Paul Malek calls Lois Schreiter’s garden a grandma garden.
Schreiter says Malek’s spaces are artsy.
The descriptions these neighbors have for each other are meant in the best way. They love to garden together.
“I think grandma gardens are beautiful,” said Malek. “They are like a big mystery. It’s the kind of space where you have 48 kids coming over to the berry patch and there are a lot of little knickknacks. I remember my grandma had a garden like that. Lois makes wonderful decorations with plates, and all kinds of things. … She also lets nature do its thing. She has planted so many daffodil bulbs. In spring, they are phenomenal. She also moves things around. She changes it up.”
“Paul is kind of an artist,” said Schreiter. “He likes certain colors and styles. He is a perfectionist, much more than I am, and his yard is very artsy.”
The two, whose backyards abut each other, met five years ago when Malek moved in.
Their gardens, along with five others, will be featured in this year’s South Milwaukee Garden Club & Historical Society Garden Tour on June 25.
“She was in her golf cart, driving around doing her garden, and we started talking,” he said. “She was a teacher and I was once a teacher, so she gave me a tour of her gardens in her golf cart and we talked for a while.”
Schreiter, who is retired, said she enjoys talking to Malek when she finds him gardening, and that he often helps her with outdoor tasks.
In return, she often gives him plants.
“He will help me with things like cutting branches, and I have a couple of grape arbors and, when the wind knocked them down recently, he helped me put them back together. I’ll give him my hostas when I split them. It’s good to have nice neighbors,” she said.
“I also do things like rake out her garden. I’ll do whatever she needs,” he said. “I’ve also given her plants. And recently I had a couple of spinners I purchased for my space that didn’t work for me, but they worked perfectly in her garden,” he said.
While their gardening styles are different, their yards complement each other, Schreiter said.
“My garden is kind of wild. I try to accentuate some of the wild things. It’s my own style,” she said.
“My garden style is artsy/eclectic. The look I’m shooting for is French cottage garden,” said Malek. “I think Lois is also very artsy and creative, but she has a different way of doing it.”
Malek, the owner of Paul and Company Carpet Cleaning, a firm that dry-cleans furniture, drapes and rugs on site, keeps busy. He was an Olympic trials race walker and was the 40-kilometer national champion in 1991.
But he’s had time to learn from his neighbor.
“She has plants that I had never seen before, and I have learned about all the different plants she has, like dame’s rocket, trillium and bloodroot,” he said.
Over the years, the two have created some shared spaces.
“The yards are sort of connected. I have a retaining wall, and Lois takes care of her side of it. She plants flowers there. We also share a raspberry patch, and we both have lots of trees. My trees transition from my property into her wild woods. Her woods are beautiful. … She has a path that goes through it,” he said.
One unique shared space is a blue bridge connecting their properties.
“I was looking for things I wanted for the garden, and I saw a bridge and it came in different colors. It’s a metal bridge. I have a lot of metalwork in my garden. My favorite color is purple, but blue is her favorite color and I wanted it to transition from my yard to her yard, so I got it in blue and it worked out great. … It’s in a wooded area underneath some trees,” he said.
“It’s adorable. We put in some mulch, and there are little steps that lead to it” from Paul’s side, she said.
Schreiter and her husband, Steve, have four adult children. She is vice president of the Historical Society of South Milwaukee, and she started the South Milwaukee Garden Tour in about 2009. Malek has one adult child.
“I was president of the historical society a couple of times,” she said. “Years ago, I went on a garden tour in Appleton that was a fundraiser. … I thought, ‘I can do this as a fundraiser for the historical society.’ That’s how it got started. At the first tour, we had about 50 people, and it’s grown ever since. I ran it for about 10 years. Then, after a while, it was getting to be too much for me, so Patti Bergeson, who now heads the tour, said she would like to take it over.”
The two recently sent aside their gardening tools to talk about their love of gardening, and the upcoming tour.
Question: What did your gardens look like when you first moved here?
Schreiter: We built our house here in 1970. The land was full of junk. There were dead trees, pieces of cement and asphalt that was dumped here.
Then, our four children were young, so my dad came over and he rototilled a space and I planted a large vegetable garden.
Malek: It had foundation shrubs and weeds. Lots of weeds.
Q: What do your gardens look like today?
Schreiter: Now I have mostly flowers. When our kids were young, we had that big vegetable garden. It was “hoe a row before you go.” Before they went out to play with friends, they had to hoe one row in the garden. I thought that would teach them something about gardening.
They are all gardeners today — some of them more than others. Now that the kids are grown and moved away, I don’t need such a big garden, so I put annuals in pots in the backyard. I like marigolds, pansies, petunias and begonias. Now I also have my vegetables in pots.
Malek: They are more precise. I like artwork. I have a lot of fleur-de-lis artwork. I have statues and fountains among the flowers. Each side of the house is a little different in the way it’s planted, and each side has different colors.
Q: Are your gardens sunny or shady?
Schreiter: It’s part sun and part shade. The biggest part of it is in a wooded area, so that’s shady.
Malek: I get a lot of sun in front, but I get shade in back. I have a tremendously huge and beautiful red maple, and a very large locust near my back patio.
Q: How are your lots configured?
Schreiter: We have an L-shaped yard, and the bottom of it is square-shaped. It’s probably over an acre. There was an old creek bed in the back that went into the Seven Bridges (Trail) area in Grant Park. The front of my lot is about 70 feet across. I have nothing on the side. The square in the back is about twice the size of the rest of the yard.
Malek: It’s just over four-tenths of an acre. It’s like a rectangle that is longer from front to the back.
Q: What flowers are in your gardens?
Malek: I plant a lot of begonias and petunias. They are one of my favorites. Also geraniums. As far as perennials, I like balloon flowers. They do really well in my garden. I also have a tree peony and a lot of hostas. I have a favorite; it’s called Guacamole. It has beautiful flowers on it. I have also broken off a few of Lois’ hostas over the years. I like free plants. I also have a drift rose in apricot. It smells like apricot.
Schreiter: I have things in the back that have been there forever. I have trillium, bloodroot, dame’s rocket. I really love the dame’s rockets right now; they are purple and I really do like that color. Also daffodils. Steve’s aunt gave us 40 daffodils years ago, and now we must have 1,000. That early daffodil season is beautiful. I like them because the deer don’t eat them. I also have some tulips, but I have to have them close to the house or the deer will get them. I like peonies, too, bleeding hearts and groundcovers like the False Solomon’s Seal that comes up every year.
I used to have a lot of dahlias, but I don’t plant them anymore. I liked them because they are a big flower and are unusual. I did plant around 100 canna lilies this year. But I decided I’m not going to dig them up in fall. It’s too much work. My garden is always changing. It’s never dull.
Q: Any themes in your yards?
Schreiter: Through the years, I’ve collected frogs. My accent color in the yard is royal blue. That’s my favorite color. I have some old milk cans I painted blue, some chairs and I put a blue tarp over a little makeshift screened-in house we put together out of 2-by-4’s, and a lot of pieces of art.
Malek: Lois spray-paints everything blue. I have a lot of purples and pinks and burnt orange. I also have a French garden cart and a lot of larger cut metal screens. They’re on every side of the house.
Q: Paul, what is your favorite space in Lois’ gardens?
Malek: I love to walk in her woods in the morning. I like to walk on her trails with a cup of coffee.
Q: Lois, your favorite spot in Paul’s yard?
Schreiter: I like his little French flower cart.
Q: How much time do you spend gardening?
Malek: It’s so incorporated into my lifestyle. About a couple of hours a day. It’s a healing thing; I like the energy of working in nature. I love decorating, whether it’s inside or outside. I like creating rooms in nature so I can sit outside and have fun with my friends. If you are going to have a garden, you want to be immersed in it, whether you are working in it or sitting in it with a glass of wine with friends.
Schreiter: Normally an hour a day. I love being out there. I like to sit and read in the garden. I have benches here and there that I sit on when I want to relax.
Q: Have you participated in this garden tour in the past?
Schreiter: My garden was on the tour two or three times years ago, but it hasn’t been on a tour recently.
Malek: This is my first time, at Lois’ suggestion. She said we should be in a tour together. I had planned to do it at some point, but not this soon. I had to really go to town to get it up to speed.
Q: Can you tell me about your golf cart?
Schreiter: I bought a used cart, and it’s battery-operated so it’s quiet. I put my rake and shovel in it and all my other tools in it. I have a chain saw, a weed wacker, and that kind of thing. That way, I don’t have to go to the garage and back again; I just carry it around with me. I even have a little trash container I bring along if I’m weeding.
Do you, or does someone you know, have a cool, funky or exquisite living space that you’d like to see featured in At Home? Contact Joanne Kempinger Demski at .firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you go
What: South Milwaukee Garden Club & Historical Society Garden Tour: Tour seven South Milwaukee gardens on a self-guided tour.
When: 9 am to 2 pm June 25
Where: Various locations throughout South Milwaukee.
Tickets: $10 at Mari’s Flowers, Wine & Gifts, 905 Milwaukee Ave., South Milwaukee.
Other events: At some gardens, local artisans will have handcrafted items for sale, and musicians will perform. The Bayside Garden Center mobile plant truck will be there, and a destination garden will have more than 200 types of hostas to see and purchase. The garden at Wil-O-Way, which is maintained by Master Gardeners and is in Grant Park, will also be featured and will have vendors sharing their knowledge on garden-related topics such as beekeeping, the native bumblebee and Monarch butterflies.
For more information: call or email Patti Bergeson at (414) 768-9549 or email@example.com.