Avant Gardening

Avant Gardening & Landscaping

Ever Wonder What Landscape Designers Do All Winter?

Nothing. Ha- Just kidding! We design of course!

As the temperatures in our Wisconsin landscape get bitterly cold, our skilled team of Landscape Architects and Landscape Designers remain available for design and master planning projects during the winter months. We can help you with that rain garden, retaining wall, outdoor landscape lighting or just some curb appeal that you’ve been putting off.

Beat the rush! It’s best to get started now if you want something done in spring!

We develop creative solutions for residential landscapes and commercial landscape projects in a wide range of aesthetic styles.

Which landscape styles speak to you?  

  • A woven tapestry of colors and textures of the New American Garden style
  • Clean and simple elegance of Contemporary Minimalism
  • Informal beauty of Prairie-Inspired Landscapes and Gravel Gardens
Landscape Madison Wisconsin Gravel Gardens Landscaping

Sustainable Lower-Maintenance Gravel Garden Landscape Design in Madison, Wisconsin

  • Tranquility of Wisconsin Woodland Gardens
  • Asymmetrical balance and harmony of Japanese-Style Landscapes
  • Geometric, formal symmetry of Classic Traditional Landscapes

From smaller-scale garden design to landscape master planning, our team can help you visualize the Wisconsin landscape of your dreams. It is our responsive and immediate attention to the needs of our client that sets us apart from our competition.

Landscape Design Madison Wisconsin Conceptual Sketch Design

How Does the Process Start?  

Our iterative design process begins with a consultation. One of our experienced designers will meet with you to discuss your project. Yes, even when it’s snowing!

Things you may want to consider ahead of time:

  • How do you want to use your outdoor space?
  • What is your ultimate goal?
  • Do you want space for entertaining?
  • Would you like a place where children can play?
  • Are there views that you want to enhance or screen?
  • What is your comfortable level of garden maintenance?
  • What is your budget and timeline?

Contact the Avant Design Team today! Send us an email to or give us a call at 608-838-2054. You can also reach out to us via our website’s
Contact Form to schedule a meeting.

PLUS – It’s fun to dream of spring when the it’s SO COLD out! 

The Wonders of Wisconsin’s Winter Landscape

After the last snowstorm of 7+ inches of snow… some of you might be thinking…

Whyyyy do I still live in this Wisconsin landscape? What is the point of snow? Is this necessary?! Does snow serve any good purpose for my plants?!

  • Snow is nature’s way of offering a layer of insulation to plants from the extreme cold or fluctuating temperatures.
  • It offers a more stable environment when the temperatures vary greatly in a short period of time. Most damage done to plants is generally in the early fall or late spring if there is not a layer of snow to provide protection.
  • In Taylor’s Encyclopedia of Gardening, snow is called “the poor man’s fertilizer.”  When it comes through the atmosphere, nitrogen and sulfur attach to the flakes. Then during the melting period in spring, these elements are sent into the soil and absorbed by plants. ANd of course, nitrogen is essential to your plant’s overall health.
  • Snowfall lures more birds and animals to the food sources that you’ve set out for them since their natural food sources are more covered. This means that you will see more action at your feeders and birdbaths.

Okay, however…

Heavy snow can split columnar shrubs and trees and the added weight can cause branches to break, especially with bitter freezing temperatures and strong winter winds.

How do I protect my plants from the ravages of winter?

Gently remove snow as soon as  possible after a snowfall, before it completely freezes to the branches. Use a broom to reach higher branches that may get weighted down.

Hopefully you’ve already watered deeply in the fall to prevent drying out. You can also offer your plants some physical barrier protection from any salt source if they’re more susceptible.


Top 10 Perfect Gifts for Gardeners

Top 10 Gifts for Gardeners

With the holidays approaching it’s time to check your green-thumbed friend off your list! Shopping can be stressful… whether it’s for a fellow gardener or that aunt that doesn’t want anything. These gift ideas are sure to be perfect for the garden enthusiast in your life and maybe even those other hard-to-buy-for family members!

1. Garden Journal

Every gardener needs one! A garden journal is perfect for keeping track of all those pesky things we forget about! Help your friend stay organized in their garden and remember which plants they want to divide, phenological notes, ideas for next season, which plants the rabbits ate, and any other reminders!

2. DIY Wildflower Seed Bombs

3. Olbrich Botanical Gardens Membership

For the month of December, current members can gift a membership to new members for 1/2 price! It is the gift that keeps on giving all year long with free admission to the Bolz Conservancy, discounts in the Growing Gifts gift shop, discounts on Olbrich classes and trips, access to special members only events and reciprocal benefits to over 300 gardens nationwide!! Check out their website to fill out the application.

4. Hori-Hori Garden Tool

5. Magazine Subscription

There are so many fantastic garden magazines that provide inspiration and creative ideas all year long! Avant Gardening & Landscaping’s favorites include: Wisconsin Gardener Magazine, Garden Design Magazine & Horticulture.

6. DIY Hand Scrub

7. UW-Arboretum Winter Enrichment Lecture Series Registration

Since 1968, the Arboretum has offered lectures for naturalists in the greater Madison area. This winter program is also open to Arboretum volunteers, friends, and interested public as space allows. Great topics that branch out form birding to geology and everything in between! Check out their website to sign up.

8. Growing the Midwest Garden Book by Ed Lyon

9. Fiskars Knee Pads

10. Tilandsia – Air Plant Terrarium Kit

December Garden To-Do List


“From December to March, there are for many of us three gardens –

the garden outdoors,

the garden of pots and bowls in the house,

and the garden of the mind’s eye.”

– Katherine S. White

1.  Protection & Preparation

If you haven’t already, be sure to wrap special trees and shrubs to protect them against critters during the winter. Also, protect certain species that you know are attractive to voles/rabbits/deer, such as arborvitae, fothergilla, and oakleaf hydrangea.

Besides mentally prepping for snow accumulation, don’t forget to physically prepare. Now is a good time to make sure you have proper snow removal tools – Do you need a new scoop shovel? Did your winter boots leak last year? Where is that ice scraper…

dsci0034Once the snow starts to fly, monitor your garden. It’s peaceful and beautiful when snow piles up, but keep in mind too much can be damaging. Heavy, wet snow accumulations can put stress on the branches, causing them to hang down lower or worse, break! Don your most snow-proof winter clothing and get out there to brush off the snow! Focus on your evergreens, especially arborviate spp. and boxwood spp. are most susceptible. It is best to brush off from the ground up so that you’re not causing more damage batting down at the branches.

2. Winter Pruning

Winter is the perfect time to prune trees and shrubs, especially since all the leaves have dropped it makes it easier to see the structure. Another perk – most pests and diseases that are attracted to open wounds of trees are inactive this time of year, so less chance of infecting your plants!


3. Decorate for the Holidays!

Try making a DIY wreath, reclaimed wood trees, or create some winter container displays this year! Not sure how to make a winter container? Read last week’s blog post here for step-by-step instructions.

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4. Switch to Indoor Gardening Activities

Take an educational class from UW-Extension, they have an excellent 2017 Green Thumb Gardening Series!! There are plenty of workshops and classes to choose from at Olbrich Botanical Gardens too. Lots you can do to keep you active and thinking about your garden all winter long!


5. Choose a New Book!

Bored with your winter surroundings already? Grab a new gardening book and start gathering inspiration for next year! Pinterest is also a fun place to see lots of ideas and pin photos to save for spring. Here a quick list of a few of our favorite gardening books –

  • Growing the Midwest Garden by Edward Lyon (former director of the Allen Centennial Garden, get your copy here)
  • Vintage Wisconsin Gardens: A History of Home Gardening
  • by Lee Somerville (from the WI Historical Society Press)
  • Garden Wisdom: Lessons Learned from 60 Years of Gardening (another good one about vegetable gardening from the WI Historical Society Press)
  • Hot Plants for Cool Climates: Gardening With Tropical Plants in Temperate Zones by Dennis Schrader (pick it up here)



How-To Create A Lovely Winter Container in 5 Steps

Annual container displays aren’t just for the warmer months! Just think of all the possibilities – instead of the traditional wreath this year, why not an ice skate filled with bright berries or an antique children’s sled propped up with birch branches? Make your front entry unique this holiday season.

This blog post will provide step-by-step instructions for creating a simple, yet elegant winter evergreen display in a container for your front porch or patio area.

1. Empty Your Container – It’s important to start fresh, be sure to remove and compost any old annual material from summer/fall before starting your winter display. We don’t want any unsightly material poking through. Now is a good time to gather all of the materials you need , so you’re not running around wasting time during the creation of your holiday display.


2. Base Layer of Evergreens – This layer won’t be very noticeable later on so we suggest using more of your “filler” evergreen material (aka less expensive), possibly a good layer of balsam or frasier fir. There are multiple ways to assemble your evergreen boughs but I think it is easiest with a small container to start in the middle and work your way out, sticking in bough ends into the soil ~4″ in different directions. Remember that both sides of the bough can be used, rotating them can add extra interest. Depending on the size of your container you may want to cut the bough down to the next node, for the appropriate size and scale. You want them just poking out over the edge of your container ~4-6″, you can hang over more if you’re going for a more draping effect though, or if it’s not in a high traffic area.


3. Add Diversity – Displays can be filled with an wide assortment of evergreens that will hold their color during our long winter months. Types of evergreens include: balsam, scotch, red & white pine, frasier & concolor fir, junipers, arborvitae, boxwood, blue & Norway spruce, etc. If you’re not sure about a certain type, test it out! Just use a little of it sparingly the first year and if it holds up well and you like the look, go ahead and use more the following year!


4. Create Height – Now we’re getting into the fun part! Start in the center of your container and add stems. Just like the evergreen options, there is a wide variety of natural materials you can use. Consider curly willow, pussy willow, kerria, ninebark, birch branches, and of course any kind of dogwood twigs – red, yellow, coral. There’s even a Dogwood cultivar called ‘Arctic Sun’ with stems that change from yellow to red!

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5. A Little Something Special… the final touches! These are the cute details that really make it your own creation. Think about tucking in small splashes of extra accent material. Possibly some dried flowers (hydrangeas and allium work well), preserved ruscus, eucalyptus, pine cones, and winter berries… Really whatever your heart desires! Don’t forget about the more traditional holiday decorations too, such as: twinkling lights, shiny ornaments (we’d recommend the shatter-proof ones!!), glittery floral picks, silky bows and ribbon. The sky is the limit! Just make sure it will hold up to our harsh winter climate.


Our Avant Gardening & Landscaping team has created seasonal displays for many years. Nothing welcomes guests and visitors to your home or business better than a cheerful holiday display. If you need help designing and installing your winter container displays, just give us a call or email us!

608.838.2054 or


Book Review for Small Space Gardening

“So many plants, so little space” is a lament heard many times over by gardeners who long for more room to get their hands dirty.  It can be very challenging to create an attractive and functional small space, as well as carving out an intimate area that affords some privacy within a larger landscape.

Don’t despair, Melinda Meyers to the rescue! Here’s a great book to put on your holiday wish lists – 

Small Space Gardening guides you through a step-by-step process to help you achieve your little piece of heaven. Melinda starts by explaining how to analyze your space by sketching out the area, evaluating how you want to use the space and identifying what landscape style you’re trying to achieve. Then it’s on to the design process followed by recommendations on how to maintain your completed project. There’s also a chapter on the challenges and opportunities that small space gardeners face.

The last third of the book is devoted to a comprehensive plant directory that includes perennials, grasses, shrubs, vines, and trees (yes, trees!) that are small space favorites. The high resolution plant photographs include a description of plant culture and characteristics, and is an excellent resource for buying decisions.

About the author:

Melinda Meyers has a master’s degree in horticulture, is a certified arborist, started the Master Gardener program in Milwaukee and is a horticulture instructor at Milwaukee Area Technical School. She hosts “Great Lakes Gardening” on PBS, and writes the twice monthly “Gardener’s Questions” columns for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.


YUM!! – Autumn Apple Butter Recipe to Share

Recipe courtesy of the Kielstrup’s Kitchen (Thanks Becky!!)

Start with 4# apples, quartered – do not peel

Hand-Picked Locally Grown Apples

Put in large saucepan with 2 cups water and 1 cup apple cider vinegar, cook until apples are soft. Then put the mix through food mill to make apple sauce like consistency. Transfer puree mix back to pot, add ½ cup of sugar for every 1 cup of puree.

Then add spices:

  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • Zest of ½ of lemon
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp allspice
  • ¼ tsp ground clove
  • Dash of salt
  • ¼ tsp nutmeg, if desired

Cook on stove top for 1-2 hours stirring consistently or cook on low in crock pot for 4-6 hours – but keep an eye on it! You are done when mix is reduced in half. It will thicken as it cools. Refrigerate final product or can for storage. Water bath can for 10 minutes.

For more seasonal recipes, click here!


Partnership with Village of Shorewood Hills – Educational Signage

The Village of Shorewood Hills received a Dane County Environmental Community Partner grant ($1,000) in 2015.  The grant funded public education and awareness of stormwater management and bio-retention sites in the community. Because Avant Gardening & Landscaping was involved in the design and planting, Shorewood Hills partnered with us to create educational signage at a highly visible bio-retention area near the Shorewood Hills Elementary School.

Photo courtesy of: Corey George, Village of Shorewood Hills Forester

The project idea was suggested by a local parent who walks by this bio-retention garden twice a day with their child, to and from school. The parent was very supportive of the work being done, but desired more information so they could educate their ever-questioning child. The goal of the signage is to provide informal educational opportunities and “teaching moments” for both the parents and students, as well as raise awareness of rain gardens and encourage environmental stewardship.

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The signage was installed at the corner of Amherst Drive and Bowdoin Road in Shorewood Hills (east of the tennis courts) near the Shorewood Hills Elementary School. Six signs (1 large and 5 small) were placed in the bio-retention area. The large sign (24”x36”) exhibits a map of Shorewood Hills with the locations of all the community bio-retention sites, defines a bio-retention area, and gives an overview of Shorewood Hills’ stormwater management program. The 5 smaller signs (8.5”x11”) are plant identification markers and highlight specific native plants in the rain gardens.

Click here to see the digital copies of the smaller plant identification signs – They each have fun facts and a “Did You Know?” section for quick learning!

The Village of Shorewood Hills is a leading example of integrating bio-retention areas throughout their neighborhood. In 2008, they adopted a more stringent erosion control and stormwater management ordinance than the county and state, because the standards did not regulate small-scale land disturbing activities or redevelopment projects that were commonly occurring in the Village. The Village residents expressed their environmental concerns which were fortified by the fact that the Village is surrounded by development pressure on all sides and an extremely valuable natural resource, Lake Mendota, to the north and northwest. The new regulations, coupled with the creation of multiple bio-retention areas, are designed to reduce the amount of sediment washed from the Village into Lake Mendota, thus improving the overall water quality for fish and wildlife.

Photo courtesy of: Corey George, Village of Shorewood Hills Forester

Photo courtesy of: Corey George, Village of Shorewood Hills Forester

The bio-retention areas are stormwater treatment systems that consist of a slight depression which is integrated into the surrounding landscape. They capture stormwater runoff from impervious surfaces and allow the water to infiltrate through the soil media slowly. As the water infiltrates, pollutants are removed from through a variety of mechanisms including: plant uptake, microbial activity, sedimentation, and filtration.

In order to foster creative learning, promote awareness and inspire residents to install their own bio-retention areas/rain gardens at home – we need to provide interesting, informative and useful signage about the overall bio-retention areas and specific plant identification for Village citizens.


Do you need help designing educational plant signage? We can help – contact us here!

Does your non-profit organization, city and/or school districts have an environmental project in mind?

For more information on application process for this grant, visit: Dane County Environmental Council

To learn about projects that received grants in 2016, click here!



Happy Halloween everyone! As you’re prepping for trick-or-treaters tonight, costume parties and haunted houses… (Or maybe you’re just recovering from all the excitement of the festive weekend)…

Take a quick break and read about some devilish, sinister plants that you could creep into your ghostly gardens next year to scare the pants of some innocent passerby.

Bahwahaha (insert bloodcurdling scream here)!!

img_20151015_095921256Common Witchhazel (Hamamelis virginiana)

The name of this plant, Common WITCH hazel, conjures up some spooky images of witches and bubbling cauldrons… But the flowers are the real nightmare-makers! Blooming this time of year, the flowers induce images of some creepy crawly creatures… SPIDERS! These alarming, bright yellow flowers have strap-like petals that curl outwards like the crooked legs of some small arachnids. In autumn, the leaves turn golden yellow and begin to fall off while the flowers hold on tight, giving it the look of multiple spiders scurrying up the branches.


summer1-090Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia compressa)

Did you know Wisconsin has a native cactus? Hopefully you don’t stumble onto this spikey fellow without knowing or you’re in for a SCREAM! They are very prickly (hence their name) the pads contain large spines as well as tiny tufts of barbed spines which are extremely fine and hard to see – called glochids. There are actually many medicinal uses for prickly pear cactus, both the fruit and the pads are edible (if you are brave enough to try it!)


img_20151015_095733098Castor Bean (Ricinus communis)

This plant gets the #1 spot of our top three list because it can literally kill you – no punny jokes here! The seeds of this deadly plant contain Ricin, which is one of the most poisonous naturally occurring substances known to man. It has been said that one seed can kill a child. This plant is not to be messed with! Castor bean plant is grown as an annual in our climate and has a very attractive, tropical look with interesting large serrated leaves. It is often used in seasonal annual displays for these aesthetic qualities.



5 Signs from Nature to Plant Bulbs for Spring

Plant now for an eye-catching display in Spring! Are you always jealous of the beautiful tulips, crocus, allium or daffodils popping up in your neighbor’s yard? It could be your garden with just a little bit of planning and effort now.

narcissus-xYou can plant bulbs any time before the ground freezes or when soil temperatures are approaching 55°F. Here are some fun indicators from nature about when to plant:

  • When birds start flocking together
  • Fall foliage is just past its peak
  • Squirrels are digging in acorns as fast as they physically can
  • The sound of crickets has died down
  • Your family dog starts laying out in the sun

When choosing a site for your bulbs think about two things: Sunlight & Drainage. Most bulbs require sunlight to store energy and bloom come spring, so plant them in a location that receives at least 6 hours of sunlight each day. Never plant bulbs where water pools or damp areas in your landscape, the bulbs will essentially rot before they have a chance to grow. Ideally, the soil is well-drained, rich in organic matter, such as compost or peat moss, but sandy. Plant your bulbs approximately 6-8” deep (varies slightly depending on type).


Also at this time of year critters (such as squirrels, rodents, chipmunks, etc.) are attracted to any sign of disturbed soil. We recommend covering the area that you’ve planted bulbs with a heavy-handed sprinkle of Milorganite.

What the heck is Milorganite you ask? It is a slow-release granular fertilizer comprised of heat-dried biosolids that is produced by the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District… but don’t worry, it’s not poop… The sewage treatment plant collects wastewater and treats it with microbes that digest the organic matter in the wastewater. The microbes drop to the bottom of the tank where they are then kiln dried into small pellets. The strange odor typically drives away most of the critters that are interested in your bulbs!

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You can find a wide selection of bulbs at your local nursery or garden center. If you’re not sure what combination would look best or are you just feeling overwhelmed with how to get started?

Feel free to contact Avant Gardening for some guidance, either fill out our contact form or call us at 608-838-2054.

We do bulb planting and layout design for many of our existing residential clients as well as commercial and municipal sites – we’d be happy to help you too!


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