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Omaha Magazine

West Omaha Idyll: Backyard Remake Results in Charming Calm

Jun 25, 2021 04:15PM ● By Kim Carpenter
wood patio opens to landscaped garden

Photo by Bill Sitzmann    

Two minutes. 

That’s how long Michael Lyon estimated it takes to mow his entire backyard, tucked behind his and wife Kristin’s home on a quiet street in Omaha’s Skylark-Cryer neighborhood.

That postage stamp-sized lawn is by design, though, because what the Lyons' backyard lacks in grass, it more than makes up for in a graciously landscaped garden complete with a cascading water feature and a lighted cedar portico.

Photo by Bill Sitzmann    

The landscaping makeover—a DIY effort requiring lots of backbreaking work and copious elbow grease—started in a way that would make most people hesitate: by removing a towering 70-foot-tall cottonwood.

“It was a difficult decision,” Kristin said of felling the native tree. “It cast shade over the entire garden. But we didn’t want to be bound by a shade garden.”  

Down came the massive tree, and the couple removed scrubby lilacs and a few sad annuals that comprised the landscaping, and replaced them with a water feature and carefully planned plantings that add color and calm.

Their son, Max, was the impetus behind the former. It started as a senior class project in 2000. Michael worked with Max to add the water feature, which he revamped several years later into a gently sloped waterfall that ends in a tranquil pool—all the better for the couple’s boxer puppy, Lily, to surreptitiously steal a drink. 

“The hole was already dug,” said Michael, justifying the water feature expansion.

That landscaping prompted an entire reenvisioning of the space, and over the past 17 years, the Lyons have made their backyard into a garden idyll. Michael added a berm for height, landscaping rocks for textural appeal, and cascading ground cover to soften the lines.

In an homage to the felled cottonwood, the Lyons turned the stump into a seating area and planted a spritely crabapple tree flanked by Korean lilacs to add shade, color, and fragrance in its spot.

Photo by Bill Sitzmann    

On the other side of the garden, a bright Japanese maple provides purplish foliage, and maroon day lilies complement with deep, vibrant blooms. The rest of the landscape features a shimmering birch tree, a Seven Son tree, bright roses, hearty hibiscus, Asiatic lilies, graceful irises, abundant begonias, fragrant salvia, and twining clematis, among other perennials and annuals.  

In a nod to Michael’s British roots— he moved to the U.S. in 1979—the couple installed a gravel walking path to the front of the landscaping. He explained: “It’s an ode to the English garden.”

Kristin’s collection of yard accessories rounds out the landscaping. Antique jugs are tucked among the rocks and plants around the water feature; rustic wooden birdhouses invite wildlife; and an assortment of wind chimes provide melodic ambiance. Michael enjoys surprising his wife with new additions, the latest of which are Tibetan bells, notable for their deep, round, resonant tone.

The Lyons’ yard houses two seating areas: a dining space for meals, and a covered portico with fire pit for relaxing. During quarantine, the couple made updating the latter their joint project. They replaced the portico ceiling with new cedar planks, cutting, treating, and staining each board themselves. Michael added an LED strip to the underside for a soft nighttime glow.

The couple is happy with how the garden developed over the past two decades. However, Kristin hopes the major work is done. It’s time to sit back and enjoy it.  

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2021 issue of Omaha Home. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.  

Photo by Bill Sitzmann