Nature Lovers' Retreat

From asters to zinnias, gnomes and monarch butterflies, this Maple Grove garden is alive with beauty and enchantment.

When Kathleen and Rich Pomerleau moved to their Maple Grove home 38 years ago, their backyard was a blank slate. So, with freedom to create any kind of yard they wanted from scratch, the Pomerleaus experimented with the soil, clay—which was difficult to work with at first—planting and losing trees, and starting with basic plants Kathleen grew up with: zinnias, marigolds and tomato plants, and the garden gradually took shape. Now the once vacant backyard has transformed into a cozy retreat for the Maple Grove couple.

“I like to plant anything that attracts the bees and butterflies,” Kathleen says. “Bee balm and zinnias, anything for the humming birds, so a nature’s garden is what it is.” Vibrant reds and bright yellows to soft pinks and deep purples abound in the yard. Black-eyed Susans, petunias, asters, impatients and coneflowers grow in clusters around the neatly manicured lawn.  “Hydrangeas are a favorite of mine,” she says. “They’re gorgeous, and they last weeks on the vine. Limelight is one that I really like and there’s a strawberry one I love, too.”

The garden boasts plenty of unexpected surprises that add to its whimsical nature. Friendly gnomes peek out from under ferns and behind tree stumps. The door on the tool shed, painted an electric bright blue, adds an eye-catching pop of color. The back patio is fashioned from pavers in the shape of Australia, an homage to a memorable trip the Pomerleaus once took. It holds a weathered bench where the couple can sit and admire their open-air sanctuary.

There’s a quiet spot in the yard where a circle of white hydrangea convenes, heads dropped quietly as if napping. They rest nearby a rustic blue bird bath; the bath’s basin holds a statue of a woman’s head and shoulders, features the Pomerleaus particularly love about their backyard that create charm and interest.

The garden also has a magic about it. “Peter Rabbit lives in our backyard,” Kathleen reveals. “The neighbor kids know that.” The little blue statue of the rabbit sits poised on his hind legs next to the tool shed. “When they open the door there’s a present from Peter Rabbit—maybe a Matchbox car or piece of candy, just something small,” she says. “And the kids will leave notes for him there.”

While Kathleen can be found digging and planting flowers, Rich appreciates using his skills as an engineer and builder to enhance the garden. “He’s not out there planting, but he helps with the hard stuff,” Kathleen says. “He’ll say, ‘This is the last time I’m moving the shrub. This is the permanent spot, I’m not moving it again,’” she laughs. When in the midst of planting Kathleen found herself continually walking back and forth to the garage for shovels and gardening tools, she brought a request to her husband. Soon a lovely potting shed found a permanent home in the backyard.
“Our whole yard, it’s bee and butterfly friendly,” Kathleen says. “We don’t use any chemicals. It’s like a sanctuary back there where we can see all kinds of different kinds of birds.” Often the couple will spot bluebirds, robins, chickadees, cardinals, woodpeckers and doves. The garden is a haven for wildlife. “Rich loves to feed the blue jays in the morning,” Kathleen says. “My favorite thing is to sit and read a book next to a Russian sage plant and I can hear the humming of the bees.”

Monarch butterflies add another touch of magic and beauty to the garden. The milkweed in their yard is ideal for discovering butterfly eggs and larvae. But they wouldn’t have known nearly as much about the delicate winged creatures without the help of their long-time friend and mentor Gary DeFrance. The nature enthusiast, whom they met at church, taught the couple everything he knew about monarchs. “He just has a love and fascination for nature,” Kathleen says. “He puts his whole heart and soul into it.”

DeFrance taught them how to find the monarch treasures on the milkweed in their yard near the end of June. “We bring them in and take care of them in the home,” Kathleen says. They watch the growing process, observing the fascinating details of the butterfly’s life cycle, even the small details. “The noise it makes coming out of the chrysalis, it’s kind of a papery sound,” she describes. “You can barely hear it, but it’s there.”

Then, the exciting part happens. When a few of the butterflies have emerged, and their wings have dried, it’s time to release them. The couple puts them on zinnias in the garden to absorb the sun. “That’s how they get their energy,” she explains. “Then they’ll take off.”  Friends and neighbors are invited over for releasing the butterflies often from the deck. “They’re just in awe,” Kathleen says of the spectators as they watch the butterflies rising into the evening sky.

With the joy the monarchs, blossoms and wildlife in the garden brings her, Kathleen reflects on the tranquil place she and her husband created in their backyard: “I don’t think I could live without [a garden],” she says. “It’s very spiritual. I love the peacefulness of it.”