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A synergistic setting
The Henkes worked closely with a landscape architect to make sure their home and yard blended together

By MARY LOU SANTOVEC

May 2006

Itís the plants that smell good that Pewaukee resident Dianne Henke wants blooming in her gardens. Roses, peonies and lilacs all contribute both their fragrance and color to Henkeís desire to make the world a beautiful place. "Iím a sucker for roses," she admits.

Created on the site of a reportedly "haunted house," the landscape was a bare canvas when Henke hired Dennis Buettner of the Fox Point-based Buettner and Associates to site her new home and design the landscape and gardens.

"The woman who lived in the original house was a recluse," says Henke. "Her last wish was that after her death, the house was going to be burnt down. We were thrilled we could honor her last wish."

The Henkes invited their neighbors to a rather nontraditional "house warming" gathering on St. Patrickís Day some 12 years ago and allowed the local fire department to burn the structure to the ground. Out of the ashes came a limestone Tudor.

"When we built the house, the gardens had to be developed to fit the property," she says. A survey of the land found that the Henkes actually had 10 acres instead of a 7.5-acre lot to work with.

Mixed woods comprise two thirds of the property. The woods play host to shooting stars and trilliums in the spring. Some 3.5 acres are landscaped with lush green lawns and gardens.

Buettner and Henke began the process of creating the overall plan after viewing the site from a boat on Pewaukee Lake. "Itís nice when a client comes to you before they build the house," says Buettner, "rather than just having to Ďshrub it upí when itís done."

Bringing Buettner in early allowed him to locate the house for the best views and preserve the existing trees. "He had the vision to place the house and knew how the patio had to complement the house," says Henke. "He listened to what we needed and followed what nature had already presented."

The result was an undulating landscape thatís "tailored to where both human and nature can react naturally," she adds. Part of the design included a set of broad, curving steps to invite people down from the terrace to the lake.

The property had significant springs that flowed year-round so Buettner formed a stream channel that runs under the driveway and supports various wetland plants. He also created a couple of shallow ponds for the three Henke children to safely play in.

Boaters on Pewaukee Lake get an excellent view of the Henkesí front yard gardens. The Henkes began planning the yard while the house was under construction so the gardens would "fit the property."


The dining terrace includes a honey locust shade tree with small leaves that are easy to remove. The opposite terrace contains an ash tree. The sunny side on the south chimney sports climbing roses. The shady side next to the porch hosts ferns.

Starting from scratch gave Henkeís imagination a free rein. "She was going to have everything she wanted," says Nancy Benninghouse, owner of Firefly Garden Design in Wauwatosa, who consulted with Henke on the plant choices. "Dianne was a passionate gardener. I would draw up preliminary plant palettes for her and she would immerse herself in the plant selections."

Besides roses, peonies were a must-have. Henke acquired varieties that bloomed early in the season, blossomed during the middle of the season, and those that waited till the end of season to show their colors.

While many gardeners insist that plants bloom where they are planted, Henke takes a different tact. If things donít grow well where they are, sheíll move them to another location. "Dianne would say itís an opportunity to try something else," says Benninghouse. "She likes to experiment. When something wouldnít work, she would look through the catalogs and find something better."

"I would try to find a plant that likes it where itís planted," says Henke. "I want the plant to be the best it can be by putting it in the right place." Thus the original rose garden is now the roseless garden after Henke had to move the flowers to a new spot. And when the hydrangea planted next to the door facing the road limped along until it gave up the ghost, Benninghouse and Henke decided to put in a weeping cherry, which has flourished.

A table tucked into a nook on the patio is surrounded by a variety of colorful flowers.


Other Henke choices include varieties of daylilies, blue Amsonia and bearded irises. "I tend to have a lot of the solid, deep purple or lighter purple irises," she says. "They make a nice contrast with the peonies."

In addition to dressing up the house, the gardens and landscape serve a more numinous purpose. Henke, who is heavily immersed in social justice issues, uses nature as a respite. "This garden is like a spiritual retreat," she says. "Digging in the soil and seeing the flowers bloom is really seeing the beauty of creation."