Take a tour of six remarkable Port Washington gardens, including Gary Kelly’s Westside Railroad Park featuring model trains chugging through spectacular greenery, Saturday in the Garden Walk.
Two railroad spreads — a colorful Thomas the Train feature for children and an elaborate layout with six or seven G-gauge trains traveling through scenes depicting Wisconsin’s Northwoods, the Southwest and the Pacific Northwest — will be among six gardens open for tours Saturday, July 10, during the Port Washington Garden Club Garden Walk.
The gardens will be open to the public from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The Westside Railroad Park, built by Gary Kelly with the support of his wife Trudie, will be the most fun garden to visit, but all the landscape efforts are spectacular, filled with an array of perennials and annuals that turned boring green lawns or open fields into floral and vegetable displays. Ideas for dealing with hills, shady and sunny areas abound. Each garden has at least one water feature.
In addition to the Garden Walk, the Garden Club will hold a perennial plant sale from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at 822 W. Grand Ave. Shrubs and trees will also be available.
Tickets for the walk are $5 and may be purchased at one of the following gardens or at the Port Washington Visitors Center, 126 E. Grand Ave.
Gary and Trudie Kelly, 316 S. Eva St. — A few years ago, Gary Kelly turned their hillside back yard at 316 S. Eva St., into the Westside Railroad Park, an outdoor showcase for his railroad collection. He chose the name because they live on the west side of Port Washington and the Westside Lumber Co. operated a railroad to transport its logs in the early 1900s. His logo is based on the lumber company’s logo.
“For an indoor railroad layout, you pick an era or part of the country to focus on. I could never zero in on an era, so I thought if I make this a railroad park, I can justify having anything railroad related,” Kelly said.
He built every structure — every bridge, lodge, teepee, house and business — from scratch or redesigned a kit.
His Northwoods scene features a pond with a fisherman in a boat and real koi fish that look like “Jaws” next to the miniature fishing pole. There is also a tractor-powered sawmill and boat yard. He carved the first boat and a friend made a resin mold for the others.
The couple have children who live in the Southwest and Pacific Northwest, which is why he chose those two areas.
When he started the layout, which he expanded every year, he planted dwarf Alberta spruce that were about a foot tall. The trees have grown to three feet, and he’s continually cutting openings through the branches for the train to travel through.
“You used to be able to see the entire layout. Now, people have to peak through openings and they see something different through each opening,” Kelly said.
The couple have two young grandchildren, so Kelly made a Thomas the Train layout they can operate. Big Bird sails above Thomas and his friends in a hot-air balloon.
Kelly credits his wife Trudie for the perennial gardens, hanging baskets and attractive seating areas that provide a nice backdrop for his railroad.
“He’s the one who does all the work,” she said. “I will come home from work and he will have created a whole new mountain.”
Allen and Pat Cottrell, 310 S. Eva St. — The Cottrells claim Kelly railroaded them into being on the Garden Walk because their two gardens blend together in both the front and back yards.
The sunny front lawn is an array of brightly colored perennials that provide an ever-changing display that flows into the Kellys’ similar front display.
The side yard between them they agreed to keep natural for the birds and wildlife.
Visitors will enter the two gardens at the Kellys’ front yard, then cross a path to get to the Cottrells’ shady back yard that features a screened-in porch that overlooks the garden and a walk-out basement. An old tree house built for their children is now a favorite place for their grandchildren to play.
Joan Smith, Dirk and Mary Snellenberger, 1509 Cedar Dr. — When Joan Smith moved from Brown Deer to Port Washington in 2002, a year after her husband Bill died, she brought 200 plants with her. There was only one maple tree in the large back yard that is separated from Highway LL by a fence.
“If you take a big space and put it into smaller spaces, it doesn’t seem so tedious,” Smith said.
Smith’s daughter and son-in-law, Mary and Dirk Snellenberger, live with her and helped turn the nondescript yard into a myriad of garden rooms with winding paths that lead to waterfalls, a stream and a frog-filled pond. Smith had a plan that her daughter and son-in-law brought to life.
Eight years ago, Smith vowed she would be on the Garden Walk, and she’s overjoyed that it’s happening this year.
Mary Snellenberger is a member of the Port Garden Club. The family hired Amanda Sullivan, 21, of Saukville as a garden intern for the past four years.
Each area has a theme with a bit of humor. “Where’s Mary” is the name for a shady spot that reveals a statue of the Virgin Mary.
“The Funky Chicken Walk” is filled with chickens in a variety of media amid flowers and greenery.
The Snellenbergers placed five tons of rock to form the gardens. There are 120 species of plants, including 90 varieties of hostas and three crab apple trees.
Smith was busy labeling plants last week.
“We’re full,” Smith said of the garden. “Now, we’re giving things away. When people come, they usually go home with a basket of plants.”
Eric and Jackie Oleson, 3370 Terry La. — When the Olesons built their house on the 1.3-acre lot in 1970, the big back yard that used to be a cornfield was perfect for their two children and neighborhood kids to play baseball, build forts and club houses.
But when their children left home, the couple decided to make the yard more intimate by adding berms with flowers and shrubs and four apple tree.
Five years ago, the couple decided to build a pond with a waterfall. They did all the work, coaxing friends to help place stones for the waterfalls and line the pond.
Now, the waterfalls and pond is filled with lilies and other water plants, fish and frogs. A paver-brick patio now adjoins the pond and herbs grow in pots near the kitchen.
Almost every type of flower can be found in their gardens.
“The plants get big and you have to subdivide and it’s, ‘Let’s start another garden,’” Jackie Oleson said. “This is an unusual year. Everything is about three weeks ahead of schedule.”
Jason and Emily Luedtke, 840 W. Third Ave. — In only three years, the young couple turned a plain double lot into colorful, perennial front and side gardens and a fenced back yard with a waterfall and pond surrounded by plants and a patio for relaxing.
Most of the plants came from Emily’s parents. Jason terraced a front hill and created a rock garden so he doesn’t have to mow the slope anymore. The west side garden is filled with native plants.
“It was just grass when we bought it,” Emily said. “It was easy to do because there wasn’t anything to rip out. It was mostly just adding stuff,”
Lanterns in the back yard were made from old barn posts.
Dunwiddie Elementary School, 1243 W. Lincoln Ave. — This small prairie garden is maintained by school volunteers, who have cut paths through the native plants. This stop is self-guided.
More information and maps are on the Web site www.portgardenclub.org.
Trudie and Gary Kelly stood in their Westside Railroad Park. Photo by Sam Arendt