DEERWOOD -- When the current owners moved into a home with a fabled rock garden along Tame Fish Lake, a book fell out of the ceiling.
That was 20 years ago.
The book provided a glimpse of the home's rock gardens that still attract attention. The current homeowners hope people will remember the home is now a private residence and is not open for the impromptu tours that used to have strangers walking through their yard and filling their steep driveway any time of day.
The Ak-Sar-Ben rock garden was constructed by two brothers who came to the lake country from Nebraska. They spelled their home state backward and came up with a catchy if broken phrase for their small Minnesota summer home.
The summer spot they created is part of the Bay Lake Home Tour on Aug. 2 and 3. The gardens are what strike the imagination with one quick glance.
A sun dial sits atop a rock pedestal in one of the gardens that is part of the Bay Lake Area Tour of Homes. The garden's creators hauled carloads of rocks from the Iron Range for designs. Rock creations included smooth pebbles from Lake Mille Lacs and Italian marble for some walkways that came from a Minneapolis source. One pool is made of a peculiar rock crystal formation brought from the Ozarks.
One of the tour organizers, Rolf Westgard, noted the rock and stone work as "amazing" as he pointed out a high bench sitting atop a hillside of flowers mixed with stone. But the stone castle with its own moat may be the first thing visitors see. The castle is so detailed that one expects small horses and knights to appear along with tiny golden horns and colorful banners.
Wedding parties once enjoyed a white arbor in a grassy plot that faced the miniature castle.
Arnold and Hugo Vogt first discovered the area while on a fishing trip to Crow Wing County in 1918. They liked what they experienced and came back. They bought a large tract of land on what was then called Long Lake. According to literature supplied for the home tour sponsored by the Bay Lake Area and Deerwood Lions, the lake was renamed Tame Fish Lake in 1942.
Tour information describes their early efforts. Arnold was interested in flowers. His brother liked making garden furniture. As the legacy shows today, Hugo particularly enjoyed working with rock and stone. Effort also was expended to tame the fish swimming at the end of the dock. Bits of bread were offered as a treat.
By the time the brothers were busy into creating a lavish garden accented with rock, their reputation was growing. As word-of-mouth brought garden visitors, the brothers even put up signs to entice more people to see "if the gardens really were as wonderful as everyone said," the tour information states.
People must have agreed. A guest book includes Hollywood celebrities like Will Rogers and Norma Talmadge. In 1939, 40,000 people came to see the garden. World War II and gas rationing curbed those numbers in the 1940s.
These are the Vogt brothers of Ak-Sar-Ben -- Arnold, the gardner, and Hugo, the rock work expert and fish tamer.
Beyond the rock garden, there are major fish stories. A lighted cigar was said to be taken by a bass that leapt three feet to take the stogie from its owner who was leaning on a railing.
The tame fish included two nine-pound bass Hugo was said to have raised from minnows. It is reported that at one time 500 gold fish of various kinds, including those possessing long lace tails, swam in the garden pools. As the season changed the fish were said to be actually "stored" in large mesh boxes placed in deep water that would not freeze during the winter.
The fish survived until 1944 when they suffocated when lake muskrats were trapped and unable to aerate the water.
While those days in the lakes area and the nation's experience are gone, the stone work remains as a reminder of a time when a summer drive to visit a fabled lake area garden included memorable fish stories and sun-filled moments enjoying the combination of flower and rock.
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