A Love for Organic Elements Makes a Lively Garden Unique and Beloved

Mark and Cathy Sackett’s backyard is teeming with life. With three dogs, koi fish, bubbling fountains, wildflowers, bees, hummingbirds and the occasional ferret, their garden often exhibits balance between serenity and lively activity. It’s also been a way for Mark to express his love for the earth and its natural phenomena, a passion he’s had from a young age.

Sundays growing up were spent hunting for Lake Superior agate, and he’d often find himself outdoors in the middle of a thunderstorm. Mark’s interests eventually translated into a 35-year career teaching earth science at Maple Grove Junior High School. “I could teach rocks, volcanoes, earthquakes, and hurricanes and tsunamis and tornadoes, even aliens and UFOs,” Mark says. “I was in heaven.”

As a result, the Sackett’s Maple Grove garden isn’t your typical garden. Sparkly mica and swirling maroon Lake Superior agate hang from trees secured with near-invisible wire. The effect is dreamlike. “It’s really cool,” Mark says.” Suspending the rocks (many from his extensive rock collection) was something he experimented with last year. As far as changing the look of the garden, “It opened up a whole new avenue,” he says.

The garden has already evolved significantly in the more than 30 years the Sacketts have owned their Maple Grove home. After their three daughters had grown up, the playground equipment left, and they evaluated their open space. “We ordered a dump truck of black dirt and hauled it back wheelbarrow by wheelbarrow,” Mark says. “We made up the design as we went.”

It was like conducting a giant science experiment. Pathways and ponds were added, and new varieties of plants and flowers rotated in and out. “We had probably 20 years of not knowing how to garden,” Mark says with a laugh. “We’d plant shade plants in the sun and sun plants in the shade. I mean, if you can make a mistake gardening, we’ve probably done it. But we’re slowly figuring it out,” he says.

Over the years, the items they collected from their travels made appearances in the backyard. “What you see is very eclectic,” Mark says. “There’s not a theme, it’s just what we like.” A few statement pieces create particular interest: a frog statue, a weathered bicycle, oversized blue planters, fashioned driftwood art and a playful ceramic gargoyle. Their garden today has a stone patio with a firepit, walking paths, three different water features, blooming flowers and vegetables.

The Sackett’s plant and flower choices are intentional. Clusters of bright red geraniums pay tribute to Cathy’s mother. “They’re so classic,” Cathy says. “My mom always had them in her garden, so I just feel like they always have to be part of mine. I feel this incredible connection to them.” They also look out for hummingbirds and bees. “We plant coneflowers and Russian sage,” Cathy says. “We want to help the planet and grow plants that are helpful for bees.”

Raised, four-by-four garden beds hold blossoming strawberries against rich, dark soil. The waist-high garden beds make for easy tending. “I basically built boxes up on posts, so you’re not bending over,” Mark says. “You’re two or three feet up off the ground. We do radishes and lots of cherry tomatoes, various herbs and lettuce, so we can make really good fresh salads right out of our garden.”

The sound of flowing water also adds to the backyard’s relaxing vibe. “I’ve always wanted a garden with fountain features,” Cathy says. “So my husband went out one day with a stick and marked lines in the sand.” He eventually put in three different fountains, one a gentle flowing stream, where the brightly colored koi live. “I find it very calming,” Cathy says. “I grew up in Superior, Wisconsin, with the sound of water. I was a swimmer my whole life, and I just find the sound of water incredibly soothing.”

At times, the Sacketts do find challenges to maintaining harmony in the garden. Three precocious dogs add to the couple’s joy, but tend to treat the entire garden as their playground. “We have a German short haired pointer, a Jack Russell terrier and a springer lab mix,” Cathy says. “It would be a more beautiful garden if we didn’t have to put fences up.” Occasionally, a chipmunk or toad sighting will cause them to leap the fences. “So we’ve had many treasured items flattened,” Cathy says. “But the dogs have a wonderful time back there.”

Not surprisingly, their garden proves to be a popular spot to gather their friends and loved ones. “We entertain, and have coffee with my parents,” Cathy says. “We had the garden show at our house a few years ago, and my parents greeted every person that came. They thought it was the best thing in the world, and that [our garden] is the greatest place on earth.”

A work in progress, the garden is still an ongoing experiment. “Who knows what it will look like in the next couple years,” Mark says. One thing he does know is how much they appreciate having the beautiful space. “You can still hear the freeway sometimes,” Mark says. “But you know ... it really is a nice little escape.”