Watch for brake lights when driving the quiet lane past the Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, home of Dale and Joan Jeanquart. It's hard for drivers to resist stomping on the brakes when they spot 12-foot-tall people striding through the yard. "They back up and sit awhile," Dale says.
Appropriately named Terra and Cotta, these "overgrown container gardens" stand on skeletons of concrete and metal piping. The giant couple and their dog, Francois, gain their regal stance from long-lasting German terra-cotta pots sprouting sedum, Plectranthus and ornamental grasses.
The pot people reign over a double lot brimming with the imaginative creations of Joan and Dale (a retired cop).
Click ahead to read more about Joan and Dale's creative garden. Pictured: Cotta is an impressive yard warrior.
Koi and pink water lilies fill three water gardens. In the evenings, a fire pit glows from the heart of a sunken sitting area. Surprising works of art wait for guests who take the time to explore dozens of flower beds.
Take the decorative bikes, which are almost a garden cliché. Bikes hanging on walls, not so much. White impatiens flow from the handlebar basket, and dark green leaves twine through the spokes. For parties, Joan and Dale sometimes transform a glass chandelier from flower vase to fish bowl. "The fish are a one-night-stand kind of thing. Afterward, we give them away to friends," Dale says.
Multihued blooms pull it all together. "I like to paint with plants as colors," Dale says. "It really is an art. I do it for myself, to express myself. It's my own garden palette to draw on."
Pictured: Koi add a flash of color to a water garden.
To a canvas of green grass, Dale has applied swaths of sun-loving red bee balm (Monarda) and spots of bold 'Red Volunteer' daylily (Hemerocallis). Down low are the chartreuse leaves of 'Southern Comfort' coral bell (Heuchera), and up high the red-tinged castor bean (Ricinus). Amid all that boldness, subtle purple emerges via ferny love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena) and spiky globe thistle (Echinops). In the inky darkness under maple trees, tall sunny-yellow stalks of Ligularia and leafy green hostas provide contrast.
Fittingly in this varied landscape, serendipity plays its part. Birds plant sunflowers. Vines tangle through bike spokes. "We just go with the flow," Dale says. For instance, one water feature consists of a family heirloom hand pump and an old crock. "The water used to run over the top of the crock. Then a piece broke off, and water flows out the hole. I like it better now."
The garden has evolved over 20 years: Sun-loving plants get moved when trees shade them, and each year brings new specimens. Joan says, "Our gardens are always changing; we never leave anything alone."
One constant, though, is a focus on more blooming beds and less lawn. "Grass is a chore," Dale says. "Flowerbeds are pure joy," Joan concludes.