Cottage Grove Garden Grown From the Heart

Myra Peterson cultivates memories and just as many hostas in her Cottage Grove garden

Photos by Andrea Rugg

Towering trees cast shade on the hosta varieties that blanket Myra Peterson’s sprawling backyard in Cottage Grove.

“For me, it’s not about keeping things alive—it’s about keeping them beautiful,” says Myra Peterson, discussing the elaborate flower garden that surrounds her Cottage Grove home. She was also, I’m sure, talking about the people whose memories she cultivates all summer long in her “memory garden.” “My parents were gardeners,” she says. “My dad planted red geraniums, but my mom liked the salmon-colored ones. I have both in my garden.”

Peterson also had a friend, Marsha, who always planted wax begonias at home. “So, I planted those in my garden,” she says. “It’s one of those funny things. I didn’t realize I was drawn to some of these flowers.” But at the end of the day, what drew her to geraniums, begonias, hostas, and moccasin flowers is people.

She has always been a gardener, although that once meant “more landscaping than flower gardening,” she explains. “I had planted mostly hostas. And my son, Jon, would run the rototiller because he told me I didn’t know how to do it.”

Peterson continues, “I started this as a way of grieving.” Nearly 30 years ago, Jon Lobeck was killed accidentally, and his beauty lives on in his mother’s garden. “As my garden grew, I realized how many flowers I was planting represented someone I knew,” she says. “That’s why it became a memory garden.”

Ever Changing

A brick path leading to the home’s front door is surrounded by pops of color in the form of countless florals and greenery.

“This will be an interesting growing season,” Peterson said when we spoke back in May. “I’m going to have to replace a lot of things in my garden. Is this God telling me, at age 84, to slow down and reduce the garden a bit?”

Both gardens and gardeners are ever-changing, she admits. “It’s my first year without Nana,” Peterson says. Her friend and longtime gardening assistant, Nana returned to her home in the Philippines with her husband where they could better tend to his ill health. “She used to sing to my plants. I’m fortunate that my son, Chris, who is a hardscape specialist, and grandson, Eric, are willing to pick up the pieces. Eric told me he can’t sing, but he can do things that Nana couldn’t do—like install a drip irrigation system.”

With plantings that surround her home and pool, and a property that includes hardscape elements, a waterfall, and ornamental fencing, Peterson’s garden requires a good deal of work. “When I was working, I would get up at 5:30 and work in the garden for an hour or so before work,” she says. She admits this “work” produced benefits beyond lovely flowers: “The exercise, the meditation, the sun beating on your back. Gardening is absolute relaxation.”

She Excels

A whimsical path of stepping stones meanders through the garden.

“I have everything in a database,” Peterson says. “Before I started this documentation, I had purchased things like Orange Marmalade—even though I have some of those in my garden already. I describe in this database where I’ve planted things.” Prior to the Excel database, she tried labeling things by placing painted rocks. “It was a great system until the paint peeled off or faded in the sun,” she adds. “I spent a lot of money on black rocks from the West Coast.”

But it started with hostas for Peterson. “I’ve never met a hosta I didn’t want to buy,” she says. I have about 560 different named hostas.” (No, she did not name her hostas—there are thousands of registered hosta names within the few dozen individual species of the popular greenery.)

“I’m a history buff,” Peterson adds, “and in my front yard, I have hostas called Patriots and Minutemen.” She says those plants are similar, but the Minutemen have slightly darker leaf centers and are smaller. “And the Rockets Red Glare hostas always make me think of the national anthem. I don’t know if I’m drawn to the name or the looks, but I guess it’s both.”

A Storied Garden

Longtime gardening assistant Nana and homeowner Myra Peterson smile and pose for a portrait on the property.

As Peterson described the Rockets to me, sharing how the plants’ red stems bleed into the leaves, I told her I will need to add these to my own garden. And when she got to the Brother Stefan variety—which has a “unique green color with large leaves that look bubbly”—we shared garden stories for a while. “Gardeners have lots of stories,” she says. “And gardening becomes a way of developing friendships. Most gardeners are not concerned with social status; it’s always a group you can feel comfortable in. There is a camaraderie when you meet gardeners, especially from other parts of the country. It’s not political or religious or intimidating. You always feel comfortable.”

When she hosted a national hosta tour at her house last year, about 400 people visited her garden. All those hosta enthusiasts, plus the drive-by visitors who stop to admire Peterson’s garden, have seen the color and beauty of her memorial tribute, from the rich coral bells and bright lady slippers to the array of green hostas and radiant geraniums. They all remind Peterson of someone special to her. “I have a lovely granddaughter named Teresa, and she has beautiful brown eyes,” she says. “And I call her my Brown-Eyed Susan.”

Myra’s Expert Advice

  1. “Rabbits will eat tulips but not daffodils.”
  2. “Deer-resistant plants like Wild Ginger and Solomon’s Seal help keep the weeds out and are drought tolerant.”
  3. “Coffee grounds add nitrogen to soil, help retain moisture, and can be obtained free from coffee shops.”
  4. “Gardening is an art form and people need more art in their lives.”
  5. “Facebook is not all bad, and it can be a wonderful place to talk with other gardeners.”

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