How the Mill Pond’s Owners Built a Successful Second Career

How Denny and Sharon Sandin built a successful second career.

It takes a certain type of person to find creative (and retail) value in the odds and ends that accumulate from decades of work as a professional plumber and contractor. Denny Sandin, owner of landscaping supply center the Mill Pond in Montrose, is just that guy.

With an artist’s eye, he began welding those collected copper pieces into the form of trees, eventually adding running water to them, utilizing his knowledge of pump mechanics. After “retiring” from his full-time gig in his mid-50s, Denny and wife Sharon opened the Mill Pond in 2002. The concept merges Denny’s passion for metalworking—selling one-of-a-kind custom yard art—with a love of gardening that he inherited from his dad. The destination supply center and showroom (it’s about 26 miles west of Ridgedale Center on Highway 12) have a water wheel, koi pond and artful displays scattered throughout the 4.5-acre property.

The Mill Pond recently got media attention for its involvement in installing a large boulder and copper tree-shaped water feature on KARE-11’s backyard set. “That project really opened up the floodgates,” says Denny. Besides his signature copper trees, he has completed projects large and small for residential clients and businesses across the Twin Cities, including a three-year project at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, installing a woodland garden without disturbing the native grasses. “It looks like it’s been there a million years,” Denny says.

Because it’s his second career, Denny can take a laid-back approach, seeing it as art as much as a business—and his clients notice the difference.

“He’s not just trying to sell you something so he can cash in. He really thinks with you,” says Elisabeth White, who’s commissioned several pieces for the St. Louis Park home she shares with her husband, Doug. They’ve commissioned a “sitting wall” that holds a slab of limestone as well as a colossal custom-made iron planter box, with intentional drip lines and rust. “Every single bolt was hand-hammered. That’s how much of a nut he is,” White says, laughing. “Denny and I clicked; we had a blast.” White still has a long wish list of future projects for her home, and in the process of fashioning the home she envisions, the Sandins have become friends.

“It’s [Denny’s] complete passion,” says White. “When I came up with my thoughts and ideas, Denny completely heard me and knew immediately how to translate my ideas into reality, even if I couldn’t picture it.”

“We both love the history of the rocks,” says Sharon, whose shared passion for the outdoors propels her work at the shop, including buying, cleaning, gardening and doing whatever else is needed. “Den had bought some land, and the next thing we knew, we had The Mill Pond,” she says.

The couple, who celebrated their 20th anniversary this year, were Richfield High School classmates who got reacquainted at a class reunion after both being married to other classmates. “It’s been a great adventure,” Sharon says.“We’ve met wonderful people. But retirement—it’s hard work.”

Though running The Mill Pond is a full-time job, it’s different from plumbing. Often working 50 to 60 hours a week during the peak season, Denny—who turned 71 in August—says he’s driven by a passion for his work. “I love what I do. That’s the hang-up of it,” he says.

“People come in here when they’re looking for something different. Something you can’t find in aisle 23, shelf six,” says Denny, referencing chain stores that have more standard décor. Denny can find inspiration just about anywhere, depending on what the client wants.

Harry and Debbie DeBeer live two miles from the Mill Pond and originally came in search of steps for their pool and yard maintenance materials; they got to know the Sandins and were hooked. “They’re both just so personable,” says Debbie. “I needed hardscape materials, and then I got to know Denny and realized he’s an artist as well.”

Denny reinforced a tree ball dolly so it could move pots. Then it was on to a custom hop-growing structure for the side of the DeBeers’ barn. A wrought iron pergola came next; Denny built the pieces in his shop and then numbered them for easy assembly at their house. “My son joked, ‘If there’s a hurricane, go hang onto this thing. It’s not going anywhere’ ” says Debbie.

“We do projects that are fun.That’s what keeps me going,” says Denny. “We never do the same thing twice. I probably should have stayed retired. But I love it.”