The Garden of Jay and Dory Venero
Excelsior, Minnesota
   Begun in 1975 with only one small garden and two hostas, the Venero garden now encompasses over 20,000 square feet on approximately two acres. This thriving nursery business boasts a greenhouse, garden shed, coldframe, working compost area, arbors, bridge, pond and display gardens. Follow the many curving paths to find a multitude of unusual trees, shrubs and plants, many of which are available for purchase. An elegant two-layered pond with a fountain bubbling from a boulder is the central focal point of the gardens. A bridge goes over the functioning dry stream. Guests enter the propagation gardens through a large decorative gate, and colorful clematis and wisteria scramble up the adjoining arbors.

Jay and Dory Venero

   Along the perimeter of the property, curved, twisted-wire Victorian fencing, designed in the 1800s, is connected to stout homemade concrete posts, assisting with keeping the deer out while adding a strong
architectural element to the property.
   Jay Venero believes in amending the soil. Big time! By adding water and “stirring,” the garden’s mowed compost quickly becomes black gold to be returned to the gardens. The gardens are all hand dug, three inches at a time. Jay digs a trench 10 inches to 12 inches wide, keeps digging and moves from one trench to another, adding mason sand mixed with equal amounts of organics such as compost and pine bark. Over 200 tons of mason sand has been incorporated into the original silty loam soil.
   Obviously the Venero plants love the pampering.

Garden Tour Photos

My Visit: Harold McDonell
Fayetteville, Georgia, US

   Early on a bright and pleasant Friday morning, the bus pulled up to Venero Gardens – a combination of a home garden, a commercial nursery, and an expansive display garden all in one. As we stepped off the bus and began to look around, it was immediately apparent that we were in for a special treat. Almost two acres in size, the garden was spectacular at every point. It included many individual garden rooms tied together by winding paths of crushed granite, and each turn of the path provided another view of garden perfection.
   While most people went down the long driveway beyond the house to the nursery area, I veered off to the left into a little shade garden dominated by a massive old multi-trunked white cedar. There was so much and such diverse plant material, and all of it was expertly woven into a grand tapestry of color and texture. Clearly, Jay and Dory Venero have an artistic eye when it comes to plant selection and placement. Besides the hostas, there were astilbes, heucheras, epimediums, hydrangeas, unusual conifers, and many other plants.[1] Much of the area was tied together with an early blooming yellow toad lily, Tricyrtis latifolia, which was in full bloom. Hostas dominated the area and were often massed. However, there always seemed to be a single spectacular plant of some sort that acted as a punctuation point in each garden vignette. As I toured the rest of the garden, I found this to be a planting scheme used over and over with impressive results.

   The garden path led through the shady area and then out into a large grassy area bordered on the right by the driveway and the nursery. On the left was a long deep sunny perennial border that backed up to Victorian wire fencing which surrounds the property on all sides. The border was a riot of color primarily in purple, pink and blue shades. Plants were displayed in large masses of like varieties. It reminded me of the many fine perennial borders I saw in England and was just as well done.
   At the far end of the sunny garden, the nursery beckoned.[2] Here there was a garden shed bordered on the back and both sides by sales and propagation areas. What a treat. The sales and propagation areas were arranged just as artistically as the rest of the garden and the plants were beautiful. I just wished I had been there with a car with a big trunk rather than on a bus. The shade house exterior support columns and lattice panels were covered with vines, especially clematis vines that were blooming profusely. One clematis which I particular liked was a pale blue beauty named ‘Emilia Plater’. Its color was cool and soothing, just the right color for a warm summer day. It was just one of many plants for sale that I would have loved to have taken home with me. Behind the shade house was a large composting operation. Jay Venero composts every organic scrap in the garden and returns it to the soil in the display beds. No wonder everything looked so great.
   Leaving the nursery area, I found myself on a path that wound around a large beautiful pond. This was the heart of the display garden and its most spectacular feature. All along the winding path were extensive displays of both sun and shade plants depending on the particular little garden microclimate in each area, as well as numerous shrubs and small trees. Well placed garden art and beautiful rock work anchored the plantings. Here again, it was obvious just how expert the Veneros are at placing each plant so as to display it at its best while at the same time creating perfectly coordinated garden scenarios.
   Finally, the path led me back to the house and to another large shade garden that began at the back of the house and then wrapped around one side. Here the hostas were sited so as to reign supreme. Well established clumps were the focal points and were beautifully grown and displayed against a backdrop of ferns, astilbes, heucheras, and other plant companions that made them really stand out. Some of the most spectacular hostas were ‘Journey’s End’,[3] ‘Regal Splendor’, Lakeside Symphony’,[4] ‘Bobbie Sue’, ‘Dick Ward’ and ‘Sagae’ (which seemed to be at its very best in every tour garden this year). Along the fence in the front of the house, ‘Golden Sculpture’[5] was also putting on a magnificent show. Finally I turned to find another magnificent specimen tree, a catalpa, which seemed to stretch forever into the sky from its huge old trunk.
   All too soon, the whistle blew and it was time to go. Oh how I wished that there had been more time so I could walk the entire garden once again at a more leisurely pace. I know there was so much I missed. I also know that a wonderful garden like the Venero garden could never be adequately described with just words. Hopefully the pictures accompanying this article will help do it justice. Thanks Jay and Dory Venero for sharing your beautiful garden with us. 


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