Laurie Van Zandt loved working in her yard so much that when someone suggested she take classes and become a professional landscape designer, she did.
"Now, of course, I have no time to work in my own yard," she said.
But she's willing to let you explore her yard anyway, for a favorite cause. Van Zandt's Huntsville yard is one of nine open to the public during the Ogden Valley Garden Tour. The tour, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, July 14, is a fundraiser Van Zandt coordinates yearly for the Ogden Nature Center. Tickets cost $20.
"I've probably only spent 20 hours in my garden this year, so it could be a lot neater, but I don't care," she said, describing it as "rambunctious" rather than "manicured." "It's not perfect, but it still feels pretty good."
Creating a garden that feels inviting and comfortable is her goal, in her own yard and when designing for clients. She's hoping tour participants will find useful ideas at her home.
"People get overwhelmed and think, 'Oh my gosh, I could never have that,' " she said. "Look at the pieces of the garden, and how those could be applied to your own garden."
Van Zandt's yard is a place where she can show clients a variety of ideas and plants.
Visitors are welcomed with red, yellow and orange flowers near the road. "There's no rhyme or reason," she said. "I just wanted it to be exuberant."
Because Van Zandt's home faces west, potted plants on the porch are succulents that can handle the afternoon heat.
Between the roadside color and the porch are plants with white flowers.
"I wanted it to be real serene," she said. "I wanted people to slow down a little bit."
Color is reintroduced with white and blue columbine blooms, heading around the side of the house toward the backyard.
The center of Van Zandt's acre yard is a grassy area big enough to accommodate her family's love of volleyball. It also worked as a great area to host her daughter's wedding.
Surrounding the lawn are a variety of small, themed gardens.
"I like to create destination areas for you to enjoy gardens that all have a different feel," she said.
The side of the yard features a meditation garden, with a view of Snowbasin, and a potted Japanese maple. The next room is a "secret garden," entered on a stone path through a rose trellis. Inside the secret garden is a metal chair, a small statue of a fairy and miniature flowering bulbs.
Next to the secret garden, and behind a koi pond, is a more wild area.
"I wanted it to look like an abandoned orchard," Van Zandt said.
Tall grasses grow around the trees, and she plans to build a boardwalk through that part of the garden.
Van Zandt's yard also has a rose garden, an outdoor fireplace surrounded by mock orange plants, a small grassy area for her dog, and a formal garden.
The formal garden is raised, to serve as a transition from the higher patio down to the lawn. There are symmetrical planting boxes that mirror each other from side to side, connected with gravel walking paths. While the arrangement of the boxes and plantings is formal, the roses, irises and catmint are allowed to grow into natural shapes, taking the edge off the formality.
"The box walls make great seating for parties," she said.
Van Zandt's favorite part of the yard is her vegetable garden.
"If it's attractive, you're more likely to use it," she said. "Mine is formally laid out ... English style."
She says she likes the order of the formal garden, but she's a "messy gardener" and prefers nontraditional arrangements.
"I don't plant rows. My carrots are in semicircles," she said.
Van Zandt's garden is full of experiments to see which plants look good together -- and which will grow in the Ogden Valley, where spring comes late and winter comes early.
"You're pretty safe after Father's Day and until Sept. 15," she said of the planting season.
She was surprised to find that weigela, pin oak and some floribunda roses grow well in the valley. She's also growing blue-eyed grass, which is listed for slightly warmer zones but has been in her yard for five years, and little bluestem grass, which was slow to respond but is now doing well.
She recently added hops, a vine growing up her vegetable garden trellis, and is trying out the perennial agastache.
She doesn't just experiment with plants, but design and art ideas that she can show clients. She has an Asian-inspired steel moon gate, a bird bath planted with succulents, glass balls floating in a water-filled pot, and plants growing in salvaged glass light fixtures.
Planning and change
Van Zandt's yard was an alfalfa field 11 years ago, and she says it's a work in progress.
"We moved here in January of 2001, and that winter I drew up a plan -- I'm a big proponent of plans," she said. "It keeps the garden cohesive, so it's not just patchworky, and allows you to do it a little piece at a time."
Van Zandt and her family do most of the work themselves, as money is available, and knowing exactly what the garden needs has helped save money.
"I have spring snow crab-apples in the garden, and they were on the plan," she said. "I knew I wanted them, and waited for the right time and got them on sale."
But the plan isn't etched in stone.
"I change things now and again, like how you move furniture around, and pictures around," she said.
She recently moved 50 irises and they're all doing well.
"I talk to them when I want to move them, and they seem to be OK with it."
WHAT: Ogden Valley Garden Tour
WHEN: 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday, July 14, rain or shine
WHERE: Nine locations in Huntsville, Eden and Liberty
TICKETS: $20, in advance through www.ogdennaturecenter.org, or at the gardens during the tour; 801-621-7595