Garden Tour-worthy Plymouth

Highlights of a creative process surrounded by the beauty of the great outdoors.
Jim McKee and Don Untiedt step upwards of 3,000 guest through their Plymouth gardens annually.

The time has come to add a little spring back to your step. What's better to inspire your next backyard project than three of the most beautiful gardens in Plymouth?


From Tomato to Utopia

For 55 years Ron Soleta has grown fresh tomatoes, whether on his childhood farm in southwestern Minnesota, while studying at Mankato State University—on a single windowsill—or in his longtime south Minneapolis bungalow. But for the past eight years in Plymouth, he’s expanded his gardening prowess.

In 2007, Soleta became a master gardener under the University of Minnesota’s Hennepin County Master Gardener program. He’s taught classes on soil and lawn care, and his garden was featured in the 2010 master gardener tour. Now Soleta’s home gardens feature Asiatic lilies, bridal wreath, irises, lilacs, nettles and ostrich ferns. Apple trees line the north side of the house, and a full vegetable garden lines the south side. Bleeding hearts and hostas are some of the features alongside the back fence. Overall, there isn’t really a formula for how he and his wife Lynn place all these plants.

“We kind of mixed everything up so we could make it more interesting,” Soleta says. The garden is the place where they sit back with a glass of wine and roast s'mores over the fire pit, after all. This casual way of enjoying the space applies to their gardening approach, too.

Soleta chooses new plants by seeing what catches his eye at the local garden shops. He does a bit of digging (pun intended) to learn more about a plant's preferences, and then tries them out at home. Some of the plants don't always thrive, but he says, “Everything’s an experiment.” Soleta goes to the Plymouth Farmers Market for plants as well. “You never know what you’re going to find there,” he says.

In 2011, the couple added orange and yellow coneflowers to the garden when Lynn found inspiration in Northern Gardener Magazine. She also added a rock garden, using creeping thyme that she transplanted from the herb garden. It seems her husband’s love of gardening has grown on her, too.

“This is a learning experience,” Lynn says. (She’d never gardened prior to their marriage eight years ago.) “I don’t always like the weeding part, but I like the finish. I like the flowers.”

Soleta says his best tip for new gardeners is to buy the right plant for your garden’s conditions. And learning from his experience, you can’t really go wrong with tomatoes: “There's nothing better than a fresh tomato.”


The Constant Gardener

While not a gardener for every one of his 64 years, Steve Rutz now finds himself gardening just about every day. It’s as though he’s tending the roots and ideas that were planted in college.

“I had wanted to be a farmer,” says Rutz. “I had a degree in animal science.” But with horticulture and animal science courses behind him, Rutz found himself walking into the door of Control Data Corporation about three years after he graduated. He says, “They were hiring left and right, and I worked my way up.”

Throughout three decades working in I.T., gardening occasionally had to be put on the back burner, but now Rutz considers himself “semi-retired.” That means working at Dundee Nursery in Plymouth and gardening all day long. He is also a Master Gardener and has joined several plant societies.

“I don’t get tired of it,” he says. “I tell my wife, ‘I can’t just go out and sit in the garden.’ She doesn’t have the passion for it like I do.”

Currently Rutz and his family are enjoying the new landscaping that he added around the pond and 3 1/2-foot waterfall feature. “For the longest time, I just had hostas in the back,” he says. Since adding irises, lilies and peonies all around the garden, he says the variety of color is what he likes best in the garden. The sound of falling water is another favorite. “It’s relaxing,” Rutz says, “and it helps drown out the sound of I–494.”

The longtime Plymouth resident (going on 28 years) notes that his love of gardening started early. “Ever since I was a little boy I liked to garden. Lots of aunts and uncles I stayed with had gardens,” Rutz says. “When I was 12 years old I bought the New Illustrated Encyclopedia of Gardening. It was a deal on television.”

The 14-volume set still covers a foot-and-a-half of Rutz’s shelf space, and he still uses the books to this day, noting, “Not much has changed in gardening.” But that doesn't mean he keeps his garden looking the same year after year.

“I change the gardens a lot. People redecorate their house, and I redecorate the garden,” he says.


A Rose Garden by Any Other Name

In 2004, Don Untiedt and Jim McKee moved into town knowing they wanted to make the property one that was distinctly their own. Enter an abundance of plants.

“In the past seven years we developed nine unique flower gardens. Without really realizing it we created a lot of plant maintenance work for ourselves,” Untiedt says. With last year’s mission of simplifying the rose gardens, he says they finally accepted the fact that they needed to concentrate their plantings in two areas: a shrub rose garden in front and a hybrid tea rose garden within their English garden in back.

Regardless, the gardens with the German name—Der Serenity Garten Platz—are still divine. Additions to “the serenity garden place” last spring include alpine and dwarf conifers. Crocus blooms provide a sight as “beautiful as the sound of a trumpet in a nice piece of classical music,” Untiedt opines.

For McKee, inspiration to tend the vast gardens comes from his desire to “be outdoors and enjoy all of what Mother Earth offers after spending months of winter hibernating.” Now 56, he began serious gardening 25 years ago.

For Untiedt, gardening goes deeper into his roots. “Those of us who grew up on a farm have a certain desire to so,” says the 67-year-old who's been gardening all his life.

Through the years, Untiedt says their goal is to have color from spring to fall, and they get ideas from a number of places. In addition to gathering ideas from local landscapers, “we also get a lot of ideas from the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chaska,” he says. “We like to take the best of what we see.”

Plenty of people get ideas from the duo, too. In the past five years, more than 3,000 guests have come to see the gardens, whether it has been through tours organized by the Hedberg Minnesota Water Garden Society, the Men’s Garden Club of Minneapolis or the American Rose Society, to name a few. Plymouthites can take the flagstone path to the backyard’s “secret garden,” koi pond, perennial garden and Japanese woodland garden whenever McKee and Untiedt’s iron gates are open.

Although they do not typically open their garden to the public, McKee and Untiedt welcome visitors and groups if arrangements are made in advance over the phone (763.553.9192). On July 28 and 29, they’ll also be participating in the Minnesota Water Garden Society Tour, a ticketed event.



Check out these Master Gardener events from the University of Minnesota.


WHAT: Plant Sale

WHEN: Saturday, May 19; 9 a.m.–2 p.m.

WHERE: Hopkins Pavilion


WHAT: Master Gardener Learning Garden Tour

WHEN: Saturday, July 15; 9 a.m.–5 p.m.

WHERE: Minneapolis and Western Suburbs