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Earth, stone & fire
Backyard landscapes harness natural elements


Breaking gridlock

Peter White gave his landscape architect free expression in designing an outdoor living area for his Whitefish Bay home, with a few stipulations.

"No. 1," White says, "I told him I would like it to be free of 90-degree angles. We live in a grid in Whitefish Bay," he says. "Everything is square or rectangle. I wanted the shape of the project flowing such as to have no squares."

Jeff Hershberger, a senior landscape architect with David J. Frank Landscaping Co., rose to the challenge. Hershberger admits there is a lot going on in the landscape design of the White’s yard: a courtyard, terrace, patio, deck and lawn space, all fenced inside the city-sized lot. "While it’s a real tight area and even though it has fence around it, it is still a real comfortable area," he says.

Hershberger maintained continuity by using some of the same materials in the hardscape that are on the house, such as the brown brick and irregular Lannon stone details. "We tried to use the same materials so we were not introducing a completely different look to it," he says.

One of the first priorities was to reorient the landscape to direct visitors to the home’s front entry, which is actually on the side of the house.

Hershberger employed changes in elevation between the deck and patio to circumvent drainage problems. Radius-cut stone steps tie the patio in with the circular wooden deck, and the steps morph into a fire pit area. Subtle indirect lighting and plantings around the fence soften the area as well.

The project won a 2006 gold award from the Wisconsin Landscape Contractors Association in residential landscape design and construction.

Hershberger’s design accomplished another of White’s goals: to create a space that was as livable as possible for most of the year. When Peter and Ann White first bought the house, they had considered adding interior living space, but the configuration of the house on the lot precluded that, White says. Now the yard is truly an extension of the White family’s living space.

›Go with the flow

The centerpiece of the backyard of Mark Brunner and Sue Merrill is this stunning 55-foot water feature that consists of three separate waterfalls and a large koi pond below.

"We had to think of something to do with the slope coming down from the garage to the lower part of the backyard," Brunner says.

The stone used on the waterfalls is a weathered-edge Lannon stone. The fieldstone is handpicked from the property and from a subdivision Brunner, of Brunner Builders, was developing elsewhere in Cedarburg.

Brunner put his 30 years of experience in the masonry field to good use creating the water feature. He says the best view is from the dinette inside the house, but great views abound from an outdoor deck above, from a lower level patio or one of the observation benches near the water.

The koi pond is about 3 feet deep and is home to about 50 koi and goldfish. A mixture of perennials and hostas frames the water and the rocks.


With their house abutting a ravine, Rick and Chris Lane never thought they would use the backyard of their Bayside home. "Then we had teenagers," Chris Lane quips.

Collaborating with LaRosa Landscape Co., the Lanes now have usable space in both their front and backyards. Various projects have been in the works with LaRosa since 2001, including this front yard blue stone patio. The sunny patio is a perfect spot for summer entertaining, Lane says, and the brilliant pink roses create privacy for the Lanes as well as scenery for the neighbors. Lane says the patio suits the style of the house, and the picket fence and the roses offer a cottagey feel to the property.

In the woodsy backyard, there is a fire pit for teen hangouts and a hot tub. The Lanes made a difficult decision to remove a large silver maple tree and replace it with an arbor. By doing so they extended the living space of the adjoining sunroom.

›Private property

In redoing the landscape at the home of Joe and Nancy Lucas, one of Peter Kudlata’s goals was to create a privacy screen around the yard, located in the middle of a Mequon subdivision.

Kudlata, landscape architect and owner of Flagstone Landscaping, Cedarburg, accomplished this by supplementing the existing plantings around the perimeter of the yard and choosing plantings around the newly redesigned patio that provide privacy as well as color throughout the season. "I think we attained the goal of creating this private spot," he says.

Flagstone replaced the existing concrete patio with blue stone on the floor, and surrounded it by a brick wall that doubles as extra seating when the family entertains. "The arbor gives dimension and brings in another material and matches the wood on the home," Kudlata says. "The blue stone is a great relief to the brick," he says, "and the muted blue color is calming."

Other features of the backyard patio are a grilling station and a hot tub with an automatic cover. Of the hot tub, Kudlata says he wanted to "create a hot tub without looking like a California spa." The hot tub has a black bottom and a lion’s head on the wall spurts water into the tub. "It looks more like a water feature and less like a hot tub," Kudlata says.