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Suburban Garden Evolves With Changing Conditions

Steve Johnson
Steve Johnson and his wife, Susan Iverson

Steve Johnson of Arden Hills, Minn., has watched the gardens in his three-quarter-acre suburban lot change a lot over the past 20 years. "Trees have grown up shading garden beds, while others have fallen down, creating sunnier spots," says Steve. "I'm always moving gardens around to match the conditions," he says. One thing that hasn't changed is his love of gardening, and the tranquility of the urban oasis he has created with his wife Susan.

Decorative Front Yard

Steve's front yard features a beautiful sitting area with a small patio, trees and perennial flowers. Steve likes to mix perennial flowers with annuals and throughout the yard there are flowers in 90 different containers. In the shadiest part of his backyard he grows coleus, caladiums and begonias in pots to add some color. The sunnier flowerbeds in the front yard consist of daylilies, phlox, echinacea, rudbeckia, sedum, salvia, lilies and bee balm. Steve particularly likes growing flowers for their fragrance and to attract butterflies and birds. To keep the flowers growing well, Steve uses a soaker hose. "I've set up the soaker hose on a water distributor so whenever the outdoor water faucet is on and I'm watering containers or plants, the soaker hose is automatically running too," he says. "That way I don't have to remember to run the soaker hose," says Steve.


Steve starts all of his flowers and vegetables from seed using the APS seedstarter. "I have 12 APS systems. They are very durable. I've been using them twice a year for 10 years now and they're still in good shape," he says. The APS units are very forgiving. "With the plastic dome on, I've gone a week without checking the plants and they were fine," says Steve. Steve also likes to add liquid fertilizer to the water reservoir to fertilize his plants. "The seedlings develop strong root systems and when I'm ready to transplant, they pop right out of the cells," he says.

For seedstarting, Steve uses the germinating and transplanting soil mixes from Gardener's Supply. "The germinating mix is very fine and uniform so there are no soil lumps. It works especially well for small-seeded flowers," he says.

Backyard Nature Area

A one-third-acre pond and natural area behind his property dominate the backyard. "It's so peaceful and quiet here that we have green herons nesting in the trees," he says. Flowerbeds surround most of the backyard, but Steve also uses this area for growing vegetables. For the past three years, he has been growing most of his tomatoes in Tomato Success Kits. "They are a great time saver, and I get a tremendous yield from these compact units," he says. "The cages provide sturdy support and encourage good air flow around the plants to minimize disease problems," says Steve. He has also built eight, 4x2-foot planters made from plastic lumber. While six of the raised beds are loaded with flowers, two others contain vegetables, such as beans, peppers and cucumbers.

The containers and raised beds certainly make gardening easier, but Susan still appreciates the natural grip ergonomic tools. "I like the hand cultivator and hand trowel because they're easy to grip and create less strain on my wrists," says Susan. Susan also likes her orange colorful tub. "It's so bright I can always see where I left it in the garden," she says.

A Garden Legacy

At the end of a long day at his legal office, Steve likes to relax and release his concerns in the garden. "I really like the unexpectedness of gardening. You never know what plant will surprise you," says Steve. The landscape and gardens around the house have provided his two daughters (now grown up and living in California) with a special appreciation of nature and plants. Seeing how his daughters now enjoy gardening and nature as adults is probably the best surprise his garden could have provided.

Last updated: 10/24/15