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Garden variety: Hengs to kick off garden tour featuring Woodbury locations

Duane Heng talks about the variety of plants and vegetables growing in the largest of his numerous planting beds. Duane and Mary Jane Heng's Dale Road home is featured on the South Washington County Garden Tour June 26. Staff photo by Scott Wente

Like many gardeners, Duane and Mary Jane Heng started small.

After buying their 20-acre Dale Road property 35 years ago, Duane started converting the undeveloped land to yard and garden.

"I had a little garden when I started," Duane said. "Of course, that expanded."

Each growing season the Hengs added to their gardens a little bit, Duane said while walking his property recently. They vegetable garden was enlarged. They planted apple trees. The perennial plants expanded. More annual flowers were planted. A variety of hostas were added.

Three decades later, the Hengs have at least seven separate planting beds, including an expansive vegetable garden, large spreads of perennial plants and flowers, fruit trees and bushes and a long backyard bed of perennials on a hill between their home and the south end of Bailey Lake at the edge of their property.

"This is a park, it's not a garden," Duane admitted.

However it's described, the Hengs' property is among nine sites in this year's South Washington County Garden Tour. The tour, a fundraiser for the Youth Service Bureau, will be from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, June 26. This year most of the gardens are in Woodbury.

Garden variety

As visitors arrive at the Heng home, they first will notice the large fruit and vegetable gardens. Duane estimates that the vegetable garden is about 40 feet by 100 feet, organized in neat rows and mostly void of weeds. They grow peas, tomatoes, herbs, onions, cucumbers, peppers, potatoes, squash, decorative gourds, pumpkins, radishes, spinach and lettuce varieties. Rows of sweet corn - like other plants, a few weeks behind due to the cold spring - anchor one end of the garden. A spread of perennial plants is at the other end. Transitioning into the vegetables is a section of wildflowers.

"I like to experiment," said Duane, a horticulturalist by training.

The vegetable garden is bountiful, but the Hengs used to grow far more vegetables. They had children to feed and they froze lots of produce to eat year-round.

"There were years when we did a lot wider variety of vegetables, we never bought vegetables the whole winter," Duane recalled.

Even after scaling back some on the vegetable garden, they still grow enough to share with family and elderly residents they know in the community.

Running parallel to the vegetable garden is a large bed of plants and fruit bushes: blueberries, raspberries and currants. A few apple trees are in the background.

The Hengs are not immune from the scourge of many backyard gardeners: plant-eating pests. Duane said the four he battles are deer, raccoons, birds and striped ground squirrels. He uses 30-pound-test fishing line to deter deer and covers the fruit bushes and plants with light netting.

"I have to chase robins out all the time, but I let a few in," he said.

The plantings vary around the rest of the yard. Near the vegetable garden is a bed of annuals and an eye-catching thornless hawthorn tree. A bed of rose plants includes two varieties - carefree delights and carefree wonder. The backyard features perennial gardens, including one area devoted to hostas. Duane joked that he planted those years ago to prove there are enough varieties to make a hosta garden attractive.

Duane said he enjoys sharing his passion for gardening with others. When it comes time to divide plants, he said he likes to give them away to unseasoned green thumbs.

"I try to get people to get interested in being gardeners," he said.

The 15th annual South Washington County Garden Tour to benefit the Youth Services Bureau will take place at eight gardens in Woodbury and one in Oakdale from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, June 26, rain or shine. Tickets are $15 on tour day and can be purchased at any garden. Each garden and its owner is listed on the ticket, along with a map showing locations.

This year's gardens are:

-- Duane and Mary Jane Heng, 9524 Dale Road, Woodbury;

-- Paul and Cecilia McGarry, 9348 Hillingdon Road, Woodbury;

-- Mike and Kelly Pageler, 8846 Glacier Road, Woodbury;

-- Don and Michellene Arneson, 6955 Wyndham Bay, Woodbury;

-- Jon and Lisa Schommer, 2372 Boulder Ridge Lane, Woodbury;

-- Tammy Diedrich and Gary Rieder, 7401 Parkside Dr., Woodbury;

-- Geoff and Kathie Peterson, 1249 Kenilworth Dr., Woodbury;

-- Sigrid Johnson and Leo Walding, 9171 Parkside Dr., Woodbury; and

-- Guardian Angels Church Food Shelf Garden, 8260 Fourth St. N., Oakdale.

Tickets can be purchased in advance at Woodbury businesses including: Youth Services Bureau, Kowalski's Market and Sweet Pea's Floral. For details, visit