Dec 2006 / Jan 2007
Even Old St. Nicholas needs a hobby in the off-season
By Bud “Santa” L.
Whenever children visit my backyard, I start to hear the whispers.
“Is it really him?”… “Look at his beard!”… “Where do you think he keeps the reindeer?”
I simply smile. “It’s really me,” I say. “This is my summer home away from the North
I like to think I’m showing my visitors a different side of Old St. Nicholas. He’s
not all about reindeer and toys—although there are toys. Here in Minnesota,
Santa spends his summers gardening and playing with trains!
I call my backyard the Lutz Railroad Garden, and it’s considered a tourist site here
in Eagan, just outside of the Twin Cities. Every year, hundreds of people stop by
to see my plants and watch the trains. I love sharing it with everyone.
I’ve been gardening most of my life, but I didn’t incorporate the trains in the
backyard until 2000. The local newspaper was at my house, doing a feature on
my water gardens when I mentioned how I wanted to build a railroad between
the waterfalls and blooms. At that point, it was just an idea. But after they
left, I figured I’d better go ahead and get started on it. I already had two
waterfalls and a river in place, which I built more than 20 years ago. I did all of the work myself, though I admit, I do have a cement mixer, which helped a lot.
To me, cement is the perfect choice if you’re looking for durability. It gets a crack here and there, but that just means the plants around it get an extra drink.
The water features in my backyard were the perfect setting for my railroad, so
I started building right away. By the time I finished, the track made its way
through a tunnel, under one of the waterfalls and around the river.
Another interesting water feature in my backyard is a contraption my daughter
Mitsy picked up for me in Thailand. It’s called a bamboo deer chaser and works like a fountain. The water starts at the top and then runs down the bamboo shoots, little by little, while making a clacking sound. Mitsy saw it in a hotel while she was on a business trip there. She knew I would like it, so she contacted the person who made it and got them to create another one just for me. So now I can say that I have a one-of-a-kind fountain in my backyard.
If there’s one thing I try to do in my garden, it’s to make it unique. One of the ways I do this is by planting interesting trees. My motto is that if it’s different and weird, then I’ll try it. When I first built my house, we didn’t have a single tree in the entire lot. Now, trees and shrubs fill the area. I have a wide variety, including a contorted filbert, a corkscrew willow and a double-flowering almond.
I love to experiment with trees. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. But it’s fun to try new things. The same goes for flowers. From my bright-red poppies to pure-white calla lilies, everything developed over time.
Plant List (refer to layout)
1. Corkscrew willow
3. Train track
5. Black-eyed Susan
6. Tree peony
7. Japanese maple
9. Ohio buckeye
10. Contorted filbert
11. Flower bed
16. Trumpet vine
17. Calla lily
20. Double-flowering almond
One of my favorite flower features in my yard is the trumpet vine that grows over the arbor near my pond. I started it with a single cutting, and now it seems to have endless blooms every year. The hummingbirds love it!
I can’t stand to see plants go to waste and love sharing with others.
I’ve given away dozens of cuttings from my trumpet vine, and whenever
I find a sapling from my Ohio buckeye trees, I dig it up, pot it and give
For the Kids: I’ve had people from all over the world in my garden, but
some of my favorite visitors are the kids. They love watching the trains
go around the village. They also stare at me with their big eyes,
wondering if it’s okay to tell me what they want for Christmas.
I always take the time to visit with them. After all, Santa is always listening
and watching, even when he’s gardening.
© Reiman Media Group, Inc. 2006