Funkie Plants

A wholesale gardener in Marine on St. Croix shares its list of top perennials.

When Carrie Ellingson and her Mom first happened upon Funkie Gardens, it was a quirky establishment run out of an oversize yard behind a colorful old home in Prescott, Wis. The charming place—with all its interesting plants on display—had an instant connection with Ellingson’s mom, who comes from a long line of gardeners.

“No matter their life situation, they always made time to work in their gardens,” says Ellingson of her green-thumbed family members. She also has some plants that have become like family, perennials passed down from generation to generation, separated and transplanted to new homes and for new owners. “I still have peonies from my grandma—and the Virginia blue bells I transplanted from her garden,” she says. “These plants have stuck with me.”

So when the previous owner decided to hang up the gardening hat for good, Ellingson and her mom jumped at the chance to own the business and carry on that nostalgia. In 2010, they moved it to an open barn off Highway 95 north of Marine on St. Croix, next to Crabtree’s. They experimented a bit, focused the inventory and added their own touch. Now the company has become a go-to destination for the northeast metro’s most discerning gardeners, with a selection that’s hard to beat locally.

The company’s loyal following—including groupies who made the move from Prescott—loves the knowledgeable staff and interesting plants that live up to the Funkie name. Return visitors come proudly toting photos of their yards and gardens, notes on what’s worked where and in what combinations. Some come with Pinterest boards pulled up on phones, asking for help.
“Our customers, they’re the heart and soul of the place,” says Ellingson, who took over the business completely in 2016. “Our emphasis is on providing education and great customer service. People can expect that our plants are going to be healthy and interesting, because they’re all things we would buy ourselves.”

Once the inventory is painstakingly curated, it’s cared for with a chemical-free, natural approach that has attracted a growing number of gardeners with the same bend.

“There’s definitely a trend toward wanting more balanced, natural outdoor spaces—people don’t want chemicals in their yards,” Ellingson says. This commitment to gardening doesn’t just bring extra visitors of the human variety, but a decent amount of wildlife, too. “We’re on the edge of the woods, with a balanced ecosystem that’s—well—not under attack. We have birds, frogs, toads. It’s just beautiful,” she says.

Peony Daisy Coronet
“This super ‘funkie,’ easy-to-grow peony will stop traffic,” Ellingson says. Spiky, multicolored, 3-inch-diameter flowers pop on a 2-foot plant that’s relatively short for a peony. Plant in full sun and well-drained soil. (It’s planted right outside Funkie’s front door if you want to check it out in person). Zone 2.

Yellow Wax Bells (Kirengeshoma palmate)
Funkie’s signature shade perennial, this Japanese shrub-like native will thrive in full shade, but can also handle some morning sun or dappled light. The impressive stunner blooms reliably around Labor Day. “With huge maple-like leaves, it brings interest to the shade garden,” Ellingson says. “Although primarily listed as a Zone 5, it has stayed reliably hardy in Zone 4 gardens, including mine!”

Hosta Lakeside Paisley Print
Funkie carries an impressive selection of 300-plus hostas, but this medium-size one is a crowd favorite. “It’s one of the prettier hostas, with very wide, wavy leaves that look similar to a feather,” Ellingson says. “Like most hostas, it’ll thrive with morning sun and plenty of moisture.” Zone 3 and up.

Martagon Lilies
The signature martagons are grown offsite, and they have a prominent spot on the company website and its display gardens. “They’re very versatile. The only things they dislike are heavy shade and wet soil,” Ellingson says. “We sell them in the autumn as a bulb and occasionally during their bloom time—Father’s Day—as a plant. They can grow upwards of 4 feet tall and are absolutely striking.” Zone 3.

Manchurian Snakebark Maple (Acer tegmentosum Joe Witt)
Ellingson has planted three Manchurian snakebarks at the nursery, where there’s enough shade to keep the green-and-white-striped bark from splitting. It does well in Zone 4—open or dappled shade—and rewards with a gorgeous yellow leaf in fall. “It’s absolutely unbelievable,” Ellingson says.

Funkie Gardens carries hundreds of varieties of perennials, with a special focus on shade-loving and lesser-known names. Each one is labeled with in-depth planting and care instructions. But, as any gardener knows, the best recommendations come from other local gardeners. Here Carrie Ellingson shares a few tried-and-true varieties that come with a hardy stamp of approval from her staff and customers.