We are used to seeing glorious gardens from the likes of Edina, Minnetonka and the Minneapolis lakes area featured in home and garden publications. But this year, the back yard of a St. Bonifacius couple, David and Sheila Aadland, was recognized in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune’s Beautiful Gardens contest.

Their gardens were among six contest winners announced in Sunday’s newspaper and will be highlighted in its home and garden section in the coming weeks. A Star Tribune writer and photographer were at the home for more than two hours last Friday morning, the Aadlands noted.

“Ours is just a modest home, so maybe that was a factor in selecting a winner from out here,” David laughs.

The home sits on a cul-de-sac on Maple Lane in St. Boni. It has an inviting curbside presence, but it’s what’s behind the house that stands out – a sprawling hillside garden with annuals, perennials, varieties of evergreens and several water features.

“We call it our secret garden because no one really knows it’s here,” Sheila said.

Readers know now, but only because a neighbor over for a backyard barbecue was wowed by the garden and submitted a contest entry to the Twin Cities daily newspaper, which has been conducting its annual Beautiful Gardens contest for more than 20 years.

It was around 20 years ago that the Aadlands built their home, and the place where their lush gardens bloom now had been a field and a mound of clay. But with a vision, loads of black dirt and mulch, rocks collected from excavated areas where other homes were built, and lots of hard work and nurturing, the back yard has evolved to what it is today.

“Sheila has the design eye and garden knowledge, I’m just a laborer,” David says.

The Aadlands moved into their home in winter, so Sheila’s initial focus was to give the back yard some winter interest – hence the arborvitae, juniper and rock treatment – and to start to develop a natural backdrop and screening for their property.

It was also a place to be at home and do things with their two boys when they were younger, so there is a strategically placed path where they could run around the garden, not through it.

One son has since gone to become a professional organic farmer at an event center in North Carolina. The other took another career path – computer information technology, although he still helps put down mulch every year.

As the boys grew, the garden did too. Sheila plugged in annuals and perennials along the way. She used young plants to save money and shifted them around as other plants grew, or pulled them out entirely if they didn’t work. She also notes that as trees and shrubs grew, it affected sun patterns, which also figures into changes in the garden palette.

“This garden has been evolving for 20 years,” says Sheila, and she is out there every day. “It’s a lot of upkeep, but it’s my passion. I love the beauty, the pruning and the perfecting.”

“It’s spiritual, nurturing and creative, and it’s something I can continue to do as a I get older,” adds the semi-retired personal trainer.

The Aadland’s back deck looks over the garden. A glass sunroom they added recently does too.

“A big Friday night out for us,” David said, “is weeding gardens together and then sitting out on the deck or in the hot tub with a glass of Merlot.”

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