February 2015

Welcome to our February edition. I sure appreciated meeting many of you at the Northern California Home and Landscape Expo last month. Your encouragement and compliments always inspire me to seek to do better.


If you recall from November’s article we still have part II to complete. The owners of that project, Ken and Jeanne, were great to work for and it was a privilege to earn their trust, as it is with all our clients.

Before moving forward with the second phase of this yard, let’s review what we discussed in November. We mentioned that the challenge of a narrow front yard is that it is very easy for the eye to look past the yard, especially if the other side has large trees or homes, which s our situation here. We needed to create or use something demonstrative enough to keep the eye present and not wander. This was our first challenge. In essence the yard needs to “hold its own” despite the other distractions. This “hold its own” concept is extremely important to me. The yard had several very large boulders, which in combination with more boulders became our answer.The next concern was a large Chinese fringe plant that was planted about three quarters of the way up, which blocked viewing the last section of the yard.  Creating a dry stream bed was the solution to this and even though the stream bed does not allow you to see the last quarter of the yard, it tells you that there is more to see.

As I mentioned, one of the great assets of this yard were the three boulders that were already there. We wanted to add more and the challenge was to position them so they looked like they had always been there..  The boulders had to fit into the flow of the dry stream, or the dry stream had to fit into what I considered the best positioning for the boulders. It was a give and take as I went about painting out the stream pattern and the boulder placement. I tagged the boulders that were to be paired together and the ones that I wanted to be placed by themselves. Next, I needed to determine the best placement for all the boulders. This definitely took some thought as there was no room for error.  Once the forklift dropped each boulder there was no lifting it up again.

In normal situations with boulders 400 pounds or less we can reposition a few if need be.  However, when they weigh 900-1,200 pounds, these boulders were not moving. Part of their placement was determining whether I wanted them to “sit” like they were found in nature.  At times this can be too deep, losing the “mass” of the boulder. That’s a lot of money in the ground.

Prior to the boulder delivery, yards of topsoil blend were added. If you look at the “before” picture you will note a level lawn that is changed considerably in the “after” photo.   In determining the amount of soil to create this appearance the stopping point was decided when the mass of soil complemented the “face mass” of the boulders. This was a judgment call since the boulders were not on site. I needed to recall them from the different rock yards where I had them tagged. Adding topsoil blend not only really helps the plants (the soil in this area is largely decomposed granite) but it creates a much more interesting canvas to work with. All this preparation was part of our end goal to make this narrow yard look bigger. There is nothing that can be done with its width; its width is its width.  However you can “amplify its presence.”  This was the same challenge with the narrow backyard of former clients Ray and Kathy.   Their backyard was not going to get any wider, but by building the block wall it gave the yard a greater presence. The same principle was applied here with the use of the boulders.

Now, for my favorite part …the plants. Aside from selecting plants within the same theme, there was one more critical consideration. Can you think of it? It’s their size. Many plants can get 4 to 6 feet, which could easily overwhelm a narrow yard. This would make yard maintenance a nightmare. Therefore, the plants we selected for this yard are 2 to 3 feet, which means there are some key plants I like to use, such as a smaller variety of Chinese fringe plant, that though smaller, still would not work. Therefore I needed to find substitutes.  I decided to use the Berberis Orange Rocket that you see in our main photo. It provides the reddish color the fringe plant would have added to the landscape. Also in the main photo is an orange flowering plant called Lion’s Tail. Normally I do not use orange, but in limited amounts it works, especially given our Mediterranean theme. By finding substitutes that add color we are minimizing a monochromatic landscape.

In ending this series of narrow front and backyards it is a fair statement to make that with creativity and thought any yard can be transformed into an eye catching and enjoyable yard.

Gardeners – we are still able to plant cool season veggies. I am still harvesting sweet chard, spinach and lettuce from my garden I planted in October, though some lettuce varieties didn’t take the frost too well. The broccoli is finally developing heads and the carrots and radishes would be ready except I never thinned them. Therefore they did not develop, so I am adding the carrot tops to my salad.  They are eatable and quite tasty.

Good Gardening – Arthur