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a dream come true

The Schutz deck high above Pickeral Lake.1 / 8
Walking paths wander their way through the garden.2 / 8
Flowers in the Schutz garden.3 / 8
A small waterfall trickles into a pool in the Schutz garden.4 / 8
Jerry and Mary Schutz's Pickeral Lake home.5 / 8
Jerry and Mary Schutz drew up plans for what they wanted their garden home to look like and then worked for years to get it just like they had dreamed.6 / 8
Boardwalks take people through the gardens, past all the beautiful flowers and natural habitat.7 / 8
A sculpture in the Schutz garden.8 / 8

When Mary and Jerry Schutz purchased their Pickerel Lake property in 1981, it barely resembled the cozy cottage surrounded by lush greenery sitting there today.

"It was a mess. No one had lived here for at least four years," Mary said, adding that they had to have the grounds plowed due to their terrible condition.

That same year, the couple moved from Fargo to Billings, Montana, so after initial work on the new lake house, they spent only a couple weeks there each summer, leaving little time to genuinely devote to yard work.

"We'd come back and it would be full of weeds," Mary said.

But after moving to the property permanently in 1997, "we got serious about gardening," she added.

Her husband, a gar-dener since youth, had gardened everywhere the two called home over the years, making it a natural choice to do the same at their latest residence. But it was Mary, who didn't begin gardening until her 40s, who drew up the plans.

"I had a dream of what I wanted out there," she said.

"She laid the whole thing out," Jerry contin-ued, adding, "I thought she was nuts."

"I'm the dreamer and he's the worker," she laughed in response.

Looking at their garden now, a vast arrangement of festive flora with wooden paths weaving through and interspersed by artful touches, rock outlines and a miniature waterfall tinkling toward a tiny pool, it's easy to imagine the blueprints were slightly overwhelming.

But Jerry, who had an architecture firm, and Mary, a former interior designer with experience under a florist, successfully turned their garden into the sort neighbors gaze at in wistful envy.

"If you know anything about gardening, you know it constantly changes," Mary said.

Some staples in the Schutz garden include hostas, peonies, bleeding hearts, day and Asiatic lilies, tulips, daffodils, daises and lots of irises, although their fellow flowers vary.

Although it's "primarily a flower garden" according to Jerry, vegetables, herbs, grasses and trees add to its unique consistency.

"Jerry laid all the rock - hauled it, picked it, placed it," Mary said, adding that he built the trellis that stands as one of several entrance points.

With 6-8 hours of upkeep a week in Mary's Garden, coined for its replication of her vision, the couple has put plenty of time and effort into creating their floral oasis.

However, that's not to say that they haven't experienced their share of unpleasant predicaments throughout the process.

"Deer are a problem here," Mary said, referencing the fence they apply a barnyard scent to after each rain to keep the creatures from nibbling their handiwork.

"Some plants need to be sprayed down almost constantly," Jerry added, pointing out flower varieties that have only been in the garden a year due to previous deer decimation.

The garden was also flooded about five years ago when the neighborhood's culverts were blocked, gushing three feet of water onto the lawn.

"We're very high above the lake, but all the property around us is higher," Mary said. "The boardwalks (in the garden) were all floating. It was a mess."

Luckily, the effect on the plants wasn't significant, and after pumping the water out, everything settled safely.

"Most plants don't like standing water," Jerry said. "Some of (the garden) was designed to keep the water out."

And then there's the gardener's continual battle: weeds.

"It's hard to walk through the garden and not pull a weed. They grow as well as the flowers do," Mary said.

As far as advice for other would-be-gardeners, "Get your wife out to help every once in a while," Jerry advised with a chuckle.

The couple suggests sharing and trading plants, something they do often with their son in Colorado.

"We have some irises that he gave us years ago," Mary said, adding that though some plants won't take due to climate difference, "irises work well back and forth."

Contrary to popular sentiment, Jerry recommends that you "be rough with your garden," taking charge of plants, separating them - especially self-spreading perennials - and sharing extras with others.

Its days as a plowing nightmare long passed, their labor has allowed the Schutzs to reap much enjoyment from Mary's Garden, making it a literal dream come true.