Arbors and Dividers
Iâ€™ve done it! Â I have taken the big leap and arrived at our new home in Dixon MT, a small town in easy reach of Missoula on the Clark Fork River, one of “Americaâ€™s 10 Best River Towns” in western Montana. Getting here was an adventure, not being used to driving on snowy roads; carrying and pushing my piano and our belongings through the snow into the new home was another challenge.
The snow has melted away, and out of my window I see the barren trees along the Flathead River.Â Iâ€™m enjoying the play of sun and shadows on the hills across the water and the snow-capped peaks of the Mission Mountains in the distance. I hope that the mild weather will hold as long as possible and I can begin getting a feel for our new property and the lay of our hilly terrain.
What brought me here is my family, but also the beauty of Montanaâ€™s open plains, valleys, and the emerald green waters of the Clark Fork River that merges with the Flathead River a few miles away. There are so many creeks, rivers, and lakes here that it would take me another lifetime to see them all. Add to this the excitement over discovering a new plant palette and the desire to master the challenges of gardening in the Rockies.
I look forward to designing gardens that survive the winters here and the many other challenges of deer/pocket gophers/squirrels, extreme heat, difficult soils and limited rainfall. One question in particular is on my mind when I look at gardens:Â What are the design secrets to designing a garden that holds its visual interest even under several inches of snow?
In Missoula, I’ve noticed a distinct appreciation for durable, naturalistic plantings in private gardens and public and commercial landscapes. The design at my local grocery store, in particular, caught my eye by its use of boulders, comfortable stepping stones, long-flowering hardy perennials, shrubs, small trees and ornamental grasses. The whole has a very relaxed and naturalistic feeling, and from Lori Parr, its designer, I learned that her goal was a sustainable plant composition that uses beautiful, low maintenance xeriscape plants of the Mountain West that give the whole a distinct Rocky Mountain feel. (Lori goes by the name of “Lavender Lori” because she now grows hardy Lavenders and makes various products with its oils.)
As Iâ€™m looking around to see what other local designers are doing, I talked to Will Grant of Grant Landscape & Design of Missoula. His use, too, of indigenous plants, his stated preference of water-conserving plants and his way of incorporating local stone and rocks in pleasing ways impressed me. Both Loriâ€™s and Willâ€™s supportive and easy sharing of their experiences enforced what I learned in Southern California: Gardeners everywhere love their work so much that they are willing to share secrets and experience and always support those who want to knowâ€¦
Gardening and Sustainable Design
So I invite you to follow my next blog posts. Iâ€™ll share what I have learned about gardening and sustainable design in Western Montana. Iâ€™m really excited to see which tricks are employed to keep a landscape interesting even under several inches of snow! I will share with you what I learn here.
For my new gardening friends in Montana although working now in a different environment, my â€œeyeballâ€ is still good and I bring my design passion and experience that brought me awards in Southern California. I look forward to working with you and to helping you articulate your ideas, to interpreting and transforming them into reality.Â And to make you feel what this client of mine wrote: â€œEvery day I am thrilled to open the front gate and walk through the first garden you designed. Sometimes it is late afternoon and the light is glorious in the garden.â€
Thank you so much for your continued reading of my posts From Montana. I appreciate this support and hope youâ€™ll follow me on this new adventure.
I wish you the very best for the new year and a festive holiday season.
I had the pleasure last week to speak with Robin Y Rivet, urban Forester/ISA arborist for CCSE’s, the Center for Sustainable Energy in San Diego ( https://energycenter.org ), Â a non-profit organization that is holding free workshops for home owners and business professionals on the many benefits of sustainable landscaping.Â Â Â
Robin Rivet is CCSEâ€™s urban forester for ATAC (“Advice and Technical Assistance Center”).Â She is ISA certified arborist and UCCE master gardener.Â The ATAC hosts free workshops for homeowners, professionals and municipalities to “explore the relationship between urban forestry and sustainability”. In addition to featuring a different educational live tree each week, they offer free workshops, outreach events and a community based website. The next workshops will be:
May 16, 5:30-7:30 pm, Make Sustainable Tree Choices to Increase Property Value, with Robin Rivet, urban forester and UCCE master gardener.
Ms. Rivet will offer advice about why trees enhance property value, and how to choose and locate the healthiest trees that appreciate in value over time and enhance the property value of your home, school or business.
June 2, 5:30 pm â€“ 7:30 pm: Sustainable Fruit Trees: Best Practices for Homes and Schools, with Tom Del Hotal, ISA certified arborist, Southwestern College adjunct faculty member and chairman of the California Rare Fruit Growers San Diego Chapter
Tom Del Hotal will provide an overview of what fruit trees do best in our region and some tips on getting the best results from your choices.
There are many other workshops relating to sustainability, fiscal incentives, outdoor water conservation rebate programs (I could only find one for commercial and multi-family), air conditioning, photovoltaics, cooling systemsâ€¦ check out the workshops and register at https://energycenter.org/index.php/outreach-a-education/advice-and-technical-assistance-center/2474-upcoming-workshops
A last note about their resource library: It is an awesome collection of books relating to urban forestry, green roof plants, BM (best management) Practices, study guides for the arborist certification and many other great books, and the borrowing is free. I also picked up several great educational â€œTree City USA Bulletinsâ€ prepared for the homeowner and landscape professional by the National Arbor Day Foundation. These pamphlets contain easy-to-read information, diagrams and photos on topics such as tree ailments, laws governing trees and tree choice for the right place, to name just a few. Â Iâ€™m sure that I will refer to these in my work and give copies of them to my clients.
ATAC Advice and Technical Assistance Center
8690 Balboa Ave., S.D. 92123
Robin Y Rivet robin.rivet@…
Robin Rivet at 858.634.4741
Prompted by the rising water cost and irrigation restrictions, San Diego homeowners consult the many resources available the Water Conservation Garden in El Cajon (at www.thegarden.org ).Â Among these resources are landscape design and horticulture experts offering consultations on subjects like â€œCalifornia Friendly Plantsâ€, watering, arboriculture (the science concerned with trees), Â construction issues and landscape design. I enjoy being one of those professionals, and I thought you might be curious to learn how such a consultation might work for the people that come there.Â
In my consultations I generally encounter the same objective:Â Feeling the need to reduce their water bill orÂ wanting a landscape that is more practical and ecological, Â these homeownersÂ are ready to retireÂ their mostly lawn-centeredÂ landscape.Â They come to the Water Conservation Garden with the common question,Â “What do I plant now?”Â Â Most of them believe that planting the right plants would make their gardens better and solve their problems; isn’t that what the beautiful low-water-use plants at “The Garden” are all about?
I understand this thinking but, as designer and horticulturist, I donâ€™t think that suggesting different, albeit drought resistant, water-wiseÂ Â or “xeric”Â plants, would address the underlying problem (although those plants are generally more sustainable).Â Â Â I feel that planting random groups of plants into the former lawn area would not create attractive, comfortable spaces for outdoor living that â€œworkâ€. Â Since that is my focus, I explain to the visitors that it would serve them best if they considered first how to make enjoyable outdoor living possible, in separate spaces designed for different uses.
What needs to happen in a yard so it can become an â€œoutdoor living roomâ€?Â How do you convert it into a play room, or entertainment space, a space to hang out, relax, dream, rejuvenate?Â
A garden space needs to be organized spatially and hierarchically, and I start my design process, in which I involve my visitors, by asking them if they can think of an activity that they would like to do but never had room forÂ or that was relegated to a back corner of their garden.Â Perhaps there is some almost forgotten vision of a garden scene in the recesses of their memory that they never tookÂ seriously?Â Take the example of my last visitors at the Garden:
This family, husband, wife and son, arrived well prepared for the consultation, with photos and a sketch of their garden drawn to scale. They had decided to take out most of the lawn, a large expanse right by the patio; they would only keep a small part of it for their son for whom lawn mowing is a therapeutic activity. Â Opposite the patio, far across the lawn, was a planter bed, but since it was so far away and confined also by a low wall, the flowers in it were not recognizable from the patio. To my surprise, the lady told me that it held roses!Â Her husband mentioned, almost in passing, that he would like to grow succulents.Â Some trees were there, but they had been planted around the louter perimeter of theÂ lawn so that they couldnâ€™t throw any shade where it mattered most, which was on their hot south-west facing patio.Â
“Hardscaping” elementsÂ such as patios, walk ways, fencing, arbors, boulders â€“Â convey permanence and add structure.Â Most of themÂ donâ€™t have to be maintained, except for some new coat of paint or occasional sweeping, depending on the material used. And they donâ€™t demand watering, fertilization, pruningâ€¦ So I suggest to incorporate them as much as possible into a design and let them â€œfurnishâ€ the garden, organize the space into areas of different use, provide separation as well as access, focal points, delineation and definition.
In the case of the before mentioned visitors, we found that a swing for adults, placed under a shade tree, would be lovely to have; I suggested to place it at the far end of the garden from where the family could see house and patio from a new perspective, and I drew its outlines on transparent paper taped over their sketch. And why not pull rose bed and succulents closer to the patio from where they could be seen?Â Of course not into one flower bed, but in different areas that are perhaps even mounded up, separated by a walk way:Â Gently curved mounds give movement to an otherwise flat plan, and the plants on them can be seen better, like on a painted canvas. And if your soil drains poorly, creating those mounds helps improve the drainage because you can mix the mounded soil to provide the drainage your plants need, such as many Mediterranean plants, California Natives and succulents, and even roses.
As for the lawn, we drew a much reduced kidney-shaped area that started at one end of the patio, wrapped around behind the rose bed and the succulent mound, and ended at the other end of the patio. This way it was still visible and easy to get to from the patio without dominating the foreground.Â And to make all the different areas accessible, we discussed stepping stones and DG as possible material for the walkways, even coarse landscape mulch was considered.
Lastly we reviewed the possible locations of trees, and I pointed to my most favorite reference books on this subject:Â Ornamental Trees for a Mediterranean Climate, the trees of San Diego, by Steve Brigham with book design and photographs by Don Walker, and the Sunset Western Garden Book. Here gardeners can research all their favorite choices before making the final selection; they can actually visit the trees shown in the tree book at their location!
Our time was up, and although we had not talked much about plants in detail, the family was happy (I suggested to look to the Water Conservation Garden’s displays for ideas).Â Â Both husband and wife had information and tools in their hands that will make â€œplayingâ€ with their spaces, on paper first, a fun and exciting activity; selecting goals that are realistic and achievable with their budget and energy will now be a manageable task.Â And finally, armed with the proper reference books and resources that the Water Conservation Garden and other public gardens in San Diego County offer, they will be on their way to a garden that they can enjoy, and live in.
At the heart of my considerations for this container display was my desire to create a composition of beautiful yet tough plants that would delight their owners for a long time without being too fussy or difficult to replicate. They would need to tolerate exposure to drying winds, intense sun, month-long temperatures in the upper nineties or low hundreds and occasional lightÂ frost, periodic neglect (and no watering), and a lot of competition for space, both above the soil level as well as for the roots.Â And they would have to like living in my hypertufa troughs (see my previous post), at least for the next 2 or evenÂ 4 seasons, to be “sustainable” (at least as far as a container-existence is concerned).
I already had a few suitable plants: Leucadendron discolor, Aeonium Sunburst, Firecracker Broom, Crown of Thorns, String of Pearlsâ€¦ These are all drought tolerant shrubs, perennials and succulents whose adaptation to prolonged container life on my deck in Ramona I had been admiring for a couple of years. Â I only needed to find complementary plants that would offset or enhance their qualities and allow me to juxtapose textures, forms and colors.
Although my intended â€œpiÃ¨ce de rÃ©sistanceâ€, the Leucadendron discolor, had clearly proved that it can survive a container-existence (mine is now some 6 ft tall and 3 years old) it was too big for my trough.Â I chose instead a close relative, the Pincushion Yellow Bird, Leucospermum cordifolia â€˜Yellow Birdâ€™ that drew lots of admiring comments at the fair.Â This beautiful South African shrub is related to Proteas and reminds me of the flowers of thistles â€“ without the bristles.Â Sunset gives the growing zones as 15-17, H1 andÂ 21-24. It grows to 4 ft tall and wide and can take several degrees of frost; the side buds will produce flowers even if the main flower buds freeze. Â
The nodding Pincushion is the best species for cut flowers with blossom clusters that are about 4 inches across, borne at the branch tips.Â The bloom peaks in late winter or early spring and can last for 6 months but can start earlier in mild winters.Â It is supposedly difficult to grow because it needs perfect drainage, protection from drying winds but good air circulation.Â It requires full sun, regular water only in the beginning until establishment (several months to a year depending on planting season) when it needs water only every 2 to 4 weeks.Â Selections of this plant in other colors include â€˜Flame Spikeâ€™ (salmon red) and â€˜Redâ€™ (orange red).
Â Because of the Yellow Birdâ€™s gawky and gangly form I decided to place a â€œcounter weightâ€ next to it, and the appropriate one had to be the Sunburst Aeonium.Â This succulent grows leaf rosettes at the branch tips that reach a foot across, to form plants that can be about 2 ft across and of about the same height.Â The fleshy leaves have a delightful variegation that makes the plant very attractive. Â It blooms after several years only and will then die, but the new Â â€œpupsâ€ or side shoots will replace the mother plant.Â With age, these plants become leggy but you can keep them bushy and encourage branching by cutting back branches several inches below rosettes.Â These cuttings can then be used for easy propagation:Â let them dry for a couple of days, then set in sandy soil kept barely moist until new grow emerges.
With its low watering requirements and equal sun tolerance it will make a good companion to the Yellow Bird.
Â Now, on the side of the Protea, I needed something softer, preferably in a complementary color, and draping over the edge of the container. For this I chose Setcreasea pallida (Tradescantia pallida â€˜Purpureaâ€™) or Purple Heart (also called Purple Queen):Â This creeping plant has only moderate water requirements, is tolerant of some frost Â that might kill the tops but recovery is fast in warm weather.Â It will reach 1 to 1 Â½ ft height and about 1 ft wide, and needs to be pinched back after bloom.Â The stems tend to flop which makes a good container plant if combined with an upright â€˜partnerâ€™.Â (In parts of this county it can be unattractive in winter, but it seems well worth the try.)
In the rear container one you can see the red and purple companions:Â Crown of Thorns, Coral Fountain (also called Firecracker Broom), Geranium ‘Vancouver Sentenniel’ and Statice.Â The Firecracker Broom, also aptly called Coral Fountain, is a good container plant:Â Here it keeps a much neater and smaller form than in the ground where it can reach to 5 ft high and wide;Â if the green, almost leafless stems of my container get too long they are easily shortened without loosing the graceful drooping form.Â On my deck in Ramona it has continuouslyÂ produced a profusion of bright red, narrowly tubular flowers since last year that attract hummingbirds. This shrub needs regular but small applications of fertilizer to keep blooming.Â It tolerates partial shade or bright indirect light and needs only moderate to regular watering.
Next to it, producing an attractiveÂ contrast with its sturdy, upright form I planted Crown of Thorns Euphorbia milii.Â It, too, hasnâ€™t stopped flowering since I planted it in the previous container about 2 years ago.Â It doesnâ€™t seem to mind that I uprooted it from its previous homeâ€¦Â Itâ€™s a bit thorny but can be handled easily with leather gloves that will protect your hands also from the milky sap that can cause skin rashes and is toxic if ingested.
It also requires excellent drainage and has very low water demands. It grows 1 to 4 ft high and about 1 Â½ ft wide which makes it an excellent upright narrow accent in a container.Â Many varieties and hybrids of this one exist in colors of yellow, pink and orange.Â In windy or frost-prone area it is best grown against a sheltered wall.Â Salt tolerance makes it ideal for seaside plantings!Â It tolerates partial shade or full sun, and as indoor plant it needs bright light.
All these plants are set into a fast-draining succulent soil mix.Â The two troughs, displayed at the fair back to back, are now back at my house and adorn my front door and my deck.Â I doubt that I will need to keep an eye on them for the last days of â€œwinterâ€ and a possible frost.Â And for next winter Iâ€™ll keep an old bed sheet handy in case a strong frost is in the forecast.Â From now on my main concern will be not to overwater, and to not forget to feed the plants occasionally, and to keep the ants from raising a colony of aphids on them.
Â And if you need sources and would like to share your own container-stories with me, please let me know!
When I got home last night in the rain, I took in the air in deep breaths:Â Such a wonderful smellÂ of wet soil and decaying leaves mixed with something sweet and flowery -Â whereÂ was this powerful scent coming from?Â So I put on my boots, took a flash light and went into the garden.Â
Â I got myÂ face wet as I poked my nose into foliage and flowers of shrubs, perennials and succulents, and not far from my front door I found the first: A grouping of Cleveland Sages Salvia clevelandii that had just opened their buds. These California natives are known for their incredibleÂ fragrance, and for those who have never seen or smelled any, the description alone should make your mouth water:Â This is an evergreen shrub of the mint family with a refined, rounded and arching form, to 3 to 5 ft tall and wide and wider for some cultivars.Â It has wrinkled, toothed gray-green or dark green leaves that can be used in teas or as substitute for culinary sage and that are deliciously fragrant; a breeze blowing through your garden will take the sweet fragrance far. The flowers are an inch-long, pale lavender or violet-blue, arranged in whorls along the stems, and they are also fragrant.Â To encourage re-bloom you will need to cut back these flower spikes back, but the shrub is also attractive with its dried flower spikes.Â
This plant is so popular that several hybrids have been created:Â Mine is the â€˜Allen Chickeringâ€™ which gets Â to 4 ft tall but spreads out to about 6 ft and sports pale purple flowers. Â Check out also â€˜Winifred Gilmanâ€™ with lavender-blue-purple flowers, or â€˜Aromasâ€™ with gray-green foliage and deep lavender flowers, â€™Pozo Blueâ€™ that is hardier than Alan Chickeringâ€™Â (to 10 degrees F).Â
The Cleveland sages need sun (partial sun only in the hottest, driest regions), fast-draining soil, and are drought tolerant although they can tolerate occasional watering. There are differences in their cold tolerances that could be important for your location;Â please check with the growers Â below for the appropriate one.Â
A little deeper in my garden the beam of my flashlight hit a tall lanky shrub whose buds were just opening, and I know it carries its name Mountain Lilac for a good reason: The flowers look like miniature Lilac clusters, and to me even their smell remindsÂ me of true Lilac.Â Mine is the hybrid ‘Ray Hartman’ which is the best known and most commonly grown of the bigger ceanothus hybrids that can reach 18 feet in height and width; its rose-colored buds open to display profuse clusters of sky blue flowers.
Californiaâ€™s Mediterranean climate supports 60 species and varieties of ceanothus, and the choices can be confusing. They grow in some of Californiaâ€™s harshest habitats, ranging from wind-buffeted coastal headlands to dry, exposed slopes at the edge of the Mojave Desert.Â They come in various forms, from creeping to large shrubs and small trees, and their colors range from bluish whites and pale purples to deep Gentian blue and purple. Â Most grow in areas that experience an extended summer drought; they tolerate a range of soil types but often are located on steep slopes in well-drained soils of low or marginal fertility.Â Most then require excellent drainage, but some can also tolerate heavy soil and summer water.
Ceanothus have become popular shrubs in Europe, where cultivation of ceanothus species for horticultural purposes began as early as 1713! Â Check with one of the growers mentioned below for the species that will perform best in your garden so that its growing conditions match or approach those found in its provenance.
Not far from my backdoor (and closer to the kitchen) I found Rosemary, a true Mediterranean whose name means â€œdew of the seaâ€, reminding us of the plant’s native habitat on seaside cliffs in the Mediterranean region.Â This winter bloomer is not quite as fragrant as my sages but also definitely desirable. Â The evergreen shrub is covered with narrow, resinous dark green leaves, and through winter and spring its fragrant pale blue to deep violet flowers are a magnet for bees and small birds looking for tiny spiders and insects in the tightly packed flowers (and perhaps also eat the petals).
I love the â€˜officialâ€™ Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) with its upright habit and somewhat twisted branches reaching for the sky (height typically 4-6 ft and more, especially â€˜Blue Spiresâ€™). Â I use its stems for bouquets and the leaves for cooking; even the fragrant flowers are edible. Â
As with many popular plants, there are too many cultivars and hybrids available to mention here. Â Of great importance are the prostrate ground-hugging kinds whose heights range from 1 ft to 6 ft or more that are often used in erosion control or as groundcovers.Â Â Â Â Â
The toughness of Rosemary is admirable: Itâ€™s tolerant of moderate watering, sea-side conditions and blistering sun; I think itâ€™s a must-have in the Mediterranean garden.Â Although it can take alkaline soil if given a moderate feeding from time to time, good drainage is essential; you can lighten heavy soil with plenty of organic matter.Â Their cold-hardiness varies depending on selection.
All of these specimens are excellent examples of low water-use, low maintenance, beneficial plants that I love to use in water-wise landscape designs; I think they belong to the category of plants that are indispensible when the design wants to be ‘sustainable’, and with these attributes and their famous fragrance who could resist?
For California natives plants in San Diego County, check out these growers:
Las Pilitas Nursery, in Escondido, at http://www.laspilitas.com/
Moosa Creek Nursery, in Valley Center,Â at http://www.moosacreeknursery.com/
Recon Environmental Inc., in San Diego, at http://www.recon-us.com/
In this and a couple of future articles Iâ€™ll be considering the role of the front garden in landscape designs – and in peopleâ€™s lives. Perhaps I can add some points to the on-going discussion in the gardening community about landscape design that is not only contemporary and sustainable, but also homeowner-friendly.
My garden aesthetics are forever shaped by childhood memories where our garden gate opened to a romantic hide-away with play lawn, perennial borders and shade trees that we kids could climb in to hide, have our private â€œclubâ€ meetings, tell stories and make plans. The romance and seclusion of that place is still shaping my attitude towards gardens that I visit today: If it doesnâ€™t give me a feeling of privacy and I canâ€™t see any significant evidence of the ownerâ€™s personality in it, itâ€™s not a garden for me but only an impersonal outdoor space.
Almost everywhere in our County we can observe the legacy of an American garden design approach that is neither suited to our California lifestyle, our changing tastes nor to our environment: Although ever smaller lots are making garden space more precious, the setback regulations in most Californian communities have not changed, to the effect that houses are still built with a considerable portion of their front garden given over to the public. The attitude towards front garden design is still dominated by the unquestioned expanse of â€œgreenâ€, and all other elements seem to be mere after-thoughts. One of my horticulture teachers called this lawn the â€œmost expensive crop that is watered, fertilized, cut, and then thrown awayâ€.
This was sadly evident in our own community in University City/San Diego where we lived with our 2 young children for a few years. In the front yard there was a lawn, a shade tree and some shrubs â€“ the typical subdivision landscape. Although the children discovered that they could climb the tree easily and we built a tree house in it, all activity here was in the publicâ€™s eye; there was no shelter from noise and passers-by and certainly no visual interest.Â Â Aware that water is not in abundance in Southern California, we asked ourselves also whether it made sense at all to water here when we clearly had so little enjoyment from our front yard.
So the lawn had to make room for a flower and shrub buffer between street and front door. We stopped watering the lawn and at the end of summer dug up the dead sod, imported a few cubic yards of good soil and created a low stretched-out mound along the street. We planted California Natives and compatible drought tolerant plants on this little berm to create a living “lacey” screen between the street and the mulched play area.Â The following spring our front garden was a blooming sea of foliage and flowers which attracted bees, birds, neighbors, and kids who came to play in the tree house. By the second year most of the shrubs were tall enough so that the play area felt even more secluded, and we added a swing so that the adults could enjoy some of the fun here, too.
As Rita Sackville-West, the English garden designer and writer, observed about the lack of fencing or boundary in the American front yard: â€œAmericans must be far more brotherly-hearted than we are, for they do not seem to mind being over-looked. They have no sense of private enclosure.â€
This is an interesting thought, but I donâ€™t think that my attitude towards gardening and design is born out of the reluctance to be â€œsisterlyâ€ or democratic. When a design has fulfilled the first demand: To satisfy the homeownerâ€™s needs and marry them pleasingly with the constraints that the terrain, the architecture and the environment present; my second and vital desire is to make this outdoor space enjoyable and appealing to all senses and make every square inch of it count. But how could I enjoy this space when itâ€™s indistinguishable from those on either side and when it is not mine, but the publicâ€™s?
I view the front yard as an opportunity for creativity rather than as a space given over to convenience or to the obligatory anonymous, park-like setting of the past.
In my next article I will continue to share some of my experiences and thoughts on this topic, and if you are interested, please read more about this in a couple of weeks.
In my first landscape design consultation with Rob and Lisa, I found a familiar scenario: Â 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 â€œmorningâ€ 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 â€œwallsâ€ to do this but left large â€œwindowsâ€ 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 â€œdoorsâ€ in the walls. Vines on the arbors would soon be adding a leafy dÃ©cor. 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.Â 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 â€œLittle Ollieâ€ Olive that can be easily pruned â€œlaceyâ€ 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 â€“ and the view into the valley was still almost 180 degrees.
We plantedÂ low-growing drought tolerant (“xeric”) Mediterranean-type plants such as Lavender Cotton, White Rockrose, Blue Fescue, Iris, Blue Queenâ€™s Wreath, Sages, Wormwood, Lavender, and rosesâ€¦. 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.