Above: Sielaff’s Victorian home in Prospect Park.
Situated high on a hill, Jeanne Sielaff’s 1891 Victorian home in Minneapolis’ Prospect Park neighborhood has always been a head turner. The inviting wraparound porch is visible from the street, but those fortunate enough to stroll through the gardens she has created around the blue- and purple-hued house are privy to something magical.
Left: Sielaff on her wrap-around porch.
Many gardeners struggle to grow much of anything in the kind of shady conditions Sielaff works with beneath several mature trees. But over the past 30 years, she has developed an eye for combining plants, art, and mementos from her travels in Europe and Asia in striking ways.
“At first I thought, ‘What in the heck am I going to do here?’” she recalls. “But over time, I figured out how to play around with color and texture so there’s something interesting happening all season.” So while Sielaff, who became a Master Gardener in 2013, loves springtime when favorites like magnolias, yellow lady’s slipper, Virginia bluebells, tulips, irises, blue corydalis, primrose, and bloodroot are in bloom, she focuses on designing with plants that have eye-catching foliage and forms.
Above: The gardening shed, a recent addition, echoes the shingles and colors of the house.
Like many experienced gardeners, she uses layers to create a sense of depth. Ground covers such as lamium, wild ginger and periwinkle are over-planted with low-growing plants like Siberian cypress, hostas, ferns, geraniums, false Solomon’s seal, and coral bells. Taller still are the bleeding hearts, astilbes (particularly late-blooming Chinese astilbe), and blackberry lilies (an underused perennial with iris-like foliage and bright orange and red blooms). Above those are shrubs, including P.J.M. rhododendron and hydrangeas, and towering trees, such as ginkgo, Japanese maple, Canadian hemlock, Kentucky coffeetree, Japanese white pine, and Catalpa. All create structure while lending a been-here-forever feel.
After years of reading gardening books, taking classes, and sharing ideas with other gardeners, Sielaff feels comfortable designing by eye and says she seldom needs to move plants once she’s picked out a spot for them. One of her primary inspirations has been William Morris, the English textile designer associated with the British Arts and Crafts Movement of the late 1800s. “I was looking for wallpaper for the house and I fell in love with his sophisticated floral designs, so I started researching him to find out more,” she says. Eventually, she traveled to England where she visited Red House, Morris’ home, which is surrounded by gardens, as well as the gardens of noted horticulturist Gertrude Jekyll. “They both believed that gardens should complement the house,” she says. “So even though I can’t grow all the flowers they have in English gardens, I felt motivated to really work on my yard when I got back.”
Above: An Asian figure tucked among the perennials carries containers planted with varigated double impatiens.
Subsequent trips to gardens in Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam, and Laos influenced many of her shrub and tree choices. They also reinforced the notion that beautiful gardens could be created using primarily green plants with few, if any, blooms. When she wants a splash of color in a shady spot, Sielaff often uses a strategically placed container of annuals like caladium, Rex begonia, fuchsia, variegated double impatiens, torenia, or browallia. She will occasionally plant annuals directly in the ground, too.
Three years ago, tired of hauling all of her gardening paraphernalia into the basement every winter, she had a potting shed built in the backyard. Shingled and painted to match the house, the diminutive outbuilding has the tin roof and French doors she envisioned. Inside, shelves offer ample space for storage, and there’s also a potting bench.
Next on the agenda is an in-ground watering system. “If you put in gardens, you have to water, water, water, and that’s getting to be too much,” Sielaff says. “I’d like to just enjoy the gardens more because they give me such a great feeling of peace. I go out there, and I can close out the world and relax.”
By Meleah Maynard Photos by TJ Turner