Welcome to March’s edition of Design Challenges. For this month and next, we will look at a large landscape project and discuss the design challenges it presented. In this edition we will give the background, note the challenges, ask the questions but answer them in our next edition (like a good mystery novel).
The project I’ve chosen is typical of many backyards in the Folsom/El Dorado/Rocklin area where a portion of the yard is given over to a slope. The percentage of level ground versus the percentage of sloped area varies with each yard. In some yards, the slope is only 20% of the yard; in others it is just the opposite, making for a very challenging job. This particular client’s percentage of slope varies, depending on whether we are viewing the west side or the east side of their yard. The pictures shown here are of the west side where about 20% of the yard is a slope. Next month we will view the other side, which is about 70% sloped.
Looking at the pictures, you can see the Before, with a bare yard and a block wall under construction, and the After. The difference is more than aesthetic. This design, like all good designs, needed to address the concerns of the homeowner. What were those concerns and what design challenges did they present? Aside from the bareness of the yard, there were three.
The most apparent, of course, is the slope. A combination of soil, rock and lava cap, it posed both a design and a physical challenge. This is jackhammer work, and at the end of the day your arms are still vibrating.
The second concern was the need for privacy and screening from the glare of a couple street lamps. Look at the After picture. Just to the right of the first tree you can see one of the street lamps, and the roofs of neighboring homes. And outside the camera’s view, there is another
street lamp and more exposure to the neighbors’ balconies than is desirable. As my client put it, “They can look right into my kitchen from their balconies, and at night the street lamps shine into our bedroom.”
The third challenge was related to access. My client’s husband is only mobile with the aid of a wheelchair, so elevations needed to be gradual for her to move him in and out of the house. So access from kitchen slider to the patio, from the patio to the spa (not shown), and the width and
slope of sidewalk (not shown) required special attention.
Now here’s the question: How does one create a landscape that is inviting and beautiful, and yet addresses these very specific concerns? I think it is a lot like women’s purses. How do you design a purse that can carry the multiplicity of stuff you ladies carry and still look stylish and feminine and not like a small suitcase? On a much larger scale, landscaping is the same thing, solving at times huge problems but having the end result look like there was no problem to solve.
The answer always begins with the theme, for whatever materials we select to address the problems has to fit within the overall theme. Fortunately the theme of this yard is Northern Cal, which is a very easy theme to work with, many colors and hardscape elements agree with it. So with that said, we have laid our foundation, understand the client’s concern (and our challenges) and know the theme. Next month we will see from a “landscaper’s eyes” what the solutions were.