Plants and Stone for California Gardens


Archive for the ‘flatwork’ Category

Healthy Joints

Sort of an interesting before and after on this patio. I did a design for the backyard of a rental property a friend of mine owns, one of those San Francisco backyards that you can only access by walking through the building. A general contractor, or rather the guys he delegates everything to, did the installation. I tried to keep everything really simple, designing the patio as a simple square made up of 24″ x 36″ Connecticut Blue rectangles, which in the Bay Area cost just $7/sq.ft., making it it one of the most cost effective materials after you factor in the simplified installation.

The contractor’s crew butted the stones up against each other as if they were pavers. You can do that with some stones, but these are a little too irregular. I’m not sure how bad it looks in the photos, but in person it didn’t quite look right. It almost looked right, and my friend signed off on it, but it bothered me enough to spend a couple of hours with a helper spreading the stones to give them the quarter inch decomposed granite joint that I’d spec’d. No doubt it’s partly just my personal preference, but it looks much better with the joint. The joint also lets the patio drain better and allowed us do a better job with the DG bed underneath the stones.

With the stones butted together, your eye is drawn to the places where the stones don’t match up perfectly. With the joint absorbing the irregularity, your eye lands on the stones themselves.

Giving the patio a DG joint also made it match better with the stepping stone path leading to the patio.

A couple of before photos. The garden used to have a lot of roses and fruit trees before the owner passed away and everything fell into neglect. There were several grape vines, which confused me at first because there was little chance of them fruiting, but I think they were grown for the leaves.

For now, we only installed the larger plants in the design and everything is sheet mulched in an effort to suppress oxalis. The plants are all nice but fairly common — a fernleaf Japanese Maple, a Lemon tree, a Star Magnolia, a Variegated Buckthorn hedge, Spiraea, some groundcovers — but if a gardener moves in and embellishes the plantings it could be a sweet space.

Belgian Block and Wall Grottos

This summer I worked for the first time in several years with some Belgian Block, installing it in a parking strip in Berekeley. Belgian Block (called setts in some places, there are two photos of guys making them in the quarry photos I posted a little while back) famously came over to San Francisco as ballast in ships. The stones — usually about 5″ x 7″, a size that was supposedly easy to fit between the timbers of the ships — would be off-loaded whenever there was a heavy cargo heading back east and then used as paving for the growing city. You can still buy versions at the stoneyards sometimes, but I mostly come across it when it’s getting taken out of one site and reused at another. It’s better than cobblestone, but still not really the best surface to walk on; not so great for a patio or entrance walkway, just about right for a parking strip.

I know, I know, Mexican Feather Grass. I warned my clients it would reseed in all of the neighbors’ gardens, but they pointed out that all of the neighbors were already growing it.

This batch was once part of the Embarcadero. When the city upgraded the paving, they allowed people to come collect it. These stones here were set in mortar for a driveway, then demoed and stored in pile in the backyard for a number of years, and now they’ve found a new home in the parking strip. This parking-strip phase will presumably last a while, but who knows what they might be used for after that. I usually like to think of my stonework as permanent, but this batch’s peripatetic history makes me like with the idea of it moving on to a new project at some future date.

Along with the Belgian Block, the garden has two large, funky walls that were built by a previous owner. The walls are several feet thick and seven or eight feet tall, with ivy growing from the top and jade plants from the sides. The stonework is pretty crude — a mix of stone and recycled concrete held together with rough, smeary masonry — and the backside of one wall even has chunks of metal in it, including what looks like a rusted out car radiator. But there’s also a certain grace to it. The walls have several cavelike grottos that feel a little creepy but sort of beautiful at the same time.

There are a total of four grottos, but the larger ones were too dark to really photograph. I bet they look pretty cool at night with candles lit inside them.

The backside of the main wall is recycled concrete. All of the best rock is on the inside of the wall, none of it on the parts facing to the exterior.

One end of the main wall has several flower pots embedded in the mortar. The other end has a post in the middle, I guess for a gate that no longer exists.

The second wall is in the background of my last photo, with three different kinds of rock, including a single flagstone set as a shiner. The neighbors have pretty much hidden their side of the wall, the side with the metal chunks in it, behind bamboo. The tree trunk on the left is from a beautiful Purple European Beech and there are a couple of nice Japanese Maples. All together, it makes for a very interesting, very Berkeley kind of garden.

Arizona Flagstone

Clockwise -- Rosa, Sedona Red, Buckskin, Oak, Buff, Peach

Clockwise -- Rosa, Sedona Red, Buckskin, Oak, Buff, Peach

The corollary to the East Coast Connecticut Blue, is our West Coast Arizona flagstone. It’s sort of the ubiquitous, default flagstone of Bay Area gardens, but I’m always happy to use it. It’s easy to work with, and I like the color range, with each of the colors having a slightly different feel. Oak is the hardest; Buckskin and Peach are the nicest to work with; Sedona Red is the lowest quality, the one to avoid.

Arizona Peach Patio at Installation

Arizona Peach Patio at Installation

Peach is probably my favorite, though in the Bay Area it tends to gray over time if it doesn’t get a lot of sunlight and air circulation or if you don’t put a sealer on it. I showed the photo of this patio once before, but here are a couple of more photos. The plants have really filled in around it.

Arizona Peach patio 1 year later

Arizona Peach patio 1 year later

After Three Years

After Three Years

The Pacific Wax Myrtles are eight feet tall now, three years after planting as five gallons. I think they’re going to lose the race with the workers constructing the McMansion next door, but they should provide a good screen fairly soon.

Arizona Peach

Arizona Peach

Last month I went back and built a second patio with the leftover stone and another new pallet of stone. The cinder blocks are new veggie and flower beds that the clients are building. I think the block will eventually get mortared and stucco’ed.

Sedona Red

Sedona Red is by the far the softest, weakest, crumbliest of the Arizona flagstones. My parents house was the only place I’ve ever used it, and I hope to never use it again. Fortunately, the patio is mostly to be seen and is rarely walked on, so there haven’t been problems with cracking. This is a photo of it in its first year; I had some nice photos of it this spring with a ton of crocuses blooming, but those photos were lost when our laptop got stolen. If the crocuses do their thing again next spring, I’ll swap this photo out for a better one.

Sedona Red sideview

Sedona Red sideview

You don’t really want sandstone to be this striated; it’s often a sign of how weekly bonded the layers are. With other Arizona sandstones, the striations are not nearly as distinct.

Buff Sideview

Buff Sideview

I have a few more photos of palleted stone below, similar to what you would find at the stoneyard page, but not so tiny. Actual colors of course vary. (more…)

Connecticut Blue Flagstone and Concrete

Last week I helped a family member prep his house for sale (update 8/10 — it’s now sold). I had done some stonework there a few years ago, so to prep it now we just added some sod and mulch. The house is in Albany with one of those tiny East Bay backyards, really easy to work in; I think family members should all be encouraged to have really small yards.

The flagstone here is Connecticut Blue, a sandstone which is not always from Connecticut and only sometimes looks bluish. It gets sold in a lot of different shapes and thicknesses out here, popular for creating that East Coast bluestone look. We tend to use it when we want to blend in with existing concrete and not put that concrete to shame. In this case, we wanted to make the massive former hot tub slab look like an integrated part of the yard, rather than just a massive former hot tub slab. We also wanted to make the massive wall of ivy into something other than a massive wall of ivy, but that phase never happened, a project for the future owners, I guess.

When you factor in the embedded energy and the $500/ton price tag, I’m not sure Connecticut Blue is all that much better than just using recycled concrete/urbanite for a patio, but there’s no question the stacked flagstone makes a much nicer step.

I like the Connecticut Blue in the hellstrip with the gold DG. We used blue path fines for the joints of the patio, and in retrospect it would have been better with the gold. The blue has a tendency to leave little gravelly bits on the stones, not nice for bare feet.

The raised bed is made with the leftover Cabernet stone from a much larger project. The right side is made with relatively thin stones mortared together with a hidden joint, the left side is dry- stacked. The back part of the bed is stacked concrete to keep the soil off the fence, the foundation is made with smashed up concrete, and the soil from digging the foundation filled about half of the raised bed.

Leptospermum Dark Shadows

Leptospermum Dark Shadows

All the stonework and most of the plants happened three years ago, so the main thing we did to get the yard ready was to add sod. We spend a lot more of our time taking out lawns instead of putting them in, but lawns do have their merits and sometimes you gotta just throw down some sod. I’ve been collecting photos of the seed-grown and Carex pansa lawns we’ve installed. Someday I’ll do a post on them. These Leptospermum ‘Dark Shadows’ were planted as 1 gallons three years ago. Pretty fast.

And just to compare with the Connecticut Blue in path fines, a photo of recycled concrete/urbanite in path fines from a different project, the closest comparison I have.

More Ornamental Laundry

Patio with Laundry

Patio with Laundry

My bloom day photo of what Daffodil Planter called ‘the vine with multi-colored blooms’ reminds me that I took a photo of it in full bloom back in May. We hang-dry our laundry for a variety of practical reasons — it doesn’t use fossil fuels (clothes driers account for 5.8% of residential energy use), line-dried clothing lasts longer, it makes sense in our climate, and, well, we don’t own a dryer — but also I sometimes like the look of it. I remember when I was in Italy I thought the laundry lines between the apartment buildings were very charming, and now looking at two shots of our patio this past spring, I prefer the one with the laundry.

Patio without Laundry

Patio lacking Laundry

I know at least some garden bloggers use a line. Daffodil Planter said she has one. Townmouse has a variety of drying contraptions. It’s getting more fashionable, and there’s, of course, even a blog devoted to the topic. How fashionable is it? Seems like an opportunity to try out my slick new polling feature.

Flagstone Crazy Quilt

mongrel flagstone

mongrel flagstone walkway

Here’s another hellstrip walkway, from our own hellstrip in front of our house. It has a piece of Champagne in it, but otherwise is not much like the other. I’ve been adding to it for a while, building it with leftover stones from various jobs. There are seven different types of stone, though two of them, the Cabernet and the Sonora Gold, are so small they mostly just pad the total; the box for the water main should almost count as number eight. The Connecticut Lilac in the lower right was the first. It’s 3″ thick and really heavy, so I didn’t want to have to load it up to haul to another site. The most recent stones are in the upper left, Three Rivers, from a recent path installation. The only stone type I rejected was Sedona Red, a brick colored stone that looked awful; otherwise, if it was flat and the client didn’t want the leftover pieces, I stuck a few in the hellstrip. One of our ideas in starting this blog was to accumulate examples of different kinds of stone and stonework, but I’m not sure what this is an example of, other than what can happen when a stoneworker decides to make a crazy quilt. The list of stone types:

Three Rivers
Connecticut Lilac
Arizona Peach
Arizona Red
Sonora Gold

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