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Duluth Western Garden Tour celebrates 20 years

The event is held annually during Spirit Valley Days.

Greg Bonovetz inspects one of the sunflowers he planted for the Ukraine in the garden in his front yard
Greg Bonovetz inspects one of the sunflowers he planted for Ukraine in the garden in his front yard during a sneak peak July 26 before the 20th annual Western Garden Tour on Aug. 6.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
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DULUTH — Greg Bonovetz's extensive backyard garden started as a way to avoid mowing his hilly yard.

"We started the vegetable garden right away, but then I got tired of mowing the hillside and one of our former neighbors brought us some beautiful perennials and it just grew from there," Bonovetz said. "Then, a few years ago, we fenced off the backyard because we got this puppy and suddenly we have things blooming that in the past the deer would come through and eat. So now it's just expanded."

Greg Bonovetz, left, talks about his garden with Darlene Johnson during a sneak peak Tuesday afternoon
Greg Bonovetz, left, talks about his garden with Darlene Johnson during a sneak peak July 26 of the 20th annual Western Garden Tour.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Bonovetz's garden is one of six home gardens, and one garden club, featured on this year's Western Garden Tour, organized by the Norton Park United Methodist Church, on Saturday. The tour has been showcasing the gardens of people around Duluth for 20 years. Darlene Johnson and Kathy Moland have organized it for most of that time.

"Basically, it all started with my oldest daughter and I noticing just how many beautiful gardens we had in Smithville," Johnson said. "Then we started noticing them in Morgan Park and Fond du Lac and we had our own beautiful garden and we thought, 'We should really be showing these off."

After about a decade, the garden tour started to expand to include gardens throughout the city, like Bonovetz's Kenwood neighborhood home.

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Sister Mary Jo Sobieck looks over one corner of Greg and Judy Bonovetz’ garden
Sister Mary Jo Sobieck looks over one corner of Greg and Judy Bonovetz’ garden July 26.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Bonovetz said he and his wife, Judy, have been gardening for nearly all their lives. Both grew up gardening with their parents and always kept vegetable gardens. Today, the couple grow a huge variety of vegetables, included beets, lettuces, carrots, cucumbers, parsnips and tomatoes. They also grow and harvest seeds from sunflowers and the many poppies that line the side of their house.

DULUTH — Gardening season’s in full swing, and if you’ve felt the surge of endorphins with your hands in the dirt — or the slight backaches — you’re not alone.

The Bonovetzs didn't keep much of flower garden until they moved to their Kenwood home in the 1980s, when the neighbor gave them some perennials. After that, Bonovetz also started getting interested in butterflies and started planting milkweed and other flowers to help aid their development. His garden is part of the Monarch Watch Waystation program. He also plants flowers that attract and help bees and hummingbirds.

The garden of Greg and Judy Bonovetz
The garden of Greg and Judy Bonovetz, which will be in the 20th annual Western Garden Tour, features a waterfall in one corner of the yard.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

"If it were calmer, they'd be humming all around here," he said, pointing at a bunch of red bee balm plants in his backyard. "Some nights we like to sit out on the patio here and just watch them."

While the garden started out as a way to avoid mowing, Bonovetz said he spends a time every day tending to the garden. But he said it's a better time than mowing.

Greg Bonovetz looks over a branch of his olive tree
Greg Bonovetz looks over a branch of his olive tree in his backyard July 26.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

"This is like therapy," he said, pulling out a weed.

The couple also like to experiment with different things to see what will grow for them. A few years ago, Judy gave Bonovetz a small olive tree, which has yet to produce fruit, but he is hopeful.

"We take it in every winter to keep it warm, but I think in the next year or two, we'll have some olives for our martinis, on our 'martini bench,'" Bonovetz said.

The "martini bench," back behind the vegetable garden fence, is covered in grapevines from another successful growing experiment.

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"Which make the most intense grape flavors. It's almost as if Welch's put in extra grape flavoring in them," Bonovetz said. "The downside is there's a ton of seeds. But if you squeeze out the juice, it makes some excellent jams and jellies."

When asked what advice he has for people who are just starting out their own gardens, Bonovetz advised gardeners to not bee too critical of themselves.

Lilies can be found in multiple spots in the gardens of Greg and Judy Bonovetz
Lilies can be found in multiple spots in the gardens of Greg and Judy Bonovetz, which will be in the 20th annual Western Garden Tour.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

"That and look around your neighborhood," he said. "See what's working well for your neighbors and get some ideas. Also you don't have to do everything at once. Start with a few things and you can always grow from there."

If you go

  • What: Western Garden Tour; starts with breakfast of muffins, fruit, juice and coffee
  • When: Self-guided tour, 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday
  • Where: Norton Park United Methodist Church, 436 N. 79th Ave. W., Duluth
  • Cost: $10 for a map at the door
Teri Cadeau is a general assignment and neighborhood reporter for the Duluth News Tribune. Originally from the Iron Range, Cadeau has worked for several community newspapers in the Duluth area for eight years including: The Duluth Budgeteer News, Western Weekly, Weekly Observer, Lake County News-Chronicle and occasionally, the Cloquet Pine Journal. When not working, she's an avid reader and crafter.
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