Sculpting Backyard Wonders

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This mesmerizing backyard blends flowing water features, lush greenery and harmonious elements of nature into a picturesque and tranquil sanctuary.

Story by Ann Butenas    |    Photography by Matt Kocourek

In the realm of landscape architecture, the fusion of aesthetics, functionality, and environmental stewardship crafts outdoor spaces  that enchant the senses and nourish the soul. 

With years of experience, Steve Heichel, Landscape Designer, BSLA with Rosehill Gardens, is no stranger to the intricacies of outdoor design. In fact, every project he undertakes is a fresh canvas, each presenting an opportunity to harmonize natural elements with human needs. His recent work, a sprawling backyard for a luxury home in Leawood, Kansas, is a testament to his creativity and exceptional design philosophy.

“This backyard design is all about creating a relaxing and inviting environment through the use of color and movement in the landscape, providing a space that constantly changes and evolves over the four seasons,” expressed Heichel.

Homeowners Mary and Eric Hockstad envisioned their backyard as a private sanctuary that mirrored the tranquility and elegance of nature. To accomplish this, Heichel proposed a design that would mimic the organic flow and beauty of a natural landscape, incorporating a waterfall, a stream, and a host of other landscaping elements in synch with the wonders of nature.

“Mary and Eric wanted privacy as well as layers of seasonal color and a water feature,” said Heichel, who enjoyed creating the stream that cycles through an upper terrace and cascades down steps into the main koi pond area below.

“A blue heron would come around, however, and grab the fish, so I built a stone sanctuary house in the center of the pond at the bottom,” explained   Heichel, who incorporated a 3’x3’ slab of flagstone on an 8-inch block where the fish can hide. “That blue heron does not come around anymore.”

The koi pond and stream, meticulously designed and strategically positioned, meanders through the corner of the backyard, inviting you to explore and catch a glimpse of the beautiful koi swimming below. Appointed with water lilies along with some lotus and iris plants, Heichel created a visually appealing and equally relaxing space.

The waterfall, meanwhile, is the centerpiece of this exquisite design. Using natural stones and wrapped in lush colorful plantings, Heichel created a cascading spectacle that not only   enhanced the visual appeal of the backyard but also contributed to the soothing ambiance with its gentle, rhythmic sound.

“We terraced the ground around it to provide height and added steps at the end of the stream to create and give the space some action,” he said, further emphasizing that in the winter months, the surface of the stream will ice up with water still running underneath. “The edges freeze up and create a winter wonderland during that frigid time of the year.”

The crisp, clean lines of the stamped concrete patio nestled into the corner of the house keep the area coordinated and unified while simultaneously adding a layer of class and formality.

Another eye-catching element in this backyard is Heichel’s use of oversized pots. The ones used here are 30” by 40” wide and equate to about 600 pounds each.

“I can’t emphasize the importance of large pots enough to balance the proportions of these grand scale houses,” indicated Heichel, who set these pots with bobcats and added tropical plants to them for a resort-like feel.

Among the flowers used by Heichel include tulips and daffodils for an early spring presentation, along with hydrangeas and roses for summer. Other perennials, flowers, trees, and shrubs are constantly blooming and changing throughout the year to provide a rotation of color and intrigue.

Heichel enjoyed working with the homeowners and is pleased with the end result.

“This entire backyard can make you wonder if you are even in Kansas City anymore,” reflected Heichel, who designed it to evoke emotions within its occupants. “It is like stepping into a resort every time you go out there.”

Mary appreciates being in the yard and loves to spend time working on the various plant life.

“I learn more when I do some of the maintenance myself,” she noted. “We are so delighted with how it all turned out. We really enjoy all of the landscape and the seclusion it offers us from the other homes. Our yard is a peaceful place to spend time.”

Mary and Eric enjoy relaxing on their four seasons deck with an accompanying outdoor kitchen, constructed by Ambassador Homes. The view it provides the couple is at the heart of what makes this space so special to them.

“The evergreens at the back of the yard provide a nice backdrop to the space, even when covered in snow in the winter months,” expressed Mary.

Mary further emphasized Heichel’s attention to detail at every turn throughout this project.

“He is extremely involved on all levels and very thoughtful as to the changing of seasonal colors,” she said.

The completed backyard stands as a testament to Heichel’s profound understanding of landscape architecture and his meticulous attention to detail. The design thoughtfully blends the elements of water, stone, and vegetation, transforming a simple backyard into a luxurious retreat that immerses the senses in nature’s serenity.

Heichel has demonstrated his prowess in crafting landscapes that inspire, soothe, and delight. This recent creation does more than enhance a luxury home—it redefines the very concept of backyard living, merging the comfort of home with the wonder and tranquility of nature. 


  • Landscaper: Rosehill Gardens
  • Outdoor Kitchen Construction: Ambassador Homes

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