BAYPORT, Minn. — Saying that Tammy Jorgenson gardens is like saying Mozart played some music.
Gardening is her passion, her therapy, her exercise, her release.
In fact, Jorgenson will say that it’s all she does.
“Oh, and I walk the dogs, too,” she added with a soft laugh.
During the 20 years that she’s worked her rocky soil in Bayport, she’s filled the large, corner lot of her Victorian house with shade and sun gardens, both sunken and raised.
Still, she can’t stop planting.
Perennials, annuals, shrubs and even some small trees (sumacs, dwarf flowering crabs) spill out onto the boulevards. And dozens of container planters — filled with begonia, wandering Jew, Tahitian bridal veil and mandevilla — dot the yard.
“I think I probably am kitschy,” she said. “I have so much stuff. … At one point, I had 65 planters.”
Her garden may take its cue from the English garden, but its style is all its own.
She’s created a manicured hosta glade that winds under the shade from the trees — many of which she planted. A boisterous sun-filled garden undulates along the sidewalk that runs along the south side of the house. The more formal front yard (for which she won a Bayport in Bloom award) greets visitors with the stylized blooms of peonies, hydrangeas, trumpet vines and flowering crabs. A shabby chic arbor is draped with hanging delicacies such as fuchsia.
For all her skill and apparent enthusiasm, Jorgenson isn’t a by-the-book gardener’s gardener.
“I break all the rules,” she admitted. “I like different things. I don’t want my garden to look like everybody else’s.”
As if that were a concern. Just take a glance at the hardscape, something Jorgenson considers the backbone of any garden.
The massive sunken garden in the backyard is a standout feature, with its walls of limestone enclosing a pool of pachysandra, in which floats a statue of cherubs holding cascading bridal veil. There’s another smaller sunken garden, carved out from what had once been a pond. Its moss-covered rock walls make it look as if it had been there for centuries.
There are raised walls of rock and walkways of limestone, but the most arresting focal point is a brickwork installation that mimics the spreading roots of an invisible tree.
“I love structure,” is how she explains her garden’s flamboyant backbone.
A lifelong gardener, Jorgenson learned the art and science from her grandmother, a “teeny, tiny thing.
“She always had gardens. She wore this little housedress, and we’d go out and see the gardens.”
In her parents’ garden, she was the designated waterer, a job she’s since perfected. (See tips below.)
She’s gardened for so long and so intently that she talks about her love of specific plants in terms of eras.
“I love stock,” she’ll say. “It goes back to my daylily days.”
Twenty years ago, she was looking for a house in Stillwater, a scenic town that proved to be a little out of her price range. That’s when she found the Bayport home, which was built in 1875.
“The yard was naked, and I said, ‘That’s my house.’ ”
Those were her hardscape days — and her married days.
Jorgenson and her former husband, Scott, started the garden together. Together, they dug and planted, hauled rocks, granite and statuary. With the help of Jorgenson’s parents, they also installed the painted picket fence that perfectly frames the traditional house.
After her marriage broke up, Jorgenson admitted, it was hard to continue gardening. “It was painful because it was something we had done together,” she said. “It was part of what we were.”
Eventually, though, gardening became therapeutic for Jorgenson. So therapeutic that it became an encore career after her work as a merchandiser. During the growing season, she works for a garden design company, tending other people’s gardens with the same TLC she lavishes on her own.
LIVE AND LET LIVE
Though she’s a constant gardener, Jorgenson is far from a controlling one. Instead, she takes something of a laissez-faire approach. She doesn’t plan and plant. “I buy stuff and just put it anywhere,” she said.
Even though her sunny boulevard garden contains a repeating pattern of color, she plops in plants she can’t yet find a home for elsewhere in the yard. And she lets the garden determine its own succession planning.
“When a plant reseeds itself, I let it be. Unless it’s a plant I hate. And I hate Stella D’oro [daylilies].”
Her somewhat hands-off approach isn’t lazy; it works.
Jorgenson has planted trees, one for each of her nieces and nephews, and then some. She also planted a horse chestnut tree. Another horse chestnut was planted by a squirrel, “in just the right place.”
That tree is still thriving. “I paid full retail for another, and it’s struggling,” she said.
A softie when it comes to anything struggling, she moves a plant that’s failing to thrive, and divides those that are overgrown to give away to friends, neighbors and fellow gardeners. She suffers the deer, which have proved to be proficient pruners.
“If they weren’t so cute, it would be a different matter,” she conceded.
And, like many a green thumb, she mourns her losses.
“It breaks my heart when a plant dies, especially the trees,” she said.
But her love of all things natural goes beyond that of most gardeners, who strive for beauty and season-long blooms.
Jorgenson doesn’t use mulch, aside from the “living mulch” — creeping thyme, creeping Jenny, ground-cover sedums — that she uses as an element of her designs.
Why no shredded cypress, no pine bark?
“I like the look of soil,” she said.
In fall, her garden is transformed into a haunted space — the sunken garden becoming a cemetery, creepy clowns hiding in the pergola, family members dressed up as ghosts for the trick-or-treaters.
Of course, winter isn’t Jorgenson’s favorite time of year.
She holes up, reading gardening catalogs and the English gardening magazines that she subscribes to.
“I don’t read about plants on the internet. I’m old-school,” she said. “I don’t do computers, I don’t do email.”
Mostly, she waits for the ground to thaw, for the buds to open.
Oh, and she walks the dogs.