In 1993 I decided to quit working as a professional chained to a desk and get outdoors where I really wanted to be. I took a job as a gardener at a home on Doty Island in Neenah. Whenever there was a decision to be made, my employers would say “Well, you’re the expert.” But I really wasn’t. The Neenah Library was on my way home and I checked out and read just about every gardening book available to make sure I didn’t screw something up. Then I heard about the Master Gardener program and decided that I should look into it and I’ve been a UW-Extension Master Gardener since 1994.
I am still far from “the expert” and I still find new topics and techniques I know nothing about even after all these years.
For 24 years, my husband and I lived on an acre in the Town of Clayton west of Neenah, Wisconsin. When we moved there, the yard was beautifully landscaped and I needed to learn how to take care of everything quickly so nothing would die. It was several years before I even had everything identified. In fact, there are still two shrubs whose identities remain uncertain.
I made many changes to our acre over the years. I immediately added a big vegetable garden where I grew all the usual things and try a few new things each year. At one end of the vegetable garden I had five raised beds because the soil at that end of the garden is hard clay suitable for making pottery! I also had an herb garden inside the vegetable garden with both annual and perennial herbs . My vegetable garden could be described as “casual.” I am diligent about removing weeds but any volunteer annual flowers are welcome wherever they self-seed. So there are lots of calendulas among the strawberries, cosmos in the potatoes, and cleome between the beans.
Several years ago my husband and I installed a pond with a waterfall. It was so much work, but so much fun! Landscaping around and behind it was a big part of the fun.
We left about ¼ of our acre unmown. In this area are lilacs, apple and pear trees, elderberries and other native shrubs that I planted. Every year I was completely surprised by some new wildflowers that grow among the tall grasses. This had been a grass lawn since at least 1972 and before that it was farmland for many years, so I don’t know if these seeds have been lying dormant in the soil waiting for just the right conditions to germinate or if birds or other animals are bringing them in. Either way, the surprises were wonderful.
My husband and I enjoy walking our dog on the Wiouwash Trail. That is where I become passionately interested in our native wildflowers and the invasives that threaten them. My specific interest is in controlling garlic mustard and I lead a project each spring to pull it along the Wiouwash Trail. In 2014, I trained to become part of the newly formed Wisconsin First Detector Network, a group that is on the forefront to find and report new invasive species entering Wisconsin with the hope that they can be eradicated before they become too widespread to control.
In 2015, we moved to Rivermoor, outside of Omro, on the Fox River. Unlike our Clayton property, the landscape is quite empty and the yard is much smaller. There are three oak trees, four spirea, some hostas and one yet to be identified perennial plant. Gardening here is going to be a challenge. The soil is basically hard black river muck, not too hospitable for gardening. It’s going to take a lot of organic matter and compost to coax the soil into productivity. The other challenge is that the house is oriented off-kilter to the north/south/east/west axis so it will take some time to learn where the sun-loving plants will thrive and where the shade-lovers should be placed.
Other than gardening, I enjoy reading both fiction and non-fiction, hiking, biking, quilting, and crocheting blankets for Project Linus, a national organization that provides blankets to children in crisis situations.