It’s evident in the restored Victorian façade, the fanciful metal birds perched on the porch roof, and the intensely planted landscape: Scott Endres’s St. Paul home is a showstopper. Perhaps that’s why the gardener himself talks of casting stars, auditioning supporting players, and creating drama.
His gardens are a joy to behold, equally resplendent from the street and from the deck hidden away behind the house. Lush foliage fills his yard with a kaleidoscope of color, texture, and form. Hardscape and garden sculptures anchor the botanical flourishes and communicate a certain reluctance to take the gardening too seriously.
Yet he does, of course. Endres is co-owner of Tangletown Gardens, the garden center and landscape design firm in Minneapolis, and Wise Acre Eatery, a locavore restaurant that serves meat and produce from Tangletown’s 100-acre farm in rural Minnesota. He’s well-known among Twin Cities’ gardeners for his landscape design, his containers, and the annual Tangletown Garden Tour.
Endres’s own 40-foot-by-80-foot urban lot is manageable for a busy pro. “When I started looking for my ideal house and garden, I thought I needed lots of space so I could garden all the time,” he says. “But the reality is, when you garden and work with plants and people all day, you don’t always want to come home to a huge project.”
The front porch and steps are equally dazzling and show a hint of the whimsical retaining wall.
It’s largely a matter of maintenance these days, but when he bought the 1889 Victorian 18 years ago, the garden was a disaster. He cleared the front yard of overgrown yews and the back of box elder, buckthorn, and green ash. He tore off the deteriorating deck at the back of the house, built a retaining wall, and lifted the entire backyard a bit, adding a fence that provides both privacy and airflow. He added terraces, patios, a moat-like water feature that encircles the back deck, and a winding path through the side garden.
Today, his exuberant collection of perennials, woody plants, annuals, tropicals, and succulents overflows the yard and fills every nook around the porch and deck. Yet it doesn’t overwhelm: His artist’s eye and careful use of repetition of color and form ensure that. “I knew from the beginning that I only had a 40-by-80-foot lot,” he says. “I wanted plants that would be special—things I couldn’t enjoy in a neighbor’s garden or a park or a public garden or my mother’s garden.” He chose plants that he didn’t see elsewhere, cultivating his taste for the exotic and the unexpected.
Endres loves tropicals and incorporates them into his own garden and his work for clients—a look that has become a Tangletown signature. He liberally sprinkles exotic plants in his garden, combining banana trees, an amazing collection of elephant ears, and selections such as the striking Tree of India or Voodoo Lily (Amorphophallus konjac), which produces a fowl-smelling flower, but a beautiful leaf, with more typical Zone 4 selections—geraniums, irises, peonies, and sedum.
Banana trees are one of his favorites. “I like them because of the drama they create,” he says. “People say, ‘Oh, bananas. You can’t grow bananas in Minnesota.’ But their natural environment is a rainforest, where it’s hot and humid. What’s more hot and humid than a Minnesota summer? You plant them in the spring, and when they get sunlight, you can almost watch them grow.”
By the end of the summer, his bananas tower 6 to 7 feet, adding star power to his garden and containers. He uses these attention-grabbers judiciously, however. He explains: “If you have too many stars, what’s the point of casting the rest of it? The stars have their role, but the supporting cast makes them look even better. You have to be careful not to have too many focal areas or too much going on.”
A half dozen large koi fish patrol the water feature that surrounds the back terrace.
In his garden, foliage rather than flowers carries the design. Bright mounds of the annual Bloodleaf Chicken Gizzard (Iresine herbstii) appear in the boulevard, for example, the first “layer” of the front garden. Up on the second layer, a coleus displays almost the same color, creating continuity without limiting plant varieties.
The reds and purples of coleus, heuchera, and Purple Heart secretia complement the lush greens of Solomon’s Seal, Castor Bean, and perennial grasses. Endres also loves old-fashioned varieties such as nasturtiums, polka-dot plants, Bonfire Begonia, and Strawberry fields gomphrena.
Not too serious, though thoughtful and certainly wow-inspiring, this garden reflects the gardener—as any good garden does. “It’s right for me, but probably not for everyone,” he says. “I start gardening in June, after everyone else’s garden is in. First I have to conquer it, and then I start enjoying it.”
Don’t Contain Yourself
This time of year, green-starved, blossom-hungry gardeners can’t wait to get their hands into the soil. While you wait for the ground to warm, try planting pots with tough customers like pansies, primroses, ranunculus, and daffodils. True, a whiff of serious chill will require some emergency measures, but that’s one of the beauties of containers: They’re easy to cover or even move into the house or garage in case of emergency.
“I like containers because a busy person can design, implement, and enjoy them instantly,” says Scott Endres of Tangletown Gardens. They also allow gardeners to audition plants without commitment. “You can play with plant combinations, color combinations, and ideas,” he says. “You can totally let your zone envy play out.”
Endres’s containers are legendary, from the enormous dramatic urns that greet visitors to the Museum of Russian Art in Minneapolis to the 50-some pots in his own St. Paul yard. He frequently writes about container gardening for Fine Gardening and was the principal author of Fine Gardening’s Container Gardening.
Endres says it’s all riffs on the classic combination he first learned from his grandmother: red geraniums, spikes, and vinca vine or asparagus fern. “As avid gardeners, we say, ‘Oh, sassy red geraniums—how plebian,’” he says. “But the combination my grandmother put together back in 1976 was a really good combination, with contrasting color, form, and texture.” Keeping those basics in mind, Endres uses new and old plants in unusual ways to create fresh looks.
Pleasing container design is all about contrasts, he says: “Contrast in color, contrast in texture and form, contrast in leaf shape sometimes. That’s the big thing: As long as there are contrasting elements, one combination can lead to the next and the next, and they seem to work.”
A mulberry tree shades parts of the back yard, while a Tiger’s Eye sumac, Korean fir, banana, and a container of succulents (on barrel) add distinction.
By Chris Lee
Photos by Tracy Walsh