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Feature Writing Sample

Feature Writing Sample



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Published by Mary Lahr Schier

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Published by: Mary Lahr Schier on Mar 07, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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rish Johnson spent more than 25 years designing, plant-ing, and caring for the grounds around the unusualearth-bermed home she shares with her husband, Bob,in rural Dakota County. Not surprisingly, she felt both panicand nostalgia as she watched heavy equipment smash thefirepit where her toddlers made their first s’mores. Workersyanked out the bridal wreath spirea her daughters often usedto make flower crowns, along with hundreds of shrubs, trees,and perennials Johnson had carefully planted and cultivatedover the years.“Having an existing landscape removed in its entirety is a bigmove, visually and psychologically,” says Trish, a MasterGardener. “Except for what I potted and saved, it was gone in amatter of days.” Despite the upheaval, Trish would do it again.By starting over, Trish and Bob got a fresh landscape that willtake them into retirement and beyond. They have reshapedthe outdoor spaces around their home into a series of decksand gardens that feel comfortable whether it’s just the two of them having coffee in the morning or a crowd of 60 for a back-yard barbeque. Their new landscape gives them a cabin-likeretreat without the drive, and expands their living space enor-mously for at least six months a year.Moreover, the new landscape complements andenhances the appearance of their distinctive home, andmost important to Trish, it blends seamlessly into thecountryside around them.
By Mary Lahr Schier | Photos by Tom Roster
A veteran gardener creates a new landscape for the next phase of her life.
Trish Johnson’s new landscapecomplements her home andthe countryside around it.
Starting Over
Trish and Bob bought the property in 1979, and over twoyears, built the passive-solar, four-story house. Though mod-ern in design, the home’s use of natural materials gives visi-tors the sense that it simply rose from the rolling fields aroundit, like a rock outcropping or a bluff. In the 25 years they havelived there, Trish and Bob have purchased land around them asit became available, returning cropland to prairie and woods.Currently, they own 100 acres. A few years ago, Trish and Bobdecided to remain in the house after retirement. That decisionand the aging of the landscaping Trish had installed over theyears prompted the choice to start from scratch.They contacted several landscape architects to help themwith the project, which they knew would be large, complicated,and expensive. After interviewing several, they settled onJordan-based landscape architect Herb Baldwin. Trish immedi-ately sensed Baldwin’s sympathy with the property. “He didn’tlook at the house and say, ‘well, you need this or this.’ He said,‘this is a beautiful piece of land,’” Trish recalls. As a gardener with 30 years experience, Trish was a knowl-edgeable and opinionated client. She loved Baldwin’s affinitywith the property and his scheme for making the most of it,but had her own ideas as well. “Gardeners want one of every-thing,” she says, “while landscapers have a vision. They arethinking about masses of colors and shapes and forms. Herbhad strong opinions and ideas, but I never felt he was brow-beating me to do something.” Trish vetoed certain plants: noTollefson’s juniper or Amur maples were allowed in her garden.(A compromise allowed five—but on probation.) She endorsedBaldwin’s idea of a lower-maintenance landscape with fewertypes of plants and a more dramatic use of water and rocks. “Itwas hard to say good-bye to 30 peonies and 45 daylilies, but Iwanted a garden that was a little easier to keep up,” she says.
Big Plans, Lots of Dirt
 After deciding to go ahead with the landscaping project inearly 2005, the Johnsons and Baldwin spent the next sixmonths planning. Trish saved all of Baldwin’s fluid drawings of the planned garden, reminders that from the mud and debrisaround her something wonderful would emerge. Demolitionon the property started in fall of 2005, with decks added thatfall. The rest of the work was completed from April throughNovember 2006, with some finishing work done in early 2007.Trish recalls that early in the spring of 2006 the foreman fromLandshapes Inc., the Minneapolis-based contractor that didthe landscaping, came to her door. “Hello, Mrs. Johnson,I’ll bewith you for most of the next year,” he said. Says Trish, “Onething that kept me going was I never felt I had been aban-doned. They always had somebody working on something.”
January/February 2008
Changes in hardscaping and plants indicate changes in function. Trish takes a rare break.
Rugged materials enhance the kitchen.A plexiglass window over the cabana lets light in and keeps rain out.
take 2
Clockwise from top left:
Karl Foerster grass;
Liatris spectata
‘Alba’ from Trish’s white garden; copper-capped pillars add a vertical accent to the water feature;wooden grates provide a geometric element to the deck and can be expanded as the trees grow; perforated copper leaves create sound and reflect light.

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