Self-guided tour to feature five gardens, benefit the Plymouth Library

With summer in full bloom, the Friends of the Plymouth Library will offer an opportunity to tour a variety of local gardens as part of its Gorgeous Gardens of Plymouth tour Sunday, July 15.

Now in its fourth year, the event provides an opportunity for garden enthusiasts to admire five local gardens, including that of Steve Rutz, a master gardener whose garden consists of 350 varieties of hosta, as well as many types of lilies and hybridized plants.

Also on the tour is local magician Matt Dunn, whose 3.6-acre estate features a furnished, livable treehouse.

“It’s an opportunity to actually get to know people in Plymouth,” said Cathy Fischer, who co-chairs the event with Ellen Griffin. “And if you’re interested in gardening, it’s a wonderful way to spend a Sunday afternoon.”

“Garden owners will be there and can answer any questions about their gardens,” Fischer said.

All proceeds will benefit the Hennepin County-Plymouth Library. Last year was the most successful, having raised $1,200.

When tickets are purchased at Bachman’s Plymouth, attendees will receive a map of the gardens and can visit each in any specific order from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Tickets can also be purchased the day of the event at Dunn’s home, 4130 Juneau Ln. N.

Other gardens on the tour include Debbie Soeffker’s patio garden featuring more than 40 potted geraniums of varying sizes, and Peggy Brakken Thal’s garden featuring many native plants, a wild cattail marsh, a rock garden and a large spring fed pond. The tour will include the gardens of Wil McClaren and Paul Thurmes, including a native plant meadow at their home on Medicine Lake.

McClaren provided a preview of the gardens, explaining the transformation since the couple moved there nine years ago.

As McClaren explained, gardening is a hobby they both acquired as they sought to add native plants, a perfect habitat for bees, butterflies and songbirds.

From the native plants in the front – a conversation piece among trail users – to the meandering meadow that leads to the dock, the one-acre property along West Medicine Lake Drive is a must-stop on the tour.

As McClaren described it, they wanted to create a unique blend of native plants, perennials and annuals.

Oftentimes, people think of native plants as looking unkempt, McClaren explained, however, when they become established, they offer a beautiful and unique feature.

Rain garden and native plants

The first garden guests can admire is native plant garden adjacent to the roadway and trail.

It’s a mixture of all native grasses and flowering plants, “with particular interest in species that would benefit pollinators,” McClaren noted. They also added a rain garden.

The yellow, orange and pink blooms include five species of milkweed and coneflower. Mixed in are native reed, meadow rue and little blue grasses, all of which were planted mostly from seed, he said.

Four years ago, when the gardens were first planted, they received a visit from the city weed inspector, citing complaints from neighbors, who saw the boulevard of newly planted natives as unkempt.

McClaren admits in the first year, weeds can be a challenge as they are harder to control until the native plants become more established fill the space. They also created a distinct corridor around the flower bed adjacent to the roadway so it would appear intentional, he explained.

In addition, the couple worked with the neighbor to provide functional drainage for both properties, collecting snowmelt and rain water. Between the rain garden and creek bed, the water gets filtered twice before entering Medicine Lake, he explained.

Prominently located at the home’s entry is McClaren’s grandmother’s antique cast iron fountain built in the 1890s by the J.W. Fiske and Company of New York. McClaren was born on the East Coast and was always fascinated with the fountain, which eventually went to his aunt in Florida, who then later gifted it to them as a wedding present.

Backyard haven and hillside walkway

The backyard offers a relaxing retreat overlooking Medicine Lake with a mix of perennial flower beds, pots of annuals, and a native plant meadow with granite steps and boulders leading to the lake.

When they originally moved to the property, the steep hillside was filled with reed canary grass, McClaren explained.

“Because of the steep slope, we couldn’t treat it as a normal lawn,” he said, noting this was their first and biggest project.

Their goal was to turn the challenge of the sloping site into an advantage.

‘‘We wanted to make the journey up and down pleasurable in itself and not an obstacle to get down to the dock. We wanted it to be a delight,” he said.

They called upon Prairie Restorations to help transform the slope, again planting native plants, mostly from seed.

In addition, Oh’ Landscapes provided the stone work, including steps of quarry rock and retaining walls made of giant boulders from Minnesota and Wisconsin. The rocks themselves create an added feature to the blooming hillside. “The rocks look really cool when it rains,” McClaren added.

While the hillside provides blooms all summer long, it offers an added feature in the fall as the leaves turn golden green. “The grasses kind of shimmer,” McClaren said, and the plants put up their seed heads and move in the breeze.

In fact, if they had to do it all over again, McClaren said they would incorporate fewer flowers and more grasses.

In-home conservatory

When the weather outside turns cold and white, the couple find a warm, tropical retreat inside their own conservatory.

Two years ago, as a wedding gift to themselves, they decided to transform a sitting area, separate from the original house, into a greenhouse. They did so “partly as a way to get us through the Minnesota winters,” said McClaren. They both like tropical plants and they wanted a space, that when they walk into the room, it smells organic and is filled with natural light.

The couple found a local builder, Conservatory Craftsmen, which specializes in residential greenhouses.

They took the existing room down to the foundation, installed heated flooring, a glass ceiling, and temperature sensor windows that open and close automatically. The room also has a mini split heating, ventilation and air conditioning system that heats and cools, along with a humidifier, to provide the proper climate not only for the exotic plants, as well as the other resident, a large veiled chameleon, Mittens. They also have an aquatic garden that not only acts as a water feature, but helps keep the humidity high, explained McClaren.

With a table and four chairs at the center, the couple can enjoy breakfast or a glass of wine in their own in-house tropical oasis.

Inside, they have mostly orchids, which they particularly like because of the bright, fragrant blooms.

Orchids Unlimited of Plymouth has been a great resource as they are an “amazing nursery nearby,” McClaren said.

They also have other tropical plants throughout, such as a yellow flowering NongNooch vine from Thailand, named after the 600-acre tropical botanical garden.

The most exotic plant they have is the corpse flower or amorphophallus titanum (titan arum).

According to Kew Science, the plant is found growing in the rainforests of western Sumatra, on steep hillsides and is a “giant among plants, with one of the largest flowering structures and one of the foulest odours in the plant kingdom.”

“If we’re lucky, at about six years, it will be about 14 feet tall ... it will have a single flower that will last two days and smell like rotten meat,” McClaren said of the 2-year-old plant.

If you go

Gorgeous Gardens of Plymouth tour

When: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, July 15

Tickets: Plymouth Bachman’s will sell tickets during business hours for $10. The Gorgeous Gardens of Plymouth tour will go on rain or shine. Ages 12 and under are free. On the day of the tour, tickets will be $15.

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Kristen Miller is the community editor for the Sun Sailor, covering the communities of Plymouth, Hopkins and Minnetonka. Email story ideas to

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