Caring Through Beauty St. Croix Garden Tour

Earmark July 16-17 for the 19th Annual St. Croix FamilyMeans Garden Tour, which will be in full bloom, Tour Chairman Tom DeGree said, with “eight gardens on the tour this year. The range is huge, from rain gardens that the Washington Conservation District helped design and will attend to answer questions, to gardens that are several acres in size.”

Whatever your gardening skills or ambitions, DeGree emphasized, “Most people enjoy the diversity among the gardens, because everyone can find something that would work in their own garden. All of the gardens are tended by the homeowners. No landscapers are paid to upkeep the gardens. Most garden owners will be available to answer questions, along with a Master Gardener at each garden.”

Tom McPartlin and Dean Straka’s Garden. Photo by Hubert Bonnet

Proceeds from the tour will benefit FamilyMeans, a Stillwater-based group whose mission is to strengthen communities by strengthening families.

A family, according to the FamilyMeans mission statement, “consists of two or more people, whether living together or apart, related by blood, marriage, adoption or commitment to care for one another.”

The group has branch offices throughout the Twin Cities metro area, Southeastern Minnesota, and Western Wisconsin.

Commenting on the tour, FamilyMeans Director of Development and Communications Jennifer Snyder remarked, “Over the years, the Garden Tour has seen between 800 and 1,200 visitors, depending on the year—and weather!—and has raised between $12,000 and $15,000 for FamilyMeans programs each year.”

This year’s gardens,” Snyder explained, “are in Stillwater, Oakdale, and Lake Elmo, and some 120 volunteers, many of whom have been helping with the garden tour for years, some since the very first tour, will assist. Also, many of the tour’s garden owners continue to participate for years to come after their gardens are featured on the tour. Tom DeGree is a great example of this phenomenon.”

DeGree noted that he and partner Dean Schlaak opened their garden to the tour several years ago, and, “This is the third year I have chaired the Garden Tour, because I support the mission of FamilyMeans.”

Describing the FamilyMeans efforts, Snyder pointed out, “Last year, FamilyMeans served over 23,700 people through our programs. FamilyMeans helps make challenging times more bearable for people, whether they’re dealing with financial challenges or issues with mental health, caregiving responsibilities, or workplace difficulties. FamilyMeans has worked to help families and individuals create stability in their lives, so they feel safe, loved, and fully able to participate in life.”

The gardens themselves are widely varied, offering visitors with their own varied skills, acreage, and climactic situations a chance to glean ideas for their own domains. One of the eight has rain garden components. A master gardener will be stationed at each garden to answer questions about plant species and gardening techniques.

Tom McPartlin and Dean Straka of Oakdale own one of the featured gardens.

McPartlin spoke for the couple recently: “We started 10 years ago with a quarter-acre blank slate—just an average-sized suburban lot. It has been a work in progress ever since, adding something new each year. We have run out of room for further expansion.

“I have a degree in landscape design, and have been known to do some consulting,” McPartlin continued. “Dean also enjoys working and learning in the gardens. After the initial plantings in the spring, we both are involved in the maintenance throughout the seasons. Surprisingly, there is minimal work to be done during the summer. Our biggest chore is to sit back with a cocktail, and enjoy the beauty as it attracts wildlife: birds, ducks, butterflies, and hummingbirds.”

McPartlin added, “We became involved with FamilyMeans when Chairman Tom DeGree asked us to be a part of the tour. We are honored to open up our gardens and help out the community when it is for such a great cause. Gardening is our therapy, and allows us to express some creativity—a little way of bringing more beauty to this beautiful planet.”

McPartlin addressed all gardeners, confiding, “People need to understand that gardening is easy and relaxing. No matter how big or small your garden area is, how simple or complex, working in the garden is calming and rewarding when you sit back and see the beauty you have created. One thing to remember is that a garden is never finished, and you can’t make a mistake. If something doesn’t work, or you’re not happy with your results, simply move things around, and try something else.”

For more information, and to obtain tickets (free to children 12 and under), visit

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