A Garden Nears Perfection on Otter Tail Lake

Filed in Gardening by on April 2, 2015


By Reba Gilliand | Photos by Bryan Wendland


On the south shore of Otter Tail Lake is a place that was once Tanglewood Camp, Otter Tail Lake’s first resort. By the time Rollie Mann acquired the property in the 1970s, the place had long since ceased to be a resort, the house was badly in need of repair, and the land wild and overgrown. Yet, it was to this place Rollie took his bride, Lori, and the two put down roots.


Thirty-seven years later, the Mann home and landscape is awe-inspiring. Lori, with imagination, hard work, and some help from Rollie, has transformed the land on which the home sits into a series of beautiful gardens. During a tour of the gardens, Lori shares design and gardening tips and some background about the gardens.


From the road, their American Foursquare home sits solid and imposing. The path leading to the wide porch begins at the road where Lori created a symmetrical arrangement of showy, but easy care plants – ‘Limelight’ hydrangea, pruned as ornamental trees, ‘Little Princess’ Spirea shrubs, and sedum groundcover. She designed the meandering paving-brick path to slow the pace, tell the visitor, “This is not a runway, you’re at the lake, relax.”




On summer evenings, Rollie and Lori enjoy sitting on the front porch just off another of Lori’s garden creations – a small pond shaded by a Pagoda dogwood tree. Fairy moss and a collection of heart-shaped rocks add visual interest and a splashing fountain, sound. Lori built the pond from rocks left behind when an old porch was torn off the house and a new one built.


Beyond the pond to the west is Sisters Garden where flowers with women’s names flourish. Brown-eyed susan, lily, pearly everlasting, marigold, pansy, violet, iris, lily-of-the-valley, baby’s breath, even pink-ribbon grass for the breast cancer symbol, grow in honor of her grandmother and grandmother’s sisters (Lori’s great aunts), who were named after flowers. Every year, Lori hosts a sisters’ weekend, where the garden takes center stage.


Across the road from the house is Lori’s English garden. An arbor invites visitors to enter and stroll through a world of roses, lilies, phlox, hydrangea and other old-fashioned favorites. The English garden is situated next to her greenhouse to which she moves 600 to 800 seedlings started in her basement each spring to grow until the fledgling herbs, vegetables, and annuals are big enough to plant in the ground or give away to lucky friends and neighbors.




A side porch looks east where a winding path leads through an arbor gate and into a woodland garden offering surprises at every turn. Among the garden’s many delights are a gnome house, a birdhouse of reclaimed wood sporting a “hair do” of tiny plants, and a moss-and-rock tableaux nestled in an old pan. Deep in the woodland garden, through an iron gate, sit two Adirondack chairs awaiting Lori and Rollie for a rest at the end of a long day.


Beyond the woodland garden is a secret garden, a place where fairies live and play. Here a miniature world of colorful toadstools, a fairy garden with “picket fence,” overhead moon, moss and rock “landscape” and other fairy accoutrements exist under the sheltering boughs of an old spruce.




Moving north from the secret garden, down a sloped wooded path, is a beautifully landscaped area located on the shores of Otter Tail Lake. Over the years, storms have taken their toll on the trees that once sheltered the area, so Lori asked Rollie to build a pergola from plans she found. Today, the impressive structure shades a blue-stone patio with moss-filled crevices, a large table and, of course, Adirondack chairs for relaxing and enjoying the lake.


From the pergola, a bridge with handrails made of driftwood from Lake of the Woods crosses a dry creek bed that winds its way to the water and dock. The land is low and prone to flooding, so Lori now plants only moisture loving shrubs and trees like willows. She’s also had good luck with Sem Ash Spirea shrubs she planted in a rocked area off the dry creek bed.


All of Lori’s gardens – including smaller ones like a mermaid garden—reflect her creativity and ingenuity. The arbor at the woodland entrance, for example, is one she built herself after taking a woodworking class. She laughs and says, “I’m Danish—if we can’t find what we want, we make it.”


233Whatever she does, she doesn’t like “cookie-cutter” projects but to borrow ideas and make them her Lori’s gardens are successful in part because of the attention she gives to design. Drawing an imaginary “air” curve, she says, “Friends think I’m crazy as I go around waving my arms to figure out how paths should flow just so.” Her designs always include considerations of comfort like creating seating areas out of the wind.


Over the years, Lori has simplified her gardens both in design and plant choice. She strives for cleaner, more peaceful lines than in earlier days. For example, she first had her English garden in the front yard, but moved it across the road to put in the pond. They spend a lot of time on the front porch and she wanted a more peaceful, Zen-like experience.


283In the past, Lori didn’t mind spending time on plants that needed extra care, but now she chooses hardy, old-fashioned, tried and true plants. Even with easy-care plants, she spends many summer evenings on garden chores.


Although she enjoys tending her gardens, she is always on the lookout for ways to simplify tasks. Rollie built an underground irrigation system, which pumps water from the lake. Not only does the underground system eliminate hand watering, it conserves water. To keep weeds to a minimum, Lori mulches beds with aged bark. This year she put down mulch in the fall after she cut down plants, which will make spring chores easier.


After 37 years of designing, planting, thinking and rethinking, Lori’s gardens seem perfect. But given Lori’s energy and imagination, next year’s gardens and the ones after that will no doubt be even more so.



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