For the second time, Jackie Kotlarek is preparing her garden for visitors on the Western Garden Tour. Kotlarek’s garden was featured on the tour 6-7 years ago. But frequent garden tour patrons will still see something new on Saturday, as Kotlarek and her husband moved to their Duluth Heights house just five years ago.

“Everything here has grown within the last five years,” Kotlarek said. “It didn’t look like this when we moved in, but we made it our own.”

The garden spreads from the very front of the fenced yard and stretches completely around the couple’s home. The newest section is along the left side of the house, where she recently added a long flower bed that runs along the fence.

A long garden bed runs along the side of Jackie Kotlarek's Duluth Heights home on Sunday, Aug. 1, 2021. This section is the newest part of Kotlarek's garden. (Teri Cadeau / Duluth News Tribune)
A long garden bed runs along the side of Jackie Kotlarek's Duluth Heights home on Sunday, Aug. 1, 2021. This section is the newest part of Kotlarek's garden. (Teri Cadeau / Duluth News Tribune)

“This was all grass that my husband tore up and replaced with wood chips last fall,” Kotlarek said. “Then my daughter called and said she’d heard from a client that there were a bunch of hostas piled up on the side of the road for anyone to take. We filled 12 tubs with water and made three trips to get all the hostas to spread along this space.”

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Family is an important part of Kotlarek’s garden. As she walks through the space, she tells stories about her daughters and husband helping to create what it is today.

“They’re truly my garden angels,” Kotlarek said. “I couldn’t do it all without their help. And now all of my daughters have gardens of their own at their houses, too.”

This garden decoration sitting in Jackie Kotlarek's garden on Aug. 1, 2021, was created by gluing glass gems and an old bowling ball. (Teri Cadeau / Duluth News Tribune)
This garden decoration sitting in Jackie Kotlarek's garden on Aug. 1, 2021, was created by gluing glass gems and an old bowling ball. (Teri Cadeau / Duluth News Tribune)

Kotlarek’s garden has a lot of objects she created from scratch or from everyday objects she found on sale. For example, along the side of the house, she has several shiny glass vases and candleholders she’d turned into décor by turning them upside down and gluing them down. In a few spots, she has large spheres covered in sparkly glass gems.

“You know what those are made out of? Bowling balls and glass nuggets,” she said. “E6000 glue is the best for anything like that. That works well for anything you’re going to set outside in your garden.”

Another handmade piece is the colorful wind chime with long, beaded strands in her backyard. These hang from spray-painted baskets turned upside down. She had help from her grandchildren creating the strands.

“They took forever to make, but we did it over the past winter when we really weren’t going anywhere or doing anything else anyway,” Kotlarek said.

An overturned basket, some wind chimes and several strands of beads make up this decoration in Jackie Kotlarek's backyard. (Teri Cadeau / Duluth News Tribune)
An overturned basket, some wind chimes and several strands of beads make up this decoration in Jackie Kotlarek's backyard. (Teri Cadeau / Duluth News Tribune)

Kotlarek is quick to tell visitors where she acquired nearly every piece in her garden. Her favorite places to pick up new decorations lately have been Aldi or Savers. That’s where she found her newest trellises that guard her hostas from unwanted nibbles from deer.

“But you have to get there on Sunday mornings,” Kotlarek said. “That’s when the ads come out, and you can find the neatest things.”

Kotlarek said she’s had a hard time with this year’s drought. She has been watering things constantly to make sure they stay looking good for the tour this Saturday.

When asked what kind of advice she has for anyone else just starting their own gardens, Kotlarek recommended getting a mix of perennial and annual flowers and to resist the urge to just buy everything.

“Pots are good if you’re in a smaller place,” Kotlarek said. “It can be a good place to start and grow from there.”

If you go

The Western Garden Tour breakfast is set for 9-11 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 7, at the Norton Park United Methodist Church, 436 N. 79th Ave. W. The breakfast will include muffins, fruit, juice and coffee. The self-guided garden tour will be available from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., rain or shine. Tickets are $10 at the door.