The magical garden of a woman from Lake Geneva attracts young and old to her garden | Parker
The old man hadn’t said a word for over a year until he saw the miniature garden in Susie and Bob Kagel’s front yard.
It’s like a model train put on steroids, but without the train – a collection of outdoor dioramas among rocks, creeping thyme, Irish moss and boxwood bushes at 944 Hudson Trail, Lake Geneva.
Calling it a fairy garden doesn’t do it justice. Of course, there are fairies, mermaids and other magical and mythical beings.
But there are also elephants, turtles, orangutans, kangaroos, dogs, cars, a farm, houses, a beach, an inground pool, a tiki bar. It’s a miniature world, which Susie describes as “whimsical but realistic”, perhaps best summed up by a scene where a boat is attacked by a gang of sea creatures that includes a giant octopus and a shark.
“My husband made me add this,” Susie said of the shark. She said Bob calls him Bruce, after the animatronic shark that was used in the filming of the movie “Jaws.”
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The garden of small wonders in the front yard of the Kagels attracts visitors daily. While Susie likes to put a smile on people’s faces, there was one encounter that had a profound impact on the Kagels.
One morning Bob looked out the window and saw an elderly couple near the garden. After noticing that they had been there for over half an hour, Susie came out and talked to them.
She learned that the old man suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. Due to his severe dementia, he did not speak to anyone.
The man’s wife told Susie that once she showed him the garden, he sat down on the bench and started talking to his wife as he did 25 years ago, remembering the garden they had, how they took carrots for their neighbours.
“It brought back all those memories for him, and he talked for about 40 minutes, nonstop,” Susie said.
Another day, a woman brought her autistic son to see the garden. “He said, ‘I love it. It’s a small world,'” Susie said.
The small world has a greater impact on the community, even beyond its neighbors in the Townline Trails subdivision.
Susie thinks about 30 people stop by to check it out every day.
Sometimes it’s groups of people. One day, Susie discovered the Burlington Garden Club while admiring the landscape of her garden.
“I didn’t know they were coming, but when I came out they asked me to join the gardening club and it was pretty cool,” she laughed.
Creative and artist, Susie is also a sociable person, perhaps that’s why she worked for 35 years for the US Postal Service, at the Lake Geneva post office.
Having retired about five years ago, she found she missed people.
Fortunately, his garden attracted an audience.
One of the girls from their neighborhood stops in the garden to have breakfast, sitting on one of the benches the Kagels have made available to guests.
On June 22, Eloise and Lily Baertschy, aged 10 and 8 respectively, showed each other various figures and scenes with wide-eyed wonder.
Every week, the Kagel hide a Sasquatch figurine somewhere in the garden. It’s a challenge for the kids to see if they can find it.
Susie said a boy from Genoa City used to stop by regularly. His grandmother takes him there.
When asked what inspired her to create such a unique garden, Susie recalled living near the Lake Geneva Public Library. About 25 years ago, the Kagels were raising three children and every night they went to Library Park to feed the ducks.
Along the way was a house that had a 5-foot tall concrete castle in its yard.
“They had little princesses in the turrets, little dragons down there, a little moat,” Susie said. “My kids just loved it.”
Once the action figures were stolen and it upset the Kagel children so much that Susie and her children went to many thrift stores to buy replacement parts.
“We gave (the castle owner) a big bag of all sorts of things, and she put them in there,” Susie said. “It was fun for the kids to see where she put all the little figures and stuff.”
Over 11 years ago, after the Kagels moved into Townline Trails, Susie decided to come up with her own take on the idea.
She started small, with a small house in a rock garden.
“People were knocking on my door, saying how cute it was – just a little house,” Susie said.
Each year, she added more. Now she doesn’t even know how many rooms there are in the garden. “Thousands,” she says.
“Every year it’s different. I might buy a new house or something and then I have to figure out where I’m going to fit it in and then maybe the old neighborhood where the scene was doesn’t even work at all.
Susie said it took about 150 hours to bring everything outside.
But at the end of each season, the parts are stored in black bins. After spending a few hundred dollars on animal figurines for the garden one year, the sun faded them.
“I was sitting there painting stripes on zebras and spots on giraffes,” Susie said.
She then came up with an ingenious solution. She uses the same spray that she uses to keep the boat cushions from fading in the sun, a kind of sunscreen that she soaks each character in before they return to the garden.
Susie thinks her attention to detail is what draws people in. It’s not something to watch and then pass. Closer inspection reveals attributes such as the writing on a box of chips, the foam on a mug of beer, even the pedals on the floor of a golf cart.
Susie created a Japanese tea house for her garden by removing the rim from a tiny clock face, which she used as a window frame. Then she wove pieces of a rattan placemat to make the walls of the teahouse.
Just as this castle made the Kagel family happy years ago, Susie’s garden brings that same feeling to others.
And Susie couldn’t be happier.
“I like to make people happy and make them smile and think of something fun,” she said. “With all the problems in the world, it’s just something light.”
World of little wonders: 19 photos of Susie Kagel’s fairy garden on Lake Geneva