Outdoor Decor

Create beautiful yet budget-friendly garden and outdoor spaces to entertain or unwind.

Archway leading to garden.


Garden designer Vanessa Johanning believes a garden gate is the most exciting way to introduce a special place. Photography by Jim Wieland/RDA-MKE

Vanessa and Bob Johanning


Every summer, Vanessa and husband Bob throw a garden party to share the floral fruits of their planting. Photography by Jim Wieland/RDA-MKE

Aerial view of backyard garden.


Vanessa designed a central path to draw visitors into her five perennial beds. Photography by Jim Wieland/RDA-MKE

Birdhouse made with recycled material.


Bits of whimsy add charm to the garden, including Christmas ornaments and silverware accenting a birdhouse. Photography by Jim Wieland/RDA-MKE

Bike used as a garden planter.


The basket of a recycled bike doubles as a flower planter. Photography by Jim Wieland/RDA-MKE

Vintage aprons on a line.


Vintage aprons, awash in bright colors, grace a backyard clothesline. Photography by Jim Wieland/RDA-MKE

Recyled plates and mirror decorate a garden.


Mirrors in a garden cast a magical light, while old plates make attention-grabbing edging. Photography by Jim Wieland/RDA-MKE

Archway leading to garden.Vanessa and Bob JohanningAerial view of backyard garden.Birdhouse made with recycled material.Bike used as a garden planter.Vintage aprons on a line.Recyled plates and mirror decorate a garden.


Vanessa Johanning takes her gardens personally—every plot, plant and posy. “The reason I started my own company 11 years ago was to create gardens that fit each client’s personality,” says the owner of V Gardens and Design. Vivacious Vanessa drives a truck plastered bumper to bumper with floral collages and glitter as she shuttles from modest backyard beds to formal estate gardens near her home in Sussex, Wisconsin.

“The best gardens start as dreams,” she says. “So I show my clients photos and paintings of famous gardens and ask them to imagine themselves inside them. Next we discuss how they’ll use the space—as in entertaining—and how much time they have to maintain it. Finally, I study the garden placement for sunshine, shade and wind, and the types of soil and drainage. Then the fun really begins!”

Vanessa encourages her clients to get their own hands dirty. “I want their fingerprints all over the garden—so we talk about colors, favorite plants, water features and the ornamentation they’ll really enjoy,” she says. “We look at each garden area as an outdoor room that they can decorate.”

Tucked among the petunias, hostas, arbors and backyard waterfalls, she says, there should be a relaxing oasis—a deck, a patio or just a pair of Adirondack chairs. Because she believes gardens should be shared, Vanessa suggests paths wide enough to walk with friends.

“At home, my 1-acre gardens are my playground and experiment zone,” she says of the whimsical wonderland she tends with husband Bob. “We try out new plants in my trial beds,” she adds. “Usually, I have so many combinations, there’s no room for weeds! It’s also the place I showcase the various things I collect.”

Guests delight in stumbling upon antiques, modern accents and yard sale finds: old china plates and vinyl records lining the pathways, vintage aprons on a clothesline, colorful watering cans sprinkled about and more. “When it comes to garden art, there are no rules, except that it should definitely make you smile,” Vanessa says. “Because a beautiful garden is one where life and happiness grow right along with the plants.”

For more on Vanessa, her garden and art projects, visit her blog at vanessajohanning.com.

Deb Satern 1 August 21, 2012 at 4:18 pm

I am unable to find a website for Vanessa Johanning. Wanting to know where to purchase the whimsy clothes pins in her picture of vintage aprons.

Thanks, Deb


sharon 2 August 21, 2012 at 5:15 pm

You can find contact information at Vanessa’s website: http://www.rhinestonecontessa.com/


Vanessa Johanning 3 October 9, 2012 at 3:28 pm

Hello Deb!!
The clothespins are an art project that I do every Spring! I seel them at local art shows here in Wisconsin…Arent they cool? check back on my blog and I will do a tutorial !! You can reach me on facebook too! xxoo

Vanessa Johanning


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