The Garden of Jim and Kim Larsen
West St. Paul, Minnesota
   The Larsens have been gardening together almost since the day they were married, 34 years in August. Their current gardening activity started shortly after moving to this location in 1994. It was an empty palette: all turf grass with trees around the perimeter. There were no ornamentals save the two lilac shrubs on the cul-de-sac and a row of Hosta ‘Undulata Albomarginata’ along the sidewalk. A nascent interest in shade gardening, fueled by a Minnesota Horticultural Society seminar in which Bob Olson, then president of the AHS, and Clayton Oslund, founder of Shady Oaks Nursery, were presenters, has resulted in the landscape seen there now. “I don’t call it a garden as I feel gardens are more ‘planned out’ than my landscape will ever be. I’m a collector and rather haphazard in organization, but I do try to arrange the collection in a pleasing manner” says Kim.

Jim and Kim Larsen

   She first started planting hostas in the backyard, as it was in total shade for most of the day. What better place for hostas, she naively thought after that first seminar. The hostas grew O.K. (some better than others), but it didn’t really matter because their myriad shapes, sizes, colors, etc. sparked her “collector gene” and she just wanted more of them. So she started finding other locations that weren’t in the deep, dark shade to grow them. The expanding planting beds taught her they would tolerate more than just a little sun. Kim now grows hostas just about everywhere—sometimes a bit outside their “comfort zones” — but gains enjoyment and knowledge from all of them, even the burnt ones.
   Visitors can enjoy the hostas in the deep shade of the woods beside the house, the sunnier beds at the edges of the yard, the sunniest beds in the middle of the yard and even the newest area—the only bit that Kim says actually has a vision. Plantings there in the lowest part of the property have been in place only one or two years—some may have been planted just before the convention!

Garden Tour Photos

My Visit: Rob Mortko
Olathe, Kansas, US

  All aboard …. Everyone all aboard. This magical mystery tour is waiting to take you away. All aboard for the Larsen garden…
   For a moment everyone on this magical mystery tour was taken back in time to the 1950’s and 60’s. It felt like a simpler, more carefree time. Visitors were immediately greeted front and center by Kim and Jim Larsen’s nominee for “Best Blue” - a 1955 blue Porsche Speedster.[1] Then there was their nominee for “Best French Two Cylinder” – a 1967 Deux Chevaux Citroën.[2] You can’t overlook the 1967 VW Double Cab Transporter and the VW Camper Bus.
   Shortly into the gardens you quickly discovered even more yard art. Years ago, Kim had seen a blurb on the Garden Web about people making garden art using bowling balls. They were getting the balls for next to nothing at garage sales or at Goodwill and gluing glass gems on them. She mentioned this to Jim (whose mantra is: “If anything is worth doing, it's worth over-doing”) who took it upon himself to gather every cheap bowling ball in the Twin Cities area. A couple of gem covered balls later, the “blush faded from the rose” as far as that project was concerned, so all the rest of the balls became garden ornaments unto themselves. There are about 30 balls in the gardens – mostly covered up by the hostas in the summer.

    Is this a magical mystery tour or what?
   Oh yes, there were some hostas too!!! To be precise, there were about 1500 hosta cultivars and about another 300 seedlings. Do you already get the impression that Jim and Kim are collectors?
   The Larson hosta story starts in 1994 when they moved to their current location. The property started as an empty palette: all turf grass with trees around the perimeter. There were no ornamentals with the exception of two lilac shrubs and a row of Hosta ‘Undulata Albomarginata’ along the sidewalk. The Larsens love to build things. What do you expect when you team up an architect and an engineer? The very first summer in their new home had them building the pergola that separates the front and back yard areas.
   The point of no return occurred a year later in 1995. A nascent interest in shade gardening was fueled by a Minnesota Horticultural Society seminar where Bob Olson, then president of the AHS, and Clayton Oslund, founder of Shady Oaks Nursery, were presenters. The Larsens were hooked.
   The hosta garden started in the backyard under the somewhat dense shade of silver maples. These trees are now huge (one easily had a 48 inch diameter trunk). They are great for shade, but not the best for growing hostas, as the Larsens quickly discovered. So, they started planting hostas in other areas that they didn't want to mow. The hosta collecting craze had begun. They kept clearing out the perimeter of the lawn adjacent to the woods to put in more hostas. Then they started clearing out the woods to put in more hostas. Then they planted more trees, so they could plant hostas at the base of the trees. Finally, they started planting hostas pretty much anywhere and everywhere.
   Kim’s favorite hostas included a beautiful clump of ‘Climax’ [3], which she nominated for “Best Single Clump” and a rare hosta named ‘Glacial Lake’. Tucked in the far back corner of the property behind the garage is Kim’s hosta seedling collection. Nearly all are open- pollinated seedlings, mostly solid blues and greens. Kim doesn’t believe in culling (i.e. “killing them” in her words). Instead she gives them away. Here we found Kim’s nominee for “Best Seedling” – a shiny green hosta with ruffled edges in an upright clump. It begged your attention.
   Two years ago, the Larsens purchased the one-third acre adjacent property. For the moment this really gives the overall property a really naturalistic feel. The goal was to create a buffer area, but the practical outcome is more space to plant hostas! Because they first have to clear this land before any planting occurs, and this property has some interesting terrain changes, Kim says it will require more of a “plan” this time. There is a vision of a dry creek bed and bridges, a water feature, a fire pit, a grass jungle, and paths. The Larsens have already kindly invited us back in 10 years to see how that vision is manifest. Make your reservations now for the 2020 magical mystery reunion tour.


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