Horta Culture: Gardening Made Simple

An Afton home and garden shop seeks to promote a mindful approach to gardening and help the community embrace nature

Photos provided  

Horta | a fertile field, a garden where fruit and vegetables are grown for sale
Culture | a way of life, intangible elements of our social life, gathering, artful outdoor living, the world as we aspire it to be

After three years of growing a small spring nursery and operating a micro herb and vegetable garden in Hudson, Wisconsin, Jill and Nicholas Livingston saw an opportunity to bring their passion for artful and sustainable outdoor living to the historic Squire House in Afton, Minnesota—a treasured destination for regional gardeners for the past three decades. As a plant yard, retail shop, and garden, Horta Culture demonstrates the best ways of embracing nature and demonstrates just how much gardens add to a community.

The Livingstons previously lived in Japan and England, and they were inspired by the perennial-rich natural gardens and gardening cultures of England, Japan, and the Netherlands. “We adored the small garden and farm shops that had handmade brushes, heirloom tools, and a beautiful selection of objects made for and from the land,” says Jill, who co-owns the shop. “We wanted to create a shop that felt as charming and practical as the shops we encountered and loved.”

With goals of being more than just a standard plant and garden shop, Horta Culture is continually expanding—providing opportunities for customers to experience the garden through workshops, guided walks, music, art, and other events. One example, Livingston says, is that “this summer, we will have pollinator walks with local entomologists, a story time in the garden, tea and natural dying workshops, yoga, and more.”

With spring around the corner, the ideal gardening season is fast approaching—and Horta Culture boasts a collection of seasonal home and garden products to make the experience that much more enjoyable. For instance, North Circle Seeds—the only Minnesota-based seed company—sustainably produces regionally adapted seeds, while Niwaki tools (produced in Japan) are a favorite for garden scissors and secateurs, pruning shears, and more. “We are also excited to be bringing in Sneeboer tools this spring,” Livingston adds. These are hand-forged tools of the finest quality with limited production. Then, in the plant yard, the shop will be offering a wider range of hellebores along with a growing selection of native and pollinator-friendly perennials.

For those who are interested in getting started on their gardening journey this season, we asked Jill to share some of her gardening tips for beginners starting out this year.

Begin with observation. Observe your site to understand its sun exposure, the soil, and any challenges (salt from nearby roadways; chemical exposure from nearby land use; or particular plants, such as black walnuts, for example). This helps prepare the site but also helps to select the right plants for the right place.

Reflect on what you want from a garden. If it’s a vegetable garden, base your plant selection on what you like to eat and how much to consume. Regardless of the type of garden, be honest about how much time you want to invest in establishing and maintaining it (and plant accordingly).

Tap into local resources. Gardeners love to talk about plants and gardening. Join a local garden club, stop into garden centers and chat with the staff—you can even learn from online gardening groups on Facebook.

Know that gardens grow and change…and you can change them too! Don’t be afraid to get started. For the most part, even perennials can be moved—and the design can shift with the gardener’s growing knowledge and evolving tastes. You don’t have to have a perfect plan to get started.

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