Hyatt and Marge King sit on the patio adjacent to their backyard wonderland, filled with beautiful plants and flowers, that they have created in their Lanesboro backyard.
Hyatt and Marge King sit on the patio adjacent to their backyard wonderland, filled with beautiful plants and flowers, that they have created in their Lanesboro backyard.
From the street, Marge and Hyatt King's residence on South Parkway Avenue in Lanesboro is a non-assuming bungalow-style structure with a postage-stamp-sized front yard, making up for its size with beautiful flowers and plants. But a walk through the house and into the backyard provides a surprise as big as entering the original "Secret Garden" (1926, by Frances Hodgson Bernett). First-time visitors are always amazed. What awaits them is both beautifully-tended flower beds and yard, and an outdoor museum of antique hand implements.

When the Kings acquired the home that had belonged to Marge's mother in her retirement, several factors were in play for the yard: low maintenance and a lot of color. After all, they are part-timers in Lanesboro, spending the winter months in Texas and the summer months here.

Because they usually come to Minnesota after the Memorial Day weekend each year, they are not here when the rest of Minnesota is busily cleaning up the detritus of winter and getting the beds ready for planting. Instead, their Lanesboro front yard, seemingly without human effort, provides a beautifully colorful array of tulips and other early bloomers for the enjoyment of people walking or driving by "on the Avenue."

When one type of flora is done blooming, it is quickly followed by another profusion of color, causing passersby to ask, "How do they do it when they are not here?" And that is just the front yard.

Marge King doesn't claim to be a talented gardener; nor does she or Hyatt spend an inordinate amount of time working on the yard and garden. Instead, they put in plants they like and scout garden stores for bargains to add to the mix.

It is her philosophy that "Plants don't ask for much, just a little talking to, a little water, feeding a couple of times a year, and then what will be will be."

Since they arrive just in time for what could be called "high season for watering," that quickly becomes a high priority. When asked how much time they spend at keeping the garden and yard as beautiful as they are, she replied, "As much as it takes, and we weed as little as possible."

Of course, on their arrival each year, it is catch-up time, because weeds have had their way while the Kings are gone. So weed-pulling is their first garden chore, followed closely by putting in annual edging plants such as petunias.

Snapdragons, usually considered an annual, "volunteer" in both the flower gardens and in the walkway cracks, adding a surprise splash of color. Those self-seeded snapdragons are a little later in blooming than if they were put in as seedling plants, so they tend also to be the last to give up in the fall, providing cheeriness right up to the first frost.

She describes all of the color as "pleasant, and it's great being able to appreciate it right in my backyard."

Color is a factor because in their Dallas home, they have very few flowers. In the Lanesboro yard, pink is the dominant color. This is partly because her mother loved pink, and it was, after all, her mother's house until she died in 1992.

Her mother had a lot of hollyhocks, but when her health deteriorated, she was not able to do a lot in the yard, so not many of those have survived. However, there are still peonies, lilacs, raspberry bushes and rhubarb plants left from her mother's days.

The lilies were from the legendary Carl John's yard and those too, are early bloomers.

The Kings' most favorite of the plants, in both front and backyards and at their Texas home, are "Knockout Roses." She discovered them in Dallas and has had them there for five years; they liked these so much that they decided to try them in this northern climate. They have done equally well here.

These roses are ideal for the Kings' requirements: they are heat tolerant and can survive a lack of rain. No deadheading is required, they give a lot of color, and are very hardy. They have been termed the most maintenance-free rose. The Knockouts do love mulch, she said, because that keeps moisture where it is needed.

As if a gorgeously landscaped garden and pathway is not enough, this backyard is also an outdoor museum. In what Marge described as their "auctioning days," they purchased a lot of antique farm hand tools and implements. Then, as it is with a lot of auction lovers, they didn't know what to do with them after they realized they had acquired so many.

Because they have always had dogs, they have also always had a fenced-in backyard. So, the fence became the perfect backdrop, the place to attractively display all of those tools.

The result is a great conversation piece. After admiring the flowers and yard, inevitably the conversation among guests enjoying the back deck will turn to the obviously-old and rusted farm tools.

Recently, their Dallas next-door-neighbors were visiting, and predictably, the discussion evolved into identifying what these old implements were used for on the farm. Because the Dallas guests were Iowa-farm-born-and-bred, this was a fairly easy task for them. In fact, one of the visitors was only stumped by one of the artifacts; he vowed to find out what it was before he visits again.

The garden of the Kings is not really a secret, but it is always a surprise for first-time visitors. It's a great local example of what creativity and a real need for and dedication to low maintenance can achieve. Along with, of course, a lot of antique hand tools needing a home.