Out of the Ashes: Reclaiming a Junkyard

Out of the Ashes: Reclaiming a Junkyard

Part of Ep. 2103 Problem Solvers

In Mineral Point in southwest Wisconsin, visit a true garden oasis where an auto salvage yard once existed.  Where once there were old gas tanks the owners now grow blueberries. Talk about problem solvers.

Premiere date: May 15, 2013

TRANSCRIPT+
Wisc Gardener Transcript: 

Shelley Ryan:

You're looking at photos of an auto salvage yard just outside of Mineral Point. Lovely, isn't it? Well now fast forward about 12 years and you're looking at paradise. We're in the home and garden of Jennifer and John Sharp, just outside of Mineral Point. And, Jennifer, you looked at those, you looked at this 12 years ago, and you saw potential that I'm not sure anybody else could see. This is incredible and it's also an official wildlife habitat. But I looked at that photo and think, I'd run screaming the other direction. What on earth made you buy that piece of property when it looked like a junkyard?

 

Jennifer Sharp:

Well, it has a beautiful stream and it's also right around the corner from Mineral Point. And also, I might add, being artists, it was well priced.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Okay. So it was the water and the location. And yet you probably had horrendous clean up to do to make it not only livable, but pretty.

 

Jennifer Sharp:

Well, it was clean on the surface. They had taken the junk off. But we ended up getting 12,000 cubic yards of dirt that the DOT was getting rid of and we had it hauled and we had the whole place capped with about 2-4 feet of clay subsoil.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Oh, clay. That's good. So you had to not only rebuild the soil. Well, tell me, you built everything here.

 

Jennifer Sharp:

Uh-huh.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Tell me about that.

 

Jennifer Sharp:

Well, we tried to do an energy efficient, green-built home, actually universally accessible too. And we started because on the north side we needed to have protection for the house, we built a berm and we used old cement slabs that we'd gotten from our property as the base for our berm and then put other rocks and dirt on top and made a rock garden.

 

Shelley Ryan:

And at one end of that it almost looks more like a southwestern garden with those beautiful grasses.

 

Jennifer Sharp:

Well, John's a Utahn and so that's his western cactus garden.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Well nice of you to let him have a little piece of garden. When you say "we built", you literally, you and John, you built the garage, you both hands-on built the house. In fact, you did the rock work on the corners of the house. John did some of the bigger rock work.

 

Jennifer Sharp:

All the bigger rock work. Yeah.

 

Shelley Ryan:

He has a special toy.

 

Jennifer Sharp:

He's mad about skid steers.

 

Shelley Ryan:

So we're talking really, really-

 

Jennifer Sharp:

Big rocks, yeah.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Okay. And so throughout the garden you can see examples of his work.

 

Jennifer Sharp:

Yes, we have rocks everywhere.

 

Shelley Ryan:

With it being a salvage yard, did you have to worry about soil contamination at all?

 

Jennifer Sharp:

I had it tested for heavy metals at the university lab, and yes, the lead was high. We're in lead mining country in addition to the salvage yard. But we have 8.5 pH soil, so they said that the lead was all bound up and it was not a concern.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Well, there you lucked out there. So the plants did well. Everything's happy because it's not contaminated.

 

Jennifer Sharp:

It's not contaminated because it's capped, but I had to build soil for the plants to grow in. We got the city leaves for many years and made all our soil from leaf compost from the city leaves.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Well, I've heard of starting from scratch, but this is taking it to a new level. Well, let's talk about some of your favorite places. There's so many, but I would assume because you bought this because of the water, that the stream is one of them.

 

Jennifer Sharp:

Yes, we like the stream and John has done a great job with all the rock work along the banks of it. He pulled out much junk and other cement slabs. But we left one car body. Or I had I it left at my insistence to show what it was.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Kind of a memento.

 

Jennifer Sharp:

Yes. And an old safe.

 

Shelley Ryan:

You have an old safe in the stream.

 

Jennifer Sharp:

Yes.

Shelley Ryan:

And is that useful for anything?

 

Jennifer Sharp:

Well, we joke that it's good for cooling beer.

 

Shelley Ryan:

And maybe a little heavy.

 

Jennifer Sharp:

Yes, too heavy to lift it up.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Well, and near that same area, you've got like a rock garden interest going on.

 

Jennifer Sharp:

There's a crevice garden, which is one of the newer things people do with rock gardens. And I made that on a sand pile from rocks we found on the property when John was cleaning up the stream bed.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Well, and you've got windows throughout the house that look out on all these pieces of beautiful gardening. So far, one of my favorite spots is right here - this herb garden.

 

Jennifer Sharp:

That's my other favorite place because it's right outside my kitchen window and it's green just as soon as the snow melts in the spring.

 

Shelley Ryan:

So beautiful location right outside. You know we shouldn't forget also, you've got a very productive vegetable garden going on too. But really, everywhere you look, I mean - wildlife sanctuary, running water. It's fantastic that you saw the vision of an auto salvage yard and turned it into this little piece of quiet and beauty.

 

Jennifer Sharp:

Well, we were both professional artists so finally we wanted to do something for ourselves, by ourselves.

 

Shelley Ryan:

I think you did a fantastic job. Thank you for sharing it with us.

 

Jennifer Sharp:

You're welcome. 

 

Shelley Ryan:

What an oasis.

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