The hillside behind Becky and Duane Westhafer's home used to be a thicket of trees. So much so "you could hardly see the sky," says Becky. But once the trees started dying - the Westhafers fear chemical drift from nearby farms - the rural Washington couple decided to use their considerable construction skills to create a custom landscape. Today, the dying trees have been replaced with a lushly landscaped waterfall that spills and pools down the hillside.

The hillside behind Becky and Duane Westhafer's home used to be a thicket of trees. So much so "you could hardly see the sky," says Becky.


But once the trees started dying - the Westhafers fear chemical drift from nearby farms - the rural Washington couple decided to use their considerable construction skills to create a custom landscape.


Today, the dying trees have been replaced with a lushly landscaped waterfall that spills and pools down the hillside.


"Whatever you see. Nobody else did it. Just us," says Duane.


They took down eight to 10 full-grown trees - themselves. They hauled rock - Becky rented a semi-trailer truck and picked out boulders from a local gravel pit - and placed them themselves. They built the waterfalls, dug out the ponds, designed and built the outdoor kitchen and the pergola, and the deck jutting out into the lake. They built everything but the large concrete patio off the sunroom and the 2 1/2-acre lake. They hired professionals to do that work, they admit, almost sheepishly.


"We have our own backhoe. That helped," says Becky. As if that explains it. What really helps is they both used to own construction companies. That's how they met, and that's how they knew how to transform their backyard.


Their 10-acre homestead has apple, peach and plum trees they planted a decade ago, and a nice-size vegetable garden - just enough for the two of them. Wildflowers and prairie grass surround the lake they've stocked with catfish, bluegill, redear sunfish and bass.


"The catfish, bluegill and redear we put in last year. The catfish are already about 8 inches; the bluegill about 4 inches. The redear, we've never seen. We put the bass in this year. We learned they have to go in after the others," says Becky.


"We come up here every night about 7 (p.m.) and feed the fish. They know we're coming."


Their lake sits on part of the 58 acres of farmland the Westhafers purchased about 10 years ago.


Now that they lease the land, they have an agreement with the farmer and they don't have chemical drift issues any longer. Because of that, she can now grow her organic, heirloom tomatoes without worry.


"Maybe someday we'll do prairie grass or a wetland on the entire 58 acres. We don't know what yet," Becky says.


Future projects are always on Becky's mind, says Duane. "Her projects never stop. It's ongoing."


During a recent visit, the couple was in the midst of building a new garden shed and building a new landscape retaining wall.


Still, they both take time to enjoy their handiwork.


"I'm out here as much as I can be out here. I am just out here," says Becky, who likes to relax on the patio, listening to the relaxing murmur of the waterfalls and gazing at her glorious hillside of flowers. "I'll sit here, and all the sudden I'll spy a weed."


Magenta trailing petunias, bright orange daylilies, yellow marigolds, various roses, chartreuse sedum, snapdragons and sweet potato vine "Blackie" fill the yard with color. Becky loves the cactus brought back from Arizona that blooms with fist-size yellow flowers. "It's just spectacular," she says.


Containers - some set on the remaining stumps of their old trees - add a decorative touch that Becky likes to move around.


Her mother's old birdbath, a gazing ball and various ceramic frogs also grab the eye, but not as much as the life-size statue of their dog, Missy, who is buried in this beautiful hillside.


"At night, the frogs start doing their thing. You couldn't hear the TV if the windows are open," says Becky, who has counted 30 different species of frogs so far this summer.


But evening is one of Becky's favorite times to enjoy their backyard.


"The blue lights shine on the waterfall, and I can see it from my bed upstairs. It's beautiful."


Jennifer Davis can be reached at (309) 686-3249 or jdavis@pjstar.com.