Spring in Bloom Garden Tour invites the public into the beauty of Afterglow Farm
The nationally renowned gardens and verdant landscape of the one-time summer retreat of Milwaukee beer baron Joseph Uihlein in rural Port Washington are private and seldom seen by anyone besides the gardeners who maintain the grounds, the owners and their invited guests.
But that will change for a day when the property will be opened for the Spring in Bloom Garden Tour.
Visitors will be welcome at Afterglow Farm, which was developed in the 1930s by Joseph E. Uihlein, heir to the Joseph Schlitz Brewing Co., and his wife Ilma, on Sunday, June 16.
The Uihleins’ granddaughter Lynde Uihlein is making the 120-acre property and its gardens, which are featured in the Smithsonian Archives of American Gardens, available for Spring in Bloom to help raise money for the Port Washington Historical Society.
She is one of the owners of Afterglow Farm and plans to be there for the tour.
“It’s such a pleasure to see people enjoying the gardens,” Uihlein said.
This will be only the second time Afterglow Farm has been open to the public. In 2011, it was part of the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days program.
Uihlein, who used to spend time in the summers on the farm with her grandparents, and her cousins now maintain the property with an emphasis on preserving and restoring the gardens, buildings, plants, trees, wildlife and ecology of the land. Only organic gardening methods are used.
Afterglow Farm is located at 703 Hwy. P (Dixie Road) in the Town of Port Washington.
Visitors will enjoy the carefully tended cottage-style gardens, including a circular enclosed perennial garden, along with prairie plantings, woodlands, ephemeral ponds teaming with frogs, turtles and other wildlife and a stroll down a ravine to the Lake Michigan beach.
They will also learn the history of the property and can share their own memories of the land, which was transformed from farmland into a retreat by local farmers, masons, blacksmiths and craftsmen. Their children were often hired to do chores on the farm and swam, fished, hunted and ice skated on the ponds.
Historians John and Jodi Eastberg will record visitors’ oral histories in a tent.
“I’m hoping to learn more about the farm,” Uihlein said. “My cousins and I are so different in ages. My memories of my grandfather are so different from theirs.
“I remember taking walks with him. He walked very slowly with a cane and he would talk about family and about history and gave lots and lots of advice, most of which I ignored to my detriment. He loved Heinemann chocolates and I loved chocolate, too, and he would always indulge me.
“My grandmother in my memory was domestic. She was the gardener and raised chickens. I loved to gather eggs with her.
“She clucked over us like a mother hen.”
Uihlein is hoping the heirloom peonies will be open during the tour.
“They’re my favorites because they are the actual plants my grandmother planted,” Uihlein said. “But after this season, I’m happy for whatever we get.”
The peonies, which are supported with twig trellises, can be found in the enclosed circle garden. Concentric gravel paths lead to a center fountain where goldfish swim. A large bear standard is at the top of the fountain.
Magnolia, crab apple, paper-bark birch and gingko trees also grow in the circle garden, along with rhubarb, asparagus and other vegetables.
“We look for unusual varieties that people may not see anywhere else,” garden manager Dean Weigert said.
The circle garden was where Ilma Uihlein grew fruits and vegetables that the family and guests enjoyed all summer, with the excess given away or canned and taken to the couple’s Milwaukee home.
That garden is one of Weigert’s favorite spots to relax.
“It is a sort of micro climate and things grow a little faster there,” he said. “I assume it’s because it’s enclosed and protected from winds and the stones in the path soak up the heat from the sun.”
The ornate iron gateway to the garden was designed by Joseph Uihlein.
All the ironwork on the property was either found by Mr. Uihlein on his travels or designed by him.
He also collected unusual rocks and crystals, many of which are embedded in concrete pillars, decorate a small footbridge and pond or tucked into gardens.
When Lynde Uihlein was growing up, her grandparents had pigs, sheep, turkeys, a variety of waterfowl, peacocks and horses. Some of the animals were raised for meat. Now, Uihlein and her cousins protect the wildlife that inhabit the property.
Christine Sobocinski is the wildlife steward as well as a gardener. She’s been busy trying to keep baby painted turtles safe, moving the 1-inch-long hatchlings out of harm’s way to the ponds they’re seeking and marking nesting areas so lawnmowers don’t destroy them. A gravel turtle nesting area was created near the main pond.
Sobocinski also keeps inventories of migrating and resident birds, recording 100 different species so far, amphibians, reptiles, bats and other mammals.
Many of the trees in the orchard were chosen for their benefit to wildlife, she said.
John Poull, whose property on Forest Beach Road is surrounded by land owned by Lynde Uihlein, appreciates the work being done on the farm.
“Nobody had taken care of it for a long time,” he said. “Lynde’s doing good work.”
His late father Peter sold land to Joseph Uihlein for the farm and helped develop it.
Mr. Uihlein frequently stopped to visit and eat meals at the Poull home, which is across the road from Afterglow Farm. John Poull worked on the farm as a teenager and spent a lot of time hunting, fishing, trapping and ice skating with friends on the property.
Dick Zahn of Port Washington and his sister Bonnie Kolinski of Oostburg, whose father Leo Zahn was the caretaker for 11 years, said it was the best place to grow up.
The family lived on the upper level of the horse barn with horses in the lower level. The Zahns leased a pony that they kept on the farm until they moved.
“I wish I was still there,” Kolinski said. “In my mind, I go back and rewalk all the paths. I took my husband to the last tour and he said, ‘Now I know why you garden the way you do.’
“Mr. and Mrs. Uihlein — I thought of them as surrogate grandparents. He would sit me on his lap and say, ‘Tell me how you brush your teeth.’ I would tell him and he would give me candy.
“I had some pet ducks that would come when I called.”
The farm had everything a child could desire, Zahn said. He had a dog that followed him everywhere and he played with the children of local farmers.
“We played baseball, rode bikes, trapped geese,” Zahn said.
Bea Torke Funke said Joseph Uihlein’s frequent visits to her parents’ home changed her life.
“He was the incentive for me to go to college,” she said. “He asked me where I was going to college, and when I shrugged my shoulders, he said, ‘Of course, you’re going to college.’ His goal was to promote the farm kids to go to college.”
Her favorite quote from Mr. Uihlein is: “Don’t drink beer, it’s not good for you. But if you drink beer, drink Schlitz.”
Spring in Bloom Garden Tour visitors can walk the property on self-guided tours using maps that will be provided, according to Jean Schanen, co-chair of the event,
Schanen said that besides seeing the gardens, visitors can walk on marked paths to access the many features of the property, including the ponds and beach.
Afterglow Farm will be open for the tour from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m, rain or shine.
Image Information: Garden manager Dean Weigert stood in the circle garden at Afterglow Farm. Photo by Sam Arendt