Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Garden That Inspired Us

 When Carl and I first started gardening back in the 1980's we weren't sure what to do with the old alfalfa field which sat smack dab in the middle of our ninety-eight acre farm.  We had originally purchased the one acre from my folks to build our house on in 1978 and then gradually increased to two and then two and a half and eventually the Back Eight was added on, too. 

There I am in 2002, sorting rocks.  But, why?  What started this obsession of gardening with stone?
But in the beginning all we had was the one acre, devoid of any trees.  Just alfalfa.  So we planted 450 trees and made a half-hearted attempt at flower gardening.  We thought we were gardening fairly well, but something seemed missing.  Then we toured the Paine Art Center in Oshkosh in the early 1980's and had our first taste of true landscaping and what it means to garden on a large scale.

Here is a link to their website:
Paine Art Center and Gardens

The Paine Art Center Gardens were the inspiration for our own Formal Garden begun in 1988.   But instead of a rectangular sunken garden, we opted for a circle instead.  And we lined it with big field stones instead of ledge-rock limestone, until 2011, when we decided to renovate the entire garden.

Our Formal Garden was the start of using stone in the garden around here.  As time went on, we joined a few garden clubs and went on their tours.  Seeing other gardens is always an inspiration to us and we haven't missed the large local garden walks in over twenty years.  We've been privileged to see hundreds of gardens over the decades, each one special and unique. 

 But THE most impressive garden we have ever seen before or since was when we toured the garden of an 82 year old lady named Emily in Bailey's Harbor, Wisconsin.  She had no fancy-schmancy name for her garden, it was simply known as The Emily Hickey Garden.  When Carl and I got off the tour bus on a little side street in the quaint little town we had no idea of the impact this amazing gardener's landscape would have on us.  We were awestruck.  I wish I had pictures to share with you, but this was before digital cameras and photography was frowned on as she was a very private person. 

The property was, in Emily's words, 'a mess' when in the 1960's she and her husband first moved into their tidy little home nestled at the base of a massive limestone outcropping overlooking Lake Michigan.  Emily said the neighbors above them used to toss their garbage off the cliff probably in attempt to fill in the ravine and also to just rid themselves of their junk.  There was brush growing which needed to be cleared and years of work ahead.  Some of the huge slabs of limestone had fallen down the hill over the centuries and were sitting on an angle in majestic configurations.  On the biggest rock, which was about the size of a pair of Greyhound buses, Emily had a handwritten plaque declaring it, "Our Piece of the Rock", which was a reference to an insurance company that used the term as their advertising slogan. 

When Carl and I walked around the garage to enter her garden we were completely dumbfounded; we never expected to see anything like this.  We were awestruck by its majesty.  The rock formations that were the garden's west boundary line soared to at least twenty feet and were wild and rugged.   Emily had tucked dwarf conifers, hostas, ornamental grasses, and ground cover sedums into the crevices between massive boulders and up against the outcropping itself and had done it with such artistry that the plants looked as if they had always been there.  The effect was naturalistic and stunning.  We had the feeling we had wandered into a paradise of a garden that had simply always existed.  Emily had a gift of working with nature to create a palette of ever-changing color and texture.  Farther away from the outcropping she had planted peonies and many other perennials; it was a feast for the senses.

Emily was a very meticulous gardener and despite her advancing age, she was adamant that her garden be presentable.  She couldn't bear to see spent peony petals on the ground and would pick them up if any fell.  I don't remember exactly what year it was that we toured her garden for the first time, but suspect it was in the 1990's.  How I hated to leave when it was time to board the bus; we were trying to take all the beauty in and wondering how in the world we could replicate something like this in our own yard.  We both knew we loved rocks and here was a garden built on, in, around and amongst huge rock formations.  No, we would never have a sheer cliff as a backdrop, but now we had more of an idea of what we'd like to try to create.

And the rest, as they say, is history.  We went home and started to ponder on our rock situation and our mutual love of quarries and with Emily's garden always in the forefront of our memory, we toiled away at making a rock formation of sorts here. 

In what looks to be 2001, the public television show, 'The Wisconsin Gardener' visited Emily's garden.  There is a video to view here.

Emily Hickey Garden

Several years later, we found ourselves on a road trip one Sunday and wondered if we could ever find Emily's garden again.  We were successful and parked in front of her house on the steeply slanted road.  From the the street, all that was visible of the garden was a glimpse of the glory; the house and garage were situated to make it very private.  We took a chance and timidly went up to her door and knocked.  Emily came to the door and I explained that we had toured her garden years before and wondered if she'd mind if we could see it once again.  She was very gracious and said we could go ahead.  I could tell we had intruded and didn't linger long, but it was just as impressive as the first time, probably even more so.  Over the years she and her husband had had bus tours from all over the state visit, so I know she was probably getting weary of the interruptions, but I was so grateful to her for letting us tour it one more time.  By this time her husband was not well and she was caring for him.  We did stay for just a little while and chat and I'll never forget that day, either. 

"This garden is not allowed to do just as it pleases," she told me.  "I have to continually battle with some of the sedums and other ground covers and have the hostas divided.  I don't like a garden to get out of hand."  It was certainly apparent that even in her 80's, she had the garden well in hand; it was immaculate as always.



Just for fun, I'm tossing in the video also from 'Wisconsin Gardener' taken of our garden in 2011.  (A rerun! Yes, it's yours truly, running off at the mouth about our garden.  Notice I had to do ALL the talking; Carl was only willing to appear on film briefly.)  The contrast between our garden and Emily's is striking; hers is so beautifully natural.

Quarry Garden on Wisconsin Gardener

Sadly, I learned a few years later that Emily's home and property had been sold; I guess Emily had decided to move. I'm not sure of where she is, or if indeed she is still living, but her garden was the stuff of legend to Carl and I and countless other visitors.  I always think of her whenever I'm working in the gardens here.  I often wonder what she'd think of our attempts at gardening, but I know it fell far short of her masterpiece.  From what I've heard, her home was torn down and a new house was built.  I'm not sure what became of the garden, but it lives on in our memories.

Emily's garden was a true treasure and we are ever grateful she allowed us to share her 'Piece of the Rock'.

12 comments:

FlowerLady Lorraine said...

Oh Karen ~ I've been inspired by your quarry garden and how it all began, once again. I enjoyed your video on the Wisconsin Gardener and the one with Miss Emily too. The Paine Art Center looks like a wonderful place to visit as well. I will never be a meticulous gardner. The work that all of you put into your gardens is mind boggling.

Thank you for all of this inspiration this morning. Just what I needed.

Love and hugs ~ FlowerLady

Larry said...

Emily was special alright... I well remember when she visited our gardens... she was quite outspoken about what should stay and what should go and I was not the least bit offended... I really appreciated the opinions of one so successful in developing beautiful spaces. Larry

El Gaucho said...

Wow, that's a pretty incredible garden. I know that videos sometimes don't do a place justice, that you have to take it in yourself. I can only imagine how impressive it must have been in person. Thanks for sharing.

Beth said...

Your post was inspiring, Karen. I viewed Emily's garden video and enjoyed it thoroughly. I kept getting error messages when I tried to view your segment. I will try again later. Are you expecting this latest storm this week to hit your area? We expect a big storm Thurs-Friday, about 6" of snow predicted and more in some areas.
Hugs and blessings, Beth

africanaussie said...

I love to visit other gardens too, and I am sure people come and tour your garden with the same awe that you felt for Emily's garden. I laughed when you talked about downsizing....

HolleyGarden said...

Isn't it exciting to get that spark of creativity? I love that Emily was still gardening in her 80's, not letting the garden get "out of hand". She must have been a hoot! I hope her garden still lives on, but I'm sure it's changed as the personality of the gardener is always reflected in the garden. Gardening on a large scale is a hard thing to achieve, and you and Carl have been very successful at it. Nice to hear how you got your inspiration.

Betsy said...

I will be watching both videos again as I enjoyed them so much. Sad to hear after the years of love and hard work that went into Emily's garden and now the house torn down, sad.
So happy to be able to see it here.
I can't get over your garden and that gazebo out of found objects, I am amazed and I want my husband to see this. My sister just bought a 1870 farm house in Maine and I am sending this to her, there are lots of rocks where she is.
Thank You much for sharing and enjoyed watching you tell us about your garden and seeing Carl hoist up that big rock, so neat.
betsy

Pam's English Garden said...

What an interesting post, Karen! I love to find out what inspired gardeners. As you know, my inspiration comes from my grandmother's garden, but unfortunately I have no pictures -- I didn't have a camera back then, in my childhood. Thrilled to hear Emily was gardening in her 80s. Gives me hope now than I am in my 70s. P. x

Rosemary said...

Karen you have woven another story I so enjoyed reading. Loved visiting the garden and the incredible lady who inspired you... You inspire me tho I haven't the acres to develop. Think I am glad I downsized...

Dragonfly Treasure said...

Boy what an undertakinh you and Carl yook on. To have a vision like that when you start out with a field is magical. Miss Emily must have been a garden whisperer. If she that that much energy to be out keeping her gardens all I can say is I wish I had half her energy!
Acrually, I did once upon a time. I used to consider gardening my Therapy. So much cheaper than actually going to a therapist too :) But "someone" felt I was too far away from "hhim" a couldn't yell loud enough for me to hear him. So I was relinquished to the inside the house. Anytime he'd fall aslep I'd sneak out and "do gardening" as quickly as I could. The joy I received from being in the garden left me and it became a chore.
I was raised on a farm and need to be outside. But I learned to "give it up" in order to keep the peace. I am still trying yo get used to getting back out there and work...but it is just not as enjoyable as it used to be. I hope in time it will be again.

Your gardens are so beautiful. I love your header with the snow. I can only imagine how much effort it took to get it looking that way. I admire the fact that the land has been able to stay in your family. It's becoming more rare these days for that to happen. I would love to buy my sister out of her half,but there is no way I could ever afford it. We have good renters that have made it their own and plan on buying it when we decide to sell.
Keep up the good work because it has paid off, not only for you but to all who get to visit your piece of heaven.
*hugs*deb

gardenwalkgardentalk.com said...

I really enjoyed the video Karen. It was a great show of all that you accomplished through the years, well, even though it is a long continuing process. The story of Emily's garden as inspiration was really a good back story too. Too bad the home was torn down and replaced. My guess is that the garden was much destroyed in the building process.

gardenwalkgardentalk.com said...

I really enjoyed the video Karen. It was a great show of all that you accomplished through the years, well, even though it is a long continuing process. The story of Emily's garden as inspiration was really a good back story too. Too bad the home was torn down and replaced. My guess is that the garden was much destroyed in the building process.