A Minneapolis Backyard of ‘Structured Chaos’


“Structured chaos.” That’s how Joanne Grobe describes the type of landscape she and Kate Pabst wanted to create in the Minneapolis backyard of the home they share with their three-year-old son, Teeg, and dog, Izzie.

Grobe and Pabst could easily envision the concept, since both have worked as graphic designers for more than two decades. “We’re also smart enough to know what we don’t know,” says Grobe. Just as they do in their work, they brainstormed ideas and then pulled together a team of experienced professionals to get the job done right.

Mark Foreman of Loco Design in Minneapolis was the landscape designer on the project. In addition to talking with him about what they wanted, Grobe also sent him their lists of wishes and must-haves, which included a desire for privacy, kid-friendly play areas, little or no grass, built-in seating, a space for dining, and a symmetrical layout softened by plants. “We definitely sent Mark a lot of thoughts and pictures as inspiration, but we also gave him room to do his own thing because we know that’s how creative people work best,” she says.

Creating a new backyard meant saying goodbye to the old one, which Pabst had inherited from the previous owners when she bought the house 16 years ago. Lushly planted with curving paths, the gardens were beautiful by all accounts. But they required a lot of work to maintain, and weren’t quite Pabst and Grobe’s style. That’s why, after “years of spending money to make it what we wanted and not getting there,” Grobe says, they decided to start over from scratch and make the landscape their own.


Economy of Space

Foreman came up with three design options, and they liked one immediately with only very minor tweaks. Work soon got underway, starting with the excavation of the backyard by Shakopee-based landscape company Minnesota Green, which left in place only a mature evergreen planted by the previous owners and a small patio covered by a diminutive pergola that Grobe and Pabst had built years ago.

Next, Minnesota Green installed all of the hardscaping, including the grid-like brick paths that separate the yard into five distinct living areas. One side of the yard offers cozy spaces for dining or sitting by the bubbling water feature, while the other side has a spot for gathering around a fire, tending a raised-bed vegetable garden, or lounging on the built-in outdoor furniture under the pergola. Pea gravel serves as both a low-maintenance ground cover in much of the backyard and entertainment for Teeg, who likes to pick it up and carry it around by the handful.

Enchanted Plants

Pabst and Grobe like greenery, but they aren’t gardeners, so when choosing plants they were careful to select those that would not require a lot of maintenance. Working closely with Tangletown Gardens in Minneapolis, they looked for “enchanted” plants that would lend a send of softness and whimsy to the structural hardscape design. Some of the standouts they installed include ‘Dr. Merrill’ magnolia, ‘Tolleson’s’ weeping juniper, ‘Varied Directions’ weeping larch, and weeping white pine.

Between the pergola and the fire pit, an oversized planter made from Corten steel is home to a wide assortment of annuals, including two banana trees. Tangletown Gardens changes the display for summer and winter, adding birch logs, dogwood twigs, and other things for interest. Looking around, Grobe says that she and Padst couldn’t be happier with their backyard. The only thing missing is a cook. “We love to have people over and sit out here, but we aren’t really cooks,” she says. “If we had access to a full menu, this would be the best place to be in town.”

By Meleah Maynard
Photos by Alex Steinberg

Landscape Designer: Mark Foreman, Loco Design
Excavation: Minnesota Green
Plants: Tangletown Gardens

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