A garden oasis in Kingfield

An uncommon sight greets passersby at 3644 Garfield Ave. S. A pear tree stands tall in the front yard. The branches sag under the weight of the full-bodied pears spilling into the yard and the sidewalk. There are pears everywhere – on the front steps, under the mailbox, even half-nibbled ones perched on a slate bench – no doubt set aside for later by the well-fed squirrels.

Chris Turpen’s house in the Kingfield neighborhood sure is plenty to take in. Split into a duplex, the home was built in 1916 and has recently welcomed another occupant: Elias Dietrich Turpen’s 5-month-old son. But besides its inhabitants and the puzzling pear tree, Turpin’s home has become a gathering spot for curious onlookers taking in his prized garden.

“I enjoy ‘creative gardening’ and like what plants can do for a home’s aesthetic,” says Turpen, who is also a real estate agent for his family’s business, Turpen Realty. “Gardening has given me an artistic outlet – one that allows me to shape and form my yard, changing the landscape as often as I like.”

And change the landscape he does. Whether removing trees no longer useful to the yard, or adding to an already impressive array of flowers and plants, Turpen pours his passion for gardening into his home and neighborhood.

“I’ve dabbled in gardening for as long as I can remember,” says Turpen. “In college, my dorm room was overrun with houseplants. Later, when I was in seminary in Pasadena, my landlady took $50 off the monthly rent if I kept up the garden. That was when I really got my first feel for what I could do with a yard.”

Turpen typically ventures outside each morning with his trusty “Felcos” (gardening sheers for those of us without green thumbs) to take in the garden’s progress – and to pull a few weeds. “I really try to enjoy my garden,” Turpen continues. “Some gardeners get so frustrated every time they see a weed and are always thinking about what they need to do. Being outside with my morning cup of coffee – the sun hitting the garden fresh – is my favorite time of day.”

His yard currently includes pots upon terra cotta pots of fresh basil (various varieties); a topiary “tree” of fragrant rosemary; vines of tomatoes – including heirlooms and yellow pear tomatoes; an Espalade crab apple tree; and a growing collection of hostas, now at 25 varieties. Climbing roses inch up a homemade steel arbor to the first-floor tenants’ dining room window, while shrub and hybrid tea roses pepper the front and back yards. Tall zebra grass adds elements of motion to his garden, and concrete bird baths double as drinking fountains for dogs on daily walks. “I guess my style could be interpreted as a blend of formal and informal gardening,” Turpen says. This point is further evidenced by the giant urns and obelisks – one more than 7 feet tall – tastefully displayed among the yard’s flowers, fruits, vegetables and other plants.

One drawback to Turpen’s hospitable yard (at least in his mind) is the local wildlife it attracts. Between the growing squirrel population who have taken up residence in the pear tree and a family of four raccoons living in a neighbor’s tree, Turpen has had to get creative with deterrents to animals wanting to make his garden home.

One half of Turpen’s backyard is dominated by a pond, replete with a bubbling fountain. Because of the raccoons, Turpin has had to re-dig the pond several times to keep the animals from getting at his colorful goldfish. Many a night, even under Turpen’s watchful eye (and flashlight), the raccoons would climb down the tree to feast on the fish they could snatch up. Now because of the pond’s new depth and some added water plants, the goldfish have more places to hide.

But animals aren’t the only ones drawn to Turpen’s garden landscape. It’s a common sight for neighbors and strangers alike to be gathered on the sidewalk, browsing the latest blooming flowers. “I think people in the neighborhood have seen how much I enjoy this,” Turpen says.

His attractive yard hasn’t been lost on his neighbors either. “One thing led to another and, before I knew it, I had developed a small landscaping business,” he says.

Turpen has completed a number of projects for six neighbors in Kingfield. Along the way, he has also partnered with a friend to tackle larger landscaping opportunities across the Twin Cities.

So, getting back to the pear tree – will it stay?

“That tree was one of the few things that was already here when I moved in,” Turpen says. “Back then, it was only 5 feet tall. Today, it’s 20 feet! But I’ll keep it because it’s quirky and adds personality to the garden – at least for now.”