August 9, 2022

For the annual Star Tribune Beautiful Gardens contest, we asked readers to nominate their favorite gardens that were not only pretty as a picture, but also had great back stories.

From wildly whimsical to peaceful, from modest to perfectly manicured, each of this year’s 108 nominations was truly distinctive and beautiful in its own right. And they had another thing in common — it’s clear that those who tend them do it for the love of gardening.

We want to sincerely thank you for taking the time to nominate gardens in your community that have brought you and others joy. It was challenging to choose just six winners, but ultimately our panel of five judges had to make the call.

Here are the 2022 winners. Look for stories about these gardens in upcoming Sunday Homes sections and on startribune.com.

And don’t forget to take pictures of your favorite garden for next year! This annual contest is a perennial favorite, and we can’t wait to dig into the next round of submissions next summer.

Molly Bialka-Boreen, Coon Rapids

Tea sets, top hats and mushroom figurines.

Amid the lush and well manicured foliage in Molly Bialka-Boreen’s backyard is a place that makes you feel like you’ve gone down a rabbit hole. That’s because Bialka-Boreen’s “Alice in Wonderland”-themed yard takes you through the adventures of the beloved storybook character — all while featuring original garden artwork inspired by Lewis Carroll’s famous novel.

In the book, there’s also a beautiful garden. If you asked Bonnie Pullis, who nominated the garden, Bialka-Boreen’s is mission accomplished in that sense, too.

“In a world with so much sadness, we all need a little bit of cheer, and you’re certain to find that here,” Pullis said.

Sandy Mangel, Minneapolis

Sandy Mangel’s garden on a corner lot brings a bright spot to the day for anyone who comes across it. Passersby can’t help but stop, comment and sometimes take pictures.

“The home [in south Minneapolis] is a rare jewel tucked away in what can otherwise seem like a concrete urban landscape,” said Mindy Mangel, Sandy’s daughter-in-law. “At age 80 this September, Sandy has created a beautiful space in her life that she readily shares with others. Every inch of the entire property is meticulous, intentional and tended to with love.”

Sandy works on the garden daily, continuously plotting to add more to the mix. And after having recently returned from the Royal Horticultural Society’s Chelsea Flower Show in London, she’s sure to draw inspiration that passersby can marvel at in the near future.

Chuck Levine, Roseville

It’s safe to say that Chuck Levine, a retired horticulture educator, knows a thing or two about gardening.

His 1-acre Roseville garden is evidence of his life’s dedication to plants. His collection includes rare varieties as well as an enchanted ginkgo forest, hundreds of hostas, elephant ears, South African bulbs, rock gardens and lilies.

For Levine, the garden has become a “sanctuary in the city.”

Kathy Dirks, Cumberland, Wis.

On a small lake in Barron County sits an awe-inspiring residential garden. That’s all thanks to Kathy Dirks, who designed and has continued to maintain her residential garden.

Each area speaks its own language. There’s the intimate, well manicured east garden, a sunken garden, a little bunny garden and a vegetable garden, not to mention flowering vines, including 80 clematis plants.

Beth Tracy, who nominated Dirks, said her neighbor and friend devotes her days to tending the garden.

“Which is why it is perfect in my book,” Tracy said. “She is continuously adding to, dividing and moving plants around, so it is always a work of art in [progress]. I love bringing friends and family to view her masterpiece. It is like being in her private arboretum.”

Betty Lotterman, St. Paul

Betty Lotterman’s garden is not only one of abundance, but it serves as a garden for the greater good. Each year, the bounty from her St. Paul garden feeds the neighborhood with healthy, affordable food — all while practicing sustainability and keeping the environment in mind.

Lotterman uses her food producer’s license to sell goods and donates a portion of the proceeds to Second Harvest Heartland food bank. Every year, she hosts a plant and seed sale featuring organic-grown plants and she sells her organic produce during the season. She also hosts an annual fundraising dinner on behalf of the food bank. Last year, she donated $1,200 from the plant and seed sale alone.

Lotterman is resourceful while using as few resources as possible

“I do not have a car. That means I have developed an ecosystem where not much needs to be added and not much needs to be removed,” she said. “I use the cycle of nature to grow amazing vegetables and fruits and some beautiful flowers, as well. And solar panels provide whatever energy I need.”

Gary Reuss, Andover

Retired teacher Gary Reuss has created a backyard oasis. Fruit trees and vegetable gardens, along with towering walls of greenery, are just some of the things that can be found on 3 ½ acres in Andover,

“It is a master class in color and texture with more tints and shades of green than I knew existed. Contrasting the green are pops of vibrant color with blooms in red, yellow, pink and orange,” wrote Ron Malcolm, who nominated his friend and former co-worker’s garden. “Truly a summer delight.”