July 24, 2024
Beautiful Gardens winner brings ‘Alice in Wonderland’ to life

Enter Molly Bialka-Boreen’s “Alice in Wonderland”-themed yard and you feel like you’ve fallen down the rabbit hole.

“I loved that story as a child and also as an adult. I think the story of Alice is really out there. It’s so different. I like different,” said the Coon Rapids resident. “I thought I could have a lot of fun with it.”

Bialka-Boreen has come a long way, considering she was just a budding green thumb only a few years ago. But like the character Alice in Lewis Carroll’s famous novel, Bialka-Boreen’s garden has grown in size and confidence.

“I learned the hard way. I had set out to kill the weeds, but I killed the whole yard. My friend Bonnie, who is an avid gardener, started to teach me how to garden,” recalled Bialka-Boreen. “I didn’t know a perennial from an annual.”

Even that friend, Bonnie Pullis, was impressed with her mentee. So much so that she nominated her friend, named one of six winners in the 2022-2023 Star Tribune Beautiful Gardens Contest.

“Outrageous, bright and beautiful — just like Molly,” is how Pullis described the garden. “In a world with so much sadness, we all need a little bit of cheer and you’re certain to find that here.”

During the growing season, Bialka-Boreen’s yard is an art-filled, well-manicured, landscaped setting. Over the years, the now avid gardener has gotten a feel for what she likes to plant.

“I have a lot of perennials because they’re easy and grow back every year. And annuals get expensive,” she said. “And I do a lot of repetitive planting and I like bright.”

Among perennials she’s a fan of are pachysandra evergreens for ground cover, Mandevillas for a tropical look and Curly Fries hostas for how they wisp in the breeze. Pink, purple, white and yellow hues rule, as do flowers that include coral bells, vining clematis and poofy hydrangeas. The garden enthusiast also sprinkles a few annuals into the mix, such as low-maintenance Sunpatiens.

When things “got crappy during COVID,” Bialka-Boreen ramped up her gardening in anticipation of hosting more outdoor gatherings.

“I have a lot of parties here with my family, my boyfriend’s family,” she said.

Down the rabbit hole

The garden is dotted with nods to Alice’s wonderland, with carefully placed mirrors referencing the looking glass, Mad Hatter top hats as well as mushroom, white rabbit, Cheshire Cat and Alice figurines. Tea sets in various colors, patterns, shapes and sizes are also on display.

Bialka-Boreen likes to reuse and upcycle pieces for DIY projects that are colorful and whimsical in their own right. She spray-painted a birdcage in bright blue, magenta and teal. She scored a headboard from Pottery Barn at a secondhand store, painted it to match the birdcage and uses it as a place for her potted plants to perch.

“Color is my thing,” said the hairdresser of 40 years. “The things you can embellish, you should embellish.”

An old playhouse in the yard was given a second wind, brightened with Bialka-Boreen’s original “Alice in Wonderland” artwork of pastel-colored florals. She smiled at the thought that the playhouse continues to be a place where the little ones can foster their imaginations.

“My daughter used to play in here when she was young,” Bialka-Boreen said. “All the grandkids end up playing in there now. They play restaurant and such.”

Garden finds

Bialka-Boreen unexpectedly found that half the fun in transforming her yard was the shopping. She’s landed on a few go-to places for garden decor. She likes ordering online from Grandin Road not only because of the design-savvy flowerpots, but also because “they weather really, really well.”

Several teacups are from Brylane Home because she loves how colorful they are. Design Toscano is a favorite destination for sculptural and larger garden pieces, including a vintage-looking gate.

She also adds personal touches, including a silver tea set from an aunt who passed away and a faux topiary dog that looks like her real-life Yorkie, Pokey.

As word of her storybook garden spread, she’s found herself fielding inquiries.

“I’ve had people say, ‘Hey, can I have a wedding here?’ ” Bialka-Boreen said. But she’s not quite ready to host a storybook wedding.

Instead, she plans to continue doing what she’s been doing — adding whimsy to her world.

“Gardening is really soothing for me,” she said. “It’s happy and bright. I can spend hours out here.”