Get a “behind the scenes” look at Stillwater area yards and gardens, July 13 and 14

Charlie and Macy are ready to run but only I will be tired at the end of the workout.

You know that lady you always see running by pushing a baby stroller attached to a dog? Let me be more specific. She’s drenched in sweat, there’s a little boy bouncing up and down in the stroller waving a two-foot long stick in his hand while singing at the top of his lungs, the dog is sniffing around in someone’s daylilies and the whole group is slowing traveling up one of the legendary Stillwater hills in a quasi-running-like fashion. Yep. That’s me.

I’ve been determinedly working to get back my pre-mama mojo, and while my running speed and endurance appear to have bid me adieu, I am at least enjoying the scenery while I plod along. In addition to historic houses and unparalleled views of the St. Croix River, another of Stillwater’s claims to fame are the lush and bountiful gardens in yards all over town. My neighborhood runs double as self-guided garden tours, with decorative yards large and small on display for my enjoyment. Like most people, I have my favorites and there are plenty of times that I’ve craned my neck to get a peek at hidden gardens, hoping the homeowners don’t mind my nosy flower-peeping.

The Family Means St. Croix Valley Garden Tour offers a once a year opportunity for garden voyeurs like myself to get a behind the scenes look at some of the most beautiful yards in the area. The tour typically features 8-10 gardens in Stillwater and nearby communities, including a mix of small and large yards with sun and shade, natural and manicured areas, and unique features like waterfalls and raingardens as well. The event is a fundraiser for Family Means, a local non-profit organization that helps families with counseling and therapy, caregiver support, debt and financial management, and youth programs.

Margaret and Robert Boettcher’s gardens include native plants, raingardens and rain barrels.

This year I’ll be helping to staff one of the gardens on the tour, along with volunteers from the St. Croix Oak Savanna Chapter of Wild Ones, a group that promotes native plants and natural landscaping. Garden owners Margaret and Robert Boettcher worked with the Brown’s Creek Watershed District three years ago to build raingardens that capture runoff rainwater from their rooftop and street. The raingardens, which are planted with Minnesota natives as well as other perennials and shrubs, keep polluted runoff out of nearby Long Lake, in addition to providing food for bees and butterflies. In addition to the raingardens, the Boettcher’s have a number a number of other sunny and shady gardens, as well as an oak rain barrel, a decorative arbor and straw bale gardens.

Along with the Boettcher’s home, there will be eight other yards on this year’s St. Croix Valley Garden Tour, including one just a few blocks from my house that I’ve been ogling since I moved here. Each garden is staffed with volunteers and Master Gardeners to answer questions, and people who purchase tickets are free to visit the gardens at their own pace and in any order. Last year’s tour had 1000 guests and raised $12,500 for Family Means.

To purchase tickets for the 21st Annual St. Croix Valley Garden Tour ($15 in advance), go to or stop by the Family Means office at 1875 Northwestern Avenue South in Stillwater. The tour runs 9am-3pm on Saturday, July 13 and Sunday, July 14.