Lark Kulikowski welcomes this
opportunity to share her interest and her knowledge with
others. "If people are interested in a plant, they can
see it in the garden, see it in bloom and see how I use
it," she says. "I always hope people can learn some
tips that it took me 10 years to learn."
One of the tips Kulikowski likes to
share is how to achieve continuous bloom throughout the
growing season. She recommends that people start by choosing
some plants that bloom in spring, some that bloom in summer
and some that bloom in fall. Later, gardeners can extend color
by filling in with plants that bloom in between the seasons
like late spring and early summer or late summer and early
If "flowers make our hearts smile" as Dousman gardener
Lark Kulikowski maintains, then this petite fireball’s heart must be
grinning all the time.
Over a dozen years, Kulikowski has created a backyard garden that
spans more than 150 feet in width and brims with blossoms continuously
from May through frost. Offering a tapestry of colors and textures,
flowering plants climb homemade trellises, spill over the
stepping-stoned pathways, and burst forth from containers including
old boots, bird cages, broken chairs, woven baskets and rotted logs.
Gardening is a passion — perhaps even an obsession—for
Kulikowski who gets up at 4 a.m. daily during the growing season to
put in a few hours in the yard before going on to other things.
"She’ll sit in the house looking out the window and decide
she needs color or a plant to fill in a gap somewhere, and she goes
right out and moves the plants around," Kulikowski’s mother,
Barbara Leibundgut, reports.
This love of gardening runs in the family. Kulikowski fondly
remembers both her parents tending a large vegetable garden. Her entry
to gardening came by way of helping out with pickling, canning and
freezing the produce harvested. Later, when her own children went off
to school, Kulikowski discovered a passion for perennials. These days,
she finds special pleasure in actively sharing gardening tasks with
love the color blue, and there aren’t that many blue
flowers, so I’m always looking for ways to add blue to the
garden," Kulikowski says. One way she does this is by
using cobalt blue bottles — reclaimed during her volunteer
duties at the recycling center — as hose guides along garden
paths. ("They look really pretty in winter, too,"
she says.) Another way is by using blue bowling balls and
displaying them as orbs. "She puts together her bowling
balls with all sorts of things," Leibundgut notes.
"We’ll see something that she just has to have, and I’ll
say, ‘What do you need that for?’"
"My mom was a working mom," Kulikowski recalls.
"What I have now, this time together, is what I always longed for
when I was growing up. I’m so glad to have this time now."
They share plants, ideas and tasks. "Mom is the patient one,
so she starts plants from seed," Kulikowski reports.
When Kulikowski’s plants started outgrowing her garden, her
husband suggested she sell the overflow at the Oconomowoc farmer’s
market. So, Kulikowski and her mom gave it a try. "You meet a lot
of neat people that have the same interests you do," Leibundgut
addition to combining plants, Kulikowski has a knack for
creating garden artwork out of found objects. She weaves
plentiful and invasive buckthorn saplings into trellises and
edgers. Old hitches and tractor gears find new lives as
"flowers" that provide year-round interest in the
garden. "A variety of serving trays provide shallow
dishes for butterflies to drink from. Pizza pans and steamer
grates become silvery mobiles that reflect sunlight and catch
After a while, some farmer’s market customers started asking if
they could see Kulikowski’s garden. Now, people often come by
appointment to tour the garden, selecting plants to purchase directly
from the garden. Leibundgut, who lives across the street, makes the
appointments and gives tours during the week, because she is home more
often than her daughter. A "Perennials" sign on Highway 67
also draws a number of visitors.
"Before they come, I tell people, ‘Take a look at your
garden and see what color or what bloom you are lacking,’" she
explains. After they visit, she invites them to return every two weeks
or so. "Next time they come, the garden will be different."
Over the last few years, Kulikowski’s garden ventures have taken
yet another turn as customers have asked her to consult on their own
gardens or even design garden plans. "I’m not a formal
gardener," she says. "So, people have to see my garden
first. I want them to see what type of gardener I am."
Kulikowski videotapes her garden, narrating the visuals with
comments about what’s in bloom, what works and what she
wants to change. Throughout the winter when she’s working
out on a treadmill, she watches the videos, mulling over
problem areas and making plans for next year.
In addition to challenging her creativity, Kulikowski’s recycling
center/rummage store/junk pile finds help her have affordable garden
art. That’s another discovery she likes to share with visitors.
"You can have a spectacular garden on a budget," she says.
To this end, she continually experiments with the placement of
plants, learning which conditions best suit each and which
combinations are most pleasing. "You don’t have to be afraid to
try something," she says. "I truly feel there’s no
mistakes in gardening."
Maybe that’s why her heart is smiling.