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Environmental factors
Landscape architects maximize yard space to create spacious outdoor areas


April 2008

The key to enjoying the great outdoors just outside oneís back door is creating the right environment. Just ask John DíAgostino and John Borchardt, who last year worked with local landscape design firms to carve out the perfect niche for their respective suburban and urban lifestyles.

DíAgostino wanted to create an entertainment venue at his home in a subdivision of Menomonee Falls. He hired Stano Landscaping Inc. of Milwaukee to create a patio and adjoining fire pit amid a re-landscaped area enhanced by plantings.

"The new area is great," DíAgostino says, "because we can entertain a lot of people at the patio, which is just a few steps down from our deck. If one or two people want to get away from the bigger group and sit back in a cozier spot, they can just go up to the deck. It works out because now we have a couple of different areas."

That same versatility is what Borchardt needed on the side and back of his coach house located in Milwaukeeís Brewers Hill. Situated between an alley on the east and a neighboring yard on the west, the outside property was largely uncharted until assistance came from Hawks Nursery in Wauwatosa. The open space has been divided into sections including a narrow shaded side yard with a walk that connects the front and back doors and a patio area that includes a dining/picnic table. The area is further defined by a wood fence that runs along the west side of the property, including a trellis for hanging plants. Small trees and flowering bushes provide further privacy and visual interest.

"We wanted an enclosed space for our kids and the dog," Borchardt says. "We wanted to create a space we could enjoy, a family space thatís separate from the street, and yet not completely close ourselves off from the neighborhood. It works well with our family lifestyle."

Local landscape companies have adapted to the functional tastes of todayís homeowners, giving them guidance in how to create their own personal outdoor spaces.

"Every lot is different and every clientís needs are equally different," says Matt Stano, president of Stano Landscaping. "Understanding their lifestyle is the most important facet."

Stano and Daniel Norris, a landscape architect, note that fire pits and fireplaces are an important current trend, but that lifestyle tools of the landscape profession also include everything from childrenís play structures and children- and pet-friendly plants to swimming pools, hot tubs, arbors, benches, gazebos, patios and accent lighting.

Landscape Architect Gary Urban of Hawks Nursery says weather-friendly furniture that can be left outdoors helps create conversation areas as well as privacy enclaves.

"You can create a room with tall arborvitaes (as walls), brick and stone materials (as floors) and trellises (as ceilings)," Urban says. "This is popular and something you did not see 10 or 15 years ago. We can pull together colors that are used inside and outside the home, so that is an extension of the indoor living space."

Charlie Koch, landscape architect with Wandsnider Landscape in Menomonee Falls, says it is important to work with the space, scape and proportions.

"You should create the space as you would a picture," he says. "Frame it and determine a focal point. Perhaps itís a large urn or a piece of art. You let pathways lead to the focal point.

"You also need to pay attention to the architectural details of the home," he says. "If the space is in back of the house, you need to make retaining walls and other materials reflective of the home. For example, a masonry wall may tie into the brick and mortar construction of the house."

Koch also notes that a buffer between the landscaped space and the home is desirable. "Itís important not to create a patio that comes right up to the back of the house," he explains. "A buffer, even if itís only a couple of feet wide, helps make it an inviting space. Also, think outside the box when placing furniture in various locations. You can get an entirely different feeling if you move the furnishings every so often. Itís like creating a brand new space.

How the space is viewed from other vantage points is also important, Koch says, adding that looking at a potential space from a rear window in the house will help guide how it is shaped. How the space affects neighbors is another consideration.

"If you get along with your neighbors and you want to keep connected, you have to be careful of what you build," he says. "You can have privacy and a view between properties.

Stanoís Norris recommends homeowners find a reputable landscape company to create a master design to identify space utilization, and pull together a design concept to meet the needs. From there, the company would build retaining walls for more functional spaces and install plants, hard scape, drainage and any additional structures. Hawksí Urban says a landscaper should interview the homeowners to discover their needs, take photographs, present a design and help select landscape materials and furnishings.

Homeowners, Norris adds, can install perennials and annuals, as well as provide the personal touches such as flowerpots, sculptures, etc.

Koch agrees that homeowners can be fully engaged in the process. "We work with a questionnaire that helps us determine how much someone wants to spend, how much they want to do in keeping up the landscaping and whether they can do that. It helps to determine if they can afford to not only create the project, but also maintain it."

Having an expert create the space is important, says DíAgostino. "I need to have someone tell me the kind and location of trees and plants on my property. I know what I like, but I really appreciate when I can get the expertise to assure that Iím doing the right things."



This article was featured in the April 2008 issue of