A Traffic-Stopping Boulevard

When Tina Long bought her home in Minneapolis’ Linden Hills neighborhood 15 years ago, the tiny yard had all the charm of a former rental. In a yard dominated by landscape rock, worn grass, and overgrown bushes, Long imagined something beautiful.

She saw purples, greens and pinks playing against the pale green of the house, colors that would mimic her mother’s watercolors of flowers like Echinacea. “I loved those paintings, and I took to what she loved,” Long says. “I wanted color. I needed to change it up.”

Pollinator-friendly blossoms fill the front yard
(Barbara O’Brien)

She started by planting annuals in pots and then dug up the boulevard. Now, with carefully coordinated gardens blanketing the small front yard, the property is a showstopper along Long’s busy street.

Window boxes line Tina Long's Green-Hued House
Lush window boxes pick up Tina Long’s preferred colors: purple, pink, and green. (Barbara O’Brien)

In the spring, pasque flowers, crocus, and iris bloom on the boulevard. Later, waves of allium, Asiatic lilies, peonies, Echinacea, hardy hibiscus, and ornamental grasses anchor the four-foot-wide strip. Turtlehead is in its glory in the fall. Long fills gaps in the garden with ornamental kale and spurge, a rambunctious ground cover that turns a soft yellow in the fall.

When a maple tree in the boulevard died and needed to be replaced, Long convinced the city to allow her to plant a small flowering crabapple called ‘Royal Raindrops’. With pink flowers, purple leaves, and red fruit that persists into winter, the tree adds year-round visual interest. A drip irrigation system and mulch make it easier to maintain the hot boulevard garden, but Long chose her plants carefully. 

“I researched native and non-native plants that would work with southern exposure and a ton of sun,” she says. “The boulevard has heat, sun, dogs stamping on it, salt, snow from plows…. If something didn’t make it, I would find something twice as interesting to replace it with.”

Black-Eyed Susans in Long's Garden
Bright black-eyed Susans are drought-tolerant and tough. (Barbara O’Brien)

The boulevard garden sits slightly lower than the surrounding pavement, so it also acts as a rain garden to prevent water from running into nearby Lake Harriet.

Last year Long added window boxes to the house, sticking with her purple, pink and green theme and adding accents like yellow coleus. Many of the pots that are positioned around the yard feature annuals like elephant ears that are season-long exclamation points, relying on foliage rather than flowers for their bold look.

Long’s disciplined design sense even extends up the driveway, where last year a red patio umbrella and a giant potted banana tree with maroon-flushed leaves also echoed colors in the front yard. For Long, a director at a Minneapolis advertising agency, the garden offers a creative outlet for her after she spends workdays carrying out other people’s concepts. “It’s fun to be executing my own ideas,” she says.

Banana Tree evokes tropical themes
Pots stationed around the yard add a touch of tropical drama: maroon elephant ears (foreground) and a giant banana tree with flushed leaves. (Barbara O’Brien)

Many mornings, Long goes for a run, often stopping to look at the Lake Harriet Rose Garden. “I take pictures of things I love and try to mimic what works really well,” she says.

Her gardens are her sanctuary before and after work. As she weeds, she sometimes startles ducks and rabbits that hide among the plants. With so many pollinator-friendly perennials, bees and butterflies are plentiful and the garden literally hums around her as she works.

But on the busy street, Long is rarely alone. Neighbors, dog walkers, and kids often stop to comment and ask questions. Most people are considerate of the garden, Long says.

“Everyone around me really respects it,” she said. “People say, ‘This is my favorite garden.’ I meet people every day that I would otherwise never meet. They feel like they can start a conversation because they want to know what that turtlehead is. It’s fun.”

Web Extra: Watercolors by Jeanne Long

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