Backyard bonanza

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:33 pm

Michele and Dean Ziegler think of the patio and deck at their Mequon home as another living area that can be used throughout the year. The patio, which has a hot tub and a fire pit, is surrounded by a low brick wall. "Last (winter), we shoveled a little path to the grill and hot tub," Michele Ziegler said. "We use the fire pit the most in the early spring and fall."
The Zieglers are adding on to the patio area, building an outdoor barbecue pit that, when finished, will have a large stainless steel charcoal grill with two gas-fired burners for sautéing or heating side dishes and a smoker. The hot tub sits just off the patio.
The sound of a small man-
made stream adds ambience to the Zieglers’ back yard.
"We decided to do some kind of a water feature that had the sound of water," Ziegler said. "And we wanted the natural wild flower area in the back, so it naturally fits in with the surroundings."
More homeowners like the Zieglers are adding elaborate landscaping and hardscape features to their back yards.
Instead of thinking of their lawns and patios as areas for just playing games, cutting the grass and taking the occasional nap, many people are treating the outside areas of their homes as additional living areas.
As a result, more homeowners are spending more time, money and energy on landscaping. In addition to plants, elements such as fountains, spas, outdoor fire pits and even outdoor kitchens are now included in elaborate landscape designs.
Jeff Herschberger, a landscape architect with David J. Frank Landscape Contracting, a Germantown-based company, said he’s noticed an increased amount of attention paid to landscaping and home exteriors in recent years.
One of the drivers of this trend is the hot housing market, Herschberger said.
"I think right now a lot of people are realizing the value of it, not only aesthetically, but with resale as well," he said.
When the Ziegler family moved into the house they built on a five-acre plot in Mequon about two years ago, they wanted to create a comfortable outdoor living space for themselves and their two children, but they also wanted to use many native plants in the landscape.
Herschberger created a plan for the family’s back yard that includes the flowing water, a deck off the first floor and the large patio opening from the home’s exposed basement.
The landscaping plan designed by Herschberger included lighting for both safety and decoration. Many of the lights are low to the ground, highlighting where the paths are located and the key design elements and plantings.
Many of the plantings have been designed to be perennial and low-maintenance. They include tall grasses that are still visible late in the year, when many of the wild flowers have died or been cut back for the season.
Working with a landscape contractor helped transform the property, Ziegler said.
"I think (for many people), landscaping tends to be an after thought," she said. "Having someone draw up plans is crucial. Jeff made the yard come to life with his plans. And we can add and take things away once they’re being developed."
While some homeowners have put an emphasis on hardscape, including large patios and spas, others are choosing to focus on plants for prominent features in their outdoor living areas.
When Ginny Curtes inherited her parents’ summer home on Big Cedar Lake near West Bend about seven years ago, she wanted to keep much of the landscaping there intact.
"We were looking to keep as much of it original," she said. "My dad was a gardener – he knew his plants, and he enjoyed it."
In the late 1990s, Curtes and her husband, Don, decided to expand the home and relocate the patio to the rear of the home from one of the sides. They intended to keep as many of the perennials, trees and shrubs that her family had planted over the years as possible, preserving the character of the summer home.
Don Curtes is president of Auer Steel & Heating Supply Co., a distributor of heating and cooling systems with locations in Milwaukee, Appleton and the Twin Cities. Ginny Curtes operates an antique dealership in Menomonee Falls.
With the help of Hawks Nursery in Wauwatosa, including landscape architect and design and sales manger Gary Urban, the Curteses have transformed what used to be an open field into an inviting garden area with multiple planting beds decorated with flowers, perennials, small shrubs and plants not commonly found in most Wisconsin gardens.
"One of the neat parts of this project is that we’re re-using a lot of the heirloom perennials," Urban said. "We re-used as many plants as possible, but a lot of the hardware had to be replaced."
The home has special meaning for the Curtes family. Curtes and her husband first met on the dock at the property one summer when Curtes was 15 years old, and one of their sons met his wife on the lake as well.
"A lot of families meet here on the lake," she said. "Some stay here for generations."
Curtes spends about 20 hours a week during the peak season on landscaping and gardening at the home.
"It’s exciting to see what’s doing well and not doing well," she said. "I keep a really good record of what I buy, where I bought, how much I paid for it and where I put it. It’s a fun comparison. And I’m always looking for new stuff."
Most homeowners aren’t as involved with their landscaping as Curtes, Urban said, making her projects some of the more interesting he’s involved with.
"She experiments with a lot of different plant material," he said. "She’s always mentioning new things to me. And she’s always bringing plants and then asking where it goes."

July 22, 2005, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI

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