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An Urban Oasis -- At a Hotel

The lush garden outside the St. Paul Hotel wraps around a circular driveway lined with tulips in the spring and an ever-changing lineup of annuals in the summer, the garden has become a favorite downtown spot to stop and smell the roses.

Eight hours a day, five days a week, Sara Radman pulls weeds, trims straggly vines, deadheads spent blooms and heaps mega-doses of tender loving care onto almost 7,000 flowers. And they're not even hers.

Radman is the green thumb behind the lush garden outside the St. Paul Hotel in St. Paul, Minn.

Wrapped around a circular driveway lined with tulips in the spring and an ever-changing lineup of annuals in the summer, the garden has become a favorite downtown spot to stop and smell the roses.

A meandering path of stone and wood chips cuts through Radman's botanical jewel, which features roses (almost 80 shrub and tree roses) as well as an impressive collection of perennials (black-eyed Susans, phlox and common and woolly yarrows) and mass plantings of annuals (petunias, marigolds and impatiens). The flowers grow against the backdrop of the ivy-covered hotel walls, making it a popular place to pose for photos of weddings, graduations and proms.

Since it established the garden in 1990, the St. Paul Hotel has followed in the footsteps of several local large corporations that have long devoted company resources to create lavish gardens for public enjoyment. Now scores of smaller businesses are following that lead and using plants and gardens as a marketing tool.

With the goal of creating warm, welcoming environments for customers, an increasing number of establishments -- gift shops, eateries and even gas stations -- are turning to daisies, daffodils and daylilies to gussy up their corners of the world.

Radman has the sole responsibility of planting and maintaining the St. Paul Hotel's sprawling garden. It's a full-time job. From 5:45 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. weekdays, Radman is in the garden ripping out dead plants, putting down wood-chip mulch to keep soil temperatures constant and prevent winter kill, and keeping the space as tidy as her tool shed, where she stores her hoes, spades, hoses and lawn mower.

And, of course, there is the daunting task of planting the garden each spring. It takes Radman almost two weeks to buy plants and painstakingly till the soil and plant thousands of cosmos, marigolds, petunias, dusty miller and 20 other varieties of annuals throughout the 6,500 square-foot space.

It's a lot of work, Radman admits, but planting annuals allows her to change the theme and color scheme each year; this year's masterpiece is an English garden. And annuals provide color all summer long, unlike perennials, many of which offer only a brief burst of color.

The season is long in the hotel garden. Radman said the heat reflected from the surrounding concrete and asphalt keeps the ground warm in her urban oasis and allows her plants to remain in bloom long after the first hard frost of the season.

Even after the garden has been put to bed, Radman remains on the hotel's payroll. She sets up the hotel's award-winning holiday lighting display and clears snow from the sidewalks. She also scours magazines looking for ideas for the next year's garden.

Ironically, Radman, 29, doesn't have a garden of her own at home. She hasn't had time. She got the job of head gardener five years ago, when the hotel's first full-time gardener retired. At the time, Radman had just graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in horticulture.

"My dad told me to find something you enjoy because you'll be doing it a long time, so I listened to him," Radman said. "It's a fun job. I get paid for a hobby."

By the numbers

Here's a look at the garden Sara Radman tends at the St. Paul Hotel:

  • Established: 1990
  • Square feet: 6,500 planted
  • Total number of plants: 7,000
  • Bulbs planted: 2,400
  • Weeks it takes to plant: 2
  • Perennials: Radman tends about 75 varieties for a total of about 250 plants, including blazing star, clematis, dianthus, lupine, meadowsweet, New England asters and pasque flower.
  • Annuals: More than 4,500 annuals in 25 varieties, including Wave petunias, French marigolds, wax begonias, lobelia, bacopa and nicotiana.

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