Iris Logan's Rock Garden(1953)
1322 Sherburne Avenue, St. Paul, Minnesota, 55104, United States
1974 – Present
The rock garden is viewable from the street.
About the Artist/Site
Dynamic, bubbly, spirited, enthusiastic, fascinating, kind, gregarious, artistic, creative. Pick your favorites and they describe Iris Logan, who is fondly known around her neighborhood as “Miss Iris.” I quickly learned that Miss Iris is an engaging storyteller who punctuates her compelling stories with genuine laughter.
Miss Iris came to the Twin Cities from little Coffeeville, MS (about 90 miles south of Memphis, TN) in 1971, following her uncles and many of her siblings, who all followed her grandmother. “So when each one of us kids graduated from high school, we came up here because down there in our small hometown, there was no jobs.” The 10th of 16 children, Miss Iris facetiously described her place among her siblings. “I’m 10. I’m not the Bo Derek 10, but I’m 10.”
Miss Iris started her stylish garden and sculpture gallery in 1974, about a year after moving into her Frogtown home. “I started small and then my daughters wasn’t into mowing and I couldn’t do it all because I worked full-time and part-time. So then my gardens got bigger and then I did my boulevard.” Years later, at the request of a couple of neighbors, she expanded the garden into their yards.
“I don’t have no rhyme or reason. You know, some people have cottage gardens and some people have different garden things. I just throw it all together.”
She has dozens of plants, including daylilies, tulips, peonies, daffodils, Solomon’s Seal, and several hosta varieties in her yard. But to my eyes, all were eclipsed by the vibrant tile mosaics and other works of art. Miss Iris got very animated when we talked about the abundance of rocks in her garden. “I hand-hauled each one of my rocks in here! All these rocks — except that big boulder there,” she said, pointing to her right. “When they was building that apartment building, that actually came out of the sand.”
Miss Iris has collected hundreds of sizable, weighty rocks as she’s grown her garden. These rocks decorate the garden borders, surround her sculptures and other art, and a few of the larger ones became canvases for her intricate tile creations. I asked Miss Iris to explain how in the heck she managed to gather so many cumbersome boulders. “If you’re driving and you’re a rock person, always have you a pair of gloves and a two-by-four,” she said. “‘Cause you’d just be amazed at how you can roll it up on that two-by-four.” Cost is one reason Miss Iris started gathering rocks. “That’s ‘cause I couldn’t afford to have those fancy retaining walls and stuff. So I used the natural rocks from the earth.”
“I looked back and honest to God, I don’t know how I rolled all of these rocks.”
Along the Mississippi River, Miss Iris told me, is her absolute favorite place to collect rocks, but not the only spot. “If they was digging up a highway, I’d always ask the guys if I could get the rocks and they said, ‘Sure!’ And if they was doing any street diggin’. I like to go into the different composts [sites] and walk in the woods and I find a rock. I just have to have the rocks!” She laughed about her intense commitment to rock collecting.
The most challenging item she procured was a massive concrete parking lot bollard. It took one friend, one stranger and one neighbor to help her get the unwieldy pillar from an empty lot into her car and onto the boulevard in front of her house. Where it landed that day many years ago is where it sits today.
While not as prolific a rock gatherer as she was, Miss Iris still collects. “Sometimes I do, but my body makes me pay for it. I see one, I go grab my neighbor.” She described the interaction:
“‘Want to go for a ride today?’
‘Oh Iris, what are we haulin’ today?’
‘Shut up, come on!’
That’s what I do,” she explained, laughing enthusiastically.
Miss Iris also has a nice display of driftwood she picked up along the Mississippi. Getting the large pieces home took some planning, she said. “Got to figure out the back roads. Cause half of it sticks out of my truck. I don’t want the police to stop. So I try to keep some red in the car to tie it on the end.”
When the weather is warm, chances are good you’ll see Miss Iris working on her gardens. “In the summertime, I get up usually like 5:30. I’m out at the crack of dawn. My dad got up early too, and I never got away from it,” she said. “I can be out here all day and not realize what time it is.”
“I’m only in the house in the evening when the sun go down. I’m in and I work on my mosaic as I’m watching TV.”
Art, according to Miss Iris, came naturally to her. “I’ve always been crafty with my hands so I learned how to do mosaics by the books and self-taught, and I created all my mosaic objects in my garden.” She hand-cuts each tile for the mosaics.
Over the hour or so we talked, the conversation strayed from gardening and art to our formative years. I learned that Miss Iris is the daughter of Mississippi sharecroppers, that as a young girl, she picked cotton, and she clearly recalls racially segregated drinking fountains and laundromats. Miss Iris expressed great dismay over me not knowing how a branch of my family got to Milwaukee. Returning to the gardens, Miss Iris mentioned they draw many visitors who often take photos. Children like to look around for turtles, birds and other animal decorations in the garden.
“One couple told me this is better than going to Como Park. I said, ‘Get out of Dodge! Get out of here!’ She says, ‘Everything is so beautiful!'”
If you visit just one, make it 1322 Sherburne Avenue to gaze at Miss Iris’s superb garden, and maybe you’ll have the good fortune to meet Miss Iris too.
– Wolfie Browender for Streets.mn, 2022
Update: In November 2023, Ms. Logan was given a notice by a city inspector to remove the portions of the installation on the street side of the sidewalk, citing code violations. Much of that artwork has already been removed, but Ms. Logan has requested an extension for the remainder of the removal due to winter weather. It is currently hoped that some of the artwork that had to be removed will be installed in a nearby public park. The artwork in Ms. Logan's yard is safe.
found rocks, found objects, mosaic
Map & Site Information
1322 Sherburne Avenue
St. Paul, Minnesota, 55104 us
Latitude/Longitude: 44.9564073 / -93.1560447
St. Paul, MN
River Falls, Wisconsin
Sauk Rapids, Minnesota