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Eco stylings
Three yards showcase owners’ passions

September 2008

As 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

Chuck 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 more interesting."

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

Rocks 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 says.

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



This story ran in the September 2008 issue of: