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Woodland Retreat

The challenge in this garden was to update the original landscape we had installed over 15 years ago to mesh with the additions to the residence and to the changing dynamic of the landscape.

The original exposed aggregate concrete driveway needed to be replaced after all of the construction work on the house.

It didn’t blend very well with the new look of the house so we removed it and about 24″ of soil and replaced it with compacted roadbase, sand and 4″ of concrete pavers. It was quite a challenge to install the pavers on such a steep slope and required the installation of concrete subwalls running across the driveway under the pavers in order to reinforce the stability of the slope and prevent erosion. We also installed a concrete curb and curving steps along one side of the driveway to make it easier to walk up the slope.

The concrete curb flattens out into a concrete border as we approach the parking area.

The splitface block walls remained from the original installation and required some additions to create the long terraces. The trees were planted about 15 years ago and have grown into a small forest of Redwoods and Live Oaks. The Coral Bark Japanese Maple trees were planted as an understory tree to the Aristocrat Pear  and Birch trees that were removed. They have adapted to the sunlight quite well as they get some protection from the larger surrounding trees.

Arizona Flagstone was installed over the existing exposed aggregate steps and walkways.

This addition of this flagstone created a challenge at the point where the steps met the elevation of the old driveway. We solved this by increasing the height of the parking area and adding soil to blend into the existing grade.

Most of the old plantings were removed and an entirely different planting scheme was installed.

What had been a very sunny area in the original installation was now a semi-shaded to shaded area. Woodland plants such as Berkeley Sedge, Silver Dragon Lilyturf, Emerald Carpet Rubus, Flowering Maple, Japanese Anemone and several types of ferns were used. The neighbors front lawn is visible in the background and will eventually be blocked by the addition of a Redwood tree. This dynamism is at work in every garden except a formal garden, where the desired affect isn’t allowed to change over time; it is kept static. When the environment changes and plants long longer thrive, it’s time for a new approach.

The Arizona Flagstone creates quite a contrast with the Splitface concrete block.

In addition to adding length to the existing walls, we also added height where it was needed. Eventually all of the block will blend together. In the background the covered flagstone patio leading to the new guest quarters/artist studio comes into view.

The Coral Bark Japanese Maple trees turn yellow in the fall and the bark of the tree turns bright red in the winter.

These are stunning small trees, with their multiple trunks and delicate foliage. The leaves will burn in full sun in a hot climate but do quite well in dappled sunlight.

The changes in elevation to move from the flagstone level to the new building presented a complex problem, how to best move up and in while blending with the lower existing walls?

This was accomplished by adding several new walls at different heights and angles. The paving material also changed from Arizona Flagstone to concrete to blend better with the slightly more contemporary feel of the addition and railings.

In this view looking back towards the street one gets a sense of the elevation difference.

While most of the front yard is shaded, the area surrounding the steps is very sunny.  Trailing Lantana thrives here and provides bloom for almost nine months of the year. We planted a few Himalayan Birch which have brilliant white trunks and are very heat tolerant. They provide very light shade and the Lantana should continue to thrive for years.

In this view from the front porch the contrast between the hardscape materials is very apparent.

In addition to Trailing Lantana we also used Prostrate Germander, Variegated Society Garlic and Santa Barbara Daisy. All of these plants have very long bloom seasons and thrive in the sun.

In this view from the new steps leading up to the addition the Oak trees that we planted over 15 years ago come into view.

They are very fast growers and blend with the Oaks along the creek in the distance. These are native to California and are beautiful trees in a garden. When planted from a small size they easily adapt to garden conditions.

The pool and walls in the back are from the original installation.

The old shade structure required rebuilding and a new color was chosen to more sharply contrast with the walls and accent the colors in the Arizona Flagstone. The Redwood trees are from the original installation and like the trees in the front yard have grown into a forest.

In the summer time this is a very sunny area, but in the low angle sun of the fall it appears less so.

The gravel area in the foreground was once part of a lawn area but with the additions this disappeared and a gravel patio space with Arizona Flagstone stepping stones and minimal plantings was chosen to accommodate the occasional party. Gravel spaces were left large enough to be furnished with tables and chairs if needed. Gravel makes a wonderful multi-purpose mulch but has to be the right size and shape, in this case 3/8″ crushed gravel, 4″ thick with landscape fabric underneath to keep weeds from germinating. Larger gravel is difficult to walk on and rounded gravel does not stay put. If you have to pull weeds through a gravel mulch you will end up mixing soil with the gravel and create more problems.

The shade structure is beautifully constructed and painted.

The shade structure creates a wonderful shadow pattern against the wall and on the patio at different times of the day and year. Trailing Pink Lantana cascades over the tall retaining walls constructed to create the pool terrace.

In this view from atop the walls the Trailing Lantana is very stunning.

Like the front yard the main walls were added onto and new walls were constructed to accommodate the elevation changes that resulted from the home addition. The Arizona flagstone was repaired and water blasted to renew the surface.

The planting areas between the Arizona Flagstone and the house are small but very important to the feel of the space.

The plants were selected for their tendency to grow upright without growing very wide and the space would feel very stark without them. Well designed and constructed hardscape is very important but too much of it can overwhelm a space, especially a small space.

In this view one has a feel for the sereneness of this space.

The Live Oaks and Redwood trees in the background screen the neighbors home from view and create a wonderful backdrop to the pool space with the Lantana spilling over the wall.

The Trailing Lantana is a fast grower, the grasses and other small shrubs and perennial in the background grow more slowly.

The Santa Barbara Daisy starting to cascade over the walls will eventually cover them as well, the point being that plants grow at different rates, knowing your plant material is important for creating the desired effect.

Another view of the interface between the pool, shade structure, walls, flagstone, gravel, new plant material and older trees.

If one lives in a house long enough the landscape will change and plants that don’t adapt will have to be replaced and the feel of the garden will also change. This dynamism creates challenges but also creates possibilities. It is a wonderful experience for me to come back to an older landscape that I have installed and have the opportunity to work with the clients and create something new and exciting.



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