Backyard Oasis

By Shelley Ottenbacher

A dream come true is how Natascha Rieper describes her backyard. Nestled on a large lot in a Chesterfield subdivision, the property features a greenhouse, stone-walled raised garden beds, a butterfly garden, fruit trees, a pond and more. It’s almost like something out of a fairytale, and it is all due to the hard work of Rieper and, even more specifically her husband Matt.

“It’s everything I always wanted to plant,” said Rieper. ”Thanks to my husband doing the heavy work, my vision has really come to life. He loves having a pretty backyard, but I know he did it for me. I wouldn’t have any of it without him.”

When the couple bought the home in the fall of 2019, the backyard was pretty much a blank slate, according to Rieper. An animal lover, she also noticed that there was no wildlife in the yard at all. That first winter in their new home, she set about to change that and started creating her design for the yard. “I knew I wanted a greenhouse and now would have the room to include everything I like,” she said.

From berries to veggies to flowers of all kinds, that’s just what she did. And as for the wildlife?

“It was like, if you build it, they will come,” she said. Rieper thoughtfully selected plants and once the gardens began to bloom, birds of all kinds, butterflies, squirrels, rabbits, foxes and more became regular visitors.

“My butterfly garden is kind of wild-looking,” she said. “But you can sit there and watch the butterflies and hummingbirds. And you can see the pond.” Starting with goldfish sh they brought from their former home, they later added koi given to them by a friend, and all have thrived in their beautifully landscaped pond. “We even have frogs now,” Rieper said. They have added to their wildlife with contributions of their own and by fulfilling another personal passion – rescuing animals of all kinds.

Bringing this idyllic setting to life started with a focus on completing the major construction and getting the planting established, considering elements like raised garden beds for ease of care as they get older. Now both retired, Rieper from Selfridge Air National Guard Base and her husband from the Shelby Township Fire Department, the benefits of their labor are paying off. “I really enjoy nature and growing things,” said Rieper. “I like the beauty of it so I scatter plants around to fit the aesthetic, interspersing flowers and vegetables.”

She adds that caring for the plants is part of the joy of a yard such as this. Whether it’s planting, pruning annuals, dividing perennials or harvesting fruits and vegetables, “I love to be out there,” adds Rieper. The greenhouse allows her to extend the growing season and she starts seeds, mostly for herbs and vegetables, but she has experimented with some flowers as well. Her love of growing things has blossomed into another hobby – canning the fresh fruits and vegetables that her gardens produce.

Rieper is also an artist. Her art is often nature-themed, whether it’s painting, pottery using leaves, or sculpting birds and butterflies.

“I use my garden for all my interests,” she adds. “It all goes together for me. I like making things look pretty.”

At least 20 years ago Rieper started out small with container gardens on her deck and over time with more property and more room she’s experimented and expanded to try and grow anything that interested her. Her advice for other would-be gardeners is simple: understand what the plant needs and provide it.

“People will say to me ‘I’m not good at this,’ but it starts with what the tag on the plant says – it will tell you what the plant needs,” said Rieper. “Start with some good quality dirt, consistently give it what it wants and it will flourish.” Her beautiful backyard is living proof.

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