St. Croix Garden Tour

Tom DeGree of Wilde Roast Café Chairs the Event

Among the wonderful horticultural events happening in and around the environs of the Twin Cities is the annual St. Croix Garden Tour on July 17-18.

Simply by enjoying the beauty and floral abundance showcased in seven gardens, participants also will benefit FamilyMeans, a nonprofit organization that helps families in crisis.

Tom DeGree, Chair of the tour, is co-owner of Wilde Roast Café in Minneapolis with business and life partner Dean Schlaak.

When asked if FamilyMeans is particularly dear to his heart, DeGree answers, “Yes! Two years ago, they asked me if our garden could be on the tour. Then, the year after, they asked me if I would chair the tour. As a teacher, I am always looking for good places that help kids and families, and FamilyMeans does exactly that.”

The tour starts in Stillwater with four historic homes that have small, city gardens. Visitors move on toward Mahtomedi to visit two “huge gardens,” one of which is sited on five acres, and the other on a lake.

This year, the tour is partnering with Washington Conservation District (WCD) to feature several rain gardens. WCD’s mission is to enhance, protect, and preserve the natural resources of Washington County through conservation projects, technical guidance, and educational services to citizens and local government.

A seventh home on the tour has a number of these “rain gardens”—areas specifically designed and landscaped with native plants adapted to wet conditions to manage excess water runoff.

Jackie Wetelak, owner of the home, explains, “We were acutely concerned about the amount of runoff entering the street from rain, as it ran over our shady, sloped yard and driveway, and flowed to the storm water system draining to a small lake in our backyard. In an effort to mitigate our negative input, and improve water quality, we consulted with Blue Thumb, and worked with Rusty Schmidt, a landscape ecologist.

Wetelak adds, “He designed rain gardens for us utilizing shade-loving native plants with deep roots to capture and infiltrate the initial flush of rainfall that contains most of the pollution and sediment as it runs across surfaces. Once established, native plants require minimal maintenance, as well as provide the wonderful benefit of attracting wildlife such as birds and butterflies. We also had a 2,100-gallon rain-containment system installed under our driveway that we use to irrigate our landscape during the dry times. Rusty also simplified the application process with Washington County Conservation District’s cost-share program.”

A Blue Thumb display will be at Wetelak’s home, plus WCD staff will be on hand to talk about Blue Thumb gardening.

Each year, approximately 1,000 visitors from around the Midwest attend the tour, raising more than $15,000 annually to benefit directly the programs and services of FamilyMeans.

DeGree reminds readers that even though “Stillwater has a bad rep from our District 6 Representative, Michelle Bachmann, the St. Croix Valley is gay-friendly. Out in the Valley[, a local GLBT group,] has more 2,000 members. The area has families in need, and FamilyMeans provides support. This fundraiser goes 100 percent to provide that support.”

According to DeGree, for more than 40 years, FamilyMeans has provided the help that individuals and families need to lead healthier and happier lives, In 2009 alone, he notes, it assisted more than 28,000 people to find renewed hope through family counseling, mental health services, financial counseling, caregiver support, and youth and family enrichment programs.

All proceeds from the tour benefit FamilyMeans, whose stated mission is to strengthen communities by strengthening families. From its base in Stillwater, it serves communities in the Twin Cities metro area and Western Wisconsin.

DeGree stresses that his involvement in the tour is not a matter of promoting Wilde Roast Café, but rather stems from, in his words, a “sense of civic obligation”—which simply means “practicing what we preach, not only asking that others give back to the community, but that we give back ourselves, setting a visible example of doing something for others.”

The gardens will be open on July 17 and 18, 10 AM-4 PM.

Tickets at $15 are tax-deductible. Children under 12 get in free.

To order tickets, or for more information, call FamilyMeans at (651) 439-4840, or visit

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