For 56 years, Bud Wiggins landscaped properties at Milwaukee-area homes and businesses as the owner of Wiggins Landscape Contractors.
He installed hundreds of concrete or asphalt driveways, laid decorative brick walkways and patios, built retaining walls and berms, and planted flowers, shrubs and trees. He even dabbled in holiday decorations.
He worked in every aspect of his trade and employed anywhere from 40 to more than 70 workers.
But he never used his business to landscape his own home.
Instead, he retired 17 years ago, dissolved his business, and auctioned off his equipment.
Then, just a few months later, he found the perfect home in Menomonee Falls. So he rolled his sleeves back up and delved into a two-year landscaping project to create the yard he always dreamed about.
“When I retired, I didn’t have an idea as to where I was going to move. I was living in Milwaukee, and I just started going out and looking at properties. I looked everywhere. I was even looking in other states.
“I wanted something special. I wanted to create a mini resort, and I wanted it to be as low maintenance as possible and to provide a lot of privacy.
“This place sort of hit me. It already had an indoor swimming pool. It’s about 30 feet long, 20 wide, and it’s 10 feet deep. And I could see where I could add an addition for the card room I wanted because I play poker,” he said.
To accomplish this, he said he “got back into business.” He came up with a design, bought some new equipment, and hired some old employees.
“I thought about what I wanted to have, and I designed it that way.”
"Over the years when I landscaped yards I always told my customers to design their yard for the way they wanted to live", he said.
“Then I went to a couple auctions and bought some equipment, and I used it until I didn’t need it anymore, then I sold it. Then I got in touch with some of my employees who were retired, and they came out to work with me. I hired three of them that had worked for me for about 30 years. We just worked the hours we wanted to work, so there wasn’t any pressure. We were all old. It was fun. It was physical work, but that’s what keeps us all going,” he said.
He and his crew did one section of the yard at a time, and soon the space was transformed, Wiggins said.
He landscaped the front, sides and back of the property, and added a circular driveway at the front of his home, leading to his three-car attached garage. He added large berms, retaining walls, and lots of trees and shrubs, and replaced the grass with concrete, paving bricks or decorative crushed stone.
“In the front of the house, I put two large berms, and then I planted trees on top of the berms. The berms run the length of the front of the property. They’re about 120 feet long.
“In the berms, I used pine trees and a few other plants. I mainly wanted evergreens because in Wisconsin we don’t have foliage year-round with shrubs and some trees.
“I planted Austrian pines, white pine and spruce. I also planted a Japanese maple. There are 30 to 40 pine and spruce trees on the property. They are all planted close together, so they act like a hedge. I wanted pines so there were no leaves, and because they give privacy in winter, but they also have color. When I first planted them they were 4½ to 5 feet high. Now they are 30 feet high.
“I also put two big retaining walls in the backyard. They’re about 5 feet high. There are some walls you can sit on, but they are mainly for holding the berms up,” he said.
In the backyard, he also designed his “mini resort.”
“I have a big patio with a pavilion. Inside the pavilion, there’s a bar with chairs, and a TV. I also have lawn furniture, patio heaters, two fire pits, and there are three sheds where I keep my tools and yard equipment.
“At night I have lighting. I designed it and installed it. I have lighting on the pathways, and by the bar. It’s all over. I use the area a lot at night. In summer it’s beautiful.
“I also designed a parking area in the back. Right now a friend of mine also has his boat there. I was thinking of buying a boat at one time, but I never did. The years went so fast. They just disappeared. I can’t believe I’m as old as I am,” said Wiggins, who is 88.
With the help of his rehired employees, he also created the addition he initially thought about.
“I added the addition for the card room and also for a sauna and a hot tub. My former employees helped me with the addition, too. … I became the general contractor for the addition,” he said.
Wiggins said he started in the landscaping business at a very young age.
“I started in 1949, when I was 15 years old. I was cutting grass, fixing flowerbeds and things like that for neighbors. In 1950, when I was 16, I got my first truck and I called my business Bud's Landscaping. In 1962, I incorporated to Wiggins Landscape Contractors Inc.
“I worked in Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan. We did homes, but we also did a lot of landscaping at businesses and in athletic fields. We did some high schools in Milwaukee. We also did snowplowing in winter,” he said.
He recently talked about landscaping, his lifelong passion, and his low-maintenance yard.
Question: Would you describe your home?
Answer. It’s a trilevel ranch house. It has four bedrooms, three bathrooms, a living room, dining room, kitchen and a family room. It’s about 50 years old. It’s in an older neighborhood.
Q: Did you have to remove many plants when you started landscaping?
A: It was almost all grass. There were a few plants and bushes I had to take out, and I kept one or two trees.
Q: Do you maintain this space yourself these days?
A: Because the property has no grass to cut, the only thing I have to do here is prune some bushes. Sometimes I hire some boys from Menomonee Falls to do the bushes or to plant things. Sometimes things die, and you have to replace them.
They are high school kids. I taught them to prune, and they learned a lot here. When you prune, you have to know how you want your bushes to look. Do you want them shaped or do you want them wild and natural?
When you first come in at the driveway I have a decorative pine tree that looks like a pompom. I had to know how to trim it correctly, and then I taught the boys I hired. I have to do it three times a year to keep the shape.
Q: Do you still see the former employees who worked with you at your home?
A: All those people who helped me, they passed away. I also played cards once a month for 30 years with the same contractors. They were landscape contractors. And they are all gone now, too.
Q: Do you plant any flowers at all?
A: In summer I put pots of flowers around the patio. I put in impatiens, a lot of them, and geraniums, some petunias and begonias. I used to get into a lot of sunflowers, but I don’t do as much of them anymore because I want low maintenance.
Q: What kinds of stone did you use on your patio?
A: Just a paving brick. It’s a reddish brown color.
Q: What kind of bricks did you use in your retaining walls?
A: Keystone bricks or Lannon stone. I even used a few railroad ties.
Q: What variety of bushes did you add in the berms?
A: I used lilacs, forsythia and cranberry. I used all different kinds of deciduous plants. I mostly put in plants that were commonly grown here. I didn’t add anything that was from Hawaii, or plants like that. I didn’t want anything I have to cover or baby.
At one time I had a lot of roses, then they died because it was too shady, and I put in other plants. I use the plants that are the most robust.
Q: Do you entertain here often?
A. I used to. Now that I’m 88 years old, I don’t that much anymore. But people always enjoy coming over here. I like to just go out there and relax. No on can see you out there.
Q: Is your yard sunny or shady?
A: It’s a little of both.
Q: You have a lot of boulders and stones on your property. Do you believe they add to the landscape?
A: Yes. I have about 30 boulders. I like to use them as accents. I use the large stones instead of mulch. I don’t like mulch because you have to replace it every year. It’s a lot more work. I like to add the decorative stone to keep out the weeds. If you buy bigger stones you can pick up debris in these areas with a shop vac. But you have to get stones that are too heavy to go through the vacuum.
Q: Did you add the bridge on the east side of your property?
A: Yes. There is an open culvert there. I put the bridge over it so I could walk through.
Q: Do you get much color in your yard from the trees and shrubs you planted?
A: I end up with a lot of color throughout the year. The Japanese maple stays red all summer, but some of the bushes do change colors.
Q: Do you close up your pavilion in winter?
A: Yes. The way I designed it is I have canvas that rolls down and all the yard furniture goes underneath it.
Q: Were you affiliated with any professional groups when you had your business?
A: I am past president of the Wisconsin Landscape Contractors Association and the Wisconsin Landscape Federation
Q: Any tips for those who want to create a similar space?
A: Number one is use common sense and get in touch with a landscape architect. There are a lot of talented people out there. Then you should sit down and think about what you want to do with your yard. Do you want a little private area, or is it for kids? You can do a whole yard for kids.
Q: Are you still making changes to your property?
A: I’m always adding things around here, and I’m always doing something. I don’t like to sit around. I can’t stop working; it’s crazy. But it keeps me going. Next I’m putting a seal coat on the paving bricks in the patio and on part of the driveway for a glossy look.
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: After 56 years in landscaping, 88-year-old keeps own dream garden