Lake Minnetonka Landscape Architect Bradley Agee
“I thrive outside,” enthuses Bradley Agee. “There’s something about being in the moment: in the sun, digging in the soil, placing the plant. It’s about promise—a hopeful gesture—and in this climate, it’s also a lesson in patience.”
Agee is a landscape designer and considers himself part layman scientist, part social planner. He’s worked on Lake Minnetonka area gardens for years, both as a designer and a gardener. He also happens to be the director of Undergraduate Studies and adjunct professor for the Department of Landscape Architecture at the University of Minnesota’s College of Design. And he maintains a small word-of-mouth clientele with his company, Constable-Steele Garden Design.
Agee was born with a green thumb. Even when he lived in New York City, he cultivated a window box. His father was a landscape architect and city planner, and his grandmother was the sort of exacting gardener who would quibble with her lawn maintenance company about the correct shade of green. Agee marvels, “When I found out I could get paid to garden, I was wowed. Who knew this could be a real job?”
Landscape Designer Meets Gardener
Agee has been working with longtime client Susan Wilson of Long Lake for 15 years. They met through a neighbor whose property Wilson admired and on which Agee collaborated. When she moved into her 14-acre estate, there was only a fenced-in corral of vegetables, trees and Long Lake Creek, so Wilson decided to create something personal that she could work on herself. Agee counts Wilson as one of the few clients who is also a gardener, and they share a bond of respect, learning and exchange.
The Wilson property has since evolved into an extensive network of multiple gardens, or a series of different of ecosystems. Agee’s design includes the English cottage garden and circuit walk influenced by 18th century traditions that moves from garden experience to garden experience in a loop, creating progressions, focal points, transitions and progressions throughout the site.
The cottage garden is a mixed border of shrubs, vines and perennials—monarda, echinacea, sedum, peonies, lilies and more—and is minimally cultivated. Agee deliberately chose plants that would flourish. “I want to be as predictive as I can,” he asserts. “I don’t try to muscle my way through or control self-seeding with mulch and foundation fabric because I like things to be carefree and slightly wild.” Agee points out that the right plants are “coded”—they fold when it’s dry, bloom when it’s rainy, and drop their seeds. He avoids dependence on the rare species that might fail, preferring to create a supporting cast of characters that take turns onstage.
Among the Wilson gardens are four raised beds, including a fenced-in vegetable patch and a fairy garden for the aspiring-gardener grandchildren—replete with ponds, a river and the requisite evil witch. Another area of the property is given over to native tall grasses. As a former chairman of the Nature Conservancy, Wilson is committed to prairie restoration, so she “killed and tilled, killed and tilled” to make it happen.
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