A neatly lined cement paver path leads through smooth river rock, past delicate pink bleeding hearts, huge deep red and yellow peonies, deep purple irises and the Minnesota state flower since 1925: the showy lady's slipper.
Water droplets sparkle on petals and leaves from the recent rain, like tiny jewels. The light scent of wild roses mixed with wet soil mingles in the air and tickles the nose.
Interesting garden art is arranged between plants. A tall sundial, a variety of wooden birdhouse and a few old wooden benches are scattered around the several gardens behind Chris Carlson's house in rural Barnum Township on Big Hanging Horn Lake.
“Nothing in my garden is in rows,” Carlson said. “I like to try new things. I have most things marked. I have a lot of people come through.”
Carlson has been a Carlton County master gardener for about 20 years. Over the years, she and her husband, Ron, have moved many times. Each time, Carlson creates a new garden to fit the individuality of each home. They have lived at the current home 12 years.
Carlson took the empty canvas of green grass and introduced colors and textures to produce the work of art that is ongoing. Carlson purchases many of her plants from Barb's Perennials in Esko.
According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the showy lady's slipper is a protected species that can live to be 100 years old. The lady’s slipper is one of 43 orchid species that can grow in Minnesota and it is illegal to pick the flower or dig it up out of the wild.
The plants take about seven years to grow from seed and the prices reflect that. Websites list a range of prices from $55 to $100 for a 3.5-inch pot. Carlson purchased hers from a seller in Grand Rapids.
“I paid a lot of money for those little plants,” Carlson said with a laugh.
Her talented husband built her a gardening “she shed” -- the female version of a “man cave." The wooden one room shed features a neatly organized cabinet in one corner, a vintage desk and chair with a few supplies, also neatly organized. Bookcase-like shelving in front of another wall holds an assortment of baskets holding a variety of gardening items, a collection of beachy things and fertilizers and other necessary supplies.
A small sitting area hides invitingly in a corner on the outside of the house. A hops plant is in the beginning stages of being trained to become a green wall and ceiling for the sitting area. Carlson admits she rarely sits and enjoys the peaceful corner overlooking her garden.
Carlson is enjoying her first year of retirement after teaching elementary students for almost 32 years. Her final years were as a second-grade teacher at Churchill Elementary School in Cloquet. She combined her two passions, and with students' assistance, helped plant a garden at the school.
“My heart was in the Churchill garden. I designed the garden,” Carlson said. “I had summer gardening with the kids. I struggled to find helpers. We had a vegetable section so we could bring some to the nursing home.”
The project had challenges, especially having young students who needed to rely on rides to help in the summertime.
Once Carlson retired, the garden also faded away into a memory. She still enjoys volunteering to help others learn about gardening and is excited to open her garden for the free Tour of Gardens. She is one of 22 master gardeners in Carlton County.
“I thought it would be really interesting to try,” Carlson said. “I know a little bit about a lot of stuff. It was a lot of work. I just wanted to be really involved.”
How to become a master gardener
Interested in becoming a master gardener? The first step is to request an application from the Master Gardener State Office at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 612-625-9864. To contact the Carlton County coordinator for more information, email email@example.com.
The more than 48 hours of classes about horticulture cost $290, as well as a $30 fee for a background check. Classes can be taken online or in-person. For more information, visit https://extension.umn.edu/master-gardener/become-master-gardener.
Tour Chris Carlson's garden
Interested in touring Chris Carlson's garden and custom garden shed?
The free Tour of Gardens is 4-7 p.m. July 16. The self-guided tours are in the Barnum and Mahtowa area this year.
Maps are available after Monday, July 8, at the Carlton County Extension Office, TJ’s Country Store in Mahtowa, the Barnum Little Store and on the Carlton County Master Gardener Facebook page.