“I think my personality is like a cottage garden,” says master gardener Marilyn Arnlund with a laugh, as we sit in the kitchen of her Maple Grove home while birds flit in and out of some hand-painted birdhouses near the window, a few of the over 50 she has on the property. “I’m kind of whimsical and fun.”
Turns out, Arnlund, who has a decidedly less whimsical day job as the deputy fire marshall for the city of Maple Grove, comes by gardening naturally. She grew up on a hobby farm just across the road from a KOA campground in Corcoran, and, literally, lived off the land.
“All of our food came from the garden or the barn,” she says. “And we had the most beautiful flower gardens; they were really impressive.”
So, 13 years ago when she and her husband, Denny, moved into their Maple Grove home, with its interesting lot (130 feet wide by 95 feet deep) that was covered with menacing marsh grass and a twelve-inch slope near the back, Arnlund knew she wanted a garden; she just didn’t know what form it would take. After untold hours of digging up the marsh grass by hand, and a few missteps, including planting the rather invasive Lily of the Valley (“I’m still fighting them to this day,” she says) along with long, tidy rows of Irises, she realized a cottage garden would suit her perfectly.
To define the space which runs right up against a marsh preserve, Marilyn and Denny began with a myriad of trees, including twenty-six seedlings from her parents’ property, as well as oaks, maples, basswood, American elm, willows and a smorgasbord of fragrant and flowering crab trees.
They created a large, rectangular bed and added lovely doses of bee balm, black-eyed Susan’s, phlox (“I think I have every variety,” says Arnlund), roses, irises, daisies, liatris, coneflowers, delphiniums, peonies and dianthus; basically, anything that would give the garden whimsy and charm.
“Once we got it started, I just kept adding and adding plants,” says Arnlund, who reveals that she prefers red and yellow blooming perennials, but has a multitude of colors and varieties for that classic cottage garden look. “Even though it’s really established, I still can’t stop buying flowers.”
And, because no cottage garden would be complete without fun accoutrements, there are birdhouses scattered about, sculptures, iron pieces, walkways, chimes, a lovely wooden bridge hand-crafted by her brother, and that’s just the short list.
She prides herself on having fresh flowers for the house every day during the summer months, and adores the fact that nature is right outside her door. “We get loads of butterflies, hummingbirds, all kinds of birds; one day last year we counted twelve morning doves out back at one time.”
Arnlund’s lovely oasis is the perfect spot to wind down after a long day. “I love to go out there and move plants around. It’s not really work to me; it’s relaxation. My garden takes away all the stresses of my day and makes me exceedingly happy. What more could you ask for?”
Creating on a Whim
When you first step foot into Linda Heruth’s cottage garden, you can pretty much tell immediately that an artist, someone with a great deal of imagination, lives there. Here, a trellis that had a former life as a stair railing is the perfect climbing spot for purple-blooming clematis, pieces of antique wagon wheels double as walkways, floor grates and old machinery parts are turned into planters, vintage signs gleefully grace a whimsical garden shed, and floor lamps become pedestals.
“We love to get salvaged items from garages sales, estate sales, and repurpose them in our garden,” says Heruth, who, along with her husband, Les, has been creating the garden of their dreams since 1989.
Heruth, whose parents grew acres of strawberries and raspberries, and also tended to English flower gardens brimming with roses in every shade on a five-acre parcel in what was then rural Brooklyn Park, loves the spontaneity, the creativity afforded by her cottage garden.
“We love to create on a whim,” she says. “We don’t like to follow rules, which is perfect here. You can combine different things together, and it will work. For example, we mix herbs and vegetables in with the perennials. Sometimes you’ll find a tomato plant tucked in behind another plant, which is wonderful because they’re not the prettiest to look at. Or, you’ll see Rosemary peeking out from behind astilbe, coralbells, or pulmonara. Our garden is all about fantasy, romance, and mystery.”
Heruth’s garden has moss-covered walkways that wend around the yard, inviting guests to stop and ponder the rock garden in the middle of the backyard, the pond, the ceramic book atop a metal pedestal that reads, ‘Come into my garden, I would like my flowers to see you,’ the garden shed that boasts antique windows and cupboards, and the bench that is the perfect spot to take it all in.
There are beds spilling over with more than 80 varieties of hosta, as well as hydrangeas, sedum, coneflowers, catmint, white Nancy, daylilies and a host of other perennials.
And to add a bit more whimsy, Heruth has incorporated more than 100 faces into her garden.
“I think faces are intriguing to me because it kind of goes with the notion that gardens have many identities, many faces,” she says. “It all started with a few we put in and our grandchildren loved them, so we keep adding new ones and have them try to find them when they walk through.”
Overall, Heruth says her lovely parcel of land is exactly how she had envisioned it.
“Our garden reflects over 20 years of both of our personalities; we both really love art and we hope that shows,” she says. “Our five grandchildren come over and the first thing they want to do is go out there and see what has changed. ‘Grandma,’ they’ll say, ‘do you smell that?’ Or, ‘grandma, do you see that?’ It’s constantly changing, evolving, and it really is magical.”