The Hopkins couple combine talents to win the beautiful garden
Untamed trees and a mainly shady backyard are no match for Bette and Curt Fenton’s green thumbs.
Finely carved linden trees in spades line the street of their Hopkins home, where potted flowers are artistically displayed outside.
Head to the backyard and you’ll find themed gardens that serve as show houses, where the Fentons’ yard, chosen as one of the winners of this year’s Star Tribune Beautiful Gardens contest, is a regular stop when local garden tours roll around.
Bette and Curt’s gardens are the culmination of the 45 years they have lived in their home and engaged in their favorite hobby. It started with a vegetable bar containing things like strawberries, asparagus, potatoes and corn.
“We would fry fish for the neighborhood every year,” Beth said. “Kurt would catch crappie and sunfish or whatever and then we would eat sweet corn with him and take potatoes and make french fries.”
These days, the vegetable garden that occupied the entire south side of the courtyard no longer exists.
“The vegetable garden was kind of functional at the time, but now the kids are older (and have moved out),” Beth said. “I remember how the kids hated weeding when they were little and would complain like crazy.”
Getting rid of the vegetable garden only left the Fenton family more space to practice their love of gardening in ways filled with flowers and bonsai. Beth takes the lead in flowers and cutting trees.
Beth learned gardening from her mother, an avid gardener whose spirit is still very much alive, especially when cardinals visit the garden, singing as if they are saying hello from the other side. Beth is honing her skills by experimenting and comparing notes with other gardeners, including those in the Men’s and Women’s Garden Club of Minneapolis, of which she is a member.
“He was a great resource,” she said. “There are a lot of people who are really experts and are willing to share information.”
Interior outdoor design
Listen to Bette talk about her garden strategy, and she reminds us of her interior design style.
You often dream up ways to create container collections that add dimension, mixing different shapes, textures and heights. Before planting, you soak the plants in water to ensure the potting soil is saturated and pliable.
“Then I can shape the root of the plant so that if it’s in a circular pot, I can shape it round. Or if I need a plant to cover on the side for a big side effect, I’ll plant it at an angle,” she said. . “Everything goes in the bowl in the direction I want it.”
To tie all these differences together, stick with similar colors.
“My favorite color palette is the same inside the house as it is outside,” she said. “The plant that really inspires me is the hibiscus called tequila, which is yellow, rose-pink, and orange with kind of a deep burgundy color in the middle.”
The gardens are also dotted with unique works of art, each with a special meaning and story behind it.
Beth’s sister, a potter, made the vessels by pressing lace curtains from her childhood home and their mother’s wedding veil. The pots hang along fence posts and can be used as wall art. In the inn’s crowded St. Francis Park, a towering statue of the patron saint of nature and animals is a statement piece.
“We were in New Mexico and Santa Fe and met the artist from Guadalajara, Mexico,” Beth said. “We paid him to sculpt us and then we didn’t hear from him for about five years. Then he called one day and said, ‘Your statue is ready and on the border.’”
In addition to the perennials that return each year, the Fentons estimate they filled at least 130 containers with plants last season.
Some came from local nurseries while others, like the hostas, were a community effort.
“A lot of them were friends and involved. We would dig up this plant and then divide it over and over again,” Pete said. “All the hostas you see lining the front of the house came from one plant and we shared them with a group of our neighbors who had their entire yards filled with them.”
Over the years, Beth has learned about flowers that thrive in shade. Ask her today, and she can write down a list that includes coleus, ivy, cordyline, bridal veil, dracaena, and papyrus. Colorful jasmine climbing trellises, towering lilies sprouting from garden beds and decorative Viking begonia pots.
“The caladiums are doing very well, as are all the different types of impatiens, especially the Sunpatties because they are vibrant and can withstand if the sun doesn’t penetrate them,” Pete said. “I love all kinds of elephant ears – they give me great drama.”
In parts of the yard that get more sun, echinacea and monkshood mix with bonsai.
An art lover, Kurt first took an interest in bonsai after visiting the Mother’s Day display at the Como Park Zoo and Conservatory. Curious about learning more about the ancient Japanese art form, he became a member of the Minnesota Bonsai Society.
The 17 bonsai at Fentons Garden include delicate pines and pine trees.
“I like these (wood pine) because they have smaller needles. They’re perfect for bonsai,” Curt said. “Ponderosa plants are easier to care for and more forgiving. They’re really easy to water.”
For anyone starting out, Curt recommends soaking the bonsai’s roots in water before putting them in the pot for a healthy start. He uses copper wire to guide the branches until they are strong enough to maintain their shape because initially “they all want to face toward the sun.”
Recently, their 10-year-old grandson, Owen, has taken a liking to this type of art, and is helping his grandfather with watering. “You can kill a bonsai very easily if you don’t know how to water it. You can overwater it underwater,” Curt said.
The type of bonsai also determines how best to maintain it. Japanese maple trees should be brought indoors as soon as the weather gets cold and placed in a more shaded area of the yard because they “can’t handle Minnesota winters and don’t like a lot of sun,” Curt said. In contrast, ponderosa plants from the Rocky Mountains can thrive outside during the winter, and “love the hot sun.”
Once, the Fenton family invited a member of the local bonsai community to help them carve bonsai. Kevin Oshima, who trained in Japan and runs a bonsai tree nursery in Lakeland, showed Curt how to prune other trees in the yard as well. Now, Kurt gets their hair cut regularly.
“The Japanese pagoda tree is trimmed like a bonsai. The magnolia tree is trimmed like a bonsai,” Pete said. “And the apple tree and the lilacs – Curt Bonsai – those too.”
When fall arrives, the Fentons invite volunteers from the University of Minnesota Master Gardeners to harvest potted plants and help spread the joy of the garden.
“They dismantle my plant pots and sell hundreds and hundreds of plants that can be used as indoor plants at the plant sale,” Pete said. “This way it’s not all in vain.”