Here Comes the Sun
In one dramatic moment, a Lake Harriet garden transitioned from shady to sun-drenched
The stately elm had survived a century as most of its species fell to disease. Arborists who kept it healthy said it was one of the largest elms in Minnesota. Its vast canopy shaded an entire block across from Lake Harriet and offered privacy to its owners’ front yard. Its 6-foot-diameter trunk filled their entire dining room view.
And then, early one morning, a thunderous, tearing sound rent the quiet. The tree split into three massive sections. One piece crushed a wrought-iron table and the front patio before driving 6 feet into the ground. Another smashed the front walkway and hedge, then blocked the street out front.
The entire neighborhood mourned the loss of the tree. A previous homeowner even wrote from New York to make sure the current owners hadn’t had the tree removed of their own accord. Though the tree fell on a quiet night, arborists from Rainbow Tree Care believed that previous wind damage had weakened the tree, initiating the collapse.
Despite their grief over the loss of the tree, the homeowners discovered they now had a spectacular view of Lake Harriet. “Tears were shed the night that the tree went down,” the husband recounts. “But then, the next morning, we realized: it changed everything! There’s light that penetrates to the back of the house.”
The homeowners were pleased with the way that dappled reflections from the water now reached throughout their home’s two stories—with the state of their garden, not so much. “It looked like a bomb went off,” the wife recalls. To make matters worse, any plants that survived the upheaval were quickly scorched by the July sun.
The homeowners tapped a family connection at Bachman’s, the company that had previously landscaped their yard, to help with the rehab. They tasked Bachman’s landscape designer Alyson Landmark with bringing a fresh vision to their dramatically changed yard. “It was a clean slate,” Landmark says, recalling that the veranda had been flattened and there wasn’t even a path to the front door.
Landmark began developing the landscape’s form in collaboration with the homeowners. They envisioned a low wall along the public walk, so she designed a stone wall to replace the previous hedge, providing privacy without creating too large a barrier between the home and the lakeshore’s bustling activity that the homeowners love. Landmark also worked with a mason to match the unique stone blend that surrounds the home’s doorway to repeat it as an enclosure for the circular patio.
Today, columnar Regal Prince oaks add vertical form among the plantings, flanking the front yard. A crabapple and an Ann Magnolia offer an early spring vignette, while a Mandarin Lights azalea blooms vivid orange. Spring bulbs give way to deep fuchsia Nippon Beauty peonies, whose abundant petals achieve the cottage style that the homeowners desired. White Becky daisies, purple liatris, and Limelight hydrangeas add a burst of color before late autumn arrives and the shrubs and evergreens dominate. As the weather changes, Bachman’s gardeners rotate seasonal arrangements in four oversized iron urns displayed near the front door and on the stone wall, including eye-catching tropical floral displays in summer.
“Compared to the relatively shady block, our house really pops because it has a lot of color,” the wife says. “Things are always blooming all through summer, even into very late summer, there’s always color out there.”
The new garden has transformed the home’s character from one defined by the massive elm to one beloved for its vibrant floral displays. The wife recalls a day when she was out watering, and a little girl called to her mother, “The flower house lady is out!” It took a moment before the homeowner realized, “She’s talking about me!”
Sun vs. Shade:
What to Plant
Nothing lasts forever. Your neighbor’s new shed suddenly throws shade on the sunny corner of your yard. A windstorm takes down a tree branch, letting in full sun. A change in light level creates an opportunity for discovering new plants. Alyson Landmark offers a few of her favorites best suited for full sun and heavy shade.
Perennials for Full Sun
Plants receive close to 6 hours of afternoon sun with south or west exposures.
Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)
Clusters of tiny orange flowers
Shasta Daisy (Leucanthemum x superbum ‘Sante’)
Pompon-like double shaggy white petals
Little Zebra Grass (Miscanthus sinensis)
Large copper flowers over thin, zebra-striped leaves
Little Sundial Tickseed (Dwarf Coreopsis)
Golden yellow daisies with maroon center
Dwarf Asiatic Lily (Lilium ‘Tiny Hope’)
Upward-facing scarlet flowers
Floristan Violet Blazing Star (Liatris spicata)
Upright purple spikes and grass-like foliage
Scarlet O’Hara Dwarf Poppy (Papaver orientale)
Satiny scarlet blooms in early summer
Nippon Beauty Peony (Paeonia ‘Nippon Beauty’)
Prolific double scarlet blooms with yellow centers
Tenor Phlox (Phlox paniculata)
Fragrant magenta flowers
Xenox Stonecrop (Sedum ‘Xenox’)
Hue-changing: blue to purple to pink
Perennials for Heavy Shade
Plants receive little or no sun.
Guacamole Hosta (Hosta ‘Guacamole’)
Chartreuse leaves edged in bright green with lily-like blooms
Bleeding Heart (Dicentra spectabilis)
Clusters of dangling bright-red, heart-shaped flowers
Raspberry Splash Lungwort (Pulmonaria ‘Raspberry Splash’)
Blooms both bright pink and purple over silver-spotted leaves
Periwinkle (Vinca minor)
Dense mat of green leaves with bright blue flowers
Upright clumps with arching fronds
Diane Cormany is a Robbinsdale writer.
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