OWATONNA — A local trademark of summer, the Owatonna Arts Center’s Garden Tour, returns this Sunday.

Though this year’s gardens are all unique — one, for example, features field rocks stacked and polished into birdbaths, while another boasts raised vegetable gardens — they’re all “enviable,” said Silvan Durben, creative director of the OAC. “They’re beautiful spots to have coffee or breakfast,” as well as to “gather with friends and family.”

The garden of Bill and Cheryl Green is on this year’s tour, and their garden is “all in the backyard, cascading down a hill,” Durben said. “There’s shade,” ideal for a litany of hostas, as well as “some larger garden elements,” including a bathtub filled with sweet potato vine.

“I love hosta plants, and it’s basically shade back here,” Cheryl said. “Hostas are very generous,” growing “quickly and big where they are,” and her philosophy is that if a plant is “happy where it is and grows, I leave it there.”

“Swamp milkweed pops up,” but “I leave it there, because the butterflies love it,” she said. In fact, a pair of monarchs have recently taken up residence in the garden.

Additionally, bees, leopard frogs, toads, and various birds — from wrens to hummingbirds — can all be found in the garden at times, indicators of a healthy ecosystem.

“We try to think of nature” in tending the garden, she said. For example, “the whole south fence is all pollinator plants.”

Recycling is also important to them, she said. Consequently, the pavers and stones in the garden are recycled.

The newest additions to their garden are the raised vegetable beds, installed over the course of the past couple of years, she said. Vegetables include tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans, and peppers.

Growing her own produce reminds Green of her childhood on a farm with a family of seven, she said. “We grew all our own food.”

In addition to hostas, Green delights in flora with unique names, such as “Curly Fries,” “Whee!”, and “praying hands,” she said. She’s also dedicated one area of her garden to “patriotism,” where the hostas all have patriotic names, and the flowers are red, white, and blue when they bloom in May.

Maintaining the garden can be “frustrating” at times, particularly the pests, she said. “We try not to use chemicals,” relying instead on “natural deterrents,” such as the wrens who feast on insects, but “those aren’t always effective.”

Another “challenge” this year has been the “20 inches of rain since May 1,” she said. Water runs through their garden into a ravine, but they did install a dry bed to ameliorate those concerns during rainstorms.

Those who visit Sunday ought to pay special attention to the lilies.

“Right now, it’s lily time,” she said. “The colors are coming out.”

Green can easily lose track of time while engrossed tending to her garden, with hours and hours falling away like leaves in autumn.

“The garden is a sanctuary for us,” she said. “I love the different colors, textures, and movement.”

The garden that wraps all-around the home of Mike and Marcia Sullivan is distinguished by hostas — more than 400 of them — and stone art. Sullivan carves stones into various creations, including hollowing out some to be birdbaths.

“I’m into rocks, stone-work, and carving,” Mike said. “My wife does the flowers.”

His toughest challenge is actually simply finding stones to use for his craft.

“I’m always looking for them,” he said. “I need more farmers with rock piles.”

He built the entire stone perimeter of his backyard, as well as rock fountains. In addition to their flowers and stone art, their garden boasts a deck and a fire pit.

The backyard garden is particularly “isolated” and tranquil, he said. “We spend a lot of time out here.”

Sunday’s garden tour will be offered from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Durben said. Attendees are asked to stop first, at the OAC, to gather their maps.

Ticket prices remain the same as recent years, $15 at the door and $12 in advance, he said. Tickets are available at Kottke Jewelers and the OAC.

Reach Reporter Ryan Anderson at 507-444-2376 or follow him on Twitter @randerson_ryan.

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