For 56 years, Bud Wiggins landscaped lots in homes and businesses in the Milwaukee area as the owner of Wiggins Landscape Contractors.
He laid out hundreds of concrete or asphalt driveways, laid decorative brick sidewalks and patios, built retaining walls and berms, and planted flowers, shrubs, and trees. He even tried his hand at holiday decorations.
He worked in all areas of his trade and employed between 40 and more than 70 workers.
But he never used his business to design his own home.
Instead, he retired 17 years ago, went out of business and auctioned off his equipment.
Then, just a few months later, he found the perfect home in Menomonee Falls. So he rolled up his sleeves again and immersed himself in a two-year landscaping project to create the garden he had always dreamed of.
“When I retired, I had no idea where to move to. I lived in Milwaukee and was just starting to go out and look at real estate. I’ve looked everywhere. I even looked 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 with a lot of privacy.
“This place kind of hit me. It already had an indoor pool. It’s about 30 feet long, 20 wide, and 10 feet deep. And I could see where I could add an addition to the card space that I wanted because I play poker,” he said.
To achieve that, he said he “got back into the business.” He came up with a design, bought new equipment and hired some old employees.
“I thought about what I wanted and I designed it that way.”
“Over the years that I’ve designed gardens, I’ve always told my clients to design their garden the way they want to live,” he said.
“Then I went to a couple of auctions and bought some equipment and I used it until I didn’t need it anymore, then I sold it. Then I contacted some of my co-workers who were retired and they came out to work with me. I hired three of them who have been working for me for about 30 years. We only worked the hours we wanted to work, so there was no pressure. We were all old. It was fun. It was physical work, but that keeps us all going,” he said.
He and his crew each worked a section of the yard, and soon the space was transformed, Wiggins said.
He landscaped the front, side, and back of the property and added a circular driveway in front of his home that led to his attached three-car garage. He added large berms, retaining walls, and lots of trees and shrubs, replacing the grass with concrete, pavers, or decorative gravel.
“I made two large berms in front of the house and then planted trees on the berms. The berms run along the front of the property. They are about 120 feet long.
“In the berms I used pine and a few other plants. I wanted mostly evergreens because in Wisconsin we don’t have year-round foliage with shrubs and some trees.
“I planted Austrian stone pine, 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 look like a hedge. I wanted pine trees so there would be no leaves and because they provide privacy in winter but also color. When I first planted them they were 4½ to 5 feet tall. Now they are 30 feet tall.
“I also put up two large retaining walls in the backyard. They are about 5 feet tall. There are some walls to sit on, but they’re mostly there to hold the berms in,” he said.
He also designed his “mini resort” in the backyard.
“I have a large patio with a gazebo. In the gazebo there is a bar with chairs and a TV. I also have patio furniture, patio heaters, two fire pits, and three sheds where I store my tools and garden equipment.
“I have lights at night. I designed and installed it. I have lights on the walkways and at the bar. It’s all over. I use the area a lot at night. It’s nice in the summer.
“I also designed a parking lot at the back. At the moment a friend of mine has his boat there too. I once considered buying a boat, but never did. The years went by so quickly. They just disappeared. I can’t believe I’m the age I am,” said Wiggins, who is 88.
With the help of his re-employed employees, he also created the initially planned extension.
“I added the addition for the chart room and also for a sauna and jacuzzi. My former employees also helped me with the addition. … I became the general contractor for the cultivation,” he said.
Wiggins said he started landscaping at a very young age.
“I started in 1949 when I was 15 years old. I mowed grass, set up flower beds and things like that for neighbors. In 1950, when I was 16, I got my first truck and called my business Bud’s Landscaping. In 1962 I became part of Wiggins Landscape Contractors Inc.
“I’ve worked in Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan. We built houses, but we also did a lot of landscaping in businesses and on sports fields. We went to a few high schools in Milwaukee. We also cleared snow in the winter,” he said.
He recently spoke about landscaping, his lifelong passion and his low-maintenance garden.
More:Your garden is “kinda wild”. His is “artistic/eclectic”. Together they create a bright tour stop in South Milwaukee.
Question: Would you describe your home?
Answers. It’s a three story ranch house. It has four bedrooms, three bathrooms, a living room, a dining room, a kitchen and a family room. It’s about 50 years old. It’s in an older neighborhood.
Q: Did you have to remove a lot of plants when you started landscaping?
A: It was almost all grass. There were a few plants and bushes that I had to take out and I kept a tree or two.
Q: Do you maintain this space yourself these days?
A: Since the property has no grass to mow, I just need to prune a few bushes here. Sometimes I hire some guys from Menomonee Falls to do the bushes or plant things. Sometimes things die and you have to replace them.
They are high school students. I taught them how to circumcise and they learned a lot here. When you prune, you need 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 into the driveway, I have a decorative pine tree that looks like a pompom. I had to know how to cut it properly, and then I taught it to the guys I hired. I have to do it three times a year to keep in shape.
Q: Do you still see the former employees who worked with you at your home?
A: All these people who helped me have died. I’ve also played cards once a month for 30 years with the same contractors. They were landscapers. And now they are all gone.
Q: Do you even plant flowers?
A: In the summer I put flowerpots around the terrace. I’ve put in impatiens, lots of them, and geraniums, some petunias and begonias. I used to dabble in sunflowers but I don’t do as many of them anymore because I like to be low maintenance.
Q: What types of stone did you use on your patio?
A: Just a cobblestone. It is a reddish brown color.
Q: What type of bricks did you use for your retaining walls?
A: Keystone brick or Lannon stone. I even used some railroad ties.
Q: What types of bushes did you add in the berms?
A: I used lilac, forsythia and cranberry. I’ve used all kinds of foliage plants. I mainly used plants that are commonly grown here. I didn’t add anything that’s native to Hawaii or any plants like that. I didn’t want anything to cover up, or baby.
I used to have a lot of roses, then they died because it was too shady, so I used other plants. I use the plants that are the sturdiest.
Q: Do you host here often?
A Before I. Now that I’m 88 years old, I don’t do that much anymore. But people always like to come here. I like to just go out and relax. Nobody can see you out there.
Q: Is your garden sunny or shady?
A: It’s a bit of both.
Q: You have a lot of boulders and stones on your property. Do you think they enrich the landscape?
A: Yes. I have about 30 stones. I like to use them as accents. I use the big rocks instead of mulch. I don’t like mulch because you have to change it every year. It’s a lot more work. I like to add the decorative stone to keep the weeds out. If you buy larger stones, you can use a shop vacuum to pick up dirt in these areas. 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 passage there. I put the bridge over it so I can walk through it.
Q: Do you get a lot of color in your garden from the trees and shrubs you’ve planted?
A: I have a lot of color all year round. The Japanese maple stays red all summer, but some of the bushes change color.
Q: Do you close your gazebo in winter?
A: Yes. The way I designed it is I have a canvas that rolls down and all the patio furniture goes underneath.
Q: Were you affiliated with any professional groups during your business activity?
A: I am Past President of the Wisconsin Landscape Contractors Association and the Wisconsin Landscape Federation
Q: Any tips for those looking to create a similar space?
A: Number one is to use common sense and get in touch with a landscape designer. There are many talented people out there. Then you should sit down and think about what you want to do with your garden. Would you like a small private area or is it for children? You can do a whole garden for children.
Q: Are you still making changes to your property?
A: I’m always adding things here, and I’m always making something. I don’t like sitting around. I can’t stop working; it’s crazy. But it gets me further. Next I apply a sealer to the patio pavers and part of the driveway for a glossy look.