a little girl growing up in Shanghai, Anna Tsai never dreamed of
having her own garden. "I was always crazy about flowers and
stopped by a nursery every day on my way home from school," the
Bayside resident says.
Her first gardening experience was planting seeds in a container
that sat on a small balcony of her family’s apartment. "It was
raining so I stood under an umbrella pressing seeds into the
pot," she recalls.
With China under Communist control, her gardening days were over
when soldiers confiscated her pots "for being too Western,"
she says. That was until 1986 when she and her husband, Tony, moved to
Milwaukee to provide better educational opportunities for their son,
Eddy, who graduated this spring from NYU Law School.
"Once we were able to buy a house, I created a garden,"
she says. Her yard is a bit of a challenge: The rear of the property
is shady, wet, full of clay soil and attracts the deer population,
while the front is sunny and drier.
"Every spring I start with adding at least 12 yards of soil in
the backyard," she says. "I’ve learned a lot about plants
over the years through trial and error and know that the soil is very
important," she says. "I’ve had lots of things die."
She has found success with ferns, evergreens and perennials, such as
Fox Gloves and poppies that are self-seeding like wildflowers and add
pockets of color. She has nearly 40 peony trees and bushes, which are
deer-resistant. "I especially enjoy them because they are very
popular in China and remind me of my youth," she says.
In her front yard she has planted several varieties of ornamental
grasses and a rose garden — her true pride and joy.
Tsai says she doesn’t really have a defined plan for her garden,
but likes to try new things each season. "I just love plants and
flowers and look around for a spot to try something new. My husband
teases that since my English is not so good, he wonders how I can
remember all the different plant names," she says.
She and her husband eat their breakfast on their patio each morning
to enjoy their backyard and later in the day sit on benches they’ve
placed around the front yard to view their roses.
Although most of the garden decisions are hers, Tsai credits her
husband with helping to water throughout the summer. "He
complains that he is ‘forced labor,’ but I know he enjoys the end
results of our combined efforts."
Tsai’s garden was one of three open for viewing for Fox Point
Garden Club members and their guests last summer. "It was very
nice to share my garden, but it’s a lot of work to keep up with the
weeding," she laughs.
– Mardee Gruen
Steele says hostas are hardy. Today, his are mature, and
maintenance is minimal. "Once the hostas are established,
they kind of take care of themselves. They cast such a strong
shadow, it’s hard for the weeds to come through."
Chuck Steele’s favorite variety of hosta is the H. "Sagae."
His wife, Gail, prefers one called June.
But they don’t discriminate: They have 1,000 different kinds in
their town of Cedarburg yard.
Yet, Chuck Steele says, "I’m only beginning. There are more
than 3,500 registered varieties."
And counting. "I do some hybridization of hostas, trying to
create new varieties," he says.
For Steele and hostas, it was love at first sight. He remembers as
a boy visiting his grandparents’ farm and spotting hostas growing on
the north side of their screened-in porch. "They were plain green
leaves, but I liked them," he says.
Today, Steele is president of the Southeast Wisconsin Hosta Society
and a board member of both the Midwest and American Hosta societies.
And his 1-acre yard is covered in hostas. "It was 12 years ago we
started with the front yard." He has built hosta beds in mounds,
so they are not all level and are more visible. "It’s a lot
He also has a suggestive garden, where you’ll find American
Sweetheart, Hanky Panky and Naked Lady hostas. "You can do a lot
of theme gardens with the names given to hostas."
His garden also has other items of interest: a two-level deck, 38
types of trees, and a reclaimed garden shed that serves as a
greenhouse in winter and a place to dine in summer.
And he’s not done yet. He plans to build an arch bridge over an
intermittent stream and create a Japanese garden. "When you enjoy
what you do, it’s not work. It’s fun," he says.
– Candace Doyle
surround Doug Hurth’s ponds and streams. Besides being
aesthetically pleasing, the rocks block the sunlight and
prevent it from destroying the ponds’ rubber lining.
Doug Hurth is a water garden pro by day, helping create water
wonderlands in others’ backyards.
So excited was he by his water works, he decided to turn his
backyard into a pool paradise as well.
But Hurth, owner of Hurth Waterscapes, wanted a low-maintenance
project: He used materials he had on hand to create a "very
country, very natural" water garden at his Saukville home.
The project consists of two rubber-lined ponds covered with rocks
to protect the lining from sunlight.
It also consists of two bridge-covered streams; the larger of the
two splits off downstream.
Both the streams, each with its own waterfall, and the ponds, each
with its own pump, are edged with rocks and perennial gardens. Hurth
says he likes the plants to grow over and around the rocks to give
them a more natural look.
"It looks more like Mother Nature would’ve done," he
He also has many plants, like cattails and water lilies, in the
ponds themselves to help keep them clean. "Plants compete for the
same nutrients that algae does," he says.
Kai and goldfish, too, have been added to the ponds for the same
reason. "The point is that these fish are basically
bottom-feeding fish, and they feed on the algae also," he says.
"My pond gets very little attention."
Hurth also has a fire pit and there are lights in the ponds to
create what he considers the most relaxing ambiance ever.
– Candace Doyle