Accessible Paths in the Garden

Accessible Paths in the Garden

Part of Ep. 1704 Horsetails, Tropicals & Tree Peonies

Visit a Madison garden that is colorful all season long and accessible to people of all abilities. Vaughn James, horticulturist and plant pathologist, is the owner of the garden.

Premiere date: Jun 24, 2009

TRANSCRIPT+
Wisc Gardener Transcript: 

Shelley:
We're near Hoyt Park on the west side of Madison.  I'm in front of the family home of Vaughn James.  Vaughn, you're a horticulturist and plant pathologist.  And this is more than just a family home.  This is, like, the family home.

Vaughn:
Right.  My mom and dad bought this house in 1948.  They were the second owners of the property.  Loved the neighborhood and the house.  Did remodeling over the years, and just stayed here.

Shelley:
So you grew up here.

Vaughn:
I grew up here.  I was away for about 20 years in my own apartment.  And then in 1999, my dad had a disabling stroke.  He did a really good job in therapy and a nursing home.  But after a few months in the nursing home, that just wasn't the way my folks were supposed to be living with him there and my mom at home.  I proposed that we try remodeling the house increase handicap accessibility add an extra bedroom on so I could move in.

Shelley:
Good for you.

Vaughn:
We did that and I moved in to help take care of them.  It never occurred to me that remodeling was going to trash a yard completely.  My dad had loved gardening, so there were a lot of things here in the yard, and over half the yard was just mud.

Shelley:
Oh, yeah.

Vaughn:
Because we added on to both sides of the house it really took care of the yard.

Shelley:
Look at it this way, at least you had a blank slate!

Vaughn:
My mom had always tried to protect the grass and it was gone, so I could start out.  There were some perennials that had always been in the yard that I remembered, so I started with those.  Then I began to think of other things that I wanted to get and diversify and make a plant collection.  I had been working on it over the years to add things.  I really want to have something bloom all season long that it could be possible here in Madison.  Start with a whole bunch of flower bulbs tulips and daffodils and then move through columbine and iris starting to bloom before the tulips are finish.  Day lilies are kind of the next line then fall-blooming asters and ornamental grasses carry us into the season before frost.

Shelley:
And you've got hostas in the backyard.  You've got some native prairie plants, some vegetables a little bit of everything.

Vaughn:
Right, and some woodland wildflowers.  One area of the yard is shadier than the rest so the hostas are wonderful things to put in there.

Shelley:
And it's tied together with these really nice paths.

Vaughn:
I thought it was really important.  My dad had loved the yard so much.  He was in a wheelchair.  It's really hard to roll a wheelchair over a yard no matter how smooth the grass may be.  So I got the idea of putting a path in to make it easier to get around the yard with a wheelchair.  It really turned out to make a backbone for arranging the flower beds around it.

Shelley:
So it worked for everybody.  And it also worked for a four-legged friend, too that hangs out here.

Vaughn:
Yes, I'd grown up with wire fox terriers.  And after my dad was disabled he asked me if we couldn't have a dog.  I just didn't see how we could manage it.  I eventually learned about rescue agencies We got an adult dog who was already house-trained.  So we got this guy named Roscoe.  My dad loved him and I did, too.  Unfortunately, my dad died two months after we had him.

Shelley:
Oh.

Vaughn:
It was kind of like the last gift he gave me because it is so much easier to be living in a house with a lively dog than by myself.

Shelley:
I can vouch for that myself.  I'm glad Roscoe is your garden partner now.

Vaughn:
The garden supervisor.

Shelley:
That's even better! Well, walking back here now I'm looking at one of your color schemes.  It looks like you've got a red and white thing going on here.

Vaughn:
Yeah, any good Badger's got to have red and white in their garden.  I have different color schemes for the tulips in the spring.  And the front of the house is all red and white.  I move in to a lot more blues and purples, reds and pinks.

Shelley:
As the seasons change again.

Vaughn:
Right.  The main element of my color scheme is no orange.

Shelley:
Okay.

Vaughn:
I do love oriental poppies, so they're the allowed orange.

Shelley:
It looks like the tulips are going, but then we've got some of these other colors coming in.  You've got some iris just starting and then beyond them?

Vaughn:
Perennial bachelor's buttons.  Columbine in a variety of colors beyond that.

Shelley:
Beautiful columbine.

Vaughn:
Allium over by bench.

Shelley:
It's interesting to look at all the time.  And then back to the path.  You know, it's a beautiful path.  Let's talk about how you made this because this made this garden accessible to your dad it's an important part of the garden.  Tell me about it.  You put it in yourself.

Vaughn:
I did, I got patio pavers which is pre-cast concrete.  I liked the brown tones.  It's scored on the front so it looks a little bit like brick.  I sure didn't want to tackle this much path with real bricks.

Shelley:
I know!

Vaughn:
I'd buy about 60 at a time, because that's what would fit in the car, weight-wise.  I'd lay them on the ground to get the idea.  No straight lines, with this.

Shelley:
Yeah, nice curves.

Vaughn:
And then cut along the edge of the sod with an edger.

Shelley:
This was just sitting on top of the lawn in many spots.

Vaughn:
Right, yep.  Then I would move them aside so I could get to it.  Used a trowel, edger, shovel, whatever to scoop out the sod and soil underneath it in order to get a flat base layer.  This is pretty much clay here so I figured it was going to be pretty solid.

Shelley:
So no trench, no underlay of gravel or anything?

Vaughn:
In a few areas that were a little bit rougher I put some extra sand down, but not very much.

Shelley:
Just to keep them from rocking.

Vaughn:
In some cases, after I put them in if they were teetering, I'd put sand underneath.  And a little sand in between to help stabilize them.

Shelley:
Okay, so how old is this?

Vaughn:
I did the first half about nine years ago then I extended it the year after that.  They've been really very stable.  In a few areas, the ground settled with the house, so I'd add extra soil underneath to raise them back up.  Sometimes they slide over a bit.  I put my trowel in at the edge and give it a shove to get it back to where I want it to be.

Shelley:
So it truly worked for your dad.

Vaughn:
Yep.

Shelley:
It's truly a labor of love, too.  Thank you.

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