White Bear Lake Green Thumbs Share Garden Secrets

Three local green thumbs share their gardening flights of fancy.
Cynthia Hammel takes violet to a whole other level in her purple-themed formal garden.

The English philosopher Francis Bacon once mused, “Gardening is the purest of human pleasures.” For the devoted gardener, that sentiment comes as no surprise. Like a treasured journal or favorite diary, In many cases, gardens can be deeply personal, revealing the personality and the history of the gardener. We’ve rounded up three Mahtomedi Garden Club members to tell us the hidden story, the inspiration, behind their botanical masterpieces.

Cynthia Hammel

Cynthia Hammel has plenty of experience with grand gardens, although her start was much more humble. In grade school, her mother let her plant violets around the birdbath in their yard, and by the time she and her newly husband decided to build their own home on 15 acres of land in Grant, Hammel was ready to design the garden of her dreams—or rather, gardens of her dreams.

Hammel is a meticulous gardener, and with the help of an architect, planned not one or two, but six gardens. “I started thinking about where the gardens were going to be before we broke ground,” Hammel says. She even dug the garden herself, unearthing the top layer of dirt and double tilling the soil.

The house follows prairie-style architecture, and Hammel has carried that feeling throughout her purple-themed, U-shaped formal garden, which features everything from irises, tulips and phlox to shrub roses, azaleas, lilacs and hydrangeas, and more than 1/3 of an acre of hostas. “I’m a pretty organized gardener,” Hammel says. “Everything I’ve ever planted has been recorded: notes to myself, recommendations, things that did and didn’t work.”

More than half an acre is dedicated to a prairie garden, which includes butterfly weed, gray-headed coneflower, goldenrod, lupin, Queen Anne’s lace, meadow rue, prairie sage and giant hyssop. Hammel also has a shade garden with daffodils, wild geraniums, columbine and varieties of ferns, a south deck garden with sun-loving annuals, and a fruit and vegetable garden.

Hammel has her own floral business and in 2006 became a master gardener. Both have contributed to a focus on design throughout the garden, and she has more than 10 large containers filled with tropical plants or dahlias in a variety of color schemes. Enormous metal sculptures and mobiles designed by Hammel’s father-in-law adorn the garden.

She has hosted countless events in her gardens throughout the years, including fundraisers, family reunions, birthday parties, graduations and weddings. “I think it’s a real sense of satisfaction when you’re pleased with the way your garden looks,” she says. “I love to share my garden; it’s what motivates me to keep going.”

Bea Krinke
Take a look at Bea Krinke’s garden and her farm roots are immediately evident: vibrant orange marigolds and ruby red tomatoes sit comfortably next to one another, as wild ginger grows abundantly under lush evergreen trees. “Growing up on a farm, you grew part of your food,” Krinke says. Combining the aesthetics of a garden with growing food, Krinke has created a garden that’s both stunning and functional.

With two growing grandchildren, Krinke hopes to instill in them an appreciation for food production—and banish picky eating habits. “A lot of kids have the reputation of not liking vegetables,” Krinke says. “I want to try to make it enjoyable so they don’t even really think about learning to appreciate it; it’s just how they grew up.” Krinke points out scarlet runner beans on a trellis, which not only produce beautiful orange blossoms, but the pods can be picked and eaten right off the vine; the mature beans are ideal for soups.

Krinke’s garden is largely a perennial flower garden with vegetables, and she takes great pains to find the right plant for the right condition. “Yards are a micro-climate,” she says. “The plant that likes that condition will do really well and look good. If you have something that isn’t meant to be there, it’s going to look bad forever.”

Krinke says good soil is the foundation of a successful garden, so she regularly uses compost and manure, which also help maintain her balance of edibles with flowers. She has around 35 varieties of hostas in her garden, which border the yard, along with red osier dogwood shrubs. Her yard has a few dry areas, so she’s planted perennials and shade-tolerant natives that can handle the dry conditions, including wild ginger, lady’s mantle, phlox, bleeding hearts and tulips.

The garden also serves as a family tradition; Krinke has planted her mother’s pink gladiolas from the farm where she grew up, and her two daughters have offspring of those bulbs. “They’re a nice reminder of the continuity of life,” Krinke says. “I like that a bit of my mom’s garden lives on.”

Sue Pavek

For most people, a giant hole in their backyard is a nightmare. For Sue Pavek, it’s merely an opportunity. When Pavek and her husband moved into their home in White Bear Lake almost 30 years ago, they found out the enormous tree in their backyard was diseased and needed to be cut down, leaving an 8- by 5-foot hole. “We had to decide where we would put all this dirt,” she says, laughing. “So we decided to build a pond.”

The subsequent pond—filtered naturally and stocked with koi fish—inspired Pavek to continue growing the garden, which up to that point was just a few flowers in the back. She extended the pond to include a waterfall and put in rodgersia, a blooming pink plant that likes to be near water. “It’s been a progression of love,” Pavek says. “It’s a very casual garden; it just happened by good things that worked and things that didn’t necessarily work.” Pavek’s husband is a master builder, so he built two trellises, one overflowing with wisteria and another with climbing hydrangea.

While the backyard and side of her garden is woodsy with plenty of ferns, the front is bursting with color. Pavek fell in love with peonies from her mother’s garden, so she’s planted several varieties of the early blooming flower, including her favorite, the Japanese single peony. “It’s a single flower that opens up with bursting yellow centers,” she says. Assorted varieties of lilies and daylilies, phlox, Ligularia, wild ginger, Jack in the pulpit, hostas, bee balm and baby’s breath create a magical atmosphere that’s even hosted a wedding.

And while the garden is an ever-evolving process, Pavek, who loves getting her hands dirty, says her garden has taught her a thing or two about appreciation. “My philosophy is to enjoy every single plant that is blooming for its beauty and difference,” she says. “Now I really appreciate the beauty of every one of them.”