The Artful Gardener: The Legacy of Jan Wos

The Artful Gardener: The Legacy of Jan Wos

Part of Ep. 2003 The Artful Gardener: The Legacy of Jan Wos

The late Jan Wos shared his talents and passions with the Wisconsin Gardener.  Join Shelley Ryan for this tribute and a look back at Jan’s creative uses of junk, painting in picture frames and pairing wine and chocolate with plants.  Janusz Kuzma, Jan Wos's right-hand man, discusses the future of the Mayflower Greenhouse in Hobart.

Premiere date: May 09, 2012

TRANSCRIPT+
Wisc Gardener Transcript: 

Wisconsin Public Television

Transcript: Wisconsin Gardener #2003 The Artful Gardener: The Legacy of Jan Wos

 

 

Shelley Ryan:

In May of 2011, Wisconsin lost a brilliant horticulturist the talented artistic owner of Mayflower Greenhouse in Hobart, Wisconsin, Jan Wos. Welcome to The Wisconsin Gardener. I'm Shelley Ryan. Today we're going to celebrate Jan's life and his incredible influence on gardeners throughout Wisconsin. Jan was a frequent guest on The Wisconsin Gardener and there's a reason for that. He was charismatic creative in his use of plants, colors, and even containers. And he was just plain fun. We're going to share some of our favorite segments today. Jan could turn junk into high fashion container gardens, and loved showing others how to plant their own junk. He also planted flowers in picture frames and hanging them on the wall. True, living art. In one of my favorite segments "Plants That Go with Wine and Chocolate," Jan shows off some wonderful color combinations in containers and a very thorough knowledge of wine! Throughout the program, we'll talk with other gardeners who continue to carry on Jan's legacy in the garden. It's all coming up on The Wisconsin Gardener.

 

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SEGMENT #1 CREATING GREAT CONTAINERS FROM “JUNK”

 

Shelley Ryan:

We're in the middle of a very special greenhouse. This is Mayflower Greenhouse in Green Bay. I'm with owner, Jan Wos. Jan received his Masters in Floriculture from Poland. You're kind of famous in these parts for using unusual containers.

 

Jan Wos:

Yeah, we kind of create our own market with the container gardening. We try to use very different and unusual types of containers. Our policy is, if it doesn't move, plant it. If it moves, plant it anyway, but make it fast.

 

Shelley Ryan:

I better start moving! I've heard you've planted some very strange things. You mentioned the golf bag.

 

Jan Wos:

We planted a few golf bags, swings, chairs kitchen sinks, suitcases broken bird bath bases, anything. You name it, just imagination, it's unlimited.

 

Shelley:

You said "suitcase," I don't believe it. Make this pretty.

 

Jan Wos:

Oh yeah, we will! First, you need to make drainage holes. Otherwise, there will be problems with the plants later. So, we just need to drill this suitcase. We'll be using a high-porosity mix. It has excellent proportion between air and the water.

 

Shelley:

A very light soil.

 

Jan Wos:

This is very, very important. It's composed of bark, perlite, vermiculite and some other agents.

 

Shelley:

You use good stuff, basically.

 

Jan Wos:

Absolutely. Create your container, basically, based on contrast. Use colors and contrast, like look at this trailing black coleus with this beautiful chartreuse edges. Instant effect.

 

Shelley:

Right there, yeah, that's beautiful.

 

Jan Wos:

Same with this pair. Those plants, they work perfectly. I don't think it would work right here.

 

Shelley:

They're the same, but they're beautiful.

 

Jan Wos:

So, let's get going. What I like to do first-- I like to call it, "plant it dry." Put your plants together, and if you like it, good. If not, well, change it. We start it right here with Black Magic Colocasia. Excellent contrast with those plants. We can start putting here the black trailing coleus.

 

Shelley:

This is going to trail over the edge?

 

Jan Wos:

Absolutely. This is a new plant on the market, Silver Falls dichondra. Plant the container for full sun.

 

Shelley:

Everything is full sun.

 

Jan Wos:

Absolutely. And right now, you have the echoing. Let's break this up a little bit right here with this grass. Right away, you get a really nice effect.

 

Shelley:

So, we're also contrasting. We've got very thin upright leaves. We have broad flat leaves, and then the more delicate. Don't plant all the same thing.

 

Jan Wos:

Absolutely. Otherwise, it basically will disappear. Using different textures and different colors you will make it more dramatic. And they're really very, very highly visible. We needed some trailing. We have the uprights, so now we need the trailing. Of course, it would be kind of nice to echo again, so we will use this Purple Lady.

 

Shelley:

Beautiful.

 

Jan Wos:

It is a really nice plant. We can put this right here for echoing, or just stick it right here and it will work, also, very nice. We add this right here and basically, the container is done.

 

Shelley:

What's nice is that you can rearrange it. You can say, "Gee, I don't like that here" and you can move it, "Gee, it looks better this way."

 

Jan Wos:

Absolutely.

 

Shelley:

It's a good idea.

 

Jan Wos:

If you plant it, moving around breaking the rules, and stuff like that, it's a little bit too much. I like your approach.

 

Shelley:

Here?

 

Jan Wos:

Excellent. There you go. That was the finishing touch this container needed.

 

Shelley:

Good, I can get credit for this one!

 

Jan Wos:

Absolutely. Right now, we can put slow-release fertilizer. Every time you water, you feed your plant. You never over-do, you never over-fertilize. This is a very safe, slow-release fertilizer.

 

Shelley:

And you said full sun, so I'm gonna be watering at least once a day, I assume.

 

Jan Wos:

Absolutely, because this container is kind of small. If you could, use as big containers as possible.

 

Shelley:

So, a bigger suitcase!

 

Jan Wos:

Absolutely! Of course, we slightly over-did this container. But let's say party's tomorrow, so you need an instant effect. Otherwise, either plant it a little bit farther apart, or use a knife to trim the plants down.

 

Shelley:

How did you end up in Wisconsin after training in Poland, by the way?

 

Jan Wos:

Several years ago, I was in the exchange program. I came to Green Bay and made several good, good friends and here I am.

 

Shelley:

Well, I'm delighted. I have a feeling the luggage companies are too! I mean, look at this one!

 

Jan Wos:

Yeah, it's a little bit different. Yes, this time, we created a little bit different color. It's not as aggressive as the red one. But again, we use this beautiful trailing red coleus. This is really wonderful. It stays blooming like that all summer. Look at this beautiful plant with the gaura. And, of course, we could not forget...

 

Shelley:

My "Jewels of Opar!"

 

Jan Wos:

Your favorite.

 

Shelley:

Well, you know Jan you've made me look at the junk laying around my house in a whole new light. I think I have some planting to do. And if you don't mind, we're going to take a tour of some of the other beautiful containers you've done.

 

Jan Wos:

Absolutely, absolutely. Good thing about container gardening is if you don't like it in one spot, move it.

 

Shelley:

Especially a suitcase.

 

Jan Wos:

There you go!

 

Shelley:

Thanks.

 

Jan Wos:

Thank you.

 

Shelley:

That was the first time I worked with Jan, and it was 105 degrees in the greenhouse. I'm with Joe VanBeek. Joe was here also that day and you worked with Jan and you're a freind of Jan's. You helped coin the famous phrase we just heard.

 

Joe VanBeek:

I did. Jan would say, "If it doesn't move, plant it." And I'd say " And if it does, plant it fast." So we got into the bicycles, and the cars, and different things.

 

Shelley:

Anything that moved.

 

Joe VanBeek:

Anything that moves. And with Jan, his vision here and his legacy here, was to give us a European style, and to be creative and different. And beyond that went junk. He brought in junk literally from Europe, from his home, and we planted everything we can.

 

Shelley:

He made junk a thing of beauty like this.

 

Joe VanBeek:

Who would think a wing back chair, which is now someone's valuable piece of art.

 

Shelley:

Well, and you've got, I mean, things like this were transformed here.

 

Joe VanBeek:

We have a truck that all you need to do is drill a hole in it and if you want to keep it completely intact, set it beside another piece of junk or another planting in the yard.

 

Shelley:

And his legacy continues.

 

Joe VanBeek:

It does continue. All of us here look at junk, we think of Jan when we're driving by, and our whole purpose is to be creative, have a vision, and you can do whatever you want it to be. And this is one example.

 

Shelley:

And carry on with his planting in junk.

 

Joe VanBeek:

With Jan's legacy.

 

Shelley:

Thanks.

 

Joe VanBeek:

You're welcome.

 

Shelley:

Next up, another example of how Jan continued to break rules. 

 

 

 

 

 

SEGMENT #2 CREATING A PICTURE FRAME GARDEN

 

Shelley Ryan:

I've always said gardening was a form of art. Now I've got proof. Isn't this beautiful? We're at Mayflower Greenhouse in Green Bay. I'm with the owner, Jan Wos. Jan, you're an artist.

 

Jan Wos:

I don't know about that. Anybody can do it if you show the how-to. It's a good reason to go to garage sales.

 

Shelley:

Oh, yeah!

 

Jan Wos:

First you have to start with a good frame. Not necessarily a good frame, but one you like.

 

Shelley:

Something pretty.

Jan Wos:

Something that will fit your garden decor.

 

Shelley:

Do you recommend doing anything to it to waterproof it?

 

Jan Wos:

The best thing would probably be to use this varnish.

 

Shelley:

Just a polyurethane.

 

Jan Wos:

Yes, one or two coats because it will be in water all the time.

 

Shelley:

You don't want it to rot too quickly.

 

Jan Wos:

Waterproof it. Then, attach the chicken wire. Use staples or nails.

 

Shelley:

Just staple it?

 

Jan Wos:

With a staple gun and you're good to go. The second step would be to make yourself a box to hold the plants. It depends how you want to display it. If it's going to hang this way drainage holes have to be down here. If you have it like this then you have your drainage holes here.

 

Shelley:

Whichever way you think it's going to lay you need holes, not in the back of it but on the bottom of it.

 

Jan Wos:

Because the frame will be either hanging or standing on an easel. Water goes down and it needs to have room to drain.

 

Shelley:

Any kind of wood?

 

Jan Wos:

Green treated wood would be best. Your creation will last, not forever, but very long time.

 

Shelley:

Could I do it with a plastic box if I found one?

Jan Wos:

Anything goes. Use your imagination. Make sure that this frame will be thick enough to hold enough soil.

 

Shelley:

Okay, it's going to have some weight in it.

 

Jan Wos:

Absolutely. Because we're dealing with succulents. They don't need too much moisture, but still they need to have some soil and water as well. Then attach this frame with 5/8" screws to the frame.

 

Shelley:

With these little "L" brackets.

 

Jan Wos:

You can get them at any hardware store. The same with the screws and you're good to go.

 

Shelley:

You've got one started over there.

 

Jan Wos:

We have one that is already started.

 

Shelley:

Explain to me the stick in the middle.

 

Jan Wos:

We will be doing a little tree, like you showed before. You take a branch or twig and drill the holes. Use wire to attach it to the mesh. The next step would be your soil to put into the box. Normally, you plant succulents in soil that has more sand. In this case, we don't recommend that.

 

Shelley:

Why?

 

Jan Wos:

This holds moisture better and works better than a soil with sand.

 

Shelley:

I suppose it also helps keep the plants in here. If they're in sand, they might fall out.

 

Jan Wos:

Normally, we do not recommend to press the soil in your container, but in this case, you have to press it a little bit.

 

Shelley:

Again, you don't want it to fall out.

 

Jan Wos:

Exactly, you don't want to have it like concrete but you still need to cover the chicken mesh that will hold your plants in the spot. If it's too much, simply brush it off and you're good to go.

 

Shelley:

So now, we paint with plants.

 

Jan Wos:

And you have many options. If the frame is small you should use small growing plants. If the frame is big you can use even like this and you can have beautiful flowers. With bigger frames, bigger plants.

 

Shelley:

Get carried away.

 

Jan Wos:

Let's create that tree.

 

Shelley:

That’s pretty.

 

Jan Wos:

We could use for this very attractive hen and chicks. But with the gold we want to go with a gold background so this is kind of washed out. It does not have enough contrast.

 

Shelley:

You want something that pops.

 

Jan Wos:

Absolutely. Let's use the regular hen and chicks. It's also a perennial.

 

Shelley:

Look at the more contrast.

 

Jan Wos:

Right away, the picture is very alive. If you could help me, I'd very much appreciate it. Team work. And planting those, make sure...

 

Shelley:

These are just going to root, too?

 

Jan Wos:

They are going to grow as well so you need to leave space between the plants. Otherwise, in the middle of the season-- Something like that, you basically leave, because it already started root. It will not take too much time and it will be very well rooted. But as I said, you need to give them space to grow. Otherwise in the middle of the season you would have to thin it out.

 

Shelley:

And if you don't want to do that.

 

Jan Wos:

It will be too much. It will not look too good. Then go around and create this background.

 

Shelley:

What about winter care for something like this?

 

Jan Wos:

Very simple. If you want to store it over the winter simply take the frame off, unscrew those screws and hold your plants in a cold garage or something. They will stay alive till next spring. Next spring, you might want to just cut them down a little bit, if it's necessary and you're good to go.

 

Shelley:

I love it. So you just keep adding to this? You do a base? You end up with something like this gorgeous finished product. I've got to show this one more time.

 

Jan Wos:

If the plants get too big, pinch them back.

 

Shelley:

Pinch them back.

 

Jan Wos:

The more you pinch, the more dense they will be and this is your painting.

 

Shelley:

This is absolutely gorgeous. I can't wait to try something like this. You truly are an artist. Thank you, Jan.

 

Jan Wos:

Thank you.

 

Shelley Ryan:

This segment caught on like wildfire. So many people were excited to learn how to paint with flowers in a picture frame. I'm with Lisa Jeansonnne of Sturgeon Bay and you also became a plant painter.

 

Lisa Jeansonnne:

I did. I have many of the picture frames in my gardens as do others gardeners up in Door County. And there stands a very special one at the Garden Door that the Master Gardeners did in memory of him.

 

Shelley:

Which is very special because that was, again, one of his unique techniques that spread all over the place.

 

Lisa Jeansonnne:

It is.

 

Shelley:

But he influenced your garden in many ways, not just in the frame.

 

Lisa Jeansonnne:

Well, speaking of inside the box, there's outside the box, being camel topiaries, it could be a monkey hanging in a tree that's been planted, or a beautiful birdbath that had succulents in it and just updated this year with some glass put in it. Beautiful. That was the new thing this year.

 

Shelley:

So, Jan would think beyond soil as a mulch. I mean, broken glass completely changed the shape of this and the color of it.

 

Lisa Jeansonnne:

It did. Well, and what was so neat is Jan taught classes here at Mayflower. Any customer that came in, he would willingly share these new techniques and new ideas with. So we all learned to think from in the frame to out of the box.

 

Lisa Jeansonnne:

"Jan-ified."

 

Shelley:

Jan-ified, yes. And these techniques and legacies will live on.

 

Lisa Jeansonnne:

Forever.

 

Shelley:

Well, and next up we'll share his incredible talent with color in containers.

 

 

 

 

 

SEGMENT #3 PLANTS THAT GO WITH WINE & CHOCOLATE

 

Shelley Ryan:

As summer heats up, I spend less time in the garden and more time with my two favorite food groups. Wine and chocolate. I'm at Mayflower Greenhouse in Green Bay with my favorite gardener, Jan Wos.

 

Jan Wos:

Hi.

 

Shelley:

Here's to wine and chocolate. But you have designed a lecture series About plants that go with wine and chocolate. What a wonderful idea.

 

Jan Wos:

Thank you. We also designed those classy glasses because it helps when you're gardening. It's not a very clean job so you need to maintain some class. And this works perfectly. After you're done taking a sip, here you go it fits just about into any pot. And it works! Right here we designed a chardonnay pot very refreshing.

 

Shelley:

Crisp.

 

Jan Wos:

Crisp, yes, here you go. And as usual, thriller, filler, spiller.

 

Shelley:

Okay, that's the design.

 

Jan Wos:

Exactly. It means tallest, medium, and trailing coming out of the pot. As a thriller, nicotiana langsdorfii, those beautiful chartreuse flowers. A little bit later, millet will help. This lysimachia Golden Alexander. You have a chard right here that is also coming in.

 

Shelley:

Edible, too.

 

Jan Wos:

Absolutely. Golden Painted Tongue. I knew you would ask about it.

 

Shelley:

This is salvia.

 

Jan Wos:

It's a salvia "flame." A little bit later we'll add an entirely different dimension to it when we start blooming. Really, really nice red. So it will be kind of different.

 

Shelley:

Different colors.

 

Jan Wos:

Yes. We have also -- here, air plant, and of course, perennial vinca Illumination.

 

Shelley:

Beautiful, beautiful.

 

Jan Wos:

As far as maintenance goes, oh, we forgot about this Happy Thoughts geranium. Of course, drinking wine you do have happy thoughts.

 

Shelley:

Yeah, exactly, or the chocolate.

 

Jan Wos:

Yes, absolutely. And basically, it's just watering and feeding it once in a while, basically maintenance free.

 

Shelley:

Full sun?

 

Jan Wos:

Full sun.

 

Shelley:

Okay, now what about the darker colors, the chocolate plants or the merlot plants?

 

Jan Wos:

We have a very, very wide selection, wide range. We could start with a chocolate cosmos that is really chocolaty flowers. It's not blooming yet, this is our last batch and it didn't bloom yet.

 

Shelley:

This would be more for the flowers rather than the foliage.

 

Jan Wos:

Yes. Pseuderanthemum Chocolate looks like silk like wax, very interesting plant. Adds a different dimension to just about any container. Of course, Chocolate Ruffles huechera, most people believe that it's really full shade but works really very nice in the semi-shade to full sun. Besides, in a planter, in a container, it will be kind of slightly shaded so it will work very nice.

 

Shelley:

Well, let's plant this, shall we?

 

Jan Wos:

Let's plant it, let's say dry, in a sense that we will just put pots together. We'll start with the Siam Ruby banana.

 

Shelley:

Oh, look at the foliage there. Now, that's a merlot, definitely.

 

Jan Wos:

Very much so. Here you go, this is another merlot cordyline Red Sensation.

 

Shelley:

Now, we leave them in the pots so if we change our mind?

 

Jan Wos:

We can always change around. And this would be another I don't know what kind of wine that would be, but it's really very interesting. Libertia. And we can use those right here those pseuderanthemum Chocolate. And we can add, or maybe even right there we can add this coleus that kind of echoes banana.

 

Shelley:

So even though we're doing a merlot and chocolate you need different colors of foliage in there.

 

Jan Wos:

Yes. Otherwise, it will be probably a little bit too dark, too wine, too merlot.

 

Shelley:

Monochromatic.

 

Jan Wos:

And many plants will probably lose their texture and it would disappear. You also work on the contrast. Look, those are kind of blades-looking leaves and this has very ruffled leaves. And right there you have the contrast and a very different look.

 

Shelley:

So texture, it's not just color it's texture, leaf patterns, and shapes. So this is very glossy, completely different leaves.

 

Jan Wos:

Different leaves, and yet it has all the colors that will be included here. This is coprosma Sunset, and it's really a very interesting plant. This is another one, that we can do here but it's too much, so why don't we add it there? Here you go.

 

Shelley:

We're not relying on flowers almost anywhere here. It's all foliage.

 

Jan Wos:

Let's say, this is your favorite. Jewels of Opar, Shelley's favorite plant.

 

Shelley:

One of my favorites, so beautiful, yeah.

 

Jan Wos:

And look how nice it looks against the rest of it.

 

Shelley:

The contrast again, yeah.

 

Jan Wos:

Yeah. We're basically done with the fillers so right now, we'll be working thriller. This would be thriller as well. Those would be fillers. And we're working on the spillers. This is oxalis Zinfandel, the name of the variety.

 

Shelley:

Beautiful, "Zinfandel" is perfect.

 

Jan Wos:

This right here, is a Raspberry Plum Alternathera, Joseph's Coat. Look at those nice variations.

 

Shelley:

So it might be a Rosé?

 

Jan Wos:

Yes, yes, very much so. We can add it right here.

 

Shelley:

Beautiful. Now we could be done or we could rearrange after we dry planted it.

 

Jan Wos:

Yes, we could be done, or we could rearrange it. Right here we could add also this ornamental pepper that at fall, it will have really dark looking fruits.

 

Shelley:

This is the back of the plant so the top, the high part and then sliding down to the front here.

 

Jan Wos:

This is the way it looks when we're done planting it.

 

Shelley:

And this would be full sun even though you've got dark foliage in here.

 

Jan Wos:

This would be full sun. People ask me, is it all right that dark foliage plants would be in the full sun? Yes, that's really no problem. Because somehow, they withstand full sun already and it's no problem.

 

Shelley:

Jan, what a wonderful way to enjoy wine and chocolate. Thank you.

 

Jan Wos:

You're entirely welcome.

 

Shelley Ryan:

You know, of all the things Jan did in that segment I think what he did with the wine glasses was my favorite part. I am with the Mayflower production manager, Janusz Kuzma. Janusz, you've worked for Jan 14 years, and the wonderful part is you're going to stay on with Mayflower Greenhouse now.

 

Janusz Kuzma:

Yes, I'm going to stay on. We have new owners, but they're willing to continue on Jan's legacy and they're willing to go in the same direction Jan was going.

 

Shelley:

So, it's not just you who are staying on?

 

Janusz Kuzma:

No, it's not just me. Actually, the whole crew is staying, which is great. It's going to make it much easier for us to continue doing what Jan started to do.

 

Shelley:

So all of you learned from Jan for many years so that talent and that skill is still here.

 

Janusz Kuzma:

Yes, and it's going to stay here.

 

Shelley:

Good. Well, let's talk also about how Jan used this greenhouse. It wasn't just for growing things.

 

Janusz Kuzma:

No, it wasn't. It was actually a gathering place. We also used it for some charity dinners and it was also a place for some wild parties.

 

Shelley:

Yeah, I was here for a few of them! But he also used this place kind of for a gathering place for the Polish community.

 

Janusz Kuzma:

Yeah, Jan was like a glue for the Polish community. He was the person who kept all the Polish community together.

 

Shelley:

And families. Family friendly was important to Jan too.

 

Janusz Kuzma:

Yeah, it was. He wanted to bring the young generation into the gardening. Last year we built up the chicken coop and we had eight hens and a rooster. We also have a greenhouse cat named Felix and he's very children friendly.

 

Shelley:

Very friendly, yeah. And Jan's sense of humor kind of shows up with the chickens. One of those chickens was named after, ahem, somebody.

 

Janusz Kuzma:

Yeah, he named one of them Shelley.

 

Shelley:

Thanks, Jan!

 

Janusz Kuzma:

Yep!

 

Shelley:

But actually, I should say, "Thanks, Jan." The world he created here through all of you is going to stay.

 

Janusz Kuzma:

Yes, we'll make sure that it's going to stay here.

 

Shelley:

Thank you.

 

Janusz Kuzma:

Thank you.

 

Shelley:

Mayflower Greenhouse has been purchased by John Kress and Chris Beno. Because of them and all of Jan's employees, junk will continue to be planted, as will picture frames. Jan's legacy will live on.

 

For me, one of the many joys of coming ot Mayflower to visit, whether for work or for fun, were the many wonderful meals, Polish meals, that Jan cooked for us. Lunch was never just lunch with Jan. Lunch always became a party, shared with his employees, friends, and whoever stopped by. We will share some of Jan's recipes on our website, including my favorite, White Borscht. We will also have a list of all the episodes of The Wisconsin Gardener that Jan appeared on, on our website. You can find those by going to wpt.org then click on The Wisconsin Gardener.

 

In case you can't tell by now, Jan was more than just a very special guest on The Wisconsin Gardener. He was my very dear friend. Do nastepnego spotkania. Until we meet again, Jan. I'm Shelley Ryan. Thanks for joining all of us on this special edition of The Wisconsin Gardener.

 

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