Beauty is in the Eye of Eden Prairie's Backyard

Rich and Nancy Pudas took their eyesore of a hill, and turned it into a backyard that is as beautiful as it is tranquil.
Rich and Nancy Pudas enjoy an early morning in their now beautiful backyard.

When now-retired school teachers Rich and Nancy Pudas moved into their two-story Eden Prairie home 27 years ago, they loved the house itself, the half-acre lot, the neighborhood and the location. But what they didn’t love was the rather unwieldy, downright unruly, slope that passed as a backyard. “There is a 12’ drop from the patio at the back of the house to the bottom of the yard, and that was all hill,” Rich says. “We really love to entertain, but that wasn’t conducive to having people over in the back yard.”

“Also,” interjects Nancy, “I’m from California and have always liked to sunbathe, and there wasn’t a single flat spot to put a lounge chair.”

So, in an effort create a lovely space that would allow for friends and Nancy’s lawn chairs, approximately ten years ago, Rich began working to tame their wild yard. Heavily influenced by a philosophy he found when they were living in California where yards were completely filled with hardscape, trees, plant material, stones, and had virtually no grass, he drew up his own Western-inspired landscape plan to use as a framework to follow.

And, wanting to eschew anything even remotely resembling a formal garden, he opted for a yard that had flow and balance, but looked as if everything in it could somehow have been repeated in nature; sort of a you-think-you’re-up-in-the-woods-but-you’re-really-in-the-‘burbs feel.

Rich knew that terracing was key to achieving the look, so he hired a neighbor kid who had his own bobcat and he carefully guided him on notching out the hill. “He was really good, and cheap, too,” says Rich, with a laugh.

Next, he installed French drains (trenches that are covered with rocks and are used to redirect water), and brought in 40 tons of boulders (yes, 40 tons!) from a quarry near Little Falls, which he used for structural support. “I did just about all of that by myself,” Rich says. “A few times I did ask my sons [Matt and Mark] and their friends to come over and help, but for the most part, it was just me; I was in really good shape that summer.”

Once the terracing was finished, he laid a 20’ by 20’ paver patio that perfectly connects two decks on either side of the house, and, in an effort to bring his vision closer to reality, he planted a myriad of Aspens, Birch, and Serviceberry’s along the periphery.

When the next summer came, Rich was working hard on adding five stone waterfalls that melodically trickle into a 45’ rock-bed stream that meanders and weaves its way around the patio, and a pond that he keeps stocked with glistening fish of gold.

Pudas Backyard Waterfall

Ensuing years brought a stone bridge, a fire pit area added to the patio, another seating area, and plantings everywhere the eye can see. “I’ve tried to keep with native, non-invasive plants,” he says. “Things like Heuchera, Dwarf Bush Honeysuckle, Sedge grass, Catmint, Bee Balm, Dogwood and swamp milkweed.”

And that pond? Well, it’s a work of art. Lily pads float easily on the sparkling water and cavort with ferns, native grasses, irises, sedums, wild geraniums, while a host of birds (Rich and Nancy have seen up to 12 different species in there at the same time) love to cool their feathers on warm afternoons.

Their dream of their own private oasis is coming to fruition.

“When you’re sitting down there and everything is all leafed out, you can’t even see our neighbors,” says Nancy, as she scans the yard. “We had our son’s wedding out here and it was really wonderful. There were 150 people and there was plenty of room; everyone walked around, looked at the bridge, the pond, and enjoyed it all.”

But if you’re worried about Rich being bored now that the majority of the work is done, you don’t have to worry too much. He’s always switching up plants from this spot to that spot, filling in a bit here and a bit there, and is planning on building a bar this summer on one of the decks.

And, through all of his obvious toil and obvious pleasure, it appears he’s also found himself another calling. “After the second year of being out there in the yard, I started getting people telling me I should do landscaping for a living,” says Rich, who has always had an interest in art and even has a two-year landscaping degree. “So now that I’m retired [both he and Nancy retired last fall] I’ve decided to pursue it. I take what I’ve learned here and apply it to other jobs.”

He takes on about 5 or 10 jobs a year in his new role at Pudas Landscaping & Construction, a company he’s created with his son, Matt.

But he is philosophical about all that this beautiful transformation has given him and will continue to give him. “I look at the yard like a piece of art,” he says, “and I’m constantly tinkering and putzing around out there. I don’t think it will really ever be done because once it’s done, the joy is gone, and I definitely don’t want that.”