From outdoor room to wedding chapel...this Minnesota backyard is something special!
By Deb Warlaumont Mulvey, Senior Editor
Celine and Brian Carlson didn't have a grand plan for landscaping their new property in rural Scandia, Minnesota. All they knew was that they wanted an arbor—a big one. "We were always driving past the house of a gentleman who builds arbors, and he displayed lots of them in his front yard," Celine says. "So we asked if he could build one for us. I don't know why we even did it, but for some reason, we wanted something large."
The finished product, a gleaming 20- by 25-foot work of art, delighted them. They just couldn't decide how to use it. "For 2 or 3 years, we just mowed around it, thinking about what we wanted to do with it," Celine says.
Eventually, they hired a landscaper to build paver paths and planting beds in and around the arbor, but they insisted on selecting the plants themselves. "I always tried to keep gardens going at the two homes I had before this one, but I never had a partner—plus, I was raising five kids," Celine says. "When we moved here, the possibilities were endless. I was at the right point in my life, with the time and energy for it." And she had Brian to help her.
Guided only by their instincts, Celine and Brian created a lush, flower-filled space dense with blossoms and fragrance. Blooms spill over and around the arbor's framework, sharing space with well-placed garden statuary, unique decorative elements and rustic signs with inspiring messages like "love" and "rejoice." They were so pleased with the way the arbor turned out that they remodeled their house to capitalize on it. "When you walk into our family room—bam! The garden is right there," Celine notes. "I definitely think of the arbor as an extension of our house."
Buoyed by the arbor's impact, Celine began eyeing the tangled slope below it. "Our home is at the top of a hill, and everything else slopes down around it," she adds. "One area was all overgrown, and I kept suggesting a shade garden there." But Brian knew that would be a huge undertaking. He kept saying no. And then one day, he didn't.
"I came home from work, and there he was, on a rented backhoe," Celine recalls. "It was so exciting. He'd never even driven one before!"
Brian spent most of the summer clearing the hillside and building brick walls for a three-tiered garden with a central pathway. His design included slabs between levels to allow easy access to the plants. "He figured out how to build it by reading books and talking to people," Celine recalls. "It was definitely one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me."
Two summers later, daughter Noelle was married in the shade garden. For the reception, the Carlsons positioned food stations throughout the yard—drinks and hors d'oeuvres in front of the garage, soups near the swimming pool and sandwiches in the arbor. "We set things up so everybody had to walk around and mingle," Celine explains.
Guests enjoyed dessert in the "Monet garden," another of Brian's creations. The base is a cement slab topped with ceramic tile, and faux wrought-iron archways provide a graceful backdrop for wisteria, hyacinth beans, trumpet vines and climbing roses.
The wedding was such a great experience that the Carlsons plan to host another one this year, and may even spin off the idea into a small business. "We own two restaurants, so this is just a natural thing for us to get into," Celine says. "I would love working with wedding couples and their families."
That may explain their inexplicable longing for a big arbor: It was all meant to be. "We created all this for a reason, and I think this is it," Celine adds. "Our dream is to semi-retire into this business. It would be a perfect fit."
In the meantime, she and Brian keep busy maintaining the gardens and sharing them with others. "I never say no to a garden tour," Celine explains. "I could talk about gardening all day, especially with people who understand and have that same passion. This has become a huge part of our lives."
So huge, in fact, that she relies on it to keep her life in balance. "When I get busy and don't get into my gardens for a few days, my life feels out of control," she adds. "I get edgy and cranky. To fix that, all I have to do is stroll my backyard."
She feels a profound sense of accountability, too. "It's so important to me to keep the gardens going. I created them. Now I have to make sure they retain their beauty and elegance. It's a huge responsibility."
She pauses for a moment, then laughs. "If I put this much time into my marriage or my five kids," she says, "I'd smother 'em!"