conley6.gif (2529 bytes)


Carefree habitat
The Mastels created stimulating spaces in their yard for both young and old

By MARY LOU SANTOVEC

August 2006

Cheri Mastel enjoys the calmness of curves and itís apparent in her yard.

Curves are found throughout all the spaces from the "carefree" border gardens, to the small rain garden and even in the childrenís garden created especially for the Mastelsí 9-year-old daughter, Melinda. There are no sharp angles. The gardens also include "small gradual berms and shallow swails, accented with fieldstone," says Mastel.

Larry and Cheri Mastel moved into their one-story ranch house on a three-quarter acre lot 12 years ago, before Melinda was born. While the house was more modest compared to others they had looked at, it was the sloping backyard that sold them. As soon as they moved in, the couple began transforming the space with evergreens, which now form the basis for a wildlife habitat. The Brookfield gardenersí landscaping is registered with the National Wildlife Federation as a Backyard Wildlife Habitat.

"Our overall concept was to create a space that would both stimulate and nurture, a childís wonderland for exploring, experimenting, imagining and playing," says Mastel. "There are eight paths to add interest, allowing children easy access and bringing them up close to each feature so they can satisfy their curiosity."

Carefree is an appropriate word to describe the entire area. All of the plants and flowers were chosen to survive Wisconsin winters and for ease of care. "Our gardens are meant to be lived in, both by our friends and family, and the little creatures who visit," she says. "Our gardens would not be complete without our golf holes, a tree fort, a slumber party tent, birdhouses, feeders and birdbaths." And unlike many gardeners, Mastel believes that anything in bloom is fair game for cutting.

Melinda Mastel spends time pruning and weeding her "Enchanted Forest."


A variety of flowering shrubs and plants form the borders, which are edged with 8-inch snapped Lannon stone thatís used to create a permanent edge. The edge is inset at ground level for easier mowing. Roses, lilacs, hibiscus, hydrangeas, flowering dogwood, quince, sumac, even St. Johnís Wort have taken root in the borders. In the front yard, a fern-leaved peony hugs a massive rock carved with the Mastelsí address.

The rain garden, a solution to a moist portion of the sidelawn, culminates in a pond thatís located in a section of the border gardens. Here Mastel has planted several species of native wildflowers including milkweed, meadow rue and columbine.

Pink sand frequently covers the stone paths through the childrenís garden, appropriately named "Melindaís Enchanted Forest." Stone fairies keep a vigil over the various shade plants like astilbe, trillium, bleeding hearts, lily of the valley and hostas. Color is found in the pansies, yellow irises, sunflowers, asters and phlox. A footbridge covers a faux pond filled with blue and green glass pebbles.

"Melindaís Enchanted Forest is a place where she can make all the decisions," says Mastel. "From plant selection and placement to statues, there is something new every year to reflect her changing tastes."

The Mastelsí backyard earned its wildlife habitat designation as a home for hummingbirds and butterflies. The focal point is "Hummingbird Hollow," which contains butterfly attractions such as violets, asters, hollyhocks, cosmos and yarrow. The family is pruning an Austrian pine to create a "tree-cave." A bench is positioned among the evergreens for prime hummingbird watching as they flit to and fro from the columbine and the scarlet beebalm.

For Mastel, inspiration comes from her painting. "Idyllic landscapes seem to flow from my brushes most easily," she says. "When I am landscaping I often feel Iím creating a sculptural painting, using dirt and flora as my media."

Besides the flora, the Mastelsí back yard is also home to some unusual fauna. The family has seen a pair of red fox, a wild turkey, a coyote and a family of mink tour the space. Like nature, the familyís garden space is ever evolving. Future plans revolve around removing trees past their service life and gaining space as evergreens mature. "What we really hope to do in the gardens is just keep having fun, enjoying our family, friends and the neighbors," says Mastel.