Monday, July 14, 2014

Larry's Garden: A Visit in Person

Garden blogs are great: those who love visiting gardens like I do can see gardens all over the world and hear their owners tell the personal stories of their creation, without the need for costly, exhausting travel. What a wonderful forum this is!

But nothing quite compares to actually standing in and physically walking through a garden, particularly one that looks fantastic and has a wide array of beautiful plants, impeccably maintained. This was brought home to me by my visit to Larry and Sarah's gardens at their home at Oak Lawn Cheese Factory, not far from Oshkosh, Wisconsin. 

Larry is generously hosting Open Garden Days, every Sunday in July from 2:00-5:00 pm, which is a great opportunity to see some of the most beautiful gardens you'll probably ever visit in person. If you live in the Midwest, I urge you to make the trip.

The beautiful conifers surrounding the cool, breezy gazebo, where Larry and Sarah spent time chatting with us after showing us around their gardens.

My husband and I made the trip of about four and a half hours on Independence Day weekend. We stayed in Madison on Friday night and visited the gardens Saturday morning. I had never met either Larry or Sarah before, although I have been following his blog since last autumn, but they both made the two of us feel very welcome, and I finally got to see in person the gardens that I'd only seen in Larry's beautiful photographs.

My snapshots are not the artistic photos that Larry takes of his gardens, but I hope they will suffice to communicate something of the beauty and peacefulness of his magical creation:

The front garden, with rock gardens, conifers and many annual flowers. You know you've found the right place just by what's in the front yard -- but wait 'till you see what's around the corner....

Some of Larry's many magnificent New Millennium delphiniums. Some of them are over six feet tall and he spends so much more effort staking them than I do (mine invariably get blown sideways by our hilltop winds, but his stand tall and look amazing).
Just a few of the numerous Asiatic lilies that were coming into bloom when we visited. 'Pink Flavour' (left) and 'Purple Heart' (right). Breathtakingly lovely!

The Orienpet lilies on the left weren't blooming quite yet, but they stood more than six feet in height, even though Larry had planted them only a year and a half before! He told me that the peony on the right was some kind of incredibly rare sort that almost no one else can obtain. (I was afraid to walk too near it, for fear I'd somehow trip and break it off at the crown and destroy it!)
On the subject of being afraid to be too near a plant, this is apparently a deadly poisonous tropical plant, 'Inca Sun' brugsmansia -- although the fragrance is lovely at night, Larry told me.
Larry built the stone wall on the left with his bare hands, and it looks really good.
The path leads up to the 'Autumn Purple' ash tree, which I also have in the following photo...
I took another photo here, because there is something about this spot that spoke to me. I believe that great gardens have "special spots" that evoke feelings of tranquility, "all is right with the world," and this is one of the places in Larry's gardens that I believe has this feeling. The perfect tree ring and shady manicured grass under the tree canopy, surrounded by conifers and perennials, all these things resulted in this spot calling to me.
Another spot not far from the last one was also very impressive. I know my camera did not capture the brilliant blue-green of these 'Moorheim' blue spruce that almost glowed in the sunshine, but this was an spectacular sight, believe me.
Some concrete pieces molded in the shape of hosta leaves, stacked on a rustic fence that Larry constructed on the stumps of a row of arborvitae trees.
Larry's newer clematis structure, which is starting to become covered with these lush blooms. I can imagine how incredible this will look when it is completely covered in another season or two.
Another clematis, 'Betty Corning,' with small bell-shaped flowers that were sweetly fragrant. Magical.
Another "special spot" was the result of an unglamorous septic tank mound. The grassy knoll reminded me of ancient Native American burial mounds, and was an arresting place from which to survey the surrounding trees. The first photograph at top was taken from this vantage point. 

Larry's gardens are probably the most beautiful gardens I've ever visited in person. His hard work, single-minded pursuit of beauty, high standards of maintenance, forty-two years of learning about and encouraging plants and trees to grow and mature, (and no small amount of cash too, I've no doubt) have all resulted in what every gardener aspires to: to replicate man's version of the Garden of Eden, a personal heaven on earth.

I believe that most institutional gardens, as impressive and well-maintained as some of them are, lack this magical quality that only a personal garden can achieve after many years of striving by its maker to improve its beauty. There aren't many gardens in the Midwest that have achieved this quality, and of those that have, the chances to visit them are few and far between.

I can't recommend highly enough that you take advantage of this chance to visit such a garden. The weather when we visited was so perfect and the gardens so breathtaking, that I found myself not wanting to leave this Eden. I hope you get the chance to visit too.

Thanks for reading! -Beth


  1. This garden is absolutely fabulous, can understand it was like Eden for you. The Clematis structure with Clematis, the stone wall, the Delphiniums etc. Nice you showed us, you get ideas from all over the world, I like that.

    1. Thanks so much for visiting, Janneke -- I'm glad you found ideas of interest in these photos of Larry's magnificent gardens. I know you're pretty far from the American Midwest, but that's why blogs are so great, that you can "visit" his gardens even from the other side of the world -- and I can see your gardens too! Thanks, -Beth

  2. A wonderful garden. I love the lilies and that frame for clematis is a great idea worth copying. The huge flowers of the Brugmansia are superb even if they are deadly.

    1. Thanks for reading, Chloris -- I agree, those lilies were fantastic and the rustic clematis frame was a brilliant idea. I'm glad you enjoyed this post about such a lovely garden. -Beth

  3. What a beautiful garden! Visiting other gardens is a great way to find inspiration for our own gardens as well as load up on creative ideas. :o) I really love that rock wall. My Betty Corning is still so small. It will be wonderful when mine is as spectacular as Larry's! His is a real stunner! :o)

    1. Thanks for reading, Mariposa! I totally agree: visiting other people's gardens is a great way to find new ideas for our own gardens. I'm sure your Betty Corning will be gorgeous when it's mature -- that's the one thing we can't hurry: the time plants spend maturing in place. Thanks again! -Beth

  4. What a magnificent garden! So glad you were able to visit and appreciate you sharing. I enjoyed seeing your photos and I like how your photos and narrative are "framed." That looks very cool! Definitely a special place, and special people!

    1. Beth, thanks for your very kind comments about my post. I know my photos didn't capture the real beauty of Larry's gardens, but I'm glad you enjoyed them. And Larry and Sarah were indeed very nice people -- they spoke highly of you and your husband when we were there too! Thanks for reading. -Beth

  5. So glad you could visit Larry's garden, Beth. :-) I am constantly amazed by the Gardening Grace we have received this year! Happy August!

    1. Have you visited his garden too? I know Larry has a number of gardening friends in Iowa. Thanks for reading! -Beth