In West Bend the Labyrinth Garden is still blooming with a wide variety of flowers, in a charming park setting. It's a flower photographer's paradise!
The garden features a wide variety of daylilies, and was designated a Daylily Display Garden in 2009 by the American Hemerocallis Society. You'll see them in just about every color.
The garden is open daily during regular park hours, and is free to visit.
If you'd like to take home a bouquet of fresh cut garden flowers, check out these local flower farms:
And, of course, there are all the prairie wildflowers in bloom at your local parks, trails, and preserves. Especially vibrant at this time of year with Goldenrod, Maximillian Sunflower, and Asters. Such beauty!
The answer was right in front of me, but it took a while to come into focus. My mother passed away 12 years ago, on August 27, 2010. The anniversary of her death was coming again, and I was looking for a way to honor her. Or to connect with her, you might say. Her wishes were that her remains be scattered in the St. Croix River, almost 6 hours away from here. And we honored those wishes. But since then, I have struggled to come up with a place to go when I'm missing her.
Over the years I have tried a few different things. More than once, when opportunity presented, I made the drive to the St. Croix and stood on the bridge we scattered her ashes from. I talked to her, took pictures. Cried. I've driven through the little town she lived in during the last decade or so of her life. Considered finding a church and a memorial service. Taken walks in nature, of course. Some years I just sat down with a photo book we made for her 70th birthday and paged through memory lane.
Something struck me as we walked the flower farm. There were sunflowers in all stages of life. Barely a bud, ready to bloom, mid-bloom flower heads, wide open blooms bursting in all their glory, blooms missing a few petals, some missing seeds that have already been feeding the birds, drooping flowers, faded blooms in every fashion, some laying finished on the ground. All of these stages with their own beauty. Their own stories. Their own past, present, and future.
Had I not taken just a few minutes from my day to absorb a little nature, I would have missed all of these little joys. It's amazing how just a bit of fresh air and greenery, some sunshine, and signs of life can improve our day. Help to temper the stress and worry that comes with being human on this planet of ours. It was a good reminder to me, to appreciate what's out there, on my doorstep, and at The Park Next Door.
Thinking back, to nearly a lifetime ago. I was just a kid growing up in St. Paul. During the summers, on weekends mostly, our family would make the drive to Amery, Wisconsin, where my grandparents had a cabin on a lake. It seemed like it was a world away, though it was only about an hours drive.
I loved being there. Among the big pine trees, the wildflowers, waking in the cool of the early mornings to the sound of American Robins singing. My uncle would rake the bottom of the lake along the shore and boat dock so we could wade in and swim. Once in the water there I rarely wanted to come out. The water was clear enough we could stand in it and watch perch swimming quickly past our feet.
I used to fish from the dock, watching the bobber go under water, thrilling to the bend in my fishing rod, reeling it in. Most often it was sunfish, sometimes perch. Sometimes we kept it for eating (though I'm not a fish eater), most often I wrestled up enough courage to hold the fish in my hand to release it from the hook and put it back in the lake. On the drive home I would close my eyes and see that bobber dancing on the surface of the water, then lunge under. I haven't fished in decades, but I can still recall the thrill of it. The peace it can bring, too.
In the evenings the fireflies lit up, dancing among the trees and the wild grasses and flowers that lined the dirt road to the cabin. The air was clear, as was the sky. Stars appeared after dark in numbers I could never imagine seeing from our home in the city. Like magic.
Once back home, evidence of our trip to the woods, to the cabin and the surrounding wilderness, was evident. There crusting over the grill of the family car, and gunked in bits on the windshield were the remains of thousands of bugs.
Moths, mosquitoes, flies, beetles. All met their demise in collision with wind, speed, and heavy moving machinery. It took a little elbow grease and a lot of soap and water to clean them off, but it was a small price to pay for weekends away.
I'm not going to get in to the politics of climate change, clean energy arguments, and all that. Clearly climate change is hard at work, and we need to act. But how to enact a difference in our day to day lives can seem an overwhelming prospect. I'm looking to conservationists and gardeners for inspiration. To the idea of preserving existing, and building new, prairies, and forests. Restoring wetlands, woodlands, and wildflower fields. And to the idea of adding native plants and trees to our existing gardens, no matter how small, in an effort to increase the food and shelter sources for our birds, bees, butterflies, and everything in-between.
In the state of Wisconsin alone we have an abundance of conservancy organizations that have taken up the task of preserving our existing wilderness, and restoring it as well. Gardening organizations and clubs offer information on how to add natural habitat to even the smallest of yards. They provide details on what plants, shrubs, and trees can benefit the wildlife and ecosystems they need to survive, maybe even thrive again.
Community gardens have sprung up in cities and towns, rural and urban. Planting fruits and vegetables for personal sustenance, and to benefit the community at large; insects, animals, and humans alike.
I have a real soft spot for natural areas in Wisconsin that have been built or restored by their owners with a goal of providing wildlife habitat and natural recreation space, along with a plan for preserving the spaces for generations to come. Their passions leave a legacy that will survive long after they have gone. These visionaries come from all walks of life. They create legacies large and small, but all improve the world we live in.
If you're curious about some of these special legacy preserves, check out the new Special Feature Page: LEGACIES OF NATURE, which highlights 18 of these amazing spaces.
They will leave you hopeful, and may inspire you to join or support these types of projects as well.
The nature trail itself has been a community based labor of love and green space since it began in 2009. In the decade plus since its beginnings, the trail has evolved into a splendid natural habitat that includes native prairie, a boardwalk and deck area, a woodland trail, an outdoor classroom area, and multiple seating areas and benches meant for peaceful nature viewing. Wildlife visitors here include deer, birds, rabbits, butterflies, wild turkeys, bees, cicadas, grasshoppers, field mice, and more.
All photos by Kimberly Mackowski / The Park Next Door
I love this part of summer. Everything is broadcasting in technicolor. Gardens blooming, prairies adorned with wildflowers and butterflies, sunflower fields tall and abundant with cheer. From the simplest container of summer flowers to fields of Coneflowers and Milkweed, and everything in-between. If you live in the Midwest, you know to savor these days. You'll want to remember them in the depths of January, trust me.
There are brilliant displays of summer blooms to be found at local cutting flower and sunflower farms. For a list of these, check out our newest feature, Sunflower Season. I recently visited a couple of them and I'm sharing some highlights below.
If you're in the mood for a short road trip, check out these beautiful spaces in the Two River/Manitowoc area. You'll find a blossoming new Arboretum and Bird Sanctuary, a formal garden along Lake Michigan with a mid-century modern vibe, and a bit of ancient adventure along the Niagara Escarpment of caves and ledges and nature trails. Happy travels, my friends!
There's something so appealing about a path that just seems to invite you in. It doesn't have to be a long trail. It doesn't need to go on for miles. It doesn't have to climb to a majestic vista. But being sheltered on either side of a trail by trees, grasses, wildflowers, and streams, ahhhhh, that transports me to another world. A more peaceful, breathable world.
Now that summer is in full-swing, the desire to get out and savor its best offerings feels amplified. I have lists of all sorts of wonderful places to explore. Recently, I discovered the glorious wooded trail behind a local family-friendly park in Brookfield, visited a lush lakeside trail in Whitewater, and made a stop at a thirst-quenching free flowing artesian spring well just minutes away from that lakeside trail. I spent an afternoon in Bayview reveling in the urban beauty of Humboldt Park, and took a short trip to Kenosha to visit an enchanting nature preserve just off I-94. It was the perfect spot to enjoy the coolness of the woods on a 90+ degree day.
For a quick look at new additions to The Park Next Door, check out the What's New page. Here you'll find a photo gallery of newer listings, with links to the individual pages for each location. More new features are to come as well.
The trails are calling!
I love spending time in parks and nature preserves, admiring the plants and trees and wildlife. So it makes sense that I'm trying to incorporate those same natural things into our backyard habitat. When we moved into our house four years ago, we were lucky to get a bigger yard than our previous house, but, of course, we knew we would have to put in some work. And we've accomplished quite a bit. But, as any gardener would know, there's always something more to do.
This spring was so slow in coming. Finally, the weather warmed up, and everything seemed to turn green in the blink of an eye. We observed a "No Mow May", and let the grass grow, and the dandelions flourish. The early pollinators were well-served in our habitat this season.
But when it came time to mow, and get to weeding, it was a little overwhelming. Especially since our lawnmower tanked out. Fortunately, we were able to borrow one from our in-laws, and the grass is looking tidier. Well, shorter anyway. But as far as invasive weeds go, we're still working on it.
It made me wonder if we should hire some goats to graze in our yard. The hiring of a herd of goats has become a sound way of removing invasive weeds and overgrowth. It's environmentally beneficial - no chemicals or fossil fuels are used in the process, the goats have a minimal carbon footprint, they leave behind a beneficial, pre-pelleted quick to dissolve composting fertilizer that benefits all plants and animals in the local ecosystem, and it would be a lot easier on my back.
But, seriously. I recently spent part of an afternoon at Elm Grove Village Park, where they hired a herd of goats to graze and clear a section of the park that needed work. It would have been very labor intensive, and cost prohibitive to do it any other way. The benefits were great, they were good workers, and everyone who passed by the area where the goats were grazing enjoyed their presence immensely. Both kids and adults (including me).
I spoke to one of the owners of the grazing business, Grazing Goats Wisconsin. She explained to me that the goat crew at Elm Grove Park consisted of 40 goats, mostly adults, with some young ones, as they need to remain with their parents. Grazing is a family trait after all. They can forage between 150-200 lbs of roughage and vegetation per day. I watched in amazement as they moved through the area, eating leaves, chewing on sticks, invasive weeds and Buckthorn being demolished in a completely environmentally friendly way. There are a multitude of situations where grazing goats are extremely beneficial. Check out their website for more details. Here's a short gallery of some of the adorable grazing goats.
We're trying hard to plant as many native plants, trees, and shrubs in our garden as we can, in an effort to benefit local wildlife and the local ecosystem. It doesn't mean we don't have non-native plants, but we try to avoid non-native invasives, and there were some plants already there when we moved in. That said, we're not experts. Gardening can be so rewarding, but it can also be overwhelming. We research and decide on plants that we think will work, and I go to the garden center, and then every bit of knowledge and research I've done just vanishes. Poof! So I wander the aisles and read labels and feel totally defeated. Usually I end up buying some annuals instead, take them home, put them in some pots, make the patio look festive and colorful. But the garden needs work. What to do?
Get out two of my favorite books about gardening for wildlife. The Humane Gardener by Nancy Lawson, and Nature's Best Hope by Douglas W. Tallamy. Both of these books discuss the value of gardening for wildlife, and they do it in very approachable ways. They tell their stories, they break it down. They give examples. They remind you not to panic. Take it step by step. One section of garden at a time. Both are doing their best to educate and inspire gardeners of all kinds to include native plants, flowers, trees and shrubs in their landscapes. Gardening for wildlife not only benefits wildlife, but ourselves as well. Re-reading their books, I can make a list for myself. Refresh my memory as to what plants to look for. And, often, it turns out, I'm already familiar with a lot of the native plants they recommend.
More help is usually available at local perennial farms and garden centers. When I'm really puzzled, I visit some of my favorite greenhouses for help. They will know what plants are natives, what invasives to avoid, what plants complement each other. Invaluable information.
I try to go with a specific area in mind so that I can explain what I'm working with. And what I hope to accomplish. Also, never underestimate the benefit of a Smartphone and one of the plant apps available. I use PlantNet. It's been very helpful in separating weeds from the good stuff as it pops up in the garden.
Two of my recent favorite local perennial garden shops are: Northwind Perennial Farm, in Burlington, and Genetti Gardens & Gallery, in Delafield. They are two distinctly different shops, but both are extremely helpful, and knowledgeable. On top of that, the grounds at each are so beautiful. I could wander at each one all day.
Northwind Perennial Farm: Just wandering the incredible landscaped grounds will leave you feeling peaceful and inspired. Every time I visit I discover something new. They grow their own perennials, they do garden and landscape design, they know their stuff. The farm is charming, and the shop features all kinds of amazing nature and gardening related art and gifts. They offer different workshops and events throughout the year as well. Here's a short gallery of photos from a recent visit.
Genetti Gardens & Gallery: Master gardener and sculpture artist, Joeann Genetti-Teeple, has built something beautiful and inspiring both in her gardens and her gallery. Her art studio and shop reside here, along with the gardens, which are officially considered a "pocket park". Her sculptures are integrated within the landscape, along with a multitude of other inspiring garden art, plants and decor. She sells perennial plants, and is available to hire for specialty garden design projects as well as custom sculpture and lighting designs. I could spend hours just taking in the beauty of the gardens here, and Joeann is a true delight. Here's a short gallery of a recent visit.
We've got some gardening challenges ahead for us, but with resources like these, and a bit of hard work (and maybe some goats?), we'll get there. Happy Gardening, Friends!
Well, it may be late, but spring has finally arrived in Southeastern Wisconsin, and the bursting of color onto the landscape is nearly intoxicating. One day there were buds on the trees, the next the trees were in full-leaved glory. Spring wildflowers began to rise, and migrating birds began to arrive. Wondrous!
In March of this year, there were 180 listings of green spaces in Wisconsin on The Park Next Door. My goal was to reach 200 by the end of May. I'm happy to say that goal was reached Memorial Day Weekend!
The last four entries definitely highlight the advent of spring and all its glory. And they prove, once again, that Wisconsin is a beautiful place to be. From Oconomowoc, to Whitewater, Rock County, and Horicon; from nature centers and conservancies, to county parks. All of these green spaces offer peace, beauty, fresh air, and hiking trails for the wanderer in all of us.
NATURE HILL NATURE CENTER - Oconomowoc
I ventured out to Oconomowoc recently to hike the trails at Nature Hill Nature Center. The preserve is owned by the Oconomowoc Area School District, and is located next to Nature Hill Intermediate School. It is used by the school for outdoor/ecology education, and available to the public for trail hiking. The preserve includes prairie, forest, and some marsh area in its terrain. The forested trails, in particular, I found very lovely. With the advent of spring and summer the prairie soon will be. Read More:
ADAM BIRDING CONSERVANCY - Whitewater
As a birder, especially during migration seasons, I aspire to go where the birds go. Adam Birding Conservancy was founded in 2015 by David Adam, along with support from various conservation organizations. It is a privately-held 331 acre mix of prairie, wetlands, and woods, along the Bark River, in Cold Spring, about three miles north of Whitewater. They have documented over 200 species of birds within the site, along with other wildlife.
MAGNOLIA BLUFF COUNTY PARK - Evansville
If you're looking for a handsome bluff view, you can find one (two, even) at Magnolia Bluff County Park, in Rock County. This 120 acre park, just south of Evansville, features hiking trails, horseback riding trails, and stunning views for all. Located in the hilly western upland region of Rock County, the park features beautiful rock outcroppings and vistas. Read More:
LEDGE COUNTY PARK - Horicon
I've made many trips to Horicon over the years, most often to visit Horicon Marsh. This time we made the trip to Horicon specifically to visit Ledge County Park, and it was so worth the effort!
The park is 82 acres, and lies along the Niagara Escarpment. This natural rock ledge divides the park into upper and lower areas, and, from the upper ledge, provides stunning views of the not too distant Horicon Marsh. Views of the beautiful area can be seen from both the upper and lower ledges.
For weeks we checked the migration progress at Birdcast.info. Watching for any sign that spring migration has begun and the birds are headed our way. Beginning in mid-March the tracker goes live, and we stare out the backyard window in anticipation. Little by little they trickle in. A White-crowned Sparrow here, an American Robin there.
The weather teases spring, then falters. It snows again. Ugh. The Robin's that have arrived look pissed as the snowflakes swirl down. Thankfully, it doesn't stick around too long. And, really, they take it in stride. Probably better than we do. When dawn comes, they sing.
The regulars, Goldfinches in particular, start to change from their winter wardrobe into spring. Their feathers turning brighter shades of golden yellow.
The House Finches seem more animated. A Swainson's Thrush arrives. Then a Brown Thrasher. A pair of Red-breasted Nuthatches stop by. Things are picking up.
Birding clubs are gearing up for World Migratory Bird Day, which takes place on May 14, in 2022. Some celebrations begin the weekend before, some start on the 14th. Binoculars and birding journals are at the ready. Pocket guides in hand. We sit on the darkened patio at night and listen for the bird calls as they fly overhead. We marvel at the tracking details. Nearly 3 million birds fly over in one night.
We've joined in these celebrations in years past. But for the past few years, since we moved to our current house, and, more importantly, our current backyard, we have had our own migratory celebrations. The birds have become incredibly dependable.
Every year, for the past four years, they have switched on their landing gear and touched down in our city backyard in numbers on May 10. Every year since we moved in we have added to our landscape - more native bushes, plants, added another birdbath. We use felled tree branches and stumps to frame out our garden borders. Injecting a bit of wilderness for the wild things. It seems to be working.
This year, like clockwork, the arrivals began mid-morning on May 10, and continued all day long. Tennessee Warblers, Baltimore Orioles, Great Crested Flycatchers. Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, a Gray Catbird, a Chesnut-sided Warbler, and American Redstart. It was hard to leave the yard for even a few minutes, lest we miss something.
The arrivals continued busily on May 11. More Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Song Sparrows, Chipping Sparrows, a Ruby-throated Hummingbird. More Baltimore Orioles, and Yellow Orioles, too. A Least Flycatcher, Cardinals, of course. A Blue Jay. A Magnolia Warbler. There was continuous action all day long.
As the days go on, the numbers have decreased. But the appearances continue. A Red-wing Blackbird, lots of Common Grackles, more White-Crowned and White-throated Sparrows stop by. The House Wren's have moved back into the neighborhood for the summer. Today a pair of Swainson's Thrushes made their way through the habitat, and a Gray Catbird enjoyed a birdbath. A Least Flycatcher darted from tree to bush to log to fence, catching a nice menu of bugs for dinner. The Ruby-throated Hummingbird stopped by for a drink at the fountain. Just when you think the surprises are over, there is another.
The volume of new visitors will subside as the days go on, they will continue on to their summer nesting destinations, and we will have to wait again until fall, when some of them stop by on their way south. But in the meantime, the summer regulars will begin nesting, and soon we will see fledglings following the parent birds around, begging for food, and learning how to find their own. And we'll head out to the parks to visit the birds in their own habitats, too. How lucky we are.
A traveler, singer, novice photographer, humane gardener, and nature lover.