Anyone driving through Cologne can’t help but notice Benton Lake Garden. The collection of annuals, perennials and shrubs of all shapes, sizes and colors is a living welcome sign to the community.

Established in 2003, the garden is located on a triangular parcel of land between Highway 284 and local streets that had been a largely ignored swampy area. But thanks to the commitment and resourcefulness of a few individuals the garden has become a showpiece and source of pride for Cologne.

The garden changes seasonally and offers a stunning display of whatever is in bloom, including a gladiola collection that ties to Cologne’s history and the town festival Glad Days that is named after them.

The garden also features a larger than life butterfly, covered bridge with a wisteria vine and hops clinging to it, water fountain, old fashioned well pump, fun artwork and other little surprises.

In addition, Benton Lake Garden incorporates a rain garden, which makes it an important component in the restoration of Benton Lake across the road. Rain gardens use native plants to filter runoff water before it flows into lakes, streams and rivers.

Long-time Cologne resident Roger Storms is the creator and main caretaker of the garden, while Sharon Hartung, a master gardener from Chaska, has been the master planner.

“I’m a farmer, I plant in rows,” Storms said. “Sharon taught me that you need to create curves and points of interest to draw attention.”

The garden has drawn lots of attention lately. Late last month, members of a newly formed Victoria Garden Club visited Benton Lake Garden to learn about its formation and get ideas for their own efforts to beautify the nearby community of Victoria. And later this month, Sept. 19, the garden will be one focus of a Cologne community gathering to raise awareness for the Cologne Community Fund, a fund that was established in 2014 to support projects and services that benefit residents of the community, such as Benton Lake Garden and Benton Lake Conservancy efforts. (See related article).

“Community gardens add a lot to a city. They make things more inviting, aesthetically pleasing and calming, while also giving a sense of vitality to a community – a sense that someone cares. And I think they could add a lot to a downtown like Victoria,” said Amber Huttner, Victoria Parks and Recreation Committee member and one of the organizers of that community’s garden club.

“My husband and I were literally taking a Sunday drive when we happened upon this garden. I called the city of Cologne to find out more information and got hooked up with Roger,” Huttner said on a recent garden club tour of Benton Lake Garden.

During the tour, Storms traced the development of the garden while garden club members marveled at the resourcefulness of how it was created.

As plans for the garden got started, it was unclear who even owned the piece property being considered for the garden, Storms explained. Eventually it was discovered that the property belonged to nearby St. Bernard’s Catholic Church and parishioners were pleased to have it turned into a garden.

The spongy parcel required a considerable amount of fill to create a base. That was established with 120 loads of ditch cleanings – soil and silt, from Carver County, which the county had to get rid of when it moved to its facility on Highway 212 west of Cologne. Another 20 loads of black dirt came from the Hans Hagen housing development south of town, which was under construction at the time.

Plants came from donations, divisions and the harvesting of seeds from spent flowers, according to Hartung.

A water feature with working pump was established thanks in part to the electricity company, which augured a hole to help create a kind of rain garden well while relocating electric lines in the area.

The butterfly that is the garden’s centerpiece was created by welding company Storms’ brother used to own. Other features also were discovered or donated. For example, the unique trail that weaves through the garden comes from the synthetic surface of the warning track from a ball field in Maplewood, Minn.

Today the garden is sustained with a $200 annual donation from the Cologne Lions, which has been a supporter throughout, Storms notes. Also, the Carver County Horticultural Society, which provides some funding for plants and materials, and some member help with garden planting and clean-up.

But the bulk of the work and contributions still come from Storms and Hartung – and neither is getting any younger. Storms is now 78.

“I know Roger has been hard at work attempting to build a legacy fund for the garden,” Huttner said.

Come to the Cologne community gathering Thursday, Sept 19, 7 p.m. at Modern Design Cabinetry, 209 Paul Ave. South, to learn more about it and other work of the Cologne Community Foundation.

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