to get the hard work started on the 3,000-gallon koi pond.
The daughters and sons-in-law worked in the rain to complete the rest.
Each year for Mother’s Day, Bokelmann plans an outing to “go greenhousing” with her mom. They return with every inch of her mother’s SUV filled with plants.
“My Mom and Dad have created this paradise on their own,” Bokelmann said.