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Minnesota couple’s garden draws tourists by the busload

When the yard begins bursting with color, people tell Judy and Larry Bromme, “the magic is coming back.”

Most admired is a creek running down the side yard offset by lush ferns beneath a large willow tree. The city map says it’s part of Buckingham Creek, but the Brommes believe it’s an artesian well; the pair of mallards honeymooning there each summer don’t know the difference.

Off the west bank is a flower bed full of bergenias Larry’s mother, Elsie, planted more than 60 years ago. The oldest roots deep within the acre property, though, happen to be rhubarb.

Stunning are views from the sidewalk, but to venture beyond the white fence and pergola laced with grape vines is like jumping into a painting. The driveway stretches uphill, revealing layers and layers of flowers.

Looking around, there’s more than labor worth admiring, rather a legacy.

“It’s just special,” Larry said. “I’m fortunate to marry someone interested in keeping up the flowers my mother grew.”

They moved into the Skyline house in 1960, making their children the fourth generation to grow up in the home.

Judy has spent the majority of her life in dirt, mainly with soybeans, growing up in southern Minnesota. She’s a self-

proclaimed “obsessive gardener,” and her husband calls himself the grunt.

“All winter I plan. I have this gene. I have to plant,” she said.

Pretty hanging baskets decorate the front porch. The tiered yard is adorned with another pergola and a gazebo. Plentiful are the hostas and irises. Aside from some necessities — lettuce, tomatoes and berries — the focus is flowers.

Benches are purposefully placed to take in the best views, but the retired, 74-year-old couple said they keep busy and leave the benches for the guests. She does all the designing and manicuring, and he mows and does the heavy lifting.

Ideas once sourced from road trips and magazines are now modernized with Pinterest. The online catalog introduced Judy to tiny houses and inspired the Brommes’ most recent addition to the garden — a summerhouse.

An old single garage served as the summerhouse decades ago. Larry’s grandfather moved it up from the lake to Skyline via rolling logs in 1924. He remembers camping inside, listening to the water run.

The structure’s re-creation gives the garden another layer of nostalgia, and landscaping opportunities to Judy’s excitement — she’s already envisioning a stone pathway.

Another project underway is taming what Judy dubs as their “wildlife sanctuary,” and adding monarch-friendly plants.

“The Brommes are wonderful people,” said Bob Kunzy, living just a few blocks west in the historic Arthur P. Cook house.

Kunzy said the Brommes’ beautiful garden encouraged him to take on the grounds surrounding his 1902 bluestone home. After all, he agrees that to be a good gardener, it helps to have a friend who is better.

He’s waiting for his tiger lilies to bloom, but like the Brommes’, his irises are endless, as is his view of Duluth from the top garden tier.

“Gardens are like boats,” Kunzy said. “You always want one bigger.”

The Bromme family lot expanded from one to seven over the years. Often they are asked to host city and church garden tours, to which they have been willfully agreeing to do since their first tour in 2001.

When they noticed other tour buses stopping along Skyline to see the creek, flowers and surrounding greenery, they say it makes their hard work and hobby all the more satisfying.

But there will always be someone special they’d like to invite in for a tour.

“I wish sometimes his mom could see what it looks like now,” Judy said.

A few of the Bromme’s favorites

  • Irises: Yellow, pink and purple are the first to pop each year
  • Yellow sedum: Low growing, spreads easily and blooms for a long time
  • Delphiniums: Deep colors that can grow tall enough to reach hanging baskets
  • Hostas: If you can keep the deer away, you can’t go wrong

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