In April, three weeks before holding an outdoor party to celebrate her son’s graduation from law school, Victoria Johnson decided to do something with the two eyesores in her backyard.
She would turn them into a “mystical” flower garden.
The spot had formerly been shaded by an 18-foot tree that was lost to deer damage. Now Johnson and her fiancé, Terry Monson, started the back-breaking work of removing the old tree’s roots so Johnson could plant a flurry of daisies, geraniums, petunias, and transplant her dozens of begonias and dahlias, which she had overwintered in her basement from the previous year. Then came the zinnias and other flowers, which she grew from seeds she had harvested from her 2020 garden.
Johnson added mirrors to hide a tall metal pool equipment box from view, and ringed a 2-foot-high well with bark to make it resemble an old tree stump. Today the “secret” garden is a bright, bee-buzzing centerpiece of the yard.
“I just love to do it,” Johnson said of her gardening passion. “It’s a labor of love.”
It’s also one of many planting projects for Johnson, a self-taught gardener, and Monson. The couple also works four large vegetable gardens, including one they call the “grandchildren’s garden” for the nine grandchildren they have between them who visit in spring to plant. By fall, the children return to carve the giant pumpkins they have raised and to pop the garden’s homegrown strawberry popcorn around an autumn campfire.
At harvest time, Monson carries bushels of extra produce to a Verona food pantry, he said. And when the sweet corn and tomatoes are ready, he invites the neighbors to pick their fill.
Johnson’s story inspired the Wisconsin State Journal to ask other readers to also share their tales of a “garden transformation,” particularly one they tackled during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. And readers responded — sharing how they’ve turned neglected spaces into bounteous gardens. Here are their stories.