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As a florist and someone who loves all things gardening, it's safe to say Diana Weissenfluh takes work home with her.

"I've always lived out in the country and my mom always had houseplants that I loved and it just kind of grew from there," the Princeton, Minn., native said.

So when she and husband Steve bought a sprawling 30-acre property in Zimmerman, Minn., 45 years ago, she began dedicating as much free time to gardening as possible.

During the growing season, the lush landscapes she's cultivated — amid a backdrop of ponds, islands and bridges — are so Hallmark movie-worthy that the Weissenfluhs have hosted family weddings on the grounds.

"It's my place of solitude. I'm constantly adding and changing it. It took a lot of time to get to where it is," Diana said of her gardens, a winner in the reader-nominated 2023-2024 Star Tribune Beautiful Gardens contest.

Daylilies, phlox and Joe Pye surround a statuary in Diana Weissenfluh's Zimmerman, Minn garden.
Daylilies, phlox and Joe Pye surround a statuary in Diana Weissenfluh's Zimmerman, Minn garden.

Leila Navidi

Gardening groove

Today, five gardens with more than 100 plant varieties filling about an acre are dotted along the property. The first thing Diana created was what she calls her woodland garden. For her, it was the perfect starter garden.

"It's a forest garden along the woods. It was easier than putting in a border garden," Diana said. "Then it just became a continuous garden that then went into the backyard."

A mulch path and arched footbridge built over a creek lead from the woodland garden to the perennial garden, where Diana's love for flowers especially shines. The garden, a dense yet sprawling, colorful array of blooms varying in height and textures, is an example of Diana's gardening philosophy: "The prerequisite is that they're easy to take care of," she said.

As a base, the avid gardener has planted a host of flowers that return year after year as well as bloom in succession. "That way, I always have spring, summer and fall flowers," she said.

Each spring, the tulips, daffodils, irises and lilacs arrive. Then, in late spring to early summer, peonies start to bloom. In the thick of summer, phlox, coreopsis and daylilies dance in the wind. Then later in the summer and rolling into fall, the Russian sage, astilbe, sedum and mums return. Among all the perennials she's planted, she's especially fond of the hibiscus.

"I like them because they look so tropical but are hardy in Minnesota and easy to grow," Diana said.

Seasonal shifts

Such low-maintenance perennials — requiring mainly weeding, watering and deadheading — free up time for Diana to add to her garden. The green thumb tucks in plants wherever she can to give her gardens varying heights and textures.

"I fill the garden in with annuals because perennials don't last all summer. So you have to add annuals so you can have color all season long," she said, adding that she mostly relies on rain rather than sprinklers to water her garden. That has been challenging at times, especially during a Minnesota hot spell. But that's where some of her go-to annuals come into play.

"I don't have a water system, so as every year comes up, I look more and more for drought-tolerant plants," Diana said. "Geraniums are a great die-hard, zinnias and vinca are great, coleus and wax begonias are wonderful. They're all drought-tolerant plants."

Diana is also busy tending to her vegetable garden, which is heavy on green beans, tomatoes, carrots and onions. "The vegetables are just the basics because I just grow what I know I'm going to eat or we're going to eat," she said.

She also likes to throw in a curveball here and there. While growing kiwi is more associated with tropical climates, she's discovered that at least one variety — the kiwiberry — grows well in Minnesota. According to the University of Minnesota Fruit Research site, the cold-hardy variety can withstand temperatures of 35 below.

On a late summer day, the grape-sized climbing vine fruit that Diana planted along a trellis was ripe for the picking. Even Diana has been surprised at how well it has flourished.

"It's at least 20 years old, yet it comes back every year," Diana said.

Great scapes

Diana and Steve, an excavator by profession, have also added ponds and bridges to the landscape.

The pond gardens, which are dotted along the property, are about 3 to 5 feet deep. Two of the ponds have footbridges surrounded by pine, crab apple and willow trees.

"On the north side of the driveway, we planted two rows of pine trees to block the north wind," Diana said. "We made the ponds, and they're sustainable where we have natural springs so we never have to add water to them."

The landscapes the Weissenfluhs have created provide plenty of picture-book moments. So much so that family weddings have been held on the property. The first was nine years ago, when their daughter Holly married Sam. Then there was their son Shawn's nuptials to Brittany. Just last August, their son Darrick tied the knot with Amber.

"The weddings have been very memorable. My kids know how passionate I am about gardening," Diana said. "Even when they were growing up, we would take a picture of them by the flowers whenever it was the first day of school. It's full circle."