Gardens Inspire Envy on the 20th Annual FamilyMeans St. Croix Garden Tour

A pollinator garden at the foot of the Greens’ driveway is lush and full of life.

This weekend, July 14 and 15, nearly 1000 people will meander down country roads and city streets in the Stillwater area in search of beauty, inspiration, and flowers, flowers, flowers. FamilyMeans 20th Annual St. Croix Garden Tour promises to elicit garden envy from even the gentlest natured souls. The gardens featured on this year’s tour are favorites from previous tours, including colorful cottage gardens, park-like Japanese gardens, tiny yards in town and sprawling yards in the country. Yesterday afternoon, I got a sneak peek at just one of these floral destinations.

Tucked away at the end of a rural cul de sac in West Lakeland Township, Mary and David Green’s home sits on nearly three acres of land with a variety of cultivated and natural areas that feel more like rooms in a house than corners of a yard. Before I had even pulled up to the house, vibrant and colorful flowers at the foot of the driveway captured my attention. A mix of native plants and cultivars of natives, the flowers are a smorgasbord for pollinators like bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects. A sign denotes the planting as a Monarch Waystation, indicating that there are milkweed varieties for monarch eggs and caterpillars, as well as other flowers with nectar for the mature butterflies to eat. Brightly colored native plants also decorate the roadside, growing in a former agricultural ditch that now leads to a wetland at the end of the street.

When the Greens bought their home 14 years ago, the yard was nothing but thistle and other weeds with a poorly graded backyard slope that sent water into the basement. Since then, Mary, a master gardener, and her husband have risen to the challenge of re-grading, redirecting drainage, beating back the weeds, and creating an outdoor living space that is both functional and attractive. Dozens of gardens ring the perimeter of the yard, but there is also ample lawn for recreational activities, a necessity, Mary says, for her boys when they were growing up and for the many large, family gatherings that they host. There is a volleyball net, horseshoe pit and even a putting green, but there are also many natural areas that lend themselves to exploration. Trails lead from the backyard into woods and a pond area where there are woodland edge plantings comprised of fern and other shade plants, as well as a rock swale that brings water from a culvert under the neighbor’s driveway to a tree-ringed pond. “Before the swale was built,” Mary explained, “the whole woods used to flood during the spring snow melt and heavy rains.” During the winter, her family snowshoes along winding trails mowed through the woodland vegetation.

Around the pond, Mary has worked to manage invasive plants like reed canary grass, while encouraging native plants to grow along the shoreline. The water is green, not with algae, but with duckweed, which provides an excellent food source for waterfowl. They’ve seen nesting bitterns, indigo bunting and orioles around the pond. While we stood at the pond’s edge yesterday, dozens of dragonflies and damselflies in bronze, blue, red and green darted about. “When we bought this place, the woods were littered with old farm junk and the pond was filled with fallen trees,” she said. Over the course of just over a decade, the Green family transformed a lump of coal into a diamond.

The Family Means St. Croix Garden Tour runs from 10am until 4pm both Saturday and Sunday. In addition to the Green’s home, ten other gardens in Stillwater, Lake Elmo and the nearby vicinity will be on display. Buy tickets in advance for $15 or on the day of the tour for $20. For more information and tickets, contact FamilyMeans at (651) 439-4840 ext. 4073 or go to