Tag Archives: boulders

The Ravine’s Edge (in progress)


IMG_3495 My client purchased the empty lot adjacent to their home several years ago and put up the bamboo fencing around the perimeter. More recently, they added the French doors visible on the side of their house, in anticipation of the new garden. The lot was originally overgrown with Echium, Eucalyptus saplings, Blackberry vines, Poison Oak, various grasses and other invasive weeds. The first 35″ of the 50″x 100″ lot was level, the rest inclining steeply into a deep, Eucalyptus-filled ravine, leading to the decision to only landscape the level portion.




IMG_3516 The crew mostly hand cleared the lot, though used a bobcat to pull out the eucalyptus stumps and to do some slight grading. Slightly visible in this image, at the back of the lot, is the beginning of the gopher wire installation. (& to the left, off the French doors, the start of construction for the landing and steps) Once the lot was cleared, the large slabs of “moss back” rock were brought in and placed at the edge of the ravine, to delineate the human-tamed landscape from the wilds of the ravine. Under and between the rocks is the only area of the new garden that doesn’t have gopher wire and sheet mulch because the slabs were so heavy that as we positioned them, they tore up anything in their way…



Several years ago, the slope leading into the ravine had been cleared of a mature Eucalyptus grove to give a fire break to all the homes that backed onto it. Once they were gone, the native plants very quickly grew back- primarily Rhamnus californicus (Coffeeberry) with Poison Oak and Coyote Bush interspersed. In the above picture, these lovely natives are visible, along with a couple stubborn Eucalyptus saplings that are, and will continue to be, a maintenance issue. I also decided to leave a few Echium, as long as they were low enough to not block the view. Visible on the slope up the other side of the ravine is the complete coverage of Eucalyptus trees that had come up to the back of these lots and houses before the fire break clearing.



The path is layers of drain rock, gold fines and multi-colored pea gravel- all compacted really well over a lining of gopher wire. In fact, 95% of the project area is underlayed with high-grade gopher wire and then a double layer of corrugated cardboard sheet mulch. Using sheet mulch is a great way to be able to landscape over a weed-filled lot or a existing, healthy lawn, without having to dig them up. This potentially saves labor and landfill space, and also the decomposing plant material helps improve the soil. (at the bottom of this image, a bit of the cardboard is visible) The native soil on this site was almost solid decomposed granite(low organic matter, good drainage), so I brought in richer soil and built it up over the wire and cardboard, planting primarily smaller plants so we didn’t have to cut through anything. The plant palette will be mostly natives and adapted plants, with a small percentage of ornamental (“fluffy”) plants closer to the house. Within a year, after having received a good start with the richer soil, the cardboard will be decomposed, the roots will grow through the wire and they’ll do fine in the native soil, as most are native or low water use plants.


IMG_3528 IMG_3519

Next post will be after planting. Stay tuned!

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Low Maintenance, Dry, Bachelor Garden

This was a fun garden to create. My client wanted almost zero involvement in his garden. The only thing he was interested in (beside not having to do anything) was that the garden look interesting and tidy. For this design I started with the style of the house. You can see from one of the  images below that the house is very boxy with a flat roof. Sort of mid-century style, but built in the early 80’s so not nearly as cool as, say, an Eichler design. Needless to say, (but I will anyway!) an English cottage garden or a traditional, formal garden would be very out of place here. I ran the idea of a mostly succulent garden with boulders and gravel by him and he said go for it. So here’s what I came up with:

Really Heavy Rocks

Really Heavy Rocks

These rocks were a royal pain to “place”. They ended up being 2x as heavy (& expensive) as they were estimated to be. The four guys I hired to move them the 6-8′ from the sidewalk to where they are now were amazing and never got discouraged, though I was ready to cry after about an hour! I was seriously ready to hire a crane to place them, but the guys kept moving them, inch by inch, and after FOUR hours they got it done. They didn’t even act like they wanted to kill me when I said things like, “Could you move that one two inches to the left with a quarter twist?”

Front Garden View

Front Garden View

Here’s a more complete view of the front. The boulders in the first image are to the left, just out of the shot. In addition to the low Agaves, etc., I introduced some vertical lines to the design with Equisetum, Papyrus and Phormium. The client wanted a fountain, and thought maybe he wanted an Italianite, classical style piece, but was very pleased with the natural stone fountain (see center of image) we created for him. I didn’t know if I would like this garden when I started it- I’m more drawn to soft or symmetrical forms- but this ended up being one of my favorite gardens so far!

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