Jeff and Linda Warner’s Restoration of a Historic Como Park home and garden

Saint Paul Magazine By Renee Steward-Hester; from Saint Paul Magazine April 2015 issue

Jeff and Linda Warner have showered their historic Como Park home and garden with love

Photo by: Tate Carlson

Jeff Warner is a self-proclaimed “Como boy,” proud of the fact that he grew up alongside his parents and eight siblings in a two-story, three-bedroom Craftsman-style home a short distance from Como Park. Warner and his buddies hunted the grounds for golf balls, climbed around a retired locomotive, learned to skate on Lake Como and generally did what boys do when a neighborhood is their oyster.

“It was an incredible playground,” says the president of Warners’ Stellian. Though much time has passed since his boyhood romps around the Como area, at least one thing remains the same: “I’m in love with the land,” he says.

Perhaps he’s most partial to a parcel at 1285 Como Blvd. W., where a Queen Anne home built by architect and inventor Karl Wessel has stood since 1902. As a boy, Warner strolled past the home on his way to school, at times pausing to hang onto the property’s wrought-iron gate, peering through the gardens, wondering what waited beyond the home’s wrap-around porch and watchful turret.

“It was always, ‘Who lives in that house?’” he says. The element of mystery lingered even after Warner began walking to school for several years with a classmate, who lived in the home. Never invited in for respite from any kind of weather or even for a brief visit, Warner didn’t once step over the home’s threshold in all those years. “I had never seen it,” he says.

Around the same time, Linda (Klein) Warner would ride her bicycle with friends to Como Park from her Roseville house to picnic at the pavilion, visit the zoo or attend the annual Easter flower show at the conservatory. “This was the epicenter of life,” she says of the park. On many of those occasions, she’d often notice the house. “We always had scenarios in our heads about, ‘What does it look like in there?’” she says. “We considered it the jewel of Como Park.”

Perhaps you see where this is going—Warner and Klein met and later married in 1979; they raised five children in homes in the Como neighborhood and then Roseville. “I was perfectly happy in my house, but when we started hearing about this house [being on the market], we [said], ‘Wow,’” Linda Warner says. The couple toured the Como home and, while the interior suffered greatly from lack of attention, the soul of the house remained strong. “The house itself was so gorgeous,” she says. “It was love at first sight.”

Love turned to commitment, and the Warners celebrated New Year’s Eve 2007 by closing on the home, moving in by May 2008. With an unfinished basement and attic, the Warners first focused on renovating the more than 5,000-square-foot home’s first and second levels.

Architects presented their ideas, which the couple rejected as too modern. “It would have killed me,” Linda Warner says of overly updating the home. “It was important to keep this house the way it was as much as possible.”

For a year and half, interior work continued in conjunction with the Warners’ vision. The rear portion of the house was removed to re-create and expand the kitchen and the second-floor sunroom. New elements included a butler pantry, elevator, powder room, second-story porch and a three-car garage.

After most of the interior work was complete, the next phase, focusing on the grounds, began. Much of the yard needed to be regraded due to water drainage issues; a cistern was placed 14 feet below the surface near the garage, and French drains were installed along the property’s edge. Landscaping elements, especially the rear garden area, had succumbed to neglect and the elements. An August 2007 tornado wreaked havoc on most, if not all, of the grounds’ larger trees. On the advice of an arborist, 50 trees (mostly buckthorn and mulberry) were removed and replaced by more than 90 others. Part of the gazebo stood strong, but three of its cement pillars were broken, leaving a lone surviving pillar that was recast to replace the others.

Linda Warner was up for the task of tending to the grounds. With experience as a master gardener, she has the breadth of knowledge about and the passion for gardening. Just as much attention to detail and the commitment to honoring original elements were paid to the landscaping and structural elements as was to the interior.

 

(The 100-foot arbor and the new fountain are elegant focal points for the garden)

Jeff Warner remembers that a garden fountain once stood in the yard. The fountain, for reasons unknown, later fell apart, so the couple restored the element with a cast resin Art Nouveau-style statue of a woman, accented by 2-foot-high stone edging and dramatic lighting.

As a former antiques dealer, Linda Warner is adept at hunting and gathering, scouring secondhand shops for underappreciated treasures. During a garage sale on Hamline Avenue, she procured round-top windows to use in constructing an 8-foot by 12-foot potting shed. She added gingerbread detailing and a spider web window over the repurposed exterior door to add additional charm to the functional space.

Indiana limestone was used to repair stonework damage, the result of tunneling animals. Two curved sitting walls were installed, and red brick walkways guide visitors through the meticulously planned and maintained perennial and annual gardens.

“I have a hard time holding myself back,” she says of her penchant for purchasing plants. “I try to do it thoughtfully.”

While not a true Victorian garden, many traditional plantings (delphiniums, larkspur, peonies, petunias, Shasta daisies and snapdragons) grow alongside other flowers that Linda Warner finds through her visits to local garden shops or perusing periodicals. “I have an extensive library of older gardening books, and I love going through those,” she says.

Her garden is now filled with many perennials. “It’s got to be in the hundreds,” she says. The hostas alone number more than 100, and a compact excavator was needed to dig up and move some of the older, larger varieties. Though they grow in large numbers, the hostas aren’t the garden’s heavy lifters. “The backbone of my garden is the arborvitae and the boxwood,” Linda Warner says. “They are what everything else is [designed] around.”

Perfumed bouquets provide the grounds with gentle scents, riding on quiet summer breezes, leading Jeff Warner to often ask his wife, “What is that?” Linda, of course, can identify each petal’s fragrant offering, and she is especially taken by the heady scent created by grape vine blooms over the arbor. “It’s just magical in the summer,” she says.

It took a bit of magic to restore the 100-foot arbor, patterned after the Como Park promenade, to its original grandeur. The couple suspects the timber structure and the vines offered respite from the elements for horse-drawn carriages that entered the grounds through its double, iron gates.

“It was like a puzzle,” Linda says of the work it took to repair the arbor. After exhaustive efforts to locate craftsmen to restore it, a large crane carefully lifted the age-old vines. Once restoration work was complete, the vines were returned to their proper place. “This yard would not be as interesting without this arbor,” Linda Warner says. “It’s very romantic.”

Apple, cherry and plum trees, and prolific raspberry bushes, bear summer fruits. Raised vegetable gardens and containers yield tomatoes, green beans and peppers, beets, Brussels sprouts, lettuce and herbs. The home’s conservatory offers overwintering space for French lavender, rosemary, sage, flat leaf and curly parsley, and thyme.

As winter folds into spring and the gardens have stretched and yawned after months of rest, Linda Warner is eager to discover “what made it and what didn’t make it,” she says; this year she’s watching the trumpet vines that were planted last year near the potting shed. “I can’t wait to get out there,” she says. “When you’re a gardener, you’re really never satisfied. You’re always moving things and changing things. There’s always a gem at a garden store you need to bring home.”

In late spring or early summer, after all is potted and pruned, sprinkled and snipped, Linda Warner pauses to listen to her garden. “I can hear everything growing,” she says. “To me, it’s magical.” Other moments are spent taking in the visual beauty. “I sit on my patio, turn on the lights and [fountain], and just watch,” she says. “It’s so beautiful.”

 

(Left: The restored gazebo, complete with one of its original pillars. Right: Linda Warner enhanced the potting shed with round-top windows found at a garage sale.)

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