Photos by Andrea Rugg
Robin Brookins and her husband Curt have the kind of yard you’d imagine takes a crew to maintain. But with the exception of a little help from their son, they do everything themselves, whether it’s hauling in soil rocks; building the retaining walls, patio, and water features; or tending the wide array of plants. Robin puts in the bulk of the work, but like most avid gardeners, she feels that working in the yard is a joy rather than a chore. Curt, on the other hand, helps out mainly to support his wife’s passion. However, even if he sometimes shakes his head over the need for more plants or yet another big project, he always helps with hardscaping, mowing, and other tasks when needed.
When the couple bought their house 30 years ago, the yard included about 30 mature pine trees and was so overgrown they couldn’t even see that there was a school next door. Robin wasn’t even a gardener, either. Then everything changed when she read an article in Better Homes and Gardens about how wonderful it is to be able to see beautiful gardens from every window in the house.
Robin didn’t even make an overall plan before she and Curt started to work on their landscape—perhaps the closest they got was when she cut pieces of newspaper into steps and laid them out on the kitchen floor to see how a new stairway would look. “My dad was a builder, so I’m comfortable doing things like retaining walls and designing and building the steps going up into the garden,” Robin says. She envisioned what she wanted, and she and Curt just took it from there.
Over the years, the two have planted and rearranged garden beds many times. They’ve also created four water features, including a fountain and a pond stocked with goldfish; a couple of sitting areas; a rain garden in the side yard; a vegetable garden in the backyard; and a fairy garden that includes tiny houses Robin made herself.
Of all the things they’ve done with their yard, Robin thinks the rain garden is the best. “My neighbors have two downspouts on one side and so do we,” she says, “and then water also rushes from the school down to the street, so it’s really useful.” It’s also gorgeous, with dahlias that Robin overwinters planted all along the garden’s edge and a center filled with a combination of Mexican sunflower, echinacea, milkweed, Joe Pye weed, wild blue indigo, sedum, astilbe, Karl Foerster grass, and bee balm.
Though she’s thinking of eventually applying to become a Hennepin County master gardener, Robin has already learned a lot about horticulture through trial and error. “I like to let my yard do its own thing as much as I can, and things mostly stay where they need to,” she says. Unlike some gardeners who like to have a fair amount of space between plants, she prefers a more crowded, lush look, which also helps reduce the need for weeding.
The couple’s gardens produce enough flowers to allow Robin and a few friends to run a small business creating bouquets, table arrangements, boutonnieres, and corsages for a handful of weddings every year. “It’s not really a money-making business,” she says, “It’s mostly just fun with flowers because we really enjoy talking with the brides about their colors and then cutting stuff straight from the yard for them. Everything’s fresh and really beautiful.”
And if the end products are anything like the gardens they came from, words like ‘fresh’ and ‘beautiful’ are just the start.
Submerged Flower Arrangements
Floating candles are nice, but submerged flower arrangements are stunning—plus, you can make them at home. All you have to do is choose a vase, bowl, or other clear container (Robin prefers different sizes of cylindrical vases), then pick a bolt, flat rock, or other weight for the bottom to hold the flowers in place. Wind a stiff wire around the weight and thread the end of the wire up through the stems of the flowers you want to submerge. Place the weight at the bottom of the container and cover it with colored marbles, glass beans, or small stones. Add enough water to keep the flowers hydrated while you arrange them like you want them. Then, fill the container all the way up until the flowers are completely submerged. If you’re still loyal to floating candles, you can also add a small votive on top of the water.