Shady oasis with folk art and inviting central patio

July 20, 2022

Jim Otney and Jay Hathaway have hideaways in the lushly planted and decorated gardens. Located at the end of a dead-end street in picturesque Stoughton, Wisconsin, 20 miles southeast of Madison, the garden is hidden behind a screen of trees and shrubs. A winding path leads you downstairs before delivering you to a pergola-shaded patio in the middle of the garden.

As one of the last gardens on the Madison Fling Tour last month, and the last private garden we visited, it offered plenty of comfortable and cool places for weary flingers to sit and enjoy the view.

Looking around today, I can hardly imagine the “before” story of their garden:

“When we bought the house, the ‘yard’ was an uneventful field of weeds, an oil change sand pit, piles of old tires, clothes lines, volunteer trees in haphazard positions and various invasive plants. We turned over the whole lot by hand, and starting with several small beds along the banks and foundation yews, we transformed the lot.”

Over the next 25 years, the couple turned that old auto repair dumping ground into a “personal escape and a place where we could entertain small groups of friends.”

If they make the audience laugh along the way, so much the better.

The garden invites you to explore for found object art and decorations at every turn. Old signs, repurposed tools, clusters of pots, hanging flower baskets, glass ornaments, spouted jugs and water features add humor, wildlife habitat and hits of color.

Beaded garden art like sparklers

@bookishgardener’s Chan strolls by the house.

Inviting central courtyard

Another scene with Jim and Jay’s red room in the background

Lily and a wind chime

In one corner, a metal gazebo with string lights has a whimsical collection of…

…head planters, like this cigar-chomping grump.

And smiling goddess

A classical head implanter

and a Zen-style head

Looks like it was a rough night.

A few sunny spots have been jazzed up by crybabies.

Lori of @loridauldesign — Wearing sweaters in late June — seems to be pondering his options for staying cool in Wisconsin all summer versus going home to heat-sweltering Austin. (Or was that just me?)

YouTube channel Sun&Snow’s Donna and Good Environmental News’ Idol, both from Colorado, relax in the Adirondacks.

Hostas and glass garden art

Each path offers lush planting and light garden art.

I like this little call face with slag glass and rocks.

Old tools mix with vintage garden art to create a rust 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 quirky expressions are part of their traditional appeal.

The second floor deck offers a squirrel’s eye view of the garden.

Just a few yards from the garden, the tranquil Yahara River is overlooked by a small park. With the city’s permission, over the past few years Jim and Jay have pulled out dead and invasive plants, replaced the riverbank with a strip of flowers and lawns, and continue to maintain it as a public park. A few 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.

Next: Living in the moment at the Rotary Botanical Garden. For a look back at Janet Aberg’s clematis-happy garden, click here.

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

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