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Natural State
Idyllic property belies its intentional design


September 2012

Though the initial impression of this Wauwatosa property is of a loose and naturalistic yard, horticulturist Stewart Dempsey says there is quite a lot of order to the landscape. The outdoor fireplace was created by Simon Leverett of Petra Historic Masonry to fit in with the architecture of the 1920s-era house. The homeowners also restored the rock garden of Niagara stone that was original to the house.
Photo by Doug Edmunds

As the caretaker of Judy Peck and Stephen Kaniewskiís yard for the last decade, Stewart Dempsey appreciates the ephemeral beauty of the landscape. "Itís not static. When it comes up you have to enjoy it because itís never going to be the same again," Dempsey says.

The two-acre property in the Washington Highlands is a rare find in Wauwatosa. And with its old-growth trees, sunken patio and waterfall pond, the homeowners have cultivated a private retreat to enjoy from its midst or through the views from inside the house.

Dempsey, the owner of horticulture consulting and design firm Walnut Hill, came into the project just after the homeowners had built a new garage, put in a new driveway and were redoing the sprinkler system. "There were trenches all over the yard. It was just a mess," he says.

The homeowners expanded an existing pond on the property and added a stone bridge that leads to a secluded spot where homeowner Stephen Kaniewski likes to unwind.
Photo by Doug Edmunds

Dempsey had two directives from the homeowners: "There was a very strict mandate from Steve and Judy that they did not want this unique and historic property to look like a landscaped lot," Dempsey says.

The other was to create a yard with a lot of spring and fall interest, since Peck and the children spent most of the summer up north.

A wisteria vine climbs up a wall on the former garage, which is now a family room.
Photo by Doug Edmunds

Peonies, hydrangeas, roses and lilies provide color and fragrance, while hostas and many varieties of shrubs add texture and greenery. Dogwood, viburnum and holly offer interest in fall and winter, too. "What I found rewarding was taking from concepts of not necessarily having extreme color, which is what most people are after, but to use texture and form and relying on that more heavily than flower or bloom sequence," Dempsey says.

He capitalized on some of the plants that had been in the yard previously, like peonies and hostas, and added others such as Japanese Kerria and Oriental lilies. Though the homeowners donít have much time for gardening ó he is the owner of Brass Light Gallery ó they were involved in the design to make sure it was in line with what they envisioned for the property, Dempsey says.

The front entry of the house, which is set back from the street, is another spot to enjoy the natural surroundings.

Dempsey and Christine Anderson spend about 15 hours a week maintaining the property, sharing the natural surroundings with wildlife such as ducks, frogs and birds. "There is no other property like it in the metro area," Dempsey says. "There is so much wildlife you feel like you are someplace else. You donít feel like you are in the middle of the city." 



This story ran in the September 2012 issue of: