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Water-Wise Garden is a Neighborhood Attraction

Jim Schoepke
Jim Schoepke has turned his Minneapolis garden into an award-winning showcase for beautiful flowers.

When Jim Schoepke bought his home in Minneapolis, Minn., in 1994, he had visions of vegetable and flower gardens decorating the yard. But he had no idea how far his passion for creating gardens would spread. After turning all but a few square feet of his own yard into garden beds, Jim bought the house next door. He rents the house to local college students and has turned the front, back and side yard into an extension of his own garden. Jim has even turned the boulevard in front of his house into a garden. The colorful 3 ft. x 20 ft. flowerbed has been winning citywide beautification awards for seven years running.

Flowers Everywhere

Jim grew up on a farm where gardening was mostly about growing vegetables. Now his passion is flowers. His yard is a mix of sun and shade so he can grow a wide range of perennials and shrubs. Some of his favorites are bleeding hearts, peonies, azaleas, smokebush, lilacs, roses, hollyhocks and lupines. On his second-floor deck, he has a self-contained water feature and containers filled with flowers, including 30 pots of amaryllis that bloom indoors each winter.

To keep all these containers and flower gardens thriving, Jim employs a number of different watering systems. He installed a rain garden (a sunken area where rain water from the house roof can be directed to accumulate and absorb into the soil instead of running off into the storm water sewage system) between the two houses and uses five rain barrels to collect water from the roofs of the two houses.

 

"Every time it rained I used to get water in the basement," says Jim. "Since I've installed the rain barrels, the basement stays dry and I collect all this water for my plants," he says. In addition to the rain barrels, Jim has a built in sprinkler system to water the flowerbeds, hoses to water the boulevard garden and a Noodlehead Sprinkler for places the other systems can't reach. "The Noodlehead Sprinkler is good for small areas. I can angle the individual noodles so the water goes on the flowers and is not wasted on the lawn or walkways," he says.

Deluxe Rain Barrel in Jim Schoepke's garden
Jim collects rainwater in a Deluxe Rain Barrel.

Jim's gardens have been included in neighborhood garden tours and his boulevard garden is enjoyed by everyone who passes the house. "The challenge with the boulevard garden is to select plants that grow less than 3 feet tall, so as not to block line of sight for pedestrians and people in their cars," he says. Some of Jim's favorite flowers in this bed are mint, daylilies, Asiatic lilies, tea roses, Mexican sunflowers, hydrangeas, asters and marigolds. The colorful median complements the abundance of flowers in his yard. "I have neighbors that come by, walk through my front gate and just sit on a bench I have in the yard to enjoy the view," he says. "It's a happy oasis in the city."

While flowers are Jim's primary focus, he hasn't forgotten about vegetables. In his small vegetable garden he plants cucumbers, dill, zucchini, onions, peppers and other crops. He discovered a special soil-building technique. "Last year I grew amaranth and when spring came I had lots of volunteer seedlings. Instead of ripping them all out, I let many of them mature. Later in the summer I tilled them in as a cover crop," says Jim. The 7-foot-high, burgundy-leaved plants were the most colorful cover crop he's ever grown.

Growing Seeds

Jim grows lots of vegetables and flowers from seed each year. To save money and get just the varieties he wants, Jim starts 26 flats of seedlings in his house each winter. "I use a 3-tiered lighting system to start many of these seedlings," says Jim. "I can grow a lot of plants in a small area with this light system and it's easy to raise and lower the lights to water and care for my plants," he says. He hardens off the plants in a small, 4 x 4-foot glass greenhouse. "Putting the seedlings in the greenhouse for three to four weeks in spring," says Jim, "toughens up the plants before they go out into the garden."

A Place of Pride

Jim takes a lot of pride in his gardens and is happy others can enjoy them too. "For me gardening is therapy," says Jim. "The beauty and color of the flowers is very pleasing and the garden shows pride in where I live," he says. The source of his pride is an exuberant display of color that delights his neighbors and everyone who passes by.

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