Connecting well-being with landscaping

By Kathy Henderson

A few years ago, homeowners taking on a landscaping project would have probably thought about appearance, function, practicality, maintenance and cost.

While those words are still applicable, words like biodiversity, environmentally friendly and sustainability have recently been entering landscape planning conversations and actions.

Jean Larson, of the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, would add one more: well-being.

Home gardening and landscaping are direct links to well-being, said Larson, who noted research studies show how engagement with nature increases both human health and nature’s well-being.

While planting a yard and garden for biodiversity (i.e. bee and pollinator friendly) is a win-win for all the critters that share a habitat, Larson said people are learning they don’t have to compromise on beauty for biodiversity.

 “Intentionally designing your landscape with pollinator plants provides a rich palette of options with both annuals and perennials,” she said.

Pollinator garden templates, guides and other resources are available via the Lawns to Legumes (Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources) at  Photo by Drew Henderson.

Further, planting diverse masses of pollinator friendly flowers also makes sure that something is blooming in your garden right through October, according to Julie Weisenhorn, a University of Minnesota Extension educator since 2014.

However, Weisenhorn also stressed that the key to growing pollinator friendly flowers — one’s that will thrive and not just survive — is to first understand your soil. Get a soil test and amend it accordingly, she advised in last spring’s “Talking…with U of M” column.

The University of Minnesota Soil Testing Laboratory recommends soil testing every three to five years and offers soil tests for $19. Details are available at

80/20 rule. Larson advocates the “80/20 rule,” which is “80% of the landscape is rich, green, biodiverse plantings with 20% hardscape — this is a simple way to design for a richer healing experience.”

When considering the 80% of your landscape — the living things such as plants and flowers — keep in mind that the St. Anthony Park Garden Club’s annual plant sale will take place from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, June 3, on the lot at the corner of Como Avenue and Luther Place (across from Speedy Market).

When it comes to that 20% of hardscape — the non-living elements of pathways, borders, rocks and woodchips around the planting area, retaining walls, plant containers, patios, lighting and yard art and decorative items — there’s a variety of local sources for materials and resources.

Budget conscious. Tight budget? Look to what’s available for free at the Ramsey County yard waste collection.

For example, Ramsey County’s Midway yard waste site at 1943 Pierce Butler Route has compost, while sites in Arden Hills and the East Side have compost and wood mulch.

Master Gardener booths are scheduled on various days and times at the collection sites, too, usually starting in May. Find an updated schedule on the Ramsey County webpage

The Minnesota Tool Library’s Minneapolis location — main floor of the Thorp Building, 1620 Central Ave. N.E. — will host a free, open-to-the-public Tool Library Fix-In: Garden Tool Edition on Sunday, May 21, from 3 to 6 p.m.

Members of the fee-based Tool Library cooperative can check out yard and garden tools for free at its Minneapolis site or a recently established 1010 Dale St. N. location. An inventory list and membership information can be found at

There are also landscape design videos and guides available on the University of Minnesota Extension website as well at the Minnesota State Horticulture Society’s Resource Hub link

Broader selection. Looking for a broader selection of materials than what might be available at a yard waste site?

Whether adding to or starting up a hardscape project, check out the materials (river rocks, pea gravel, mulch, soil blends, compost and so on) and the costs to pick up or have them delivered by bulk suppliers such as Kern Landscape Resources, 915 Albert St. N. at Pierce Butler Route, or Hiawatha Supply in Minneapolis

Wood mulch seems remarkable! At least that’s the impression one gets from the long list of attributes in the Minnesota State Horticultural Society’s Northern Gardner e-news: placing a layer of wood mulch around your plants lessens the opportunity for evaporation, suppresses weeds, prevents runoff and erosion, prevents soil borne diseases, insulates roots from weather fluctuation, adds organic matter to your soil and gives a lovely, finished appearance to your landscape. Alternatively, you can also use native plants as living mulch or green mulch to fill spaces between plants.

For those not needing a bulk-size order, Kendall’s ACE Hardware on Dale Street at the Dale/Front/Como intersection is a familiar and conveniently located place to find bag-size mulch, top soil and grass seed. It’s the place that people in the neighborhood depend on to pick up their basic landscape equipment and supplies, ranging from flower seeds to wheelbarrows or to have their lawn mower blades sharpened.

Owner Josh Kahlhamer also carries the EGO brand of cordless landscape equipment — lawn mower, hedge trimmers, leaf blowers, chain saws — which he says are gaining in popularity for low noise level and lighter weight.

Kahlhamer, who bought the business from his father, Kendall, in 2017, maintains his father’s slogan of “the friendliest store in town” and has no plans to ever change the store’s name.

Full-service expertise

Ready to bring an expert on board? Consult with a professional landscape designer, such as Landscape Love, which is a full-service design and build company in Minneapolis,

“The focus is shifting from a backyard patio to a front yard social connection area,” said Steele Arundel, Landscape Love’s co-owner and lead designer. He attributes this partly to how people are thinking more holistically about their entire property.

“People are investing in their homes because in today’s economic times they plan to stay there for a long time or are thinking about a future sale,” Arundel said, “but often it’s simply because in Minnesota’s short spring and summer season, it is important to have outdoors spaces they can enjoy.”

Yard art and ornamentation.

When considering hardscape design components, also remember the value that yard art and ornamentation can add.

“Experimenting with art and ornamentation is a wonderful way to decorate your garden and ornaments serve multiple purposes,” according to the New York Botanical Garden website

Whether a functional trellis or a whimsical whirligig, ornamentations not only provide all-season focal points for viewing enjoyment but can also become a place for the birds and animals that come into your landscape area to rest, sun or observe. 

Kathy Henderson lives in St. Paul and is a Twin Cities freelance writer.

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