Dianne Latham only wants to grow plants that produce gorgeous flowers. Her husband, Dan, only wants to grow plants that can be eaten.
So the gardening couple crafted a compromise that mingles her lilies and showy lady's slipper with his basil and onions and turned their Edina back yard into a one-of-a kind landscape.
"Now we don't argue over real estate," said Dianne. "I don't mind if he tucks vegetables among my perennials."
The couple also team up to pot hundreds of their own surplus plants, which are sold at the Edina Garden Council's Mother's Day sale each spring.
"I'm just happy to find good homes for the plants," she said. "It also helps raise funds for buckthorn removal."
The Lathams cultivate nearly 400 varieties of perennials, annuals, trees and shrubs in their yard's parklike setting complete with a "Music Man" style gazebo and a nearby lotus reflecting pool surrounded by a black and white color-schemed garden. Dianne even tracks her garden with a plant database she updates throughout the growing season.
But Latham Park, which is what the neighbors call it, didn't start as a harmonious mix of vibrant flowers and companion herbs and vegetables.
In 1990, Dan bought the home and its sorry landscape of overgrown daylilies, irises and weeds sprouting among rotting railroad ties. "There was a lot of overgrown vegetation and it wasn't pretty," he said.
Dan hired a landscape designer and filled the yard with trees and shrubs because he wasn't a "flower guy." He eventually added some vegetables and fruit trees.
When Dan and Dianne married in 1998, she transplanted purple phlox, heuchera, lilies and other plants from her White Bear Lake townhouse. Dianne got hooked on gardening as a teenager growing up in the Frank Lloyd Wright Elam home in Austin, Minn. "I helped tend my parents' gardens," she said. "And won a blue ribbon for my dahlias when I was 13."
A few years later, the Lathams cut down a dying honey locust tree and suddenly had an open sun-drenched area on their half-acre lot. The graceful, colorful gardens at the historic George Baird house in Edina inspired them to expand theirs.
"We began arguing over the turf," said Dianne. "Were we going to plant my ornamentals or his vegetables?"
The couple hired landscape architect Laura Baxley to design a plan using existing plantings and new beds and worked with Countryside Gardens in Delano to choose the plants. "Laura had the artistic vision to create the backbone of the garden and knew where to site the gazebo and pond," Dianne said.
The three-year project includes a new hosta shade garden punctuated by Dianne's dramatic tropical giant taros that grow to 6 feet tall. "I love the leaf shape and structure, and they're fragrant when in bloom," she said. Dianne fell in love with native orchids in the wild and has added showy lady's slipper, the state flower, and others to her beds.
The sunny gardens hold many of the creative combinations of veggies and multicolored blooming annuals and perennials. "So many people segregate vegetables from the ornamentals and that part of the yard looks like a truck farm," said Dianne. Dan chooses vegetables with pleasing flowers or colorful foliage to intersperse among Dianne's plants. "An eggplant's purplish fruit goes nicely with Red Rubin basil and pink nicotiana," Dianne said. Or sometimes Dan hides peppers among the giant zinnias and golden rudbeckia so you can't even see them.
The couple predictably couldn't agree on the centerpiece of their newly designed landscape. "Dan wanted a gazebo and I wanted a pond," said Dianne. "So we did both to save the marriage."
The gazebo's garden displays waves of Dianne's Scheherazade, Madame Butterfly and many other lily varieties. A ginkgo tree she cultivated from seed marks the path from the gazebo garden to the 1,000-gallon reinforced concrete pond bordered by New York bluestone. "I like the permanence and formal look of the pond," Dan said.
Snow-white water lilies and tulip lotus float in the pond, which is also filled with goldfish. Dianne overwinters the lilies in tubs in the garage and the fish in tanks in her office. "It's been a challenge growing tulip lotus and water lilies," she said. "It's a whole new medium for me."
When the Lathams, retired Medtronic patent attorneys, are done tending the gardens, they're active in several local plant societies and garden organizations. Dianne displays the best of her bounty at a few flower shows each year. "I entered a container water garden with a 30-inch-tall flowering lotus plant at the State Fair and got a first-place ribbon," she said. "People were flocking around it because it's hard to get them to bloom in Minnesota from a tuber."
In the fall, the Lathams dig up hundreds of tubers and bulbs, process and store them in crates that are stacked to the ceiling in their heated garage. They also overwinter flats of divided perennials under bags of leaves so they're ready to donate in the spring. Organizations such as the Minnesota State Horticultural Society pick up boxes of their surplus plants and funnel them to nonprofit community gardens. This labor-intensive but economical fall ritual means the Lathams rarely need to visit a garden center or plant sale.
"It's gratifying to know that as soon as the weather is good, I can hit the ground running," said Dianne. "I have my stock ready."
Lynn Underwood • 612-673-7619