July 20, 2022
The exuberantly planted and decorated garden of Jim Ottney and Jay Hatheway has secret hideaway vibes. Located at the end of a dead-end street in charming Stoughton, Wisconsin, 20 miles southeast of Madison, the garden hides behind a screen of trees and shrubs. A winding path leads you in and meanders through the understory before delivering you to a pergola-shaded patio in the center of the garden.
As one of the last gardens on the Madison Fling tour last month, and the very last private garden we visited, it offered weary Flingers plenty of comfortable and cool spots to sit and enjoy the scenery.
Looking around today, I could hardly imagine the shudder-inducing “before” story of their garden:
“When we bought the house, the ‘yard’ was an untended field of weeds, an oil change sand pit, piles of old tires, clotheslines, volunteer trees at random locations, and various invasive plants. We turned over the entire lot by hand, and starting with several small beds along the fringes and foundation yews, we transformed the lot.”
Over the next 25 years, the couple turned that old auto-repair dumping ground into a “private escape and a space where we could entertain small groups of friends.”
If they make visitors smile along the way, so much the better.
The garden invites you to explore thanks to found-object art and thrifted decor at every turn. Old signs, repurposed tools, clusters of containers, hanging flower baskets, glass ornaments, face jugs, and water features add humor, wildlife habitat, and hits of color.
Sparkler-like beaded garden art
Chan of @bookishgardener explores near the house.
The inviting central patio
Another view, with Jim and Jay’s red house in the background
Lilies and a wind chime
In one corner, a metal gazebo with string lights holds a whimsical collection of…
…head planters, like this cigar-chomping grump.
And smiling goddess
A classical head planter
And a Zen-style head
This one looks like it had a rough night.
A few sunny spots are jazzed up with heat-lovers like canna.
Lori of @loridauldesign — wearing a sweater in late June — seems to be pondering her options for staying cool in Wisconsin all summer versus heading home to heat-blistered Austin. (Or was that just me?)
Hostas and glass garden art
Each path offers lush plantings and lighthearted garden art.
I like this little faucet face with slag glass and rocks.
Old tools mingle with vintage garden art to create a rusty mosaic on one wall of the house.
Stairs leading to an upper deck display a collection of face jugs, a type of folk art associated with the American South — a fun surprise.
Their grotesque expressions are part of their traditional appeal.
The second-story deck offers a squirrel’s-eye view of the garden.
Only a few yards from the garden, the placid Yahara River slides past, overlooked by a small park. With the city’s permission, during the past few years Jim and Jay pulled out dying and invasive plants, replanted the riverbank with flowers and a strip of lawn, and continue to maintain it as a public park. A couple of benches invite people to sit and enjoy the view — which I did for a few minutes before getting back on the bus. What a great location for a private garden and a shared public garden.
Up next: Playing around in Rotary Botanical Gardens. For a look back at the clematis-happy garden of Janet Aaberg, click here.
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