By Dee Schaefer, Becketwood Member
On a cold January day, a reporter from the St. Paul Pioneer Press called me. She had been assigned an article based on interviews with city gardeners about what they did in the winter. Taken by surprise, I knew that I had nothing original to say. Like many others, I paged through catalogs, redesigned beds, and noted successes and failures in my tattered garden journal. Black columns listed new purchases for the previous year; red marginal notes registered comments on their performance. Like an impresario, I orchestrated my garden in Highland Park into a colorful display of spring, summer, and autumn perennials.
After a number of creative years of success and failure, my garden became known as an example of an urban pocket garden. Along with my neighbor’s lovely beds, it was featured on numerous benefit garden tours—Melpomene, Highland Catholic Schools, The League of Catholic Women, The Center for the Victims of Torture, and The Garden Club of Ramsey County. Some private garden clubs and one commercial tour by Bachman’s, a large garden center in south Minneapolis, also opened my wrought iron gates. When the Bachman’s representative called to make arrangements for a tour, I smiled to myself. That greenhouse is where our mother took my grade-school sister and me when she purchased her garden plants each spring. We were not much interested in plants, but we enjoyed our time viewing a sleeping alligator in a corner water tank.
Now the reporter’s inquiry nagged me. “And in the winter?” After hanging up the phone, I mulled over the question. Why couldn’t I bring my garden into my home? Why couldn’t I live with it all year round in any place at any season? Of course, a four-season greenhouse was out of the question. Out of the blue, the thought of painting my garden on my furniture popped into my mind. Yes, I could contact an artist to paint my garden on my furniture.
In a small flower shop on Grand Avenue in St. Paul, I remember bending over to tidy up the corner of an oriental rug lying in the center of the shop floor. To my great surprise, I couldn’t do it. The rug was painted on the wood floor. It didn’t take me long to find out the name of the painter, Jenny Ruth, who just happened to be one of my former adult students of French. When I called her, she agreed to came to my home with a portfolio of completed work. It was impressive.
As our first project, she and I agreed that we would collaborate on the design of a spring garden for a small mahogany dining-room buffet. On the front trio of panels painted a pale aqua, she clustered clumps of yellow daffodils with bright blue Lawn Stars (Chianodoxa) at their feet. On the two side panels, she featured tall sprays of soft blue Indian hyacinth (Camassia). Spring bloomed in my dining room. Now it blooms in my study at Becketwood.
For our second project, we became more ambitious and decided to cover a tall, tri-fold walnut screen with my summer garden. On the lower cream border, we captured the lamium White Nancy with its blue-green foliage. Above it, we featured my stately, tall, white oriental Reinesse lilies. Behind them, we tucked the silvery grey spikes of Russian sage with its lavender blue flowers. Finally, towering in the back row, we layered stalks of mallow with abundant clusters of delicate pink bouquets. Summer bloomed in my living room. Now it blooms in my dining space at Becketwood.
A large oak armoire became our most challenging third project. It was designated as my autumn garden. Against a cream background on the lower border, we placed clumps of purple New England asters. Above them nestle clusters of pink-purple cone flowers with gold-orange centers.
Their neighbors are the rounded, copper blooms of Autumn Joy sedum with their succulent leaves. Crowning the bed are layers of serrated leaves supporting deep-rose turtleheads. Attracted to them are a pair of hovering Monarch butterflies. Once standing in my second-floor sitting room, the armoire now anchors my bedroom wall at Becketwood.
Like a turtle carrying its home on its back, I carry my Highland Park garden with me on my furniture. Are you surprised to know that only winter does not accompany me?
Note: Dee's complete book, "Stories of Things," will be available for Members to check out in the library.