East meets Midwest in the garden of Linda Brazill and Mark Golbach, Part 1

July 06, 2022

In 2010, my husband traveled to Madison for the IRONMAN Wisconsin race (which he finished!), and I tagged along as a cheerleader. Oh and to see the garden. I’ve been a big fan of Linda Brazil and Mark Golbach’s design-focused blog Itch Little World and had met them at the Chicago Garden Bloggers Fling the previous year, so I got in touch. Mark and Linda kindly invited us for lunch in their Asian-inspired garden, which blew me away even though I took a few photos. Linda also generously spent a day showing me around the lovely public gardens in Madison while David prepared for the race.

So when I returned to Madison in late June for this year’s Fling, I was thrilled to see Linda and Mark’s garden on the itinerary. This time I will be taking lots of pictures, so many that I need two posts to share them. For Part 1, let’s take a tour of the front garden, starting with these rock-slab steps through natural boulders that lead you from the driveway to the main garden.

These massive boulders look like they’ve always been here, right? no Linda and Mark hired master rock worker Matt Wiene to place them and put driveway pavers around them, leaving the cracks that Linda had planted. Boulders ground the garden, give a sense of continuity and create a dramatic yet natural-looking entrance.

Linda and Mark’s home opens to the lowest level of their sloping front yard, with the front door next to the garage. You climb stone steps to reach the main front garden, or access it via a wheelbarrow-friendly path close to the road.

I hope Linda and Mark don’t mind me sharing their garden map from their blog. It’s helpful to orient yourself and see the overall design, which they’ve perfected over the past 28 years — and adapted as it ages and requires less maintenance. Mark and Linda each have an artistic eye. They designed the garden themselves and did almost all the work to build it. Even when they employ muscle and skill, like the boulder-driveway project, they work side-by-side with their helpers to get the job done to their exacting standards.

In the front garden, a cupped boulder-turned fountain reflects the tree canopy in its dark mirror.

Stone steps lead to a gravelled gravel garden, part of a yin/yang circle in the center of the front yard.

The lighter colored pebble is Yang, if I have it right. The planted area is yin. A dark-gravel path curves around the circle, which Linda and Mark call their Moon Garden. Shade-loving groundcovers, perennials, shrubs and understory trees fill shady borders with lush greenery.

There are no flowers here, but who could miss them among all the gorgeous shades of green, blue, gold and silver leaves.

A balanced rock sculpture looks like a stone lantern. The influence of Japanese gardens is strong.

A wider view

Yin/Yang details

The gravel was perfectly raked without a fallen leaf when we arrived. Mark and Linda make it look easy, but I have an idea how much work goes into pulling off something this beautifully restrained, especially in a forest setting.

And no, it’s not a fallen branch in this ground level bird bath. Linda put it there to give the birds a perch while they bathed or waited their turn. He says that once he started placing a branch across the bird bath, it attracted more birds. I am now trying it on a ceramic birdbath in my own garden.

A red gravel path winds through the lower Moon Garden, where mounded groundcovers take the place of lawns.

A round-bellied pot with a skirt of greenish-white leaves under a small tree attracts the eye.

The path below takes you back to the driveway, where I stopped to admire the narrow but luxuriantly planted border between the driveway and the neighbors’ yards. A crumbling architectural ruin – a roof top? — marks the entrance to a side road

Color-blocked groundcover and a variety of trees supported by rounded shrubs and boulders keep the garden flowing towards the street.

Another boulder with an indented top must have served as a makeshift bird bath after rain.

Textural conifers are supported by a tall bush with red deciduous leaves

Ferns and ‘Jack Frost’ Brunera – shade garden bounties

Take a closer look at the re-cracked fern fronds

On one side of the Moon Garden, Mark built this pagoda-like tower from recycled limestone blocks.

The path leads gently uphill, past the tower to the side garden.

It passes a large bell hanging from a tree, along with a nice stick to ring it.

He looks back at the road

A path of cut stone blocks runs along the side of the house, which is adorned with a line of glazed bowls.

The lichen gives the stone its own appearance.

A path of rounded stepping stones and offset slabs forces you to pay attention to your feet as you enter the rear garden.

And then you look and see this. Next time, in Part 2!

Next up: A cobbled pebble “pond”, a tea house, and a serene walking garden make Linda and Mark’s back garden a contemplative retreat, in Part 2. To see the Fling’s kickoff at a rooftop garden and people back at the Fling, click here.

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All material © 2022 by Pam Penick for Excavation. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

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