Petruska Photography’s Working Gardens

A large garden oasis serves as a beautiful backdrop for Petruska Photography.
Petruska Photography owners Hans and Pat Petruska use their backyard as a canvas, setting and inspiration.

The creative eye of professional photographer Hans Petruska extends well beyond his camera lens. He designs and maintains park-like gardens on his two-acre lot that serve as a backdrop for much of his stunning photography. Hans and his wife, Pat, moved into their Chanhassen home in 1995; a model home adjacent to a tract of undeveloped green space. Much of the home’s large backyard appeared brown and marshy to average homebuyers. But Hans saw the property’s potential and immediately hired a crew with a bulldozer and a backhoe to begin a transformation from dirt to divine. The beautiful results are evident the moment you walk to the Petruskas' front door. Pavers carve a path through a variety of shrubs, blooms and statuary. Marble pillars topped with cascading floral arrangements flank the front porch stoop. Step inside and you’re immediately drawn to a wall of large windows at the rear of the home’s open floor plan. These east facing windows overlook the painstaking splendor of the Petruskas' backyard. The view is picturesque. The first thing visitors will notice is the large natural run-off pond with a center fountain that glistens in the sun like a liquid tiara. The pond is filled with fish and necklaced with a beautiful array of Diamond Head plants, water lilies, ornamental grasses and irises. The pond also incorporates a patch of sandy beach, a quaint boat dock and a stone waterfall. Portrait subjects can be photographed in a beach scene, dockside or standing on an outcropping of flat stones lodged into the pond’s edge. Aquatic plant life keeps the Petruskas' pond water clean enough for animals to sip and the their grandchildren to swim. The inclusion of flowering and berry producing shrubs around the yard attracts a variety of birds, bees and butterflies. Wild turkeys and deer are common garden interlopers. The Petruskas have identified more than 50 different bird species enjoying the fruits of their landscape labor over the years. “We didn’t do everything all at once,” says Hans, referring to the tens of thousands of dollars he’s invested in plants, landscape materials and design work. “We had several landscape designers offer expertise on how to achieve what we wanted.” Hans credits Greg Flakne of Flakne Exterior Design/Scape for providing significant insight into achieving their desired garden aesthetic. The Petruskas wanted a natural ecosystem that would look beautiful in pictures and also support the visiting wildlife. The Petruskas' eyes are ever open to excellence. This led them to hire Sarah and Katie Windland of Windland Fields. “We discovered Windland Fields at a farmer’s market,” says Hans. “We loved their flowers and asked them to come out and help add some drama and variety to the flowers in our front yard. They do great work and we hope to have them back.” Zoom out from the pond and a vision of strolling paths can be seen winding around the water’s edge with stops at a variety of scenic backdrops. There are arbors and stone fountains, pillars, marble monuments, a gazebo, a fire pit and layers of decking. All of these majestic stops are nestled in flowering perennials and shrubbery. Blooms from prevalent rose bushes are a signature item in the senior pictures of young women photographed by Petruska. Gauzy canopies of deciduous and ornamental trees are dotted throughout the garden. The perimeter of the property is lined with arborvitaes. These ensure that every picture captures the illusion of a park-like setting with no potential glimpse of neighboring suburban homes. A gazebo with double doors can frame a beautiful bride or be used to provide artistic lighting. A smaller building serves as a changing room as well as an additional photographic backdrop as a railed cabin porch. Over the years, the Petruskas' have studied photography with some the world’s most accomplished photographers. They often visit art galleries simply to study particular lighting techniques. This attention to detail spills over into the Petruskas' landscape design. Hans has designed his yard with attention to the precise lighting at each time of day and in every location on his property. The design allows Hans to get the best shot every time. Much of the heavy labor is hired out. But Hans maintains most of the landscape plantings himself. He is sure to stagger his plantings so that something is always in bloom from May to November. Their yard is an ever-changing palette of color from spring through fall. Hans examines his photography for potential improvements in scenery and notes that different colored plants can enhance the color in his portraits depending on what his subjects are wearing. Pat says, “Hans has moved every plant in our yard multiple times to create the best possible pictures. If he doesn’t like something, he’ll remove it and plant something else.” Hans attributes his affinity to plants and flowers to his parents who were known to spend entire summers in their garden. “Their skin was mahogany brown from so much time outdoors,” Hans says. “They once won an award for the best garden in Hopkins.” Pat’s father was also an avid gardener and an influence on Hans. He owned a garden store and started the men’s garden club in Excelsior. Kare 11 took notice of the Petruskas' green thumb two years ago and featured their garden on Belinda Jensen’s televised backyard tour. “That was very exciting,” says Pat. “Unfortunately, it rained that day.” But when the weather is right, the scenic garden location of the Petruskas' backyard is so relaxing that once when a client requested photos of their family roasting marshmallows around the Petruskas' fire pit, they decided to stay into the evening. Hans says, “Pat and I returned to the house after the photo shoot. We told the family to stay as long as they liked. And they did.” But it is Hans and Pat who spend the most time in the garden oasis they have created. After their photography work is done for the day, they often meander down into the yard with their dogs to relax. “It’s hard to believe we are in the city,” says Hans. “All around us is beauty and the sweet sounds of trickling water and chirping birds.”