Welcome to our August edition. Last month we emphasized the beauty of a maturing landscape by letting enlarged pictures speak for themselves and showing the progression to a more mature landscape. It can be insightful for you to see different themes and how they develop through the months and years. I know from our client’s comments that based on their past experiences they had no idea of how beautiful and enjoyable a landscape can be. It is very rewarding when a client tells me they look forward to the weekend to relax and enjoy their yard. It’s great, being able to connect us back to nature, and to ourselves.
Now for this month’s article; a “theme within a theme”. As the title states, it is a Northern California theme. However when a lot of shade is involved, the plant selection changes, giving it a much softer look. October’s edition will feature a full sun Northern California landscape, so keep August and September’s magazines handy for comparison, and you will see what I mean. Now let’s talk about the construction challenges of this landscape, and next month we will discuss the plants.
From a construction and design point of view, this is a small yard. So whatever hardscape we are going to introduce, it has to be sized accordingly. Next, what are the clients requests or needs? They wanted us to first and foremost get rid of their eye sore. So any landscape improvement would be better than what they were looking at. However, in discussing it further, I learned that walking up and down the slope was a hassle. They wanted one continuous access around the house that did not involve walking on dirt or bark, so steps were in order. A comment I made after looking at the yard, was there was no quaint place to sit, read the paper, have breakfast or enjoy a dinner. I felt they would really appreciate an intimate, relaxing area filled with creations of beauty, and of course, close to the kitchen. And since it was just the two of them, it did not need to be large, so a small raised patio was the solution. Combining that with steps that connected them to all points was the design I finally settled on. The idea excited me, but most importantly, it excited them. It was a good balance between hardscape (functionality) and softscape (beauty), exactly what I was looking for.
In creating any raised structures on slopes, though this slope is mild compared to others, a solid footing is paramount. To do that we started by tilling the ground so we could redistribute the soil according to the design. Once completed, we measured out our spaces, rechecking to make sure everything would fit within the percentages allocated. The ratio of hardscape to softscape I prefer, dependent upon the clients needs, is a 50/50 ratio – give or take 10%. After marking everything off, I could see that the percentages worked and that the space would “hold” everything that our design included. A question you might ask is that with a CAD design already completed, should I not already be assured of the design working? And that is true overall, however, in the actual execution of the work, there are always small details that are hard to determine in the drawing. The angle of a fence may come in more, influencing the positioning of the patio, the boulders may be wider than anticipated, more or less steps may be required, these are some examples of potential changes. So in this case, more steps and blocks were needed. Examples like these influence the materials used in the design, requiring the need to re-measure and verify. These are not big changes, but six inches here and four inches there for a small yard adds up.
Upon completing the measurements and adjustments, construction could begin. Footings for blocks or for steps follow a similar procedure. The bottom block needs to be set below grade; it is what “locks into” the native ground to prevent sliding or movement. Below the block is a trench that has been compacted and filled with road base or gravel. This secures a strong footing, which in turn secures a stable wall. Once the first course (row) has been laid level, the following courses go fairly easy with the exception of cutting blocks, which always takes time. With the walls built, the road base is added to the interior, compacted and then about 1/2” of sand is added for “setting” (leveling) the flagstone. There are basically three mediums that can be used for in-filling the joints of the flagstone; mortar, decomposed granite or “Gator Dust”, the latter is what we use. It is basically a mixture of the other two, looking more natural than mortar, but does not allow weeds to grow as decomposed granite would. The flagstone is laid and leveled, matching pieces to minimize wide joints and excessive cutting. Setting the steps is done in similar fashion as the wall blocks. Each step having blocks beneath it that are grounded into the earth below grade, and setting on top of compacted road base. When completed, it is very stable and solid.
By discussing the hardscape phase of this job it gives you, the homeowner, an idea of the “unseen” work that has to be completed to secure a structure. The “fun stuff” of course is the plants, but this phase supports the plants and provides functionality to the overall design. So time and thought are just as important. A good rule of thumb, “if it doesn’t take thought, it probably “ain’t” worth doing.” Till next time – Good Gardening.
Last month we featured two really cool plants that are extremely under used, and both attract hummingbirds. So not only do they have aesthetic value, but they are friendly to our little winged friends as well. The featured plant this month is also under used, though not attractive to hummingbirds, it is nonetheless an important plant for the landscape. There are only a handful of plants (less than 10) that are beautiful in appearance, can live in shade up to about 3 pm, and then spend the rest of the afternoon in the hot sun without burning. Cornus Alba Elengantissima or commonly called Red Twig Dogwood, is one of them. And yes, those of you that are familiar with the Dogwood tree, this is a Dogwood plant. It is very different from its tree counterpart, but nonetheless they are family. It is native to Siberia, Northern China and Korea, so it is a perfect candidate for those of you that have cabins/homes in Tahoe. As you can see, it has beautiful variegated foliage, and when grown in light shade it enlarges and becomes very soft. When grown in constant full sun, it still is a great accent plant, but the leaves remain about half the size as you see pictured, and a little curved. The “Red Twig” part of its name comes from the stems bright reddish color that is seen after the leaves have fallen and the nights are cold. Much like the Japanese maple, called Coral Bark that also responds to the winter cold by coloring up. There are several strains of this plant out, some display a much more upright aggressive growth pattern; other strains are more of a bush type. My personal preference is the bush type. It has more applications, and I like to show off the variegated foliage by planting it in closer view. Until next time – Blessings.