By Laura Kearney

If images of leggy orange daylilies running rampantly along the roadside or across your yard are your only point of reference for daylilies, then you need to meet Karen Mendl. These blossoming beauties are the standouts in her Middleton perennial garden, where their varied shapes and diverse color patterns charm. Notable examples are a rich mauve with a lemon-lime center; a frilly-edged peach with maroon circling its throat; a sunflower yellow morphing into crimson petals. Asiatic and Oriental lilies also grace her garden, the latter soaring above the others with their intoxicating perfume.

Mendl’s daylily collection is one of many highlights in her garden of colorful delights. For 37 years, she has lovingly tended this landscape, a mix of soil types, sunlight and shade.

The welcoming western entry to the garden evokes Karen’s roots. “It’s a woodland garden, which I wanted because I come from Northern Wisconsin,” she says.

From this shaded space, your eyes are drawn to a striking trellis designed by her husband Jerry, then toward the dappled sun of the curved island bed

dominating the garden’s center. Mendl’s myriad lilies are showcased here, along with iris and columbine, an “old-fashioned favorite.” A nearby bed is home to peonies and phlox.

Both Mendl and her husband are from gardening families, though her mother favored vegetables while his focused on flowers. Jerry’s mom planted the grapefruit tree on their patio when she was pregnant with him. A yellow primrose came from Czechoslovakia with his grandmother. Jerry’s mother gave Karen a ruffled double pink poppy with its sage stem. The deep-red dinner-plate dahlia was a present from Karen’s Uncle Hank 50 years ago.

The two are avid travelers who, for their home base, have a true oasis. “We use it to its max and enjoy it to its max,” Mendl says of her garden. And it’s a haven for butterflies attracted to her lilies and goldfinches that feed on iris seedpods. “That’s why we like to have our plant sale—to share it.”

Meld color and texture
Every plant in Mendl’s garden has a purpose. A fragrant Korean spice viburnum acts as a trellis. Its texture is also noteworthy. “Its velvety leaves invite you to feel it.” Mendl advises: “Only grow variegated iris for the foliage, not the flower—it’s a nondescript flower.”

Conversation pieces
Conversation specimens interspersed throughout her garden beds unify her design. They are unusual slow-growing tree species “on a standard,” which, Karen notes, controls height and shape. Elegant examples include umbrella-shaped nonfruiting weeping crabapples and a gingko.

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