A Labor of Love

This Minneapolis pair has learned to tend a thriving garden oasis—together

Photos by Tracy Walsh

From the street, there’s just a hint of what’s to come. Lush plantings beneath the river birch and massed containers in the front yard suggest gardeners are nearby—with an eye for both color and form.

Towering cedar and vibrant annuals add a secluded, private feel to a charming seating area.
Twenty-two years ago, Mary Gallagher and her fiancé Monty Beyl discovered their shared passion for gardening.

But the garden’s true delights unfold in the side and back yards of this tidy South Minneapolis Tudor Revival. They begin with a charming seating area and a stone bench screened by Brandon Cedar trees, then meander via walkway to an equally impressive flagstone patio beneath a spreading maple tree. There’s one pond beside the three-season porch, while another anchors the rock garden toward the back of the lot.

You might find homeowner Mary Gallagher and her fiancé Monty Beyl enjoying one of the seating areas tucked into these garden rooms. But, more likely, they’ll be busy perfecting the profusion of flowers and foliage. Like all the best gardens, this one is never finished; it evolves and changes with the years.

Tucked beside the three-season porch, a window box overflows with fuchsia impatiens and creeping Jenny. Nearby, vinca vine, cattail, and a yellow canna lily complement the koi pond.
Colorful containers teeming with blooming annuals, coleus, and Elephant Ears line the flagstone patio near the backyard garden.

Gallagher has been at it now for almost five decades, and her commitment shows. She grew up in this house, but her mother didn’t garden and neither did she until the house became hers in 1971. But she learned what she liked, what grew best where, and what didn’t grow at all. Beyl joined her efforts 22 years ago, and the couple shares a passion for gardening. Even though, she laughs, “neither one of us is educated in gardening or even remembers the names of plants.”

No matter. The midsummer garden showcases loads of blooming annuals, interspersed with foliage plantings in shades of emerald, sage, and lime. Window boxes overflow with fuchsia impatiens, sweet potato vines, and trailing creeping Jenny. Containers and hanging pots hold a dazzling array of petunias, begonias, coleus, and more. Nothing terribly exotic, just exuberant and profuse.

A second pond and rock garden anchor the back of the lot, with emerald, sage, and lime foliage interspersed between zinnias, geraniums, and sweet potato vines.

The couple’s division of labor—she did the designing and planting; he handled the heavy lifting and mulching—changed when she had a stroke a couple years ago. “I can’t garden anymore, but I can plant planters,” Gallagher says. “He does all the work, and we fight over what flowers to put in.”

Containers are Gallagher’s specialty. She plants 30 to 40 pots in a variety of shapes and sizes, and artfully arranges them in garden beds and seating areas. She’s partial to Big Leaf begonias and coleus, and loves growing zinnias in the garden for cutting.

Meticulous nurturing is Beyl’s forte. He plants the beds, takes care of the ponds, waters the gardens, and keeps improvements coming. He built the wrought-iron arbor, devised drip lines to irrigate the hanging pots, and installed poultry wire to keep out the wily neighborhood rabbits.

The front steps showcase a pair of Boston ferns and begonias.

Each year, the couple overwinters in the basement what most of us consider annuals: geraniums, Elephant Ears, and Big Leaf and Rex begonias. The aquatic plants in the ponds come inside as well, stored in heavy plastic bags; so do the koi and goldfish. Those ubiquitous dracaena spikes you buy each year for containers? Beyl has kept some going so long they’re the size of bushes.

They add to their garden each year, scouring local nurseries for the best deals on annuals. Gallagher knows what she wants and knows a good price when she sees it. She scored a pair of enormous Boston ferns for her front steps for $16 apiece at Costco early this spring, for example.

She claims trial and error as her teacher, but she’s been a good student, keeping a log of each year’s plantings to track what thrives and where. But he likes to experiment, sometimes proving the experts wrong. Together, the gardening wisdom they’ve amassed is evident for all to see.

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