A Calming Oasis


Carefully curated stones lead the way to the tea house, a feature that homeowner Caryl Zaar says completes the Japanese-inspired backyard.
























A lushly peaceful Japanese garden blooms at a Bayside home, thanks to the convergence of the homeowner’s reawakened childhood passion and the skill of a local landscape company.

Homeowner Caryl Zaar took full advantage of a reawakened interest in gardens after buying her first home five years ago. Through a friend, she connected with LandCrafters Inc. of Wauwatosa and New Berlin. The result is a retreat that incorporates a variety of Japanese garden features that fits an eclectic, social lifestyle.

Chaise lounge chairs perched on a smooth stone patio create a tranquil scene overlooking greenery and plenty of brightly-colored blooms.

Zaar first fell in love with the gardens of Japan as a teen traveling with her parents. The retired psychiatric nurse and health care administrator says finding her Bayside home while volunteering at nearby Schlitz Audubon Nature Center finally gave her the opportunity to reignite her passion.

Enter Mike Manke, registered landscape architect at the New Berlin-based  LandCrafters, who, along with a team of professionals, planned the garden’s features. While the front yard provides an appetizer of sorts to the Japanese theme, the backyard is the main course.


“The overall backyard is a treat,” Manke says. “Maybe it was the amount of research that was done to get all the elements just right.”

A series of dry stream beds that are both decorative and functional are adorned with stone bridge slabs, while select gravels are lined with cobblestone to create the illusion of running water. Granite steppers and irregular bluestone walkway stones add a stunning touch and grant additional access to all areas of the garden and around the home. A mix of sculptures enhance the area, including a traditional Japanese Kotoji-style granite lantern that straddles one of the dry stream beds next to the patio, a modern piece that sits near the rear of the property, and two 14th century Foo Dogs that guard each side of a short staircase that leads to the hot tub, infusing a bit of Chinese flair into a Japanese garden.

This Zen garden (a term, Zaar says, is American) could not be complete without a tea house. Here, the structure is placed in a quiet corner draped by an existing mature willow and accessible by a wooden bridge, providing an enhanced metaphysical transition from the adjoining yard.


A mix of stones, sculptures, lanterns and dry beds enhance the serenity of Zaar’s Zen garden.


Photos in this series by Shoshana Herndon


Plantings emphasize tailored, lush layers and textures of green. There is more to both the back and front landscape than the wide variety of groundcovers, though, such as several species of hostas, grasses and fruit trees.

“There’s one predominant flowing item at a time,” Manke says, noting that pops of color include cat mint, flowering crab apple and cherry trees, as well as a burgundy-leafed Japanese maple.

In addition, there is an intricate lighting system set to Zaar’s preferred subtlety, and an eclectic fence that combines bamboo and existing elements, designed to contain the household’s pooch who has the run of the yard. Manke and Zaar say the design’s success relies on the formation of a great relationship that includes regular lawn care and landscape maintenance.

After all, Zaar says, one does not have to have specific green thumb expertise — only imagination, passion and the willingness to let professionals bring it to life.MKE


Lanterns and lights along the patio make this the perfect place to relax on those beautiful summer nights.