The Sotebeers' Beautiful Flowers Bring Family Together

When the grown kids moved back home, this Eden Prairie family gather in the garden.
The Sotebeers' wild flower-filled garden overlooking the Minnesota River Valley in Eden Prairie.

Flowers have always been a part of Jan Sotebeer’s life. Growing up in southern California, Sotebeer had the luxury of sunny skies, warm weather, and a year-round garden right outside her door. “I’ll always need to have flowers around me,” says Sotebeer, who is retired from her career as a florist.

Today Sotebeer and her husband, Gary, live in the non-tropical climate of Minnesota, where snow-banks and icicles abound right outside the door for the better part of the year. But that never stopped Sotebeer from dreaming about a flower garden and freshly cut flowers. “For Minnesotans it wouldn’t be Christmas without snow, but for my mom it wouldn’t be summer without flowers,” says Christina Pilon, the Sotebeers’ daughter.

Five years ago, the Sotebeers built a home atop the bluffs overlooking the Minnesota River Valley in Eden Prairie. When it came time to decide on landscaping, Gary wanted to avoid regular lawn care and maintenance for their 1.5-acre lot, and Jan was still pining for freshly cut flowers. The only solution that pleased them both, was swapping out sod and grass seed for wild flowers and shrubs.

Around the same time, Pilon and her husband, Jeremiah, enrolled in law school, and decided to make the big move back home to help with finances. Suddenly there were plenty of hands eager to dig in, and before long, the Sotebeer family garden was born.

Today, the Sotebeer’s garden showcases close to 50 types of flowers. “There really is something beautiful coming out of [the garden] all throughout the spring, summer and fall,” Christina says. “We’ve been spoiled; now the idea of buying a bouquet seems crazy.”

Everyone in the family has their favorites: for Jan it’s the springtime daffodils and tulips, for Gary it’s the Stella DeOras, Jeremiah likes the lilies, and Christina favors the roses. Although their garden is impressive in its variety and scope, they never formed a plan or kept to strict rules. Oftentimes they simply purchase whatever plants look good at the market that year, making sure they have a variety of annuals and perennials. “Every garden is a work in progress … it just evolves,” Barbara says.

Through the years the garden has become a family affair, with each member contributing his or her own part. “We all have different areas of expertise and interest, so we don’t step on each other’s toes,” Christina explains. Jan is in charge of picking out new plants, getting them in the ground, and the general upkeep, and she enjoys leisurely hours putzing in the garden. Gary loves that he doesn’t have to mow, although there is plenty of other maintenance tasks, like mulching. Jeremiah is a skilled photographer, who is thankful for all of his beautiful “subjects” right outside the door. And Christina appreciates the simple pleasure of picking her own bouquet of flowers, especially when the garden is constantly changing throughout the seasons. “It’s very therapeutic,” she says.

In Christina’s second year of law school, she developed a secondary hobby that compliments the garden: bee keeping. She currently owns three beehives on their property, and enjoys watching her little bees pollinate the garden. “I think I’ve noticed it’s improved the flowers,” she says.

Honeybees have a tough life in Minnesota, she explains, because they have to make all of their food to store for winter. The hives need to be almost completely full, but anything in excess Christina can harvest. Although honeybees can travel between five and seven miles, Christina’s bees don’t have to go far to find fresh flowers.

In the years ahead, the Sotebeers anticipate a move away from their garden as they downsize, and the Pilons head out on their own again. But these years together in the garden have been a blessing. Although it ended up being a lot more work than they anticipated, they never felt burdened or pressured to make it perfect. “We just enjoy it for what it is and let it evolve and exists,” Christina says.