The Gardens of Dale Sievert

in Waukesha, Wisconsin

2019 is the 50th year of gardening in my one-acre property near Waukesha, Wisconsin. It is 150 feet wide by 300 feet deep, and the property rises about 20 feet from the front to the back right.

I have only two small lawns, about 8000 square feet in total. The rest of the property has several shade gardens, connected by walkways. I collected 11,000 stones and boulders over the years, using them as retaining walls, terraces, and planters. I also collected 5000 antique paving bricks and 3000 cobblestones of granite and sandstone, all used as street pavers over a hundred years ago. I use these stones in planters, walks, and edging.

My Japanese-style garden began in a rather unusual way. I was weeding flower beds in what I call my Williamsburg Garden, a formal garden with many antique paving bricks. As I looked back towards an area filled with terraces of impatiens, for some reason I thought of our friends, Hajime and Etsuko Yoshida. Then I thought, that area would be perfect to have a Japanese garden. So, in the late 1990s, my JG began. It is still not done. It is 50 feet wide by 110 feet long, and about half the length has a hill that rises about 10 feet. On parts of all four sides there is a fence of ipe wood. It is fundamentally a copy of the fence I saw in 2009 at the Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island near Puget Sound in Washington.

My JG is different than almost all gardens outside of Japan because of my extensive use of moss. In 2005 I visited Foxfire Gardens near Marshfield, Wisconsin, which had both Japanese and Chinese gardens. It had a small mounded area with lichen-covered, dark grey rocks amongst a sea of incredibly beautiful moss in dappled sunlight. My life was changed forever. I became an instant moss aficionado, collecting it, reading about it, identifying many species of it. I truly never had anywhere close to the joy in any other aspects of my gardening—which began when I was seven years old. Because of that awakening, I visited Japan twice, mainly Kyoto, to visit those 60 gardens, every one making extensive use of moss.

I have four water features in my JG. The first is a simple water drop from a bamboo pipe onto a large granite rock at the west entrance to the garden. Second, just inside the west gate another bamboo pipe drops water into a small pool, which then drains into a second pool from another bamboo pipe, then finally flowing into a last pool from another pipe. Third, a small waterfall sends water 20 feet along a stream, then under an arched bridge and into a small pool. Fourth, another bamboo pipe drops water into a small pond near the house.

In 2014 I built a small azumaya, or viewing house, which can be used to view the upper garden where the watercourse with three pools is located.

There is an “artificial sea” made of raked pea gravel, which has several boxwoods amongst it. Boxwoods are also in other parts of the garden, some being trained into tamamonos.

Last year I had an eight-foot-wide picture window installed in a room that overlooks the garden. That finally made my garden into a near-sukiya style garden, making the inside and outside appear to be one. It is a truly stunning view of the garden, especially when the mosses are hydrated and incredibly vibrant.

***In my article on moss gardening in the last newsletter, I mentioned that I only saw “sufficient” use of moss in two of the 17 Japanese gardens that I visited in North America. By that, I really meant that those are the only gardens that appear as almost all gardens do in Japan–with a large percentage of the area covered with mosses. Those two were Nitobe Memorial Garden in Vancouver, B.C., and Portland Japanese Garden. I should have noted that three other gardens have fairly large areas of mosses, though less than 10 percent of the total area: Anderson Japanese Garden in Rockford, IL, Sarah B. Duke Garden in Durham, NC, and Rotary Botanic Garden in Janesville, WI.