By Tanner Kent
---- — When walking up the driveway toward Chris Christie's convivial North Mankato garden, be sure not to step on the snapping turtles.
Two years ago, turtles hatched in the yard of her North Mankato home. Then again, just a few weeks ago, she safely stewarded a bale of 27 freshly hatched turtles from her front yard to the safer confines of nearby Hiniker Pond in a dust pan.
And do keep an eye out for the two new woodchuck pups which are being harbored under her potting shed.
And don't forget to look for the orioles, bluejays, woodpeckers or tanagers that may be feeding in her various birdfeeders and the deer that have so sharply trimmed her tamarisk plant.
"That's what I like about this place," said Christie in the midst of the small wildlife refuge that doubles as her home garden and is a featured destination on the this year's Blooming Pretty Garden Tour on Sunday.
"There is so much wildlife."
Having purchased the home in 1995 in a somewhat dilapidated state, Christie gradually made improvements to the home and yard in the years since.
What stands now is a charming and colorful abode -- featuring what might be the only orange front door in the area -- surrounded by a garden that is part artistic expression, part hobby garden and part habitat preservation.
Along the driveway, an unlikely yet thriving cactus she bought last year at a plant sale mixes with flowers and shrubs. The concrete walkway in her front yard that leads to her birdfeeder is specially landscaped to thwart the constant burrowing of raccoons. In her backyard, sculptures made by her artist daughter Makeba Ische fuse with fences, a shed and wooden porch crafted by her son, D.G. Ische, to create a space both practical and whimsical.
Peeking from behind plants that are both naturally growing and planted -- her ferns, for instance, popped up on their own but she had to go searching for her pagoda dogwood and her smokebush -- are a folk art menagerie of sheeps, goats, flamingoes and pigs. Bowling balls, bicycle baskets and barn doors serve as garden ornaments. And the variety of flowers reflects Christie's appreciation for bold, vibrant colors.
"If something springs up, I like to let it grow there," Christie said. "Otherwise, I don't really know anything about soil types and all that stuff. I just like color."
Christie's is one of nine gardens included on the self-guided garden tour hosted annually by the Mankato chapter of Zonta International. All proceeds go toward two scholarships: one for young women who show a commitment to leadership in public policy, government and volunteer organizations; and a scholarship to a woman in college who is pursuing a business degree.
This year's event will be held Sunday and includes gardens in Mankato, North Mankato and Lake Crystal.
Christie, however, never intended to show her garden to the public. Though the longtime early childhood education teacher in Mankato Area Public Schools has spent nearly two decades meticulously landscaping, crafting and gardening the yard around her home, she said it "never even occurred to me" that others might want to see it.
But after taking a garden tour with friend in Duluth last year, the friend felt compelled to call Zonta in Mankato and give them a tip about Christie's garden. After meeting with organizers last fall, she agreed.
If You Go What Zonta's Blooming Pretty Garden Tour When 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday. Tour is self-guided. Tickets $10 for individuals 13 years of age and older. Advance tickets available from local garden centers: Drummers Garden Center, Edenvale Nursery, Green Thumb Nursery, Hilltop Florist and Greenhouse, and Kobers Nursery. Day-of-event tickets available from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Hilltop Florist and Greenhouse and Drummers Garden Center as well as LaVerna McNab's Garden, 421 E. Watonwan St., Lake Crystal.