For sale: A green thumb’s house on Summit Avenue (with a conservatory!)

A gardener’s masterpiece is for sale on St. Paul’s Summit Avenue — just in time for another growing season.

Marge Hols, the former Pioneer Press gardening columnist, died last summer, about six months after being diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. She was 86.

“Marge was the skilled gardener, I was the unskilled labor,” said her husband, David Hols, a retired attorney. “After Marge passed away, I realized it wasn’t practical for an 87-year-old to live alone in 4,000 square feet, and so I started making plans to move out.”

Actually, the Hols’ 1909 Tudor Revival at 1180 Summit Ave. is 4,256 square feet and went up for sale on April 14 for $999,900. Situated between Griggs and Dunlap Streets on 0.37 acres, near Lexington Parkway, the grounds feature a series of gardens that Hols designed and refined over many decades. There’s also iron fencing, a converted carriage house (now a garage) and a tiered, bluestone terrace off the back of the house, nestled like a private courtyard between a screen porch on one side and a glass conservatory on the other.

Yes, a conservatory — like at Como Park, but much smaller.

“It’s a rare feature that is not found on many properties at all,” says Charlie Neimeyer of Coldwell Banker Realty, the listing agent for the property. “It’s a gardener’s delight and it’s an oasis in winter.”

For houseplants, cats or people.

“Or a hot tub,” says Brian Hols, the couple’s son.

A green legacy for St. Paul

There are no open houses scheduled for this property, but the public has already admired the gardens in various public and private tours through the years. Hols’ gardens include everything from an English cottage look in the front yard to a “wild” woodland garden in a shady side yard; an herb garden (among others) in the backyard, lilacs along the driveway and even an alley garden that people can spot from Grand Avenue.

St. Paulites might have also seen Hols’ work in iconic landscapes like the revitalized Rice Park in downtown St. Paul, part of her volunteer gardening efforts on behalf of the St. Paul Garden Club. Some of her manicured topiaries were donated and have been on display in the fountain of the Sunken Garden during the Spring Flower Show at the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory at Como Park, which ends at 6 p.m. on Sunday.

Her influence continues through the garden club’s work, especially in April, which Gov. Tim Walz proclaimed as Native Plant Month in Minnesota.

“We were at a seed propagation workshop yesterday and I felt like Marge was smiling down on us, because we were all planting seeds,” said Gretchen Cudak, a member of the club as well as the chair of its Rice Park committee, in an interview on Thursday. “Because her big thing was native seeds.”

Hols first learned about the natural world from her mother; she recalled taking nature walks together through the woodlands and fields of Massachusetts, where she grew up. The family lived in a house with a walled garden, where some of Hols’ earliest memories were of planting snapdragon and zinnia seeds.

Much later, as director of communications for the Metropolitan Council here in the Twin Cities, gardening was therapy.

“The garden became a peaceful refuge,” Hols said in 2021.

She dug deeper into the dirt after retirement, studying horticulture and landscape design, becoming a Master Gardener, serving as president of the St. Paul Garden Club, starting a garden design business and writing “Garden Path,” a gardening column for the Pioneer Press, from 1998 to 2007.

A 54-year project

The grounds of 1180 Summit Ave. didn’t always feel like a horticultural refuge; when the family moved there in 1968, it had been stripped of any of the early 1900s grandeur that might have existed when the house was designed by architect Peter J. Linhoff for George Van Slyck, a wholesaler, and his wife, Emmalyn Van Slyck.

Hols began by removing a cement dog run, as well as a tall buckthorn hedge and some big American linden trees that had presumably been placed for privacy reasons.

Her vision, as always, included the public.

“Because our home is in a historic district,” she wrote, “we wanted the landscape to be visible and appropriate.”

Her efforts are now part of American history, preserved like a dried flower in the pages of a book: “The Hols Garden” was extensively documented by the St. Paul Garden Club and accepted in 2021 into the Garden Club of America Collection at the Smithsonian Institution’s Archives of American Gardens. This means that researchers can study her work in the decades to come — the planting list alone is pages long.

“As the Smithsonian points out, a garden can be ephemeral,” Hols said in an interview in 2021. “Here today, gone tomorrow.”

A place for people, plants and new dreams

When he moved into an apartment in senior living in February, David Hols didn’t bring any house plants with him — but he did bring a painting of his late wife. Besides the donated topiaries, her plants were given to family members and friends, or purchased by shoppers at the estate sale that was held in March.

“The plants got snapped up,” says Brian Hols.

Cudak’s friend stopped by the sale and bought her something to grow.

“It’s this really beautiful speckled begonia,” Cudak says. “She had so many unusual plants.”

The plants in Hols’ gardens are not yet blooming for prospective buyers — it’s been such a long and cold winter and spring — but Hols’ longtime gardener, Rose Hassing, is in residence as usual, prepping the grounds and carrying on to make sure the gardens bloom as perfectly as always. Hols designed it to do so.

“It was curated by a master in their craft,” says Neimeyer. “The hardscaping is in place and the perennials are thoughtfully placed. As the snow melts, we’re starting to see things pop up. It’s not an intimidating garden; you can imagine yourself living in it, you can imagine yourself sitting and looking out at it from the wonderful screened porch.”

There’s also plenty to admire inside the two-story home with its four bedrooms and three bathrooms, including leaded glass windows, a Gothic Revival staircase, beamed ceilings and hardwood floors with original inlay.

In her gardening column in 2002, Hols wrote about the agreement she and her husband made when it came to house renovations:

“I got a conservatory,” she wrote, “he got central air conditioning.”

Why a conservatory?

“Instead of a greenhouse just for plants,” she wrote, “it’s a place where people and plants co-exist, as long as the people don’t mind an occasional attack by a stray Mandevilla vine.”

Designed by St. Paul architect Kathy Olmstead, the 18-by-18-foot conservatory was built of mahogany by Tower Leisure Products Ltd. in Tewkesbury, England, and shipped to St. Paul in pieces. Attached to the south side of the house, the conservatory has its own heating and cooling systems, as well as plumbing for running water (to make watering of the 100-plus plants easier).

“In the winter, it’s a nice, sunny and warm place to sit,” David Hols said. “It’s a morale booster.”

The conservatory has been cleared of its wicker furniture as well as its plants. It’s empty now, waiting for its next owner.

“I really hope a gardener buys the house,” Cudak says. “I’m really hoping that happens.”

The current owner is more pragmatic, and he thinks his wife would feel the same way.

“Yes, she was proud of the gardens,” David Hols says, “but she was also proud that we lived the way we wanted; and I think I knew her well enough to say that her attitude would be that the next owner should be able to live the way they want to, too.”

The listing for 1180 Summit Ave. can be viewed at

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