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The Lawn is Gone

Lawn Converted to Low Water Plants

Just in time to stay with the topic of lawn coversions, a friend of ours in Los Angeles sent us photos of a project we helped with. He’s a former roommate of Anita’s from the years when she was in grad school; he is now married and living in Los Angeles, and he recently bought a home with one of those terrible Southern California front yard lawns. He sent us some photos, asking for a planting plan to replace it. He and his wife wanted to keep the existing citrus tree and Brugmansia, they liked lavenders and succulents, and they wanted to do the work themselves. We sent him a drawing with some big caveats about how we had never gardened in Los Angeles so he would need to double check the plant suggestions with the local nurseries.

Before

That was last winter. This week he emailed us photos of the project, now completed. We had argued for taking out the red walkway heading straight to the door. We suggested replacing it with a DG path, figuring it would be easy to install and easy to upgrade to tile or flagstone in the future. They went ahead and installed the upgraded path right away, hiring a contractor for that part of the project and doing the rest of the work themselves. Most of the plants vary from the ones we suggested (probably a good thing), but they follow the basic layout of the drawing.

The Layout We Suggested

When we named our lawn-conversion/sheet-mulch class Lawn Begone, we were joking about how sheet-mulching can have a certain magic to it, that it’s the closest thing you get to just pointing a wand at the lawn and casting some kind of goofy Harry Potter spell. This project — before and after photos appearing in our inbox, the not-quite-real quality it has because we never physically saw or visited the site, I never saw any of the work happen — takes the magic even a bit further. I’m about as skeptical of designing over the internet as I am of Harry Potter, but in this case it feels a little like we cast a spell and it worked.

Lawn-o Begone-o!!!

A Redwood City Garden

I don’t know about following the master with one of our own gardens, but the same day as I visited the Tommy Church garden, I also took photos at a garden we installed three years ago in Redwood City. The house is on the market, so this was a good opportunity to photograph it.

It was a good opportunity, but it also a farewell to the garden, too. Before I started working in gardens, I really had no idea how often Americans move. The statistics say that 1 in 5 Americans move every year, and it sometimes seems that 1 in 5 of our clients move every year as well. The real estate listing called this an ‘Oh, Wow’ Rear Garden,’ which sounds good, but it also said the paver patio was made of stone, so the real estate agents might not have the most reliable opinions. I was going to link to the listing, but it’s already been taken down; there was a sale pending last I heard, so the house has probably sold already.

The stonework is all veneer, thin pre-made panels made of saw-cut stone. If you look closely you can see the seams. We were going to do dry-stack walls, but when I was walking around with the clients at the stoneyard, it became clear that this was the only look they liked. A bigger carbon footprint, a bit more expensive, and a much slicker look than dry-stack. Some more photos and a plan of the garden are below. (more…)

A Tommy Church Garden

A couple of weeks ago I got to see a Tommy Church garden in Burlingame. Tommy Church is often called the father of modern landscape architecture, and he’s the one most responsible for the inside/outside California-living concept, the idea of ‘garden rooms,’ and the now-cliched kidney-shaped pool. He did a huge number of residential gardens, but not a lot of them are still intact. I only knew his work from drawings and from photos; the Donnell Garden is his most famous. His designs tend to have a lot of lawn, hardscape, and juniper, and to be more like what people now call landscaping rather than a garden, but they were very influential at the time.

This Tommy Church design, however, is an actual garden. It’s also quite close to his original design, perhaps because it’s more formal than most of his other work and there’s something about formal designs that make you afraid to change them; I think you sense that everything has already been thought out and decided and that your role is just to keep it from ever changing. I don’t know the story of the garden or when it was put in or any of those details, but most of the plants and materials clearly date from Tommy Church’s era. It’s pretty much the complete opposite of the gardens that Anita and I design, but I found it surprisingly interesting and engaging as I wandered through it. There are some nice spaces and moments within the formal structure. More photos are below. (more…)

The Tenderloin Garden

I have some photos from one of the gardens on this past weekend’s Garden Conservancy Open Days Tour. It’s the home garden of the Organic Mechanics, the guys who created the giant succulent Borg cube at last year’s flower and garden show. I like seeing designers’ home gardens. They’re usually funky and interesting, and this on’s no exception. Lots of salvaged urban materials, lots of eclectic plant choices, and a fair bit of benign neglect, all hidden away behind an apartment building in the Tenderloin on the kind of block that has transvestite hookers on the corners at night. Part of the experience of this garden is to first walk six blocks without seeing a single plant. You don’t forget that you’re in a city when you enter the garden, but you get a very different city experience.

I love the big brick wall on the neighboring building, with a 5 cent cigar ad painted over a 2 cent cigar ad. I don’t give brick enough credit as a material. This wall is phenomenal.

The other detail I really like is a short path made from repurposed materials. Their website has a photo of an entire patio made from the same stuff.

There’s a write-up at SF Gate telling some more about the garden and the designers. A fun garden to have seen.

The Bay Friendly Garden Tour

One of the gardens that we help maintain is on the Bay Friendly Garden Tour tomorrow. I’m a big fan of the tour and the whole concept of ‘Bay Friendly’. It’s such a clear way to focus on the ecological implications of gardening, and the tour has the feel of real gardens made by actual gardeners. This garden was originally installed by a designer (Roger Raiche, who’s known around the Bay Area from working at the UC Botanical Garden and for introducing a lot of well-known native plant varieties, Vitis californica ‘Roger’s Red,’ California Wild Grape, being the first one that comes to mind but there are many many more) and we’ve been helping with the maintenance for several years, but it’s very much the owner’s own personal garden. Over the years, she has moved and added and subtracted a lot of the plants, and she’s the one who keeps it in a showcase state.

This section of the garden was designed by her along with a Buddhist monk who helped in the garden before our tenure. Virtually every plant in this area is a transplant from some other part of the garden, almost no new plants were bought for the space. Quite a few classic garden plants — roses, rhododendrons, azaleas, a peony — ended up in this area, I think after struggling or being overcrowded somewhere else. The fence was built with bamboo that the monk harvested from my garden. They instilled the space with a nice peaceful ambience, and it’s my favorite place to sit in the garden. Every garden should have a Buddhist monk work in it for a time.

I’ve posted photos from this garden a couple of times before, here and here. There is a post about the garden on the Bay Friendly blog and the garden got several paragraphs in a write-up of the tour at SF Gate. And Floradora has a number of nice photos from this garden and several others on the tour.

Some more photos are below. (more…)

Lawn to Veggie Garden

Before

Before -- June

‘Having a casual, wild, productive, diverse, beautiful vegetable garden is frankly a lot more fun than watering and mowing and pouring pesticides on our lawns.’ Fritz Haeg

Another collection of photos from last year, shots of a lawn-to-vegetable-garden conversion we did. Before this one, we hadn’t had good success installing veggie gardens for clients. We’ve incorporated them into larger designs and helped with ideas for the layout and so forth, and a lot of our clients have already had an area of veggies somewhere in their yards, but the couple of veggie gardens that we had personally installed and planted just ended up being neglected and later converted to ornamentals. Veggie gardens seem to require a certain amount of personal involvement and DIY spirit; you have to really want to go out and dig and weed and plant, and the sweat equity of the installation seems to be part of the motivation for following through and making it a success. Anyways, with this garden we did the layout and the lawn conversion around the beds, and left the installation and planting of the veggie beds to the client. It was a lot of fun to go back and see what got planted and to hear about the harvests.

After -- Late June

After -- Late June

The installation was actually pretty simple and easy. We dug out a little bit of the grass in the corner near the gate, but for the most part we left the lawn in place and just put the paths, boxes, and plantings on top of it, laying weedcloth in the places where we wanted gravel, cardboard where we wanted plants or veggie boxes. The clumps that we did dig out we buried at the bottom of the raised beds underneath cardboard. None of the grass has come back, without using any chemicals or hauling any of the grass to the dump.

Late June

The raised beds are prefabbed from a company in Oregon, just plopped down on top of the lawn and filled with soil. The client is a good carpenter and would have normally built the boxes himself, but the logistics of the project were much easier with them ready-made. It’s a pretty slick design (the boards are modular, the pins that hold the boards in place can also serve to anchor hoops or stakes, the wood is a rot-resistant hardwood) and installation took only a couple of hours, one of those things where it’s easy to copy the design but even easier to just buy it. A nice aspect of this site was that putting the veggie boxes on the diagonal made them orthogonal to north.

July

November

November

December

December -- Favas Newly Planted in the Front Bed

There’s an architect, Fritz Haeg (he has a blog while he is in Rome on a fellowship), who has made lawn-to-veggie-garden conversions a big focus of his career. He has a book, Edible Estates, Attack on the Front Lawn, and there’s an interview on the ASLA blog from shortly after I did this project. Clearly, he doesn’t work in deer country, or his attack would include 8-foot-high fences, but it’s great to see someone really promoting the idea of changing lawn to edibles as a political, cultural, and environmental act.

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