When Lisa and Nick Rombes moved into their home on Hilldale Dr. in late 2019, the view from their balcony was of a solid wall of honeysuckle bushes and fallen dead trees.

Though only eighty feet separated their Donald Van Curler–designed home from Barton Dr., the Rombeses couldn’t see it—except maybe in winter: “There was so much debris. Huge dead trees lying on live trees,” says Lisa.

“So I remember looking out our bedroom window one morning in February of 2020 and saying, ‘I think we can cut those couple of honeysuckle trees.’” 

Adds Nick with a chuckle: “It always starts with one or two. It was a great thing to do during the pandemic.”

So that spring, the couple—who’ve been married for thirty-seven years and both teach on the collegiate level—attacked their jungle. They cut down trees, hauled hundreds of pounds of debris to the Drop-Off Station, purchased a massive tool called a Honeysuckle Popper to remove the wildly invasive shrub, and addednew trees, bushes, and lots of ground-covering sedum.

And they followed neighbor Jess Oberholtzer’s lead to make curving, graceful walls out of leftover tree limbs.

“Lots of people stop and ask ‘What are you doing? What is this?’” Lisa Rombes says. “Well, it’s art.”

Oberholtzer, a musician and mother of two young daughters, moved into her Hilldale home in 2017. She began clearing her similarly overgrown backyard later that year and into the winter of 2018.

As she attacked a “truly impenetrable forest,” she recalls, she ran into a thorny problem. “I was cleaning up downed wood, thinning saplings, taking out honeysuckles, and trying to figure out what to do with them,” she says. “And at the same time wanting some visual interest as well as a barrier for my kids—so they know where the boundaries are as well.” 

After some online research, in 2018 Oberholtzer embraced takkenril, the Dutch method of building garden walls from tree limbs. Made from interlocking pieces of tree and bush branches, the walls twist and turn and seem alive.

She and the Rombeses have “both been playing off each other” ever since, she says. “They definitely made [their yard] more open, and I have been working at that, so that inspired me.”

“The curves kind of became an art,” says Lisa. “I spent a lot of time thinking ‘How could this look better?’ 

“The theme I’m going for would be fantasy woodland. What would you want to see? And it’s definitely not honeysuckle.” 

Though the work was long, physical, and demanding, it became a passion project for the Rombeses. “It was just a diamond in the rough—and I love a diamond in the rough,” says Lisa. “I call myself a reductionist: I’d rather clean out a closet than go clothes shopping.” 

“And make use of what’s there, kind of recycling the wood,” says Nick.

Lisa says they view the wall as “almost a public art piece, so we love it when we’d have people coming into our yard and enjoy it from the nearby boardwalk.

“Lots of people stop and ask ‘What are you doing? What is this?’ Well, it’s art.” 

“I love the work,” Oberholtzer says. “It’s my obsessive hobby: I call it Land Art … I’m a musician, and I haven’t been writing, but this makes me feel like I’ve been doing something creative.

“I remember being outside working one day and looking around and going, ‘Oh my gosh, I think I’ve found my medium: it’s sticks!’”