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Garden Photo of the Day

Chris’s HOME garden in Wisconsin

Looking from the heckstrip garden to the front of the house. Calamint (loved by pollinators), 'Pamina' Japanese anemone, etc.

5-24-2014: Cut hole in sod, flip over around hole, add a boatload of compost to soil below, plant banana or elephant ear. Repeat. In the background, Pam is moving plants from her white garden as the city will be removing the ash (destroying everything else around it) and replacing it with a tree not susceptible to the emerald ash borer.

6-14-2014: Finished digging all holes, flipping the sod, adding compost, planting plants and rhizomes, edging the sidewalk and then bevelling the bed edges and using the flipped sod from that to fill the space between the holes. Now we will add 4 inches of leaf mulch and it will be ready to go.

9-6-2014: Happy jungle in a Madison heckstrip. I've had more people stop and ask about this garden than anything else we've done. One guy made his girlfriend stop and back up the car so he could get a better look. Five varieties of elephant ear, 'Gran Nain' bananas, 'Red King Humbert' canna, and 'Margarita' sweet potato.

A few of the containers on our patio. 'Smallwoods Driveway' coleus, 'Gryphon' begonia, golden pineapple sage, 'Keystone Kopper' coleus, 'Mojito' elephant ear.

Turtle planter from Mexico with sedum.

Circle onion (Allium senescens var. glaucum) in rock garden.

'Margarete' Japanese anemone with annual 'Purple Knight' alternanthera

Front garden from porch, looking east. Blooming now – smooth aster, zig-zag goldenrod, black-eyed Susan, and fading purple coneflower.

Bumble bee upside down on zig-zag goldenrod

Bulblet bladder fern, celandine poppy, and dwarf fothergilla.

'Pamina' Japanese anemone.

Early this spring, Chris Neumann shared a bunch of photos of the gardening he does at work (refresh your memory HERE.) Today we get to see what he's up to at home! He says, "My wife, Pam, and I live in Madison, Wisconsin, in a house built on a standard city lot measuring about a tenth of an acre. The house and garage take up much of the lot but it's on a corner so we have a terrace on two sides, giving us a little more room to garden. Our gardening style might best be described as eclectic. On one hand we have a mini-savanna, micro-woods, nano-mesic-prairie, and pico-sand-prairie all modeled after and planted to flora of native Wisconsin plant communities. On the other hand, we have a rock garden, shade garden, and other beds and planters with annuals, perennials, and tropicals from all over the world. We've been here 18 years now and in that time we've taken out two trees and much lawn and planted six new trees and many perennials. Gone is the Colorado blue spruce which was threatening both the house and passersby and no more is the sickly plum, doomed by a former owner who built a raised bed around the tree, burying its roots and base. We put in two serviceberries, a pagoda dogwood, two redbuds, and a bur oak. The bur oak was a one-foot-tall seedling when planted and now, 16 years later, it is 35 feet tall.
     A word about what Madisonians call the 'terrace'. This is the area between the sidewalk and the street. In Chicago, we called it the 'parkway'. I know many gardeners use the term 'hellstrip'. Ours is rather wide and the soil not too bad, so I just call it the heckstrip. We've made the heckstrip out front over into perennial beds. We'd only gotten around to redoing about a third of the side strip so I figured it would be a good place to put our tropicals. This would free up our small patio, which we had originally built to hold two chairs and a bistro table, but it immediately filled up with potted plants. A couple of my photos show the process of converting the heckstrip from lawn to tropical garden. In the trichotomy of right way, wrong way, and crazy way to do something, this definitely falls in the crazy way. Unfortunately, in addition to our overwintered cannas and elephant ears, I decided to add three banana trees and three new kinds of elephant ears to this bed. Thus we had enough plants leftover that there was still no room to sit on the patio. Maybe next year." Ha! The heckstrip. So funny!! Chris, your garden is awesome–beautiful, fun, and a laboratory for experimenting. It's all-around great!!

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View Comments


  1. PerenniallyCrazy 09/19/2014

    In total AWE of your garden, gardening skills and garden designs Chris and Pam! Makes for a happy home and marriage too it seems.

    Also love your containers and that turtle planter from Mexico, i don't think there's not one photo that I don't love in your post. Please come back with more.

  2. mjensen 09/19/2014


  3. User avater
    Tim_Zone_Denial_Vojt 09/19/2014

    Chris, This is great. The gardens are beautiful, your home is cool with great curb-appeal, I mean, great terrace-appeal....Those containers are stunning. I'm so addicted to coleus. I demand to see more and more seasons! :) Please?

    Michelle: Wow! Jackpot. some of these photos show up so big on my iPad that I have to pinch them down to see the entire image! Thanks again for experimenting.

    1. Chris N 09/19/2014

      I love coleus. They are workhorses both at home and at work. So many great colors and some of the new leaf shapes are out of this world. Plus they come in large, medium and trailing. I know even if flowers fail on other plants, the coleus will still be there to provide interest.

  4. GGal 09/19/2014

    Really enjoyed your progression of pictures of preparing your "heckstrip". it is informative to see how other gardeners prep a new bed. The way you beveled the edge makes great sense. I bet it feels like being in the tropics when you walk along your bit of sidewalk with all the plantings in full force.

    1. Chris N 09/19/2014

      This is the first time I've done it like this. For our other beds we just smothered the lawn with fall leaves. I put up a cheap, wire fence, the kind you can get at any hardware or box store with the overlapping hoops, and fill the bed with a foot or more of leaves. Then I post my sign saying: "City! Please don't take these leaves!" since, even with the fence, they have in the past. One time my son looked out the window and saw them loading up all the leaves they'd just pulled off our bed. He threw on a pair of shoes and then chased the crew to the other end of the block where there was an actual leaf pile. One of the guys apologized and they drove back to the house and dumped off leaves which my son then raked back over the bed! Remember, train your kids right!

      1. Chris N 09/19/2014

        Forgot to mention. We plant right through the leaves in the spring. Edging and beveling the bed right away is a good idea. I know as I've tried to do it the other way after the bed was filled with perennials. Does not work well.

  5. User avater
    meander1 (Michaele ) 09/19/2014

    I know for sure, Chris and Pam, that I would be one of those people who would come to a screeching halt to look at your heckstrip more closely. If either of you were outside within sight, I would have to say aloud my, "oohs and ahhs"...otherwise, I wold probably scribble a note of "official commendation" (ha) and stick it in your mailbox! I could't quite tell from your commentary if you dig up the banana plants to bring inside for over wintering or do you just mulch the holy heck over them? Love your coleus selections and how you have paired them up.

    1. Chris N 09/19/2014

      Allegedly, there is a banana that is hardy in Wisconsin. But, as you suggested, you have to pile 4 feet of mulch over it. I may be crazy but not that crazy. We'll dig them up, cut off the leaves, stick them in black plastic bags and let them lie dormant in the basement.

  6. NCYarden 09/19/2014

    YES! Way to rid yourself of grass. The plants are so much more exciting and appealing. A very tropical vibe too, especially considering the locale - well done. And how pleasant to see such teamwork. The garden is so good for bringing people together, whether it be spouses, or even just friends. Now, start working your way down the street in each of those strips. Ha. thank you for sharing.

    1. Chris N 09/19/2014

      With a few rare exceptions, I believe the purpose of grass is to hold the soil in place until you can think of something more interesting to put there.

  7. greengenes 09/19/2014

    What a team! And a nice job! I always thought if I lived in town or a suburb that I would for sure end up gardening to the edge of the road. Its great to see the progression. We have a garden guru here in western Washington, Cisco Morris, who had planted everywhere he can and it has gone all the way to the street, and up and down along it. Its a great way to add to your town and we as lookie looz love to see it! Have fun! And thanks for sharing!

    1. Nurserynotnordstroms 09/19/2014

      Cisco just within the last two weeks on his radio show admitted his driveway is stuffed full of pots. I guess there's always more garden space to eek out if somewhere.

      1. greengenes 09/19/2014

        Yes, I would probably be the same way! How about the rooftop gardening! I admit it that Iam a plant junkie!

  8. user-7006958 09/19/2014

    Very nice! Very informative too! It is not about how much you have, but it is about what you do with it! Small lot! Great ideas! Love the tropical heckstrip!

  9. azulverde 09/19/2014

    That is a heckuva heckstrip, bold and exciting! I would have thought it is somewhere in Florida had I not seen the title. Good work!

  10. hontell 09/19/2014

    Chris,Pam, awesome garden, Michelle, a perfect day for large clear pictures, great friday all aorund

  11. Nurserynotnordstroms 09/19/2014

    Chris and Pam, your photos are so bright and lovely on our dark cloudy morning here in the Pacific Northwest. I love the coleus ,do you take cuttings and over winter them?i have never tried but I think I may this year(I guess it's really easy) The progressive heckstrip pictures were so fun to see. You must look at them in aw of how fast everything filled on and how perfect it turned out.
    I can totally relate to filling spots with pots (I think I'm a pot addict Ha ha)but each one is a new mini garden. Thank you for giving my morning a big boost of cheer.

    1. Chris N 09/19/2014

      Sometimes we take cuttings but almost all our indoor space is taken up with house plants. They go outside in the summer, grow bigger and then we try to figure out how to fit them back inside in the fall.We've taken coleus cuttings before and they are easy.

  12. lynn_felici_gallant 09/19/2014

    WOW! Lovin' the former hellstrip. It's simply heavenly now.

  13. GrannyMay 09/19/2014

    Wow, Chris you and Pam don't do things by halves! No surprise that the heck-strip is a traffic stopper, it is gorgeous! Love your turtle planter and your other special plants and containers too. Do you have any tips for overwintering cannas and elephant ears?

    1. Chris N 09/19/2014

      There are lots of methods but the easiest for cannas is to cut off the stem, shake the dirt off the rhizomes and put them in a black plastic trash bag with some moist peat moss. Don't seal the bag. Store somewhere between 45-60 degrees. We use our basement which stays quite cool. You can divide the rhizomes in the spring. One year we just cut the tops off of one we had in a pot and put the whole thing in the basement. Threw a little water on it once a month if we remembered. It worked.

      Elephant ears can be trickier. If they are alocasias, the kind that form trunks, they are easy. Cut off the leaves, trim back the roots, throw them in a bag in a cool place and ignore them. Or use them as a big house plant.

      The colocasias can be divided into two groups, the ones that form nice bulbs and the ones that hate us. The ones that form obvious bulbs can be treated like cannas. Sometimes they just get swellings at the base. Try trimming back the leaves and roots and use the peat moss system. Sometimes they just rot and sometimes they dry out. If they rot, compost them. If they are dried out, pot them up anyway. Sometimes they are merely dead, not really most sincerely dead and they pop back up. I've had pieces I threw in the compost start growing.

      The ones that don't form bulbs, or that need to grow two or three years old before they form a bulb, can be overwintered inside where they will sulk and each new set of leaves will be smaller than the last and millions of spider mites will attack them. If they survive until it is warm enough to move them back outside they will usually recover.

      1. GrannyMay 09/19/2014

        Thank you Chris! I have a lovely Colocasia esculenta 'Madeira' that is a first for me. I haven't seen this one before, and worry I might not find another next spring, so would like to try saving it. Luckily I put it into a pot by itself, so I'll just try growing it indoors over the winter.

  14. wittyone 09/19/2014

    Love your heckstrip and the color of your house. On our next trip to Madison to visit relatives I will be trolling the streets to find your house and just look and look. What a selection of plants to check out!

    The Smallwoods Driveway Coleus (what a name?) is just gorgeous and I have written it down as one to track down for next spring.

    Such a good job you and Pam have done.

    Michelle: the enlarged pictures are a wonder to behold and so appreciated!

  15. Cenepk10 09/19/2014

    How fun is that heckstrip plantings with the house colors !!! i want to see them together so I can get the same effect as the mesmerized passers by !!! Such a beautiful garden !!!!

  16. Schatzi 09/20/2014

    Not only are you a genius and ingenious gardener, you have a delightful sense of humor! Your tropical garden in Madison Wis is a marvel. But it sounds like a lot of work to over-winter the plants. I loved the various pots and coleus and Japanese anemones and.... I got a kick out of the "most sincerely dead" comment. Love it all!

  17. Schatzi 09/20/2014

    P.S. didn't get a chance to check my email until night - spent the day getting educated at the WA state master gardeners conference. Awesome!

  18. Spring_y 09/20/2014

    Wow. I will call you, "The Gutsy Gardener". Your feat is not for the faint of heart.

  19. thevioletfern 09/20/2014

    Wonderful! I planted a Pagoda Dogwood and this year it is loaded with berries - I love it! Love Redbuds, too. Aw heck, I love the heck strip, too! Do you overwinter your Ears by letting the bulb go dormant or do you allow the plant to grow?

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