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For our annual Star Tribune Beautiful Gardens contest, we asked you to nominate your favorite residential garden that brings joy to those who come across it with stories just as inspiring.

You answered that call, with close to 100 garden nominations that ranged from playful to purposeful, small to stately — each of them making us smile.

It was a challenge to pick our favorites, but ultimately these six rose to the top. In the next few weeks, we'll visit each garden and produce a story and photos to run in upcoming Sunday Homes issues and on

A sincere thank-you to those who took the time to nominate gardens in their community. And if you know of a beautiful garden that's a win in your book, make sure to take pictures with next year in mind! This annual contest is a perennial favorite, so a new round of nominations will be accepted early next summer.

In the meantime, have a great growing season.

Yee Lee and Bryan Johnsen, Champlin

There's always something taking root in the yard of Lee and Johnsen, who have transformed what previously "looked like a highway ditch" along a main thoroughfare in Champlin into a delightful display of 27 gardens.

The wife-husband duo grow more than 300 plant varieties, including an impressive display of towering Asiatic lilies as well as hostas, hibiscus and peonies. This year, they introduced the Canyon Garden, a retaining wall feature with a 6-foot waterfall and channel, spiral staircase and bridge.

Their love for gardening has blossomed into a business in recent years. They offer tours of their garden during the growing season and sell flowers and custom soil mixes.

"What we do now with the tours is help people try and find something that they can work with on their own property depending on if it's primarily shady, part-shade or sun and what's the soil type," Johnsen said. "We present a lot of our accomplishments as mistakes that we have made and have corrected over the years."

Jean Clough, Minneapolis

One might miss Clough's tiny house, which is tucked behind a profusion of native wildflowers that fill the front yard of her south Minneapolis house. If you get an invitation to her backyard, you'll find gardens filled with brightly colored blossoms as well as rows of sweet corn, squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, garlic and more — a bounty that she regularly shares with others in her Longfellow neighborhood.

"Jean's garden is a wild and intuitive blend of what she loves, and it's amazing to experience," wrote Connie Lanphear, who nominated Clough's garden. It's a tiny house with a garden that looms large.

Bette and Curt Fenton, Hopkins

The suburban oasis that is Bette and Curt Fenton's garden can be found in Hopkins. Their daughter Andrea, who nominated them, recalled how it has evolved since the family moved there in the mid-1970s. Back then, a sprawling vegetable garden fed the family fresh vegetables and boasted a tree swing and play areas for her, her siblings and neighborhood kids.

Today, the Fentons have made the garden their own. Curt, who specializes in bonsai, is an expert with plants large and small. He also shapes the boulevard trees in bonsai style. The mostly shaded yard is no match for Bette, who has found just the right blooms to fill their meticulously manicured backyard. They also regularly host garden tours so others can enjoy what their daughter describes as an "over-the-top garden."

"My dad is almost 80 years old and my mom is in her mid-70s. I swear this garden keeps them healthy and strong," Andrea Fenton Abbs wrote in her nomination.

Aine Mickelson, North Oaks

Growing up in Dublin with limited gardening space, Aine Mickelson's mother was an avid flower gardener who took advantage of every inch. Today, Aine and her husband Bob's North Oaks property spans 2 acres. But Aine never takes a plant — or its potential to create a beautiful garden — for granted.

They have many themed garden areas, flooded with colorful perennials and annuals. A favorite: the "kitchen garden" that provides tasty ingredients for cooking and making many jars of tomato sauce each year.

As a tribute to her mother, Aine planted arum lilies just like the ones grown in the family's Dublin garden.

Sue and Bob Olson, Mankato

The Mankato garden that the Olsons have created over the course of 24 years is a reflection of their life, good and bad.

When Sue was diagnosed with breast cancer, the garden became a sanctuary, providing much-needed solace. Now, they tend a butterfly garden as well as garden beds filled with perennials, annuals and edibles. The Olsons also have dedicated garden beds to parents who have passed.

And, Bob, a Vikings fan, couldn't help but designate a garden with all purple and gold flowers, in which "Viking garden gnomes" find refuge.

Diana Weissenfluh, Zimmerman, Minn.

As a florist, Weissenfluh takes her love for flowers to another level with her home garden.

Themed landscaped areas (some with ponds) burst with colorful blooms spring, summer and fall. In fact, the gardens are so picture-perfect that three family weddings have been held on the Zimmerman property.

"My mother-in-law is very dedicated to her plants. She is the plant and flower whisperer," wrote Brittany Weissenfluh, who nominated her.