The Garden Inside the Wardrobe

You know that book, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe? How the child heroes open the door of the wardrobe and find an entire world inside? The garden of Lee and Jerry Shannon is kind of like that. From the street, their place doesn’t look too unusual. The house they bought nearly 50 years ago seems like a fairly typical single family home in St. Paul, Minnesota.


But walk around back, as we did during the Minneapolis Garden Bloggers Fling, and you will discover something unique: a private garden that never seems to end, that transforms itself repeatedly as you wander from cottage garden to vegetable garden, shade garden, rock garden, roof garden, and formal English garden.

Jerry and Lee Shannon. Author and veteran flinger Pam Penick is standing behind Lee. The Shannons seemed pretty vigorous for people who bought their house nearly 50 years ago, a testament to the health benefits of gardening.ย 

Back in the 1980s, the Shannons did what I have only fantasized about: they purchased additional land adjoining their city plot. This is what makes possible the amazing variety of their garden. The Shannons had too many plants for their space, so they bought more space! These are my kind of people! Which is to say, the kind of people who lavish love, devotion, and a tremendous amount of hard work ย on their patch of ground.


When you first walk out back, you are struck by the abundance of cottage garden flowers, like these Larkspurs and Poppies.


The plantings are lush and colorful.


Looking across the dense plantings you can see a shed topped by a roof garden.


I like the ladder painted blue, and the Dianthus spilling over the edge.


More Dianthus and a bird house at the other end of the shed.


Nearby is a vegetable garden featuring roses and Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) along with an unusual assortment of edibles (I thought I saw okra here, not something you expect in a Minnesota garden).


Pollinators were enjoying the blooming dill in the edible garden.


Just when you are feeling impressed with the Shannon’s garden, you realize you are just at the beginning. A wide grassy path undulates deeper into their property, to destinations unknown.


It’s hard to see in this picture, but a large section of the Shannon’s garden is cordoned off with shrubs and small trees. There’s a vine-covered arbor providing a link between the two areas.


Here’s a better picture of the arbor.


Passing through the arbor you come upon a rock garden. I was told that those Prickly Pear Cacti are one of three Cactus species native to Minnesota. Who knew? Actually, the Shannons are enthusiastic plant collectors, with a taste for unusual species.


And there’s a formal English garden nearby, with clipped hedges of boxwood.


Wow, look at that massive clump of tall Lilies!


This gazebo sits in the midst of a deeply shaded area. The Shannon’s garden feels a bit like it extends into some kind of magical dimension. You think you’ve come to the end, but yet there is always more.


Could this be ‘Sally Holmes’? Certainly looks like her. Nice to see a familiar face.


The Meadow Rue was just starting to open.


The Shannons also have a whole bunch of planters made from styrofoam containers. The containers, which they got free from a fish store, were coated with something to give the appearance of stone and filled with succulents.

We left the Shannons’ garden feeling a little dazed but very satisfied. This was definitely one of our favorite gardens from the Minneapolis fling. For myself, if I could acquire more space I would maintain the same basic garden types I already have – a woodland garden for part sun and a naturalistic prairie garden for full sun. I would indulge in more plants and bigger drifts of plants, though.

The Shannons went in another direction, however, expressing their love of a variety of garden styles.

What would you add to your garden if you could obtain more space?

64 Comments on “The Garden Inside the Wardrobe

  1. I have the amount of space I can manage; sometimes I think “I need more space to grow x” but the reality is it would be too much work. If I did have more space though I’d have a dedicated cut flower garden and an orchard. Great post, I’d have liked to visit this garden.

  2. Rather than more space, I’d like more time please! Thanks for sharing this garden โ€“ I love that arbour.

    • I don’t think I would have an arboretum. Although You and I are thinking on different scales. My garden is a little over 1/8 of an acre. I’d be thrilled to have just one acre, or even a half.

  3. What an amazing garden! Like you say, you would never guess that the garden was there from the front of the house. It’s like Dr Who’s tardis! I am really taken by the concept of a fling… I wonder if we should arrange one in the UK next summer.

  4. To me their garden is near perfect. I would probably have a meadow garden tucked in someplace tho if I had more room. That big arbor is a perfect portal to the next part of the garden. The stand of lilies is magnificent. It made my heart go pitty patter.

    • I’m not especially fond of boxwood myself, although the ones in this garden are nicely shaped. I really don’t like boxwood meatballs.

  5. This is the kind of garden I aspire to. I want my garden to be a surprise. This is a wonderful garden. I understand gardeners wanting more space (I’ve been there), and if they can handle it, more power to them. Thanks for this post.

  6. Wow! That’s quite some garden. I love the arbour amongst other things. What would I add if there was more space? A multitude of Abutilons. I adore them!

  7. The thought of adding anything more makes me tremble — with fear, not delight. I have more space than I can manage, and am looking at ways to simplify. But at the same time, I want to make flowery areas more floriferous, with better combinations and more lushness.

    I envy a couple who can garden together. I’d love it if my partner were interested but he isn’t. (I keep telling him what he’s missing and he keeps reminding me of the glories of golf…)

    • I guess my question is aimed more at us urban/suburban gardeners. Your situation is a bit different. And I agree that you can add more of the right things and still have simpler garden.

  8. That’s a lovely garden. I think it is so clever how space can be used to create different areas making it seem much larger altogether. I would like more grasses and shrubs with berries for the birds.

  9. That indeed looks like a magical garden. Now I really wish I could obtain more land adjoining to our house but alas no such chance. There are no available land — only houses with lands; I need to then buy the whole house and for which I need to win a lottery :-P.

    I think my gardening style is that of Shannon’s — I want all sorts of gardens — shade, woodland, rocky, alpine, cottage, formal, prairie-grassland type.

    What an amazing garden. Thank you for this tour. I wish I could enlarge the images by clicking on them so that I could observe everything in more details.

    • Yes, we also have no vacant land around us. So the question is, how can I bully/persuade the neighbors to let me plant on a slice of their property.

  10. I have enough space. What I would love is to have everything dug up and rearranged, all at the same time.

  11. Amazing! I am curious though, as to how big the Shannons’ property/lot is. I didn’t see a mention of size, either in dimension (depth) or acreage (1/3? 1/2? 1 acre?). In anything less than 1/2 acre that would be even more incredible!

    • I believe it is 2/3 of an acre. By the way, you might want to check and see if my comments on your blog are being diverted to the spam folder. They seem to be disappearing down the intertubes.

      • You were right: Two of your comments had been diverted by WP to ‘spam’. No idea why, considering we both have WP addresses.They have been rescued and approved now, and many thanks; I’ll have to keep an eye on that and if it happens again I will let the site gurus know.

  12. What an amazing variety of garden styles tucked behind that house. I would love to know how they cope with the roof garden. Very whimsical.

    • Well, I didn’t get a chance to ask about the roof garden. I think that blue ladder is permanently attached to the wall for getting up there.

  13. A lovely garden, full of interesting plants & gives such a feeling of space and tranquility. Although I love the idea of a big rambling garden I think I would be completely preoccupied trying to plant and look after.

  14. You captured the essence of the Shannon’s garden was a never-ending series of unexpected surprises. Loved it and I would rank it as one of my top picks at the Fling too.

  15. Like some other commenters, I actually have plenty of space (at least for the moment).

    It’s more a matter of doing small-scale experiments to figure out what works here (and many things that don’t) so that I can start expanding the planted space and reduce the grassy/weedy space.

    I’m very hopeful that some of my seed-starting experiments will yield the large swaths of annuals and perennials I need to fill up my current beds so my wife will give me permission to make new ones! ๐Ÿ™‚

  16. What a sanctuary they have created in their backyard. Amazing. For the first time in my life, I have plenty of space for my gardening dreams. I tend more towards edibles, though. I love my veggies, herbs, and fruits best. With flowers running throughout.

  17. This was one of my favorite gardens, too. I’m not sure I made it to the rock garden! If I could add more garden, I’d add a pond with lots of water plants and fish as well as a rockery.

  18. Hello Jason, if I had more space (and the time) I would try larger garden features such as a long pergola or mass plantings. With the garden we have, I’m planting for variety and trying to cram in as much as possible, with a larger garden, this can be more relaxed and the focus shifts to having things on a larger scale.

  19. I don’t think you can ever have enough space, I fantasise about a proper wood! I just love this garden, how varied!xxx

  20. Jason, this is exactly the kind of garden I love – so much to explore and discover around the bend. If I had more space, I would make a kitchen garden with step over fruit trees, lots of herbs and apothecary roses, and room for salad crops. Sun is at a premium here, so the flowers get first dibs for now.

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