Moving to the Country

Renovated porch and terraced gardens framing the entrance.
Photograph provided by ZDA, Inc. Landscape Architecture

Our clients thought it would be fun to move to the country and found an old farmhouse on 27 acres in southern Wisconsin. But moving from a shady, well-established urban garden in Appleton to an expansive rural landscape presented a few challenges. Having seen many changes, the two-story, 1904, brick farmhouse looked lost and disconnected. Its porches had been renovated with little thought to historical accuracy or accessibility. The patios had breathtaking views of the countryside but felt too exposed and detached. Transforming this farmstead into a country paradise required recreating its sense of place to be both sheltered from and connected to the surrounding landscape.

How do you create a sense of place within a bucolic landscape that boasts expansive views, a vast lawn, and a lone silo? Landscape architect Steve Ziegler selected a palette of white pine, spruce, oak, and redbud to define the yard, blocking undesirable views and framing the greater landscape. He then placed a 5-ton, 14-foot-long, native outcrop rock in the open lawn to balance the silo’s strong vertical line, bringing the yard into focus and providing a place for the eye to rest. Retaining walls built with stone reclaimed from local barns were designed to improve access and settle the house into the landscape. The front and rear entries were redesigned for easier access and to enhance the historic character of the house. All of these features combine to form an intimate landscape around the house, inviting the owners to enjoy the patios, play in the gardens, and savor the views.

Specialty evergreens, trees, and shrubs provide structure for the owners’ extensive gardens that frame the house and patios. Daylilies, black-eyed susans, and coneflowers inherited with the farm are woven throughout the gardens, adding continuity and connectivity to the past. Elements retained from the existing landscape, the concrete patios and walkway along the side of the house, are now better connected to the house with new pathways and framed by lush gardens and reclaimed-barn-stone walls. A tough challenge to solve was the dangerously steep backdoor steps. Although this wasn’t the front door, it was the owner’s primary access to the upper patio, clothesline, and backyard. It was also where the dogs were let in and out—a big part of their daily lives. These back steps and the steep path up to the yard were replaced with a new stoop designed to bridge the gap and easily accommodate people, large dogs, a chair, and decorative pots, creating direct access to the patio and gardens. Stone steps flanking the stoop provide access to the existing lower patio and walk leading from the backdoor to the driveway.

The front porch was redesigned to improve access and complement the architecture of the house. The existing pillars and roof were maintained, but the concrete was replaced with low-maintenance ipe-wood decking. Low railings were added to provide a sense of enclosure without obscuring the view, and generous wood steps and handrails improve accessibility. The existing concrete path and steps leading to nowhere were removed, and a new paver walkway was installed to connect with the drive across from their detached garage. Barn-stone walls raise and level the grade around the house and provide terraced garden beds with an evergreen tapestry hedge to frame the house and front porch.

A collaborative design process with the owners and design team was key to addressing the needs and goals for their new home while creating a genuine sense of place. Connecting the home both physically and visually with the greater landscape and incorporating existing features and reclaimed materials creates a landscape that looks like it’s always been there. The reimagination of this farmstead in rural Wisconsin transformed an unsafe and uninspired landscape into an avid gardener’s country paradise with grand views and comfortable spaces to gather and enjoy the beauty of nature.

Joan W. Ziegler is a horticulturist and garden designer at ZDA, Inc. Landscape Architecture, and winner of the 2015 Perennial Plant Association Merit Award for Residential Landscape Design.

Photographs provided by ZDA, Inc. Landscape Architecture.

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ZDA, Inc. Landscape Architecture
4797 Capitol View Road
Middleton, WI 53562