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Sunday, November 13, 2016

Retired teacher mixes art, math skills to create color shade garden | Duluth News Tribune

"Gene Waldowski designs his gardens the same way he paints." reports Jackie Crosby, Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Beds in the backyard and front yard gardens of Eugene Waldowski’s Ramsey, Minn., home.
Photo: Jeff Wheeler / Minneapolis Star Tribune

With his wife, Lois, as collaborator and resident wisecracker, Waldowski has created a shade-lover’s delight at their home in Ramsey. More than 120 varieties of hosta provide a backdrop for brightly colored cultivars and Gene’s creative hardscapes.

The couple bought their woodsy property in the northern Twin Cities suburb in 1967, shortly after they married. The yard was so shady that it was hard to get grass to grow, Lois said.

Back then, the couple didn’t know a lot about shade plants. And they were more focused on jobs and child-rearing than working in the yard. Inspiration came in the 1980s after they visited a nursery in Waseca that was overflowing with hostas.

“We didn’t realize how many types there are,” Gene said. “Hundreds of thousands of them. We saw how you could use hostas to create a beautiful garden, even in the shade.”

NATURAL INTERVENTION
Nature helped push the couple toward a more deliberate plan for their garden, after Dutch elm disease claimed a number of mature trees, and a 1997 storm took out several colossal oaks.

Today, the Waldowskis’ yard is a showcase for hostas and other plants that thrive among the shadows of towering trees. Leafy hostas of every size and shape are carefully placed to create a composition. Pale yellow hostas contrast against a sea of deep greens and dusty blues.

In the fall, the couple enjoy the fragrant perfume of plantaginea hosta. The largest variety is a 4-year-old Empress Wu hosta, which will grow to more than 5 feet wide when mature.

Two hosta varieties are Gene’s own, cultivated from seed about 15 years ago, though he hasn’t taken the time to get them certified and officially registered. One is a medium-sized hosta he describes as “puckered blue,” both for its color and its cupped leaves, which hold water. The other has subtly variegated leaves that range from dark to light green. If he had to name it, he’d go with, “Chiaroscuro,” which in art is the use of strong contrasts of light and dark for dramatic effect.

“We hardly ever buy one now,” Gene said of their vast hosta collection. “It has to be uniquely different.”

The gardens, which were featured on a 2004 tour sponsored by the Minnesota Hosta Society, reflect Gene’s creative flair as well as his proclivity for exactness. He taught art and math until retiring in 1997 from Park Center in the Osseo school district.

“Yep,” he laughed, “both sides of the brain.”

His artistic skills are reflected in the pottery, sculptures and whimsical concrete casts of frogs and toads that he created to accent numerous garden areas. Square tiles that he designed flank a sizable three-level flower bed with a water fountain in a ceramic vase, also made by Gene.

That same tile pattern appears elsewhere in the yard — as a back wall to a stately fountain near the street and along a terraced flower bed cut into a hillside.

In one of many displays of Gene’s logical yet creative mind, a garden area is set off by numerous distinctive steppingstones, each with a grooved circular pattern. He made the stones by pouring concrete into the inexpensive plastic trays that sit under potted plants.

“One bag of concrete, and you get six or seven of them,” he said.

Despite his love of the hosta plant, Gene admits “there’s only so much you can do with them.” To amp up the color and contrast, he cultivates annuals in his greenhouse. This past spring, he planted 720 annuals that he started from seeds, 356 coleus from cuttings and 110 caladiums from bulbs.
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Source: Duluth News Tribune  


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