With a home that overlooks scenic Lake Elizabeth in Twin Lakes, Wisconsin, this Van Zelst client wanted to make the view from the water as breathtaking as the view looking out. The home, however, sits atop a high slope covered with plants that had not been tended in decades. Not only did they want to improve the aesthetics of the property, they knew that a retaining wall would help keep erosion in check.
The homeowners and Van Zelst team considered a number of options, ultimately selecting a natural stone retaining wall that features a stepped design, showcasing the variegated color of outcropping stone quarried nearby in Wisconsin. Rich browns, ranging from chestnut to fawn, adds texture and interest to the imposing stone wall.
The Van Zelst in-house field teams and stonemasons prepared the site and did most of the installation work by hand—using a conveyor to bring stone slabs down to the bottom of the hill, starting at the bottom and building upward.
The design followed the existing slope, so it didn’t require extensive grading. Still, the project required the Van Zelst masons and installers to cut out planting beds at specific intervals, clear and prepare the soil, carefully set each stone and backfill soil behind the wall as it progressed. Roughly 100 tons of stone were installed, including 34 steps extending from the house to the water’s edge. At each planting bed along the way, there is a shelf of sorts, featuring a stone slab surrounded by hardy sedum, to help break up the long vertical run.
At the top of the wall, sun-loving annuals and herbs can be traded out from year to year, adding a fragrant and useful touch to the landscape. Here, red and white impatiens and emerald-green basil fill the bill. As one descends along the steps to the planting beds, small shrubs and colorful perennials are the focus. Primary colors dominate—including Celosia with red plumes and leaves, golden black-eyed Susans, blue Russian sage—with some bright whites and a range of green foliage to add variety. Lower-height plant materials were selected to let the stonework take center stage, with plantings adding pops of color throughout.
Planting beds are fully irrigated to ensure that the plantings get the appropriate amount of water to keep them healthy during the spring, summer and fall months. In addition, integrated lighting runs along the stairway to provide greater visibility as guests go to and from the pier at night.
As boaters pass by the property, the change is unmistakable. The home now features one of the most polished frontages on the connected Twin Lakes. The homeowners are pleased with the results, knowing that the area most visible to guests and passersby has been brought up to the level of quality and aesthetics exhibited by the home itself.