“I don’t have a go-to plant. I’m always up for trying something new.” —Natalie Twining
Bursts of summery red, orange, pink and yellow contrast muted brown, gray and rust in the gardens that surround Natalie Twining’s Chanhassen home. This interesting combination of vibrant plants and weathered artifacts is both curious and ever-evolving—a perfect expression of the Master Gardener’s personality. “I love to find something unexpected,” Twining says, “and then plant something in it.”
Old farm items, such as a feed trough, a wheelbarrow and a creamer are her favorites. They remind her of childhood visits to her grandmother’s South Dakota farm, where she used to help weed the garden and pick vegetables and fruits.
When she moved into her home in 1999, Twining inherited the previous owner’s gardens and water-logged landscape dotted with a maple tree, some tattered pine trees, six hostas, three peonies, a few irises and a lot of white landscaping rock. Aside from the pine trees and rocks, those items still exist throughout the many designated garden spaces that now color Twining’s 3/4-acre lot. “I assumed they were the original plants of the house, and I loved the idea that maybe I could keep them alive for another 30 years,” she says.
Because the home was built in a naturally marshy area, an underground drainage system was installed to help fix the problem of excess water, and then Twining’s gardens began to take shape.
A large swath of green grass anchors the center of the backyard, which is encircled by eye-catching beds that hug the perimeter, reaching even into the back corners of the wedge-shape space. Twining also uses some exterior walls as part of the design. Charming rusted rake heads, an old steering wheel, three weathered cedar birdhouses, a small window frame with peeling white paint and more hang on the back siding of the garage. These intriguing pieces are complemented by numerous containers filled with lush plants, such as coleus and spathiphyllum, that line the base of the garage. On another exterior wall near the deck hangs a picture-frame-turned-planter overflowing with lush, green succulents.
Red is prominent in Twining’s gardens. From planters to chairs to flowers and leaves, crisp red helps to tie the many different areas of the landscape together.
A highlight of Twining’s backyard is the antique pump house. The large garden that surrounds this unique structure is where she likes to grow tall plants, such as miscanthus giganteus, and experiment with new ones to see how they fare. “I don’t have a go-to plant,” she says, “I’m always up for trying something new.”
Another can’t-miss element is the collection of two limestone slabs and three rocks nestled in a small garden created in memory of Twining’s daughter Bridgette, who passed away as a result of a car accident in September of 2011. One rock is marked with the word Fearless, another with the coordinates of the crash site and the third with the coordinates of the family’s cabin in Michigan.
One of the slabs has a picture of Bridgette with her name and birth and death dates, and the other is engraved with a memorable quote. These hard stone pieces are accompanied by soft, pink peonies and lime-green grasses.
Not all of Twining’s gardens are just for display, however. She also has two 4x6-foot raised beds where she grows tomatoes, peppers, lettuce and other vegetables that her family likes. And as a participant in vegetable trials for the University of Minnesota, Twining also tests growing different vegetables and reports on her results. She also works with kale, though not to eat, but as a filler in her other gardens. “It has great texture,” she says.
The northwest edge of the yard is shady, inspiring Twining to create a woodland-style garden there. “It’s full of hostas mostly,” she says. “There are a few astilbes, ligularias, some wild ginger and a variety of mints.”
The front yard is also mostly shaded. “It’s a little bit more formal,” Twining says. There, she incorporates beautiful red begonias, ferns, glacier ivy and other shade-loving plants. In all of her gardens, Twining plants many different annuals each year in whatever unexpected containers she can find, helping to create that perfect balance of old and new.
Garden Like a Master
Try one or all three of these projects from Natalie Twining in your own garden.
1. Frame planters: Find a large frame and remove the glass and the back. Build a shallow box using 1x3 boards to fit the back of the frame; then staple a piece of hardware cloth to the top of the box and attach the frame to the box on top of the hardware cloth. Staple a piece of screen to the bottom of the box and fill the frame with soil and seeds. Lay the frame face-up in the sun and water generously for six to eight weeks until the roots are able to hold the dirt in place; then hang the frame.
2. Unexpected plant containers: The best antique containers to use for planters, Twining says, are those that already have holes or cracks in the bottom for drainage. If your container doesn’t have drainage, simply plant in a container that will fit inside the antique.
3. Bowling ball garden art: Find an old bowling ball (Twining bought one for $1 at a garage sale); then use outdoor-rated glue to adhere pennies along the entire surface.