Jean Morrison starts each day by walking her St. Louis Park yard with her dachshund, Lily, at her side and a vintage wooden basket over her arm. As she collects wayward twigs and surveys her domain, she recharges her soul for a busy day solving “people puzzles.”
Morrison owns a human-resources practice and spends her days with people. She loves her work, she says, “but when I come to this garden, I just need it to be quiet and serene and a place for me to plug in and really hear my soul speak to me.”
A beloved statue of St. Francis of Assisi—one of scores of figures that dot her gardens—inspires her as she guides clients through prickly conflict resolution. She has his prayer, “Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace,” copied into a notebook she carries. Her uncle, an Episcopalian priest, blessed the statue on her father’s 75th birthday. It’s one of many figures in the garden that is meaningful to Morrison, reminding her of loved ones.
“When I look around, it just makes me happy,” she says.
Much of her collection is of French provenance—a nod to her experience as a high-school exchange student in Tours. A French urn that serves as a table base is marked with the birth year of her exchange “father” (1924), whom she still visits each summer. An iron cross, entwined with bas-relief vines, commemorates her previous dachshund. Two concrete pigs—traditional French symbols of good luck—have nestled in the same spot for 20 years.
When she moved into the St. Louis Park Colonial 22 years ago, the landscape was a blank canvas, save for a few mature maples and a black walnut. She planted hawthorn trees with her father and designed a side garden with her mother—Morrison clearly inherited her green thumb. She layered the garden beds over time, learning what would thrive in the shady yard, selecting such perennial stalwarts as astilbe, hostas, Jacob’s ladder, silvery lamium, and a rainbow of coral bells.
Over the years, Morrison has worked ever closer with Tangletown Gardens. Though the array of containers that punctuates her gardens reflects her own aesthetic, Tangletown and especially garden designer Derrik Gagliardi handle most of the annual plant selection and planting.
The partnership has been organic and collaborative. “Jean had a lot of the bones and structure in place, and we came in and frosted it,” says Tangletown co-owner Dean Engelmann, who expanded Morrison’s front gardens so that they flow seamlessly with the existing design. He describes the massed perennial plantings as sweeping drifts that move the eye through the garden. The effect is calming and unified, while the pots offer focal points that change the garden’s dynamic and color each year.
A trio of urns glazed with Morrison’s favorite “happy” color—orange—arrests the eye and screens the sunroom from the street. The arrangement balances a much larger ceramic urn planted with a dwarf Asian maple, Engelmann says. Classical cast-iron urns placed on pedestals fill the mid ground. Such contrasting sizes and styles of pots dot the planting beds throughout the landscape
Morrison says she simply places things where they look good, though she clearly has a sophisticated eye. She is sometimes struck by just what to install in a particular space—the marble-topped antique server table on her patio, for example, which she envisioned and then discovered at a nearby shop. “I give it some thought,” she says, “and the universe sends me what I’m supposed to have.”
Step Away From the Door
Why relegate planters to front-door sentries? Set them free to add interest throughout your yard and perennial gardens, urges Dean Engelmann, co-owner of Tangletown Gardens in Minneapolis. When you give annuals a home of their own in large or colorful containers, you get more bang for your buck.
Engelmann gives these tips for using containers as design elements throughout your yard:
- Place a planter in an area that needs a focal point—a spot that looks like something is missing, especially in a backyard.
- Add a pot to break the sweep of a mass planting.
- Use a large container to balance a substantial feature, such as a shrub.
- Ensure the style of the vessel matches the style of garden.
- Find the pot size you think you need and scale up. “It needs to be large enough to dominate,” says Engelmann.
- Don’t be afraid of color. Let the container dominate and consider the annuals complements to the vessel.
By Diane L. Cormany
Photos by Tracy Walsh
Landscape Design: Tangletown Gardens, Derrik Gagliardi, Dean Engelmann