All the pretty gardens

A shade garden in the backyard alongside a sunnier patio space.
A shade garden in the backyard alongside a sunnier patio space.

Walking around Roger Miller and Mary Zweber’s yard, you get the impression that the landscape and gardens just happen to be there, which is not to say that they aren’t beautiful, but rather that they appear effortless. Whether it’s the numerous shade gardens, featuring a mix of native woodland plants and common horticultural varieties, or the lush and colorful raingardens spilling out from either side of the driveway, each portion of the yard looks so entirely natural and at home in its surroundings that one can’t help but think, “Yes, of course there is a patch of Canada anemone growing here. What else could there possibly be?”

Effortless and natural as it may appear, Miller and Zweber’s yard wasn’t always so charming. When they first bought their house in Baytown Twp. in 2000, they inherited a collection of overgrown foundation plantings and large expanses of turf, bordering a pine plantation choked with buckthorn. Furthermore, drainage on the property was a major concern. There was moisture damage under the deck and along the backside of the home from water coming downhill in the backyard, and in the front yard, runoff from the rooftop and surrounding landscape would run along the roadway, under the driveway, through a culvert into the yard of the neighbors across the street, and eventually, down to the St. Croix River.

One of four raingardens at the Miller and Zweber gardens.
One of four raingardens at the Miller and Zweber home.

The transformation began with help from Diane Hilscher, a local landscape architect who specializes in landscaping with native plants. Over the years, Hilscher has helped the couple to redesign and enhance their landscape, and to incorporate native plants that bring in pollinators, birds and other wildlife. Along the way, Miller and Zweber also sought advice from the Washington Conservation District, which provided aerial photography with topographic information and sent a staff person over for a site visit to provide advice on managing the drainage issues. Now, four raingardens catch most of the rain and runoff from their property and help the water to soak into the ground naturally, on-site.

For his part, Roger Miller has become one of the area’s best advocates for landscaping with native plants. On the advice of Hilscher, he joined the St. Croix Oak Savanna Chapter of Wild Ones, a nonprofit that promotes environmentally sound landscaping practices to preserve biodiversity through the preservation, restoration and establishment of native plant communities. After serving as the chapter president for several years, he continues to remain actively involved, helping to recruit speakers for the group’s monthly meetings, organize field trips, and plan an annual conference in the spring and native plant sale in the summer.

Roger Miller shows Charlie Hong how to rub aromatic aster to release its odor.
Roger Miller shows Charlie Hong how to rub aromatic aster to release its odor.

On July 11 and 12, Miller and Zweber’s home will be one of eight featured on FamilyMeans 23rd annual St. Croix Garden Tour. Proceeds from the event support the nonprofit’s work, providing family counseling and mental health services; assistance in managing debt; caregiver support; and youth programs. Other gardens on this year’s tour will include an 80-acre former dairy farm, an eclectic river bluff property, a garden overlooking a golf course, and a garden tended by an area business to grow produce for a local food shelf. Tour participants can visit the gardens in any order and there are Master Gardeners and other experts on hand at each to answer questions and point out unique features. The event runs 9am-3pm both days and tickets are $15 per person when purchased in advance, $20 the weekend of the tour, and free for children under 12.

Learn more about Wild Ones at or

Purchase tickets for the FamilyMeans St. Croix Garden Tour on-line at or in person at 1875 Northwestern Avenue South in Stillwater.