By Jennifer Hirsch

Sue Massey designs landscapes, but when she begins a new project she likes to start by seeing the client’s home on the inside.

“I can tell what clients like by how they decorate. Whatever their tastes are inside, I can carry it outside into the garden. It becomes an extension of their home and reflects who they are,” Massey says.

Her own garden, like her home, is filled with what she loves: art, animals and repurposed antiques. “I love old relics,” she admits. “The other day, I found an old wire bed frame, and all I could see was a flower bed—just spray paint it a ‘pop’ color and fill it with flowers!” Where some might see junk, Massey sees garden art. Her backyard includes a rustic old door, salvaged “iron lace” from a balcony, and the gnarly root ball of a large tree, all infusing her yard with the drama and whimsy of the unexpected. Other garden residents include graceful cranes made of recycled metal by her husband Kenny and a colorful flock of free-range chickens.

Massey now lives in a family of artists, but it didn’t start out that way. She and Kenny both grew up on working farms near Dodgeville. Forced off the land in the mid-1980s, when agricultural costs rose and prices plummeted, they turned to landscaping as a way to stay close to the earth. Along with their five adult children, the couple combines their talents in the family business, Massey’s Landscaping. Sue designs gardens and also helps Kenny create one-of-a-kind, upcycled art works for their clients. Her memoir, “Letter from the Heart” describes her family’s experience and her personal transformation; she finds a parallel in her ever-evolving gardens. She loves to photograph them and post pics, along with daily inspirational quotes, on Facebook.

For Sue, gardening is not only art but therapy. “In my garden, I don’t have time to worry about anything else,” she muses. “It’s a place to get lost—birds are singing, chickens clucking…it’s heaven on earth.”    

Find a focal point
Designing a garden is like getting dressed: Start with a focal point, the way you start with your outfit, “and then dress around it.” A focal point could be a beautiful rose bush, a statue, even a boulder. Then pick a theme to unify the rest, such as flowers in just one or two colors, or a style such as country, Victorian or Japanese.

Play with color
When Massey adds a focal piece, she might use spray paint for a shot of color. Even her tomato cages are sky blue, lime green, and hot pink. “Gardening should be a playful experience. I don’t like to stick to rules.”

Create intimacy
Massey’s large, suburban garden is structured as a series of “rooms” divided by trees, logs and flowerbeds. “Small spaces appeal to me,” she explains. “They’re cozy, inviting, intimate.” Even her many flowerpots are mini gardens, with a focal point, theme and “always something that cascades” over the sides.

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