Every garden has a personality. But Tom Hayden and Jay Peterson’s garden has at least two.
Their front-yard garden is earthy Minnesotan, planted mostly with wildflowers and “good-old natives,” said Hayden. “They do what they do.”
The backyard, however, has a worldly European vibe, accented with statuary, hardscape and carefully manicured trees.
“It’s more formal, cultured and controlled,” Hayden said.
There’s a moongate framing views of a classic Grecian figure, and nearby, a raised pond flanked by six Corinthian columns. “We call it the Coliseum,” said Peterson.
The transition between these two contrasting garden worlds are the side yards. One side is cool and shaded, with hostas of many hues, the other side is dominated by a big sunny deck and exuberantly planted containers — more than 100 of them.
Still, the garden feels seamless, thanks to its series of carefully created “rooms.”
“The garden reveals itself as you walk through it,” said Hayden.
The overall effect is so inviting that the couple’s garden has become an in-demand setting for graduation and wedding photos. It was also the venue for an actual wedding, Hayden and Peterson’s, in 2013.
“We like having big parties,” said Peterson.
And they enjoy sharing their garden in other ways, such as opening it up to visitors. “I love talking to the people on garden tours,” said Peterson, who has created thick notebooks documenting the garden’s progress.
Hayden and Peterson’s Minnetonka garden is one of six chosen, by a panel of judges, from more than 175 that were submitted in this year’s Beautiful Gardens contest.
Their garden is beautiful now, but there was nothing but lawn and “junk trees” when the couple bought their 1950s house in 1989. Both were eager to start gardening.
Hayden, who has a degree in horticulture and ran a garden center, Chaska Farm and Garden, for 30 years, had plant knowledge. Peterson had enthusiasm and willingness to learn. “I was into it before, but never had the opportunity,” Peterson said. “This is our first house.”
They started by cutting down some of the unwanted trees and adding garden beds to break up the lawn. Most of their beds are in curving paisley shapes. “We don’t have many straight lines,” noted Peterson.
Those beds are planted with an eye to texture and structure, but there was no grand, overall plan for their garden. Every year, they simply chose a different area of the yard to tackle, then got to work.
“We just talk and arrive at what we’re going to do,” said Peterson.
They discovered that their land, formerly a gravel pit, had very sandy soil. Over the years, they’ve learned which plants thrive and which ones are challenged.
“Hostas do well in sand,” said Hayden, as do ornamental grasses, prairie plants, sedum, Russian sage and daylilies. “Astilbes struggle,” he said. And he’s had no luck with Sargent crabapple trees, even though they’re considered hardy for the zone. “I can’t get them to grow.”
Hayden and Peterson mostly work together on their garden, but they have developed divisions of labor. Hayden, the horticulture expert, does more of the planting, while Peterson specializes in mowing and tree pruning.
“I have eight things I’m constantly trimming,” he said. “I create a bonsai effect.”
Their emerald Emerald Elf amur maple, for example, gets a lot of tough love to maintain its neat umbrella shape.
“It would be more like a bush, but if you cut the undergrowth, it looks like a tree,” said Hayden.
Creating their hardscape is a two-man job. They poured the concrete for a patio of tiered circles that they call “the wedding cake.”
They also cast their moongate, their pond and the columns around it. Originally, the cement circle that contains their pond rested on top of the columns, creating a pavilion. Then they found out that one of the columns was actually on city property. “We had to move it,” Peterson said. So they decided to use the circle to create a pond instead. Its water attracts wildlife to their garden.
“We have a dozen frogs every year,” said Hayden.
Whimsical DIY artwork accents the garden, including a creation they’ve dubbed “Shovel and Berry.”
“It’s our version of ‘Spoonbridge and Cherry,’ ” said Peterson.
They’ve also created some of their own containers, including cedar stumps with rotting centers, used as planters. “We got them from someone after they were cut down,” Hayden said. “A landscaper saw us struggling with them and offered to help us take them out. We said, ‘Thanks, but we’re putting them in.’ ”
Leftovers from Hayden’s garden center, which closed in 2011 after he lost his lease, have found their way into the garden, including some of the statues and wood cutouts of goats. “Everyone on our street got one,” said Peterson. “We call it Goat Row.”
Their garden is most labor-intensive in spring.
“We don’t clean up in fall,” said Hayden. “We like things standing, so we have more to look at than just snow.”
Watering, all without an irrigation system, is also time-consuming. “We’re the manual type — hoses and sprinklers,” said Hayden.
“We’re just manual people,” said Peterson.
Their garden is now complete, although they do plan some tweaks, aimed at making their garden more drought-resistant and lower-maintenance.
“We’ll put in more cast-iron plants, old prairie natives,” said Hayden.
“Our water bills aren’t cheap,” said Peterson.
But they plan to be hands-on gardeners for life. “People ask how much time it takes, how much work,” said Hayden. “If you like to do it, it’s not like work.”