For 13 years, Barbara Aho taught sculpture at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Ten years ago, she shifted her focus and went from the classroom to the garden, carrying many of the same concepts with her.
"My work is like green sculpture," says Aho. "I really love working outside."
Aho's business, called Flora Landscape Design, creates a landscape plan and then implements it for commercial and residential clients. Aho does most of the work herself, but occasionally hires part-timers for larger jobs. She and her team also do maintenance work.
Basically, she looks at a space and visualizes how to maximize the natural beauty within budget constraints. She will draw a design on paper – blueprint style – but what she actually prefers is to spend time at the space and physically move plants and shrubs around to figure out what looks the best where. Recently, she saved a business form spending $20,000 on sidewalks by coming up with an alternative natural pathway instead.
Aho uses natural, organic products exclusively – no pesticides – and says she originally learned about the merits of non-toxic gardening from her parents while growing up in northern Wisconsin. "We got 'Organic Gardening' magazine in the '70s when it looked like a free magazine you'd pick up at the Outpost," she says.
To get rid of weeds, she recommends using vinegar, salt water or boiling water. "Just don't spill it on your feet," she says.
Toxic weed killers, she believes, are much more dangerous than people realize. "The companies test the active ingredients, but we're finding out the inactive ingredients can be more toxic than the active ones," she says. "The organic method isn't 100 percent for keeping weeds out, but for me, it's the only solution."
Aho also makes landscape-inspired crafts, such as wool-felt insoles that keep feet warm and comfortable while working outdoors. She also makes fleece in-soles for Crocs. Both types of in-soles are available at Future Green, 2352 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., and the Riverwest Co-op, 733 E. Clarke St.
"Gardening puts a lot of pressure on your feet. I can't work outside without them," she says.
Aho says she does not favor one greenhouse over another and buys plants and flowers from "Racine to Menomonee Falls" depending on where she can find the best prices.
The creation of private, personal greenspace is extremely important to the human experience, according to Aho. She says the No. 1 reason people go on vacation is to leave their jobs, but the No. 2 reason is to get away from their neighbors. Hence, she is a firm believer in planting tall green things to ensure privacy.
"It's important to have a private space where you can go outside and not have to say 'hello' if you don't feel like it," she says. "We have these little bits of nature, and we need to use them for rejuvenation."
Aho says the top mistakes people make in their yards is they plant too many perennials and not enough shrubs and trees.
"They add more sculpture and oxygen," she says.
At the end of our interview, Aho visited my backyard space, which is a huge slab of concrete with a small "garden" next to it. Because the strange, mammoth concrete area is used as basketball and play area for kids, and balls would most likely bounce on top of any flowers or plants in the garden next to it, Aho suggested planting a row of hardy, attractive shrubs instead. She also suggested large pots, filled with plants to soften the concrete area.
"Ideally, they could be on casters, so you could roll them off the space when the kids want to play basketball and then roll them back when you're just relaxing in the back yard," she says. (Genius!)
Aho recognized the tight budget, and suggested instead of spending $50 or more per massive pot at a gardening store, to look around and find other containers for cheaper or free. "You could take any hug plastic container, spray paint it purple or whatever color you wanted, drill some holes in the bottom of it and have yourself a nice-looking container," she says.
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.