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A never-ending canvas of color
The Vogtsí yard displays their love for gardening blended with their artistic talents


August 2007

What happens when two artists collaborate on their homeís landscape? In Cindy and Alan Vogtís case, the results are a garden thatís artfulóand art-full.

Over the last six years, the Oconomowoc couple has turned an empty lot near Lac LaBelle into a garden retreat that reflects their personalities and their talents. Alan, a retired letter carrier who carves Santas-with-attitude as a hobby, handles the construction projects.

He hand cut every board in the fence that frames the garden. Then, he created birdhouses, set at varying heights to punctuate the fence posts. These are not just fashion accessories, however. A hard-to-lure bluebird has taken up residence in one of them, Cindy reports proudly.

Throughout the garden, the unexpected becomes art. Thereís a broken terra cotta pot "planted" next to an old garden fork. To some, those would be throwaways. In Cindyís hands, it becomes garden art. A barbed-wire wreath hangs on an old post near the front door. An old wooden wheelbarrow has become a planter. "We collected water cans years before it was popular," Cindy says. Their collection is displayed with panache throughout the yard.

The old-fashioned-looking pump set amidst the daisies is another of Alanís creations, as are the benches that give the parking area of the driveway a courtyard feel.

"He handles the structure; Iím the softener," is how Cindy explains their division of outdoor labor.

A gardener for as long as she can remember, Cindy laid out formal garden beds in the front yard, then filled them with a relaxed profusion of perennials and annuals. Itís not as jumbled as an English cottage garden, and not as tailored as a formal gardenójust what Cindy had in mind.

Cindy likes the surprise of it. "Alan will say, ĎI didnít know you planted zinnias there,í and Iíll say, ĎI didnítóat least not this year,í" Cindy explains.

In addition to filling the canvas of her yard with flowers, Cindy also paints in more traditional ways. She painted a sign that says "Pumpkin patch"ójust in case you didnít know those vegetable plants in the front yard are there on purpose. The pumpkins are one of the ways Cindy is introducing her four grandchildren to the joys of gardening. "Last year, we got 40 pumpkins," she says with pride.

The centerpiece of the front yard, the rose garden, went in even before the fence went up. Later, Cindy added a border of perennials. Big groupings of monarda make a colorful splash thatís offset by daylilies, coneflowers and blazing stars.

Many of the gardenís accessories are treasures that have moved with the Vogts from house to house. An old school bell, a milk can from Cindyís fatherís farm, the wooden bench that belonged to Alanís grandmother, and an old, white wooden folding chair from a favorite cottage Up North.

Around the back of the house, the Vogts have opted for a more natural landscape. They worked hard to save as many trees as possible when their house was built on this partially wooded lot. They cut many trees themselves to avoid bulldozers coming in and clearing. As a result, a grove of trees right outside their bedroom window shades the house and offers privacy. It even provides a home for a red fox.

"Our neighbors were so surprised when they came over," Cindy says. "They said, ĎWe had no idea all this was back here!í"

In a small clearing beyond these trees, Cindy has been busy sowing seeds for several years to create a meadow. An old arbor creates an inviting entrance to the sunny space. Nearby, Cindy has assembled an unlikely arrangement of her fatherís milk can, a rusted fertilizer spreader and a bumper with a license plate from 1952. It not only serves as a still life, it has special meaning for Cindy.

The Vogts spotted the bumper when they accidentally came upon this newly subdivided lot. The license plate expired at the end of November, 1952óthe birthdate of Cindyís late brother. "I got goosebumps when I saw it," Cindy recalls. "I knew this was our lot. It was meant to be."