A stone wall and basin provide a
natural touch for a water spigot where the Morgans can fill
their watering can while tending to their gardens.
Not everyone hates change. In fact, Wauwatosa gardener Gail Morgan
actually thrives on it.
Unlike the gardeners who like the predictability of perennials, the
gardens on Morgan’s half-acre lot contain many varieties of annuals.
"Some people shy away from annuals because of their cost and
upkeep," she says. "But I like to change."
Pots of plants make that change intentional. Each year Morgan puts
new combinations together and places the results in various spots
around her yard and on her deck. Larger pots are placed next to
smaller ones or trimmed with rocks or shells. And the pots are stuffed
full with various vines and blossoms — no single geraniums for her,
thank you very much.
"The beauty of pots is that you can move them around,"
says Morgan. "When stuff is in the ground you’re kind of
sunk." This year, she’s also in a change mode with plans to
convert the annuals alongside the driveway in her front yard into
mounded areas filled with grasses and perennials.
Pots of plants are only the beginning of the experience in the
Morgan gardens. If you were to describe her landscape in two words, it
would have to be eclectic and funky. As an artist, she likes to think
of her gardens as an extension of her paint palette, hence the bright
colors and recycled garden art.
The art often competes for attention with the flowers. There are
the handpainted table and chairs outside of her screened-in glass
porch. Another painted half-table and chair is clamped to a lattice
trellis. Her collection of concrete faces is scattered about,
startling visitors when they’re noticed.
A funky painted table and chairs fits
right in with the eclectic look of the Morgan yard.
Morgan has hung a wreath of brightly painted pots on the trellis
although she doesn’t recommend someone making a similar one out of
clay pots like she did. "I’d suggest using different size
plastic pots," she says. "They’re lighter and easier to
A $5 flea-market bicycle is painted white, its basket filled with
fuchsia and pink impatiens. Painted garden chairs, minus parts of
their seats, hold pots of blooms. Her husband, Jim, acquired a
concrete planter with a tiny nick from the local dump. A birdbath was
assembled from a variety of sizes of clay pots, painted and then
topped with a saucer from the largest pot. There’s a contemporary
gray water fountain ringed with impatiens and Shasta daisies.
Morgan is proud to announce that between acquiring things from the
local dump and gifts of unwanted furniture from friends, she’s never
purchased a garden chair. But she’s had great fun converting someone’s
trash into her treasures.
Old storm windows and birdhouses haven’t escaped without a coat
of paint. "I’m not that great of a painter, but for a garden it
doesn’t have to be a Picasso," says Morgan of her artistic
Inspiration for both her art and her gardens comes in many forms.
"I have that type of mind that’s just a little
off-kilter," she chuckles. On a tour of homes, noticing what
appeared to be pewter roses, she discovered they were actually red
cabbages. "If you let them grow and feed them as if they were
flowers, they turn into great ‘roses,’" says Morgan.
"And they’re cheaper than the flowering kale plants." She
also borrows ideas from magazines and trips to greenhouses.
Impatiens, zinnias and marigolds welcome visitors with their
brightly colored blooms. There are also hostas and coral bells in her
shade garden, which encircles a huge arbor vitae like a sculpture at
the base of the tree. Yarrow and daylilies fill in the sunny portion
of that shade garden.
The key for Morgan is to have lots of choices. "If you have a
lot of plants, people don’t notice what isn’t good because you
have so much," she explains.
Coleus is one of her favorites and you’ll find varieties in
rainbow colors from yellow to deep purple. "No bugs seem to eat
it and it doesn’t get powdery mildew," Morgan explains of her
choice. "The only thing is you have to water it a lot."
For this Master Gardener, gardening is obviously a passion. After
she retired as a clinical instructor in radiology at Froedtert
Hospital, she’s had more time to enjoy the fruits of her labor.
"It keeps me physically fit and it helps with the osteoporosis
and the waist line," she says. "I’m not the kind who
touches her toes 80 times."
Besides converting the front yard gardens, this year’s project is
installing a rain garden. Morgan is putting plants into a portion of
her yard to slow down runoff that would otherwise go into the sewer.
And likely planning more changes for her existing spaces.