Find Inspiration at the FamilyMeans St. Croix Valley Garden Tour – July 12-13

Marilee Tangen can’t remember why she decided to reinvent her yard, but thinks that she was probably influenced by living in the Seattle area before moving to Minnesota. “I think I was aware of the Blue Thumb website and maybe read something about [grants for conservation projects] in the local paper,” she says. Somehow, though, the Lake Elmo homeowner got in touch with a natural resource specialist from the Washington Conservation District, who connected her with cost-share funding through the Brown’s Creek Watershed District as well as a landscape designer at St. Croix Valley Landscaping. Now the Tangen’s property stands out in the neighborhood. They’ve taken out more than half the lawn in the backyard and replaced it with native prairie landscaping leading down to the edge of a small lake, and added hillside gardens and a raingarden as well.

Ellen Johnson, also of Lake Elmo, tells a similar story. When she built a new prairie-style home a few years back, she and her sister envisioned a landscape with minimal lawn that would reflect the character of the house. She also wanted the home to be as environmentally friendly as possible, so she worked with the Washington Conservation District and the Valley Branch Watershed District to create a plan for their site that would ensure that all of the rainwater that falls on their rooftop, driveway and yard soaks into the ground instead of running off into the street. After attending a Blue Thumb – Planting for Clean Water workshop in 2009, Johnson received a cost-share grant from the Valley Branch Watershed District to establish a native planting in their backyard and also worked with All Weather Services, and later St. Croix Valley Landscaping, to build several raingardens that capture and infiltrate rainwater.

On July 12 and 13, both the Tangen’s and the Johnson’s will showcase the fruits of their labors during the 22nd Annual FamilyMeans St. Croix Valley Garden Tour. This year’s tour will include eight fabulous gardens in the Stillwater and Lake Elmo area, giving people a chance to ogle gardens of all different sizes and styles. Some of the gardens feature landscaping with Minnesota native plants, but there are also shade gardens, veggie gardens, and even a garden with a model train. Typically 800-900 people participate in the tour, and many make it an annual tradition, traveling from Redwing, Austin and other Minnesota cities to enjoy a weekend in the St. Croix Valley with beautiful scenery and inspiring gardens.

The St. Croix Valley Garden Tour is a fundraiser for FamilyMeans, a local non-profit that offers financial and bankruptcy services and education; family counseling and mental health services; collaborative divorce services; caregiver support services; youth enrichment programs; and an employee assistance program.  Tickets cost $15 in advance or $20 on the day of the tour and can be purchased on-line at or in person at the FamilyMeans office on 1875 Northwestern Ave. in Stillwater.

For more information about native plantings and raingardens, as well as cost-share grants for conservation projects, visit or