Photos by Andrea Rugg
Maybe in the winter, sure, but in the spring, summer, and fall, Mary Shannon has no need for a house number. She could just tell new visitors, “Look for the garden on Logan Avenue South.” Or for Uber drivers, perhaps “Follow the bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds” would do the trick.
I visited to see her garden work, and when I saw the front yard, I was surprised—wowed even. Mary and her garden don’t know when to quit. Or where. And that’s perfect. The never-ending floral varieties shared beds with tall trees, and sunflowers strained to keep standing in the cool, late-summer breeze. I was ready to start our interview when, like a chef looking past an hors d’oeuvres, Mary opened a gate into the backyard.
Trampoline, You’re Bounced
“I started with nothing,” says Mary, but that’s not 100% accurate. Her Richfield backyard had a trampoline and a wooden play set when she moved in, “but definitely no garden.” That was 10 years ago, and she still has the grainy black-and-white “before” photo that looks a bit like a shipwreck.
“My husband lived in this house when we got married,” she adds. “When we decided to move in here, we knew we would remodel both inside and out.” I didn’t see the inside, but the outside is transformed completely, save for the trees that continue to shape the look and style of Mary’s gardens.
Her father was a gardener when Mary was young and living in California, but the now-Hennepin County Master Gardener didn’t find her own green thumbs until she moved to Minnesota in 2005.
“I made a friend who was in a gardening club,” Mary recalls. “I went to a meeting with her, and I was absolutely fascinated by people who could do this work. I joined the club and became very involved. I was even the president of the club for a couple years.”
Ready to buy a home in 2009, Mary found a lovely garden in Roseville that happened to surround a nice house. The seller was an avid gardener and wanted a buyer who could tend to the work she had done over many years. Mary was in.
“I spent a good deal of time and money on both the house and the garden, and I thought I would be there forever,” Mary says. Then she met Bob Shannon with the house in Richfield—and the trampoline. So, in 2013, she started over.
But not from scratch. “I transplanted some things from Roseville, like the peonies, which are now probably 70 years old,” Mary says. “I told the former homeowner from Roseville that I would take care of her gardens, and in a way, I still am.”
Mary’s garden follows the calendar from April through October. “So many spring bulbs,” she says, explaining the seasonality of her flowering space. The tall delphinium stalks fill with flowers in early summer. Then the lovely lady slipper, a member of the orchid family and Minnesota’s state flower, shows its pink-and-white blooms. Mary has dahlias in a range of shades, and they lead into the asters and mums of fall.
The red-and-white “hot lips” salvias were my personal favorite. She also has black-and-blue salvias, and they bloom throughout the summer. One of Mary’s favorites? The striking hyacinth bean vine that flowers in summer and develops richly purple pea-like bean pods.
It’s not all eye candy; Mary gathers fresh produce—like tomatoes, cucumbers, and potted potatoes—from her garden, too. In the winter, Mary enjoys the view of the rocks and boulders she and Rock Solid Landscaping placed strategically to keep her garden attractive year-round.
“The pine and maple trees that seemed just the right size 10 years ago are now turning this into a shade garden,” says Mary, who prunes what she can and considers the growth of her many plants as part of the natural evolution of her garden spaces. “I move things around a bit to get the right color balance and sun exposure.
“It’s art, and this is my palette,” she continues. Having recently earned her Master Gardener credentials, Mary truly is an artist in the garden. A retired nurse, she brings the same thoughtful caring to gardening as she did to her profession. “There are similarities between gardening and nursing,” Mary admits. “I’m out here watching, assessing, asking why, and tending to a plant’s needs to keep it healthy. The Master Gardener program taught me there is still a lot I don’t know.”
A garden like Mary’s requires a lot of knowledge, care, and work, but Mary and her husband make ample time to enjoy the effort. Central to the backyard space is a fire pit surrounded by bright-colored chairs. On the south side of the property, a small shed is part storage and part Bob’s office. They also added a small porch that serves as a perfect spot for morning coffee. “And the bunnies have condos below, I’m sure,” Mary says, playfully.
As you drive south on Logan Avenue in Richfield, you can always search by house number, but that’s not always an easy task. In fact, I’m lobbying the city to change Mary Shannon’s home address to “Lilies and Marigolds Surrounding a Beautiful Blue Spruce on Logan Avenue South.” Mary just might need a bigger mailbox.
Attend the 2023 Hennepin County Master Gardener Learning Garden Tour on Saturday, July 8, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Visit hennepinmastergardeners.org to learn more.