Dan and Christine Hargarten’s yard, part of this weekend’s Port Garden Walk, features a vast, eclectic collection of mostly non-flowering plants instead of a lawn
Walk through the front and back yards at Dan and Christine Hargarten’s home and it’s easy to see why they were chosen for the Port Washington Garden Walk, which will be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, July 11.
It’s unlike any other garden in Port Washington.
“I know they need at least one funky yard on the walk,” Christine said. “I figured that’s us this year.”
The couple will show off the work they put into the property at 652 Sauk Dr. over the past 16 years.
The first thing people will notice is the lack of grass in the yard.
The entire front and most of the back yard is mulch.
“You don’t have to water mulch. Having grass is a waste of water,” Hargarten said.
“We’re on the largest collection of freshwater in the world and everybody takes it for granted.”
The first plants people will likely notice are the prickly pear cactuses, which is native to Wisconsin, Hargarten said, noting Spring Green Preserve in western Wisconsin has a large collection of the plant.
Prickly pear cactuses usually bloom in June, producing a beautiful yellow flower.
In winter, the plant dehydrates itself and turns a sickly dark gray color. It survives by lying flat.
The Hargartens had more than 200 flowers bloom on the cactuses last year.
Also in the front yard is an American larch, a species of tamarack with leaves as soft as baby skin.
One of the more unusual plants is a gasplant that produces a volatile oil when it blooms. The plant blooms in spring, but still has a deep red tint to it.
“If you light the flowers, it will burst into flames,” Hargarten said.
The back yard, which makes its way up a steep hill east toward Pierre Lane, is full of ferns, everything from maidenhair to cinnamon.
More than 30 ash trees were removed from the back yard, but the ferns don’t seem to mind the lack of shade.
“We brought them from a 150-year-old formal garden on Pewaukee Lake,” Hargarten said, noting that’s where she spent summers in her youth.
A mullein plant, while considered invasive, fits perfectly into the yard.
“I like to keep one or two of them because the birds like the seeds and they’re easy to get rid of if you need to,” Hargarten said.
The north side of the house has been difficult to manage, she said, due to overgrown ash trees.
“There was no air movement back there,” Hargarten said. “We still have a long way to go.”
While she doesn’t have a favorite plant, Hargarten is particularly proud of the mayapples, jack in the pulpit, trilliums and shooting stars that dot the yard.
“I like native plants the most,” she said.
Hargarten doesn’t consider herself a garden expert, saying she plants by trial and error.
“If a plant doesn’t want to grow where I put it, OK, I’m not going to try it again,” she said. “I’ll go somewhere else.”
Another thing those who tour the garden will notice is the lack of flowering plants. Save for a few black eyed Susans, gasplants and flowers from the cactuses, there aren’t any.
“I’m just not really a flower person, but I love seeing other people’s gardens,” Hargarten said, noting she usually goes on the annual garden walk.
Their garden hasn’t always looked as immaculate as it does today.
A few years ago, the Hargartens planted mint in the back yard.
“It just spreads all over,” Hargarten said. “You’re better off keeping it in a pot.”
In her spare time, Hargarten will go to area garden centers to scout new plants.
She frequents Gene Fransee & Son Nursery in the Town of Port Washington, Caan Floral & Greenhouses in Sheboygan and Johnson’s Gardens in the Town of Cedarburg.
She’ll even make a trip or two each year to Minors Garden Center in Milwaukee and Jung Garden Center in Madison.
“I wait until the fall to replace things that didn’t do well that year,” Hargarten said.
While Christine has admired gardens her whole life, her husband Dan had to be eased into the hobby.
When the couple met, her husband barely noticed birds, plants and flowers, she said.
Now he’s in charge of watering every plant at night.
“He comes in and gives me a little report,” Christine said. “We have great fun doing this.”
Admission to all of the gardens is $5.
Proceeds benefit the Port Washington Garden Club’s scholarship fund, the Niederkorn Library garden reference area and community garden projects.
For more information, call 284-1948 or email
Tickets, which include a map to the gardens, are available at the Port Washington Pebble House Visitors Center, 126 E. Grand Ave. and at participating gardens on the day of the walk. Other gardens on the tour are at the homes of:
• Priscilla and Sid Litke, 1533 Meadow Ct.
• Joan and Tom Weinrich, 1541 Meadow Ct.
• Jennifer Monday, 424 Patrick Ct.
• Amy and Pat Wilborn, 233 E. Pier St.
Image information: UNIQUE PLANTS will be shown off by Dan and Christine Hargarten at their home on Sauk Drive Saturday as part of the Port Washington Garden
Walk. Photo by Sam Arendt