If Sandy Mangel is an artist, as the neighbors who stop by her yard often tell her, then her canvas is soil and her medium flowers.
Following the principles of art and design, she paints her garden with blooms and foliage from early spring to late fall on a corner lot in Minneapolis’ Lynnhurst neighborhood, where she and her husband, Doug, have lived for 52 years.
“It’s not only about pretty flowers, but also about color, line and texture,” Sandy Mangel said. “How does this foliage look next to that? When are the bloom times? What time of day is the sun the hottest and where is it? It’s a study over a long period of time.”
It was Mangel’s careful study in creating her English cottage garden that garnered her a win in the Star Tribune’s annual Beautiful Gardens contest. “Every inch of the entire property is meticulous, intentional and tended to with love,” wrote Mindy Mangel, who entered her mother-in-law’s garden into the contest.
On a sunny day last August, Sandy Mangel’s living landscapes drew a steady stream of oohs and aahs — from morning dogwalkers who linger with their pooches, to lunchtime strollers stopping to take selfies against the vibrant backdrop, to others on their evening constitutionals.
Mangel sometimes spends seven or eight hours a day working on her garden. If it brings joy to the neighborhood, gardening also gladdens the heart of this self-professed lover of beauty.
“The reason my garden blooms all summer long is because I deadhead like crazy,” she said.
And she’s always eager to answer questions, especially from kids. Sometimes, she may even invite strangers into her home.
“They get the view from inside the house,” she said.
Fix up and flip? Nah
When the Mangels moved into their cottage-style home shortly after getting married, they did not intend to live in it for five-plus decades.
“We were supposed to be here for five years,” said Sandy, a retired interior designer who also has a background in tap and modern dance.
“We were going to fix it up and flip it,” said Doug, a retired painting contractor.
But the more they worked on their home, the more they fell in love with it. They also thought the neighborhood, just two blocks from Lake Harriet and Minneapolis’ Rose Garden, was a great place to raise their two children.
When Sandy Mangel, who worked for 40 years in interior design, took up diligent gardening about 35 years ago, she brought the principles of her profession to the soil.
“I’m interested in what plants look good next to each other — the layers, tall to medium to shorter, how the borders are put together,” she said. “I’m also looking at bloom times.”
Beauty has been a defining feature of her life. In her youth, she studied jazz, tap and ballet with the likes of Loyce Houlton. She choreographed student productions at Cooper (New Hope), Armstrong (Plymouth) and Benilde-St. Margaret (St. Louis Park) high schools.
And she worked in special events for many years at Dayton’s, choreographing noontime shows for the fashion office. She opened her own interior design studio at a former gas station at 46th and Bryant in Minneapolis, partnering with her mother, in 1974. It was called Two’s Company.
“In the ’80s, when retail was really big, we traveled all over the country creating [thematic] experiences,” Sandy Mangel said.
That passion for artistic expression continues as she continually educates herself on gardening. She reads magazines, watches YouTube videos and travels as much as she can to see gardens.
She jetted to Europe for two weeks last spring, visiting the Floriade Expo, held every 10 years in Amsterdam. She has also contemplated the quiet landscapes at Claude Monet’s garden at Giverny in France. In England, she visited King Charles’ royal gardens at Highgrove, part of a slew of award-winning gardens in the Cotswolds, and has traveled to London’s Chelsea Flower Show.
“I like to just immerse myself in the beauty and the creative genius of whoever planned the garden,” Mangel said. “Gardens are my therapy.”
Her own garden has been built in stages. When she started, she only had 4 to 6 feet of flowers and shrubs. She quickly realized that was not enough, either for the plants or for the birds, insects and humans to which they give sustenance and pleasure.
“If you have the space, your garden should be 7, 8 feet [depth-wise] in order to get all your layers,” she said.
The various garden areas are a series of landscape studies with a particular palette: pink, lavender, yellow and white. There are no oranges or reds.
A front garden faces east and gets flushed with the morning sun. Vibrant with an array of clematis and roses, it is the one that most passersby see. She also keeps an obelisk in the front for flowers to climb. “I like to have low then medium, which gives me an elevation,” Mangel said.
There’s a south garden with a fence and trellis where she grows roses, lilies and clematis plus a hydrangea tree. She also keeps a small corner garden where she grows zinnias, phlox and Veronica, as well as conifers. She has a spring snow apple tree and several other flowers in her middle garden. There’s a shade garden under a pine tree, another in front of the garage plus another on the side.
Mangel also keeps window boxes for lettuce and fresh herbs. She grows raspberries and tomatoes in her courtyard. There’s a backyard courtyard with a fountain; that’s where the family cherishes their privacy.
Once again this spring, the garden will start to bloom with irises, evening primrose and columbines. Those will give way to foxgloves, delphinium, phlox, roses and hollyhocks. Dahlias bloom in all their fabulosity in the fall.
She sprinkles in annuals, which she puts at the base of her garden for continuous color.
All of that work gets noticed. Neighbors write her notes of thanks and drop them in her mailbox.
“A little piece of paradise. … Just a quick note to tell you what a work of art your garden and house are,” wrote one reveler. “I go out of my way to walk past your garden. It lifts my spirits.”
And yet another called her house “a neighborhood treasure. The trellis of pink flowers, the lovely fountain, thank for the outstanding maintenance of your one-of-a-kind original house.”
The garden gives her life meaning and purpose, Mangel said. It’s also a way to feel fully alive.
“It’s a way of shaping the story of my life — creating beauty and bringing joy to people,” she said. “We’re always thinking about yesterday or tomorrow. But here, when I’m working in the garden, I can forget everything and just be in the present.”
Spoken like someone who has sat in the presence of an awe-inspiring masterpiece or two.