PRIOR LAKE, Minn. - Walking through Jane and LeRoy Horn's lush landscape is more than a garden stroll - it's an art crawl.
The Horns are collectors who take the "outdoor room" trend to another level, creating galleries alfresco, where they showcase some of their favorite acquisitions.
"I love sculpture and using it as a garden focal point," said LeRoy.
And incorporating sculptures into the landscape makes garden design and maintenance a little easier, noted Jane, a Carver/Scott County master gardener and the horticultural expert of the family. "I can leave space around each sculpture and don't have to fill in everything with plants."
Their garden itself is a work of art, a carefully composed living landscape of shapes, textures and colors. But when the Horns bought their home 11 years ago, there was only a small vegetable plot in the backyard - and a lot of turf grass.
The Horns, who'd been living in a condo about a half-block away for many years, had always admired the unusual octagon-shaped house. But LeRoy soon became disenchanted with maintaining its large lawn. "It used to take him four hours on a riding mower," Jane recalled. He was eager to have less lawn; she was eager to add some color. So they started replacing their turf with garden beds.
They had a lot to learn. Jane, who'd grown up in a green-thumb family but had never done much gardening herself, became a voracious reader of gardening books and magazines. She soon experienced information overload. "It was the first thing in my life that immobilized me," she said. "There were so many possible things to plant, so many decisions."
She started taking free classes at garden centers and learned how to make the most of their shady site by choosing foliage plants that could bring interesting shapes and colors into the garden. She augments her beds with container plantings, to add visual interest when perennials aren't blooming. "Certain parts of the garden need that color," she said. She especially likes tropicals, including coleus, which she overwinters indoors.
Little by little, she's developed into a highly proficient - and passionate - gardener. "If someone had shown me this years ago, I would have been completely flabbergasted," she said of their garden. "It's surprising I would like it this much."
Incorporating sculpture into the garden became a logical next step. The Horns love collecting abstract contemporary pieces by local artists, and they rarely miss a local art fair. "We go to all of them: Uptown, Powderhorn, Loring Park, and Edina," LeRoy said.
Their collection includes two past winners from the Aquatennial Sculpture Contest, as well as a large sculpture, Concentric Circles, that they spotted in Kansas and hauled home in a trailer.
They've also created some of their own garden art. A wooden door that once sat in their garage has been painted cobalt blue and repurposed as a freestanding focal point in their blue garden, where it complements a blue iron bench by Cheryl Fitzgerald, one of their favorite artists.
A windsurfing sail is now a piece of tree art, hanging above a memory garden they created for their departed friend Frank Wicker. "He was everybody's best friend, and his widow gave us his sail," LeRoy said. "Every time I see it, I think of Frank."
The Horns are hands-on gardeners who do nearly all the work themselves, including laying four tons of flagstone to create their curving garden paths.
"We don't believe in straight lines," LeRoy said. "You inherit enough of them with the house and the steps."
The only professional help they hired was the contractor who installed the 35-foot pond-less waterfall, surrounded by 10 tons of boulders, that highlights their front yard. The water feature attracts birds, and it can be heard throughout the yard, which LeRoy appreciates. "I told the guy, 'Make it as noisy as you can,' " he said.
Like most gardens, the Horns' is a work in progress, but they've refined it to the point where they enjoy sharing it with others. Last year, their yard was on six garden tours. Every year, Jane hosts a tea party for the neighborhood girls in the swing garden, where the Horns hang their distinctive yellow Banana Swing. The area is sparsely planted, designed so kids can twist and swing wildly, Jane said. "That garden is mostly empty, but it's full of energy from little girls."
In the future, she'd love to offer their garden as a site for special occasions, such as small weddings or marriage vow renewals. "I feel strongly about sharing the garden," she said. "You put so much energy into it, you want people to see it and enjoy it."
And when others appreciate their efforts, that's its own reward. One of the Horns' neighbors, a photographer, occasionally uses their garden as a setting for his portraits. "Someone said, 'You should charge him for that,' " Jane said. "But we said, 'No, no, we love people visiting the garden. It brings us joy.' "