In my first landscape design consultation with Rob and Lisa, I found a familiar scenario: Unable to agree on what the main focus in their garden design should be and concerned that a design would force them into sacrificing his or her desires, they hoped that I could find a solution that both of them could be happy with.
Their Mediterranean-style house was built on the edge of a slope; the long and narrow back garden was wide open to a magnificent 180 degree view of the valley and the hills beyond, unspoiled by housing developments. Their wish list for this part of their property was typical: A small patio, situated at one end of the house by the breakfast nook, to enjoy the morning sun; at the other end of the house, a spa pad surrounded by fragrant plants; and between these two areas, by their dining room, the main patio where they would entertain. On these things Rob and Lisa agreed; hoping to achieve them without sacrificing the complete view for the sake of creating more separate and private spaces, especially for the spa area, seemed unrealistic.
There was no doubt in my mind that Rob and Lisa’s back garden that presented itself like a long hallway between house and slope, needed to be divided into separate areas. Also, without any sort of screening the spa would have been visible from the “morning” patio at the other end of the house, and nobody taking a bath there would have felt privacy in such an exposed place.
My first step was to seek a way in which the break-up into separate spaces could be achieved while preserving as much as possible of the beautiful view. I devised imaginary transparent “walls” to do this but left large “windows” in them: Raised planters flanking the main patio would represent the lower part of the walls, plants in the planters would be the upper part, and looking over and through the plants would be like looking through windows so that the 180 degree view was not diminished. I placed arbors in the planters whose beams would be reaching across a passage through the planters, thus creating an overhead ceiling and framing the “doors” in the walls. Vines on the arbors would soon be adding a leafy décor. An added benefit of the low planters was their height: At 18 inch height their wall caps would provide added seating at the entertainment area
While the planters were now framing the main patio, they also divided the long back garden into three distinct spaces, and by separating the main patio from the spa area, a good portion of the demands on this space were now met. It still needed to be less exposed, and this was achieved by creating an 18 inch deep pit into which the spa was lowered. Both Lisa and Rob were now ready for a real compromise: We erected a wooden trellis behind the spa that soon would be supporting a fragrant Jasmine; a seedless “Little Ollie” Olive that can be easily pruned “lacey” and transparent would add protection from the wind as well as an additional screen. Both elements would intensify the sense of privacy for the spa user – and the view into the valley was still almost 180 degrees.
We planted low-growing drought tolerant (“xeric”) Mediterranean-type plants such as Lavender Cotton, White Rockrose, Blue Fescue, Iris, Blue Queen’s Wreath, Sages, Wormwood, Lavender, and roses…. and signature trees such as Olives, Cypress, London Plane Tree, Pomegranate, Citrus and other fruit trees. For fragrance by the spa we used Hyssop, Catmint, Germander, Thyme, and Angelwing Jasmine on the trellis. The California Natives on the rocky slopes would provide a colorful transition from the local chaparral to the garden-space: Mountain Lilac, Flannel Bush, Toyon, Redbud, Coyote Mint, Evening Primrose etc. would also draw birds and other wildlife closer to the house.
With mulch and DG for the garden paths, and local field stone used for the raised planters, the sustainable hardscape materials felt like they really belonged in this landscape. When the plants were beginning to grow in, softening the outlines of the structures and draping around statues, urns and fountain, the feeling of this garden was convincingly Mediterranean, and yet so Californian.