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Lawn to Veggies, Flagstone, and Path Fines

AlamedaSideyard4:15

Unsurprisingly, we’re doing a lot of lawn-to-garden projects this year. We usually do a couple per year, but we’ve already done two so far, with several others scheduled. Most of them are primarily plant focused, but this one was more hardscape oriented. The clients actively used their lawn, unlike so many people who only walk on their lawn to mow it, so we had to replace it with something the kids could walk and play on.

AlamedaLawnBefore

It was a little strange how the grass made a lip over the edge of the front walk. Alameda’s soil is basically beach sand, so I have a feeling that the soil had drifted onto the walkway like a sand dune and then the crabgrass crept out to stabilize it. It was pretty tired-looking by the time we took it out.

AlamedaFrontBefore

The grass on this side of the entry was more of a path than a lawn, so we could use more plants. The wooden edging is unfortunately necessary to keep the dogs from kicking the mulch onto the pathway, but we should be able to take it out after the grass has been suppressed and the plants grow in. I like doing veggie beds; I leave behind an empty new bed and then come back later to find it filled with edibles and flowers.

AlamedaFront4:15

Natives, Mosaics, and a New Sitting Area

SeatingAreaAfter

I recently did a couple of small projects in an established native garden, a pleasant space with a laid-back, informal feel. Oaks, Bay Laurels, and annual grasses are visible outside the deer fencing. Gravel paths weave around berms overflowing with natives, some of the usual plants like Manzanita, Iris, and Buckwheat, but also some of the less common plants you only see at plant sales.

PathFinesPatioBefore1

My primary project was to create a little sitting area with blue path fines. We also cleaned the existing concrete patio next to the new sitting area and we redid the joints with blue path fines. I’ve done that a few times for this kind of old patio; a few bags of path fines and some scrubbing and the concrete looks pretty much as good as new.

PathFinesPatioAfter1

When I finished, I was thinking that with some furniture, a little mulch, and maybe some Snowberry in the narrow space against the fence, this would be a nice little sitting area. This past week I saw the finished result, cheerful and inviting.

SeatingAreaAfter2

EdgingAfter1

I edged the path fines with scrap pieces of basalt from the fabrication projects at the stoneyard. It’s inexpensive and easy to install; the hardest part is sorting through the scrap pile figuring out which pieces to use.

EdgingAfter2

The garden has some other interesting elements, including a variety of mosaics made by the client. The wall piece is quite nice.

wallpiece

mosaictile1

My mom recently made one of these mosaic balls, so it was interesting to see that someone else had made one too. I guess I’ve seen them before, but I didn’t realize they were an established thing.

mosaictile2

dogwood

There’s a cone shaped one at the base of this dogwood. I like the look of the limbed-up dogwood; the trunk is almost like a manzanita.

stonelithograph

The client’s father had been a stone lithographer. The press is now an element in the garden along with several of the old stones.

stonetablet

NeviusiacliftoniiFlower

I was glad I got to see the garden this week, because a number of plants were in bloom, including Neviusia cliftonii, Shasta Snow Wreath, a rare deciduous shrub that was only discovered in the 90’s. I’d seen it at plant sales, but never established in a garden. It’s not the showiest plant I’ve ever seen — it’s easy to understand how it went unnoticed for such a long time, especially if it tends to grow intermixed with poison oak — but fun to see in a garden.

NeviusiacliftoniiShastaSnowWreath

Styraxoficinalis

I was also glad to see the California Snowdrop, Syrax oficinalis, in full bloom. These take patience to establish, but have such an elegant flower and fragrance.

PCHIris

Buckwheat

Buckwheats, Foothills Penstemon, and California Poppies were also blooming, with other plants like Coyote Mint getting ready to follow. And photographs of course don’t show the bird calls and all of the bird activity around the natives. A lovely little garden.

Pennisetum and Lomandra

Pennisetumorientale1:15

Requests for Mexican Feather Grass are one of the constants of doing landscapes in the Bay Area. I don’t blame anyone for wanting it. It’s stunningly beautiful, especially at the end of the day in the golden hour. But of course it’s also highly invasive. Planting it in your yard essentially means you are planting it in your neighbors’ yards as well. I try not to plant it, and in fact the only time I have planted it in recent years was for a parking strip in an urban part of Berkeley. I warned the client that it would spread to the neighbors’ yards and he pointed out that the neighbors were already growing it. It was hard to argue with that. But, otherwise, when clients request it I try to find an alternative.

This planting is one of my attempts. Instead of a gold-colored grass — PlantRight has a list with several alternatives that are fine plants but not really as graceful or beautiful — I went with the more cream-colored bloom of Pennisetum orientale (a Pennisetum that doesn’t reseed) and a background of Lomandra ‘Breeze’ to keep things looking green in the winter. I had the idea that the two of them together might combine into the equivalent of Mexican Feather Grass. I think they do end up having a little of that vibe. I should be able to get a better photo later in the year when some of the other plants are blooming and when the shrubs have grown a bit more, but this is pretty good for a January photo. Some ‘before’ photos are below. (more…)

Pergola Shadows

A little while back I took some photos of the cast shadows from a pair of pergolas we designed last year. The pergolas are made with rectangular aluminum tube, a little different from most of what I show on this blog, but it still follows the underlying aesthetic of my drystone work. The way the two pergolas overlap echoes the overlapping roof lines of the house, the house’s best feature, but it also overlaps the way stone in a drystone wall is supposed to overlap. Similarly, the rectangular concrete paving has the broken joints of a drystone construction. Even when I’m not designing with stone, I like to see things follow the drystone rules.

There is some stonework in this garden, but it’s not drystone and it’s built by another contractor, not by me. You can’t see it so well in the high-contrast mid-day lighting that was creating the shadows, but the courtyard has a limestone veneer, large thin slabs that are machine-cut and honed and installed with an adhesive instead of mortar and with a rubber crack-isolation layer (nicely explained in a patent application) between the stone and the underlying concrete slab. The stone has an interesting patterning and nice color variation; I’ll probably photograph it in softer light at some point after the planting has grown in.

For now, though, I’m happy with the way the cast shadows highlighted the young viburnum. The shadows on the door and on the courtyard steps were expected, but this raking line across the wall was a bonus.

A couple of before photos are below.

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The Spring Fling

Some of the Bloggers Eating Lunch in the Garden

I’m quite late with this, but one of our gardens was on the Garden Bloggers Spring Fling tour earlier this year. I don’t know how well known the Spring Fling is among garden blog readers, but it’s an impressive event. Once a year, garden bloggers convene in a city and spend several days looking at gardens together. This was the sixth year. It began in Austin, then Chicago, Buffalo, Seattle, Asheville, the Bay Area this year, and next year it will be in Portland. I’m interested in going to the Portland fling, especially after getting a taste of the tour this year.

I didn’t go to the entire tour, just the one garden that we had helped create. Three days of gardens seemed like a lot to fit into my schedule and I had already visited all of the public gardens and most of the private ones, but in retrospect that was a missed opportunity. Everyone seemed to enjoy the tour immensely and to appreciate the intensive overview of Bay Area gardening. Fortunately, the fling organizer, Kelly Kilpatrick of Floradora Gardens who helps the owners with the maintenance and created many of the plantings, was kind enough to invite Anita and me out to the garden. After almost five years of blogging, it was great to meet some other bloggers, however briefly, and I loved getting the perspective of out of town gardeners. I only took a couple of photos, but several bloggers wrote posts about the garden.

Digging
Garden in a City
Piece of Eden
The Outlaw Gardener
Danger Garden

Another Group of Bloggers, with Mt Diablo in the Distance

Garden Conservancy Open Days Garden #2

Here are the photos of the other garden I visited on the Open Days tour, an elaborate garden with formal and cottage garden elements and an extensive sculpture collection. I’ve never been to the famous English gardens like Sissinghurst, but this garden had something of that feel, with classic garden plants in well-tended perennial beds and garden ‘rooms’ with carefully composed color palettes.

The entry to the lower garden is through a hornbeam hedge. I don’t see many of those in the Bay Area. They have to shear it every month so the metal man can look out over his domain.

Pretty cool statue, made of building straps.

There were probably two dozen sculptures of varying sizes in the garden. I liked a lot of them, including, of course, the pig.

The lower section of the garden was designed by landscape architect Ron Lutsko about ten years ago. The plantings are now maintained by David and Jane, who also did a lot of the craftwork on the rest of the garden. Everything was pretty much impeccable.

The water feature was cast with a mold taken from a boulder in the hills. Water flowed out around the patio and down alongside the stairs, splashing over the lowest of the steps. I couldn’t decide if the water on the step was deliberate or it happened and they just decided to embrace it.

I’ve heard hostas are easy grow in other parts of the country, but around here they need some coddling. I’m always impressed when I see them looking good, which probably sounds strange to gardeners in other parts of the country.

The upper section of the garden was a steep hillside with cottage garden and mediterranean favorites. Hakonechloa cascaded down the slope like water.

I liked the metalwork around the sprinklers and the hosebibs. Simple and effective.

Beside the front door was a beautiful espaliered gingko.

The door was done by an artist who had also done something similar with the driveway gate. That was the final area of the garden, but then I went back to the hornbeam hedge and walked through a couple more times to feel like I’d seen everything. It was really a fun and impressive garden.

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