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A pollinator's paradise: Thousands of flowers delight the senses in Kenwood backyard

Surrounded by their flowers, Judy and Greg Bonovetz lovingly maintain several hundred types of flowers in their backyard gardens. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com1 / 10
Greg Bonovetz wanted to make sure his garden offered delights to all the senses, including the sound and touch of a small waterfall nestled among the flowers. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com2 / 10
A patch of monarda, also called bee balm, attracts the eye in one of the flower gardens at the home of Greg and Judy Bonovetz. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com3 / 10
Foxglove flowers add intensely pink highlights to the Bonovetz garden. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com4 / 10
Greg (seated) and Judy Bonovetz maintain multiple flower gardens on the grounds of their home in Duluth. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com5 / 10
Cupping sunlight, a cosmos flower radiates pure white in the Bonovetz garden. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com6 / 10
Greg Bonovetz checks on the health of his flowers in one of his many gardens at his home in Duluth on Tuesday morning. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com7 / 10
A bumblebee works over a coneflower in Greg and Judy Bonovetz's garden on a recent morning. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com8 / 10
A daylily adds yellow flare to Greg and Judy Bonovetz's garden. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com9 / 10
Greg and Judy Bonovetz make a point of encouraging monarchs to visit their garden by planting their favorite food, milkweed. The Bonovetz garden was one of the first waystations in Duluth certified by Monarch Watch. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com10 / 10

"Oh, you've got to smell this gardenia. It's absolutely incredible."

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon didn't smell this good.

Shaped like a seashell with a soft velvet texture, its scent circulates around the flower like an exotic perfume. A single bloom from the flower is only a tease to what lies beyond.

Step into the Bonovetz's garden in Kenwood, and all five senses are treated to a cocktail of vibrant colors, intoxicating smells and soft delicate petals. Their backyard appears to have more flowers and vegetables than green grass.

"This has always been what I've been doing," said Greg Bonovitz. "In the old days when I had the spotlights on, I'd come home from work at 6 in the evening and be out here until 10 o'clock. I wonder in retrospect, 'How was I ever able to do this when I was working?'"

The middle of Bonovitz's backyard is grass. Surrounding it are hundreds of stems sprouting thousands of flowers. Virginia bluebells and daylilies fill the peripherals, while voluminous ferns and more than a hundred potted plants growing dahlias and cosmos occupy the central field of vision.

From gazanias and gerberas to petunias and papyrus, dozens of species occupy the many flower beds and pots. A bench placed next to the house offers the sound of water falling on stone and a view of the ridge that towers over western Duluth in the distance.

Even when it rains, Bonovitz still waters his plants. Many of the larger leaves higher up act as an umbrella to the shorter flowers. He said it takes him about four hours to water the entire garden — and that's just summer work. Preparation in the spring takes much longer.

"The maintenance is not difficult; it's the early part from mid-April to mid-June that's long," he said. "That's when I'm putting in annuals, perennials, working my vegetable gardens. It's good contemplative time. It's good for the soul."

The gardening bonanza begins long before the warm months start. Usually he starts his indoor planting in the middle of March. Under grow lights in peat pots, he buries vegetable seeds like tomato, artichoke and different eggplants, as well as flowers such as Datura, in varieties with names like Evening Fragrance, Black Currant Swirl and Ballerina White.

Most of these plants will be moved into plastic cold frames on his patio in April, before getting transferred to the vegetable gardens, flower beds or one of the terra cotta pots dotted throughout the yard. Any plants he saved over the winter or purchased from local greenhouses might be planted directly into the garden later in the summer.

For Bonovitz, the laborious hours and meticulous planning isn't stressful; it's relaxing.

"Gardening is cheaper than therapy," he said. "You put your hands in the soil, you can almost feel the blood pressure going down. And after you've done it for awhile, you know what looks good. Plus, they don't talk back, and sometimes they surprise you."

Surprises happen every year. Whether it was the mass of painted lady butterflies that took over his garden one year or the sunflowers that seeded themselves, every year is a little different.

"You have to take time to observe," he said. "It's not a big area, and it's not just a garden. That's why I've got benches all over. We do a lot of entertaining, especially in the summer. People roam around and really like to go to a little 'park' that's kind of private."

Keeping pace with the variation of colors in the vegetation are colorful insects and birds that populate the garden, a pollinator's paradise. While bumblebees crawl on the flowers, monarch caterpillars scale the stems of milkweed, the preferred food for the orange and black butterfly.

It shouldn't be surprising that Bonovitz has a garden full of monarchs. His was one of the first monarch waystations in Duluth. Certified by Monarch Watch, it requires milkweed, general nectar plants and no interference from pesticides. Even though it's hidden behind the bulk of the garden, Bonovitz has the sign to prove it.

Farther up the hill is a mass of reddish-pink flowers. It's monarda, otherwise known as bee balm. While the color attracts hummingbirds, it's the flower's shape that makes for such an inviting opening for the curved beak of these rapid flyers.

"It's a member of the mint family," Bonovitz said. "Could God not have come up with a better bud for a hummingbird's beak? It's just perfect."

Bonovitz said his passion for gardening is matched by his wife, Judy's, passion for food preparation. The seasonal harvest often finds its way to the dinner table. But with 12 tomato plants, 24 eggplants, 10 tomatillos, 15 cucumbers and 30 zucchini, the couple doesn't have the appetite to eat it all. Instead, much of it is shared amongst relatives, friends, neighbors and even the Damiano Center.

For the meals that do grace the couple's dining room, whether it's the various sauces created from tomato and eggplants or the spicy zucchini soup, Bonovitz has found himself asking more than once: "Where in the city of Duluth can one find a finer meal?"

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