One of the things that I really enjoying doing is helping people with their landscape planning or updating. While I have neither the time nor interest to manage full landscape projects past my own yard, I do offer help with landscape and plant consultation. The overwhelming majority of new landscapes that are put in on a new Southern Californian tract home are what I would call “blow through” jobs. They are done by high volume, low cost landscapers that use a cookie-cutter approach to design. They are in and out as fast as possible and on to the next job. What they leave is a sterile and extremely common landscape with no real soul.
One of the frustrating things to me when viewing all these landscapes is the boredom they invoke. Plantings are chosen from a small palette because landscapers buy from wholesale nursery where variety is limited. Also the plants chosen are almost always “tried and true” so that most everyone can grow them. If there is one thing a landscaper hates, it is being called back six months after completing a job and being told some plants died and that must replace them under their guarantee. So they plant what works. Unfortunately all the same plants are used job after job.
In October of 2013 I was contacted by a family out in Elfin Forest to help consult with their backyard landscape and pool design. They already had a pool company picked out and a landscaper ready to start. The Stainton’s just wanted some advice on the overall plans and more importantly, to choose the plants and their placement for the design. In the end I was asked to help because they did not want a cookie-cutter design.
For two days we ended up visiting a total of four nurseries to acquire all the plants needed for the job. Most the plants you see below came from my favorite nursery – Rancho Soledad. I ended up spending 7-8 hours over the course of three more days getting the plants where they needed to go and making sure the landscapers put the irrigation in as I required. By February 2014, the pool was in and the planting could begin.
This is the same spot one year after completion.
The Stainton’s wanted a water-wise garden that would hold color year-round. They wanted something that was low maintenance as they like to travel. They also didn’t want to block their surrounding views or hide the depth of their property. They are located in an area that will see temperatures as high as 100 in the summer and lows into the 20s with guaranteed frost every winter. They also have deer, so all this had to be taken into consideration.
A main planter bed separates the Stainton property from the open field in the back. This is where the majority of plantings were done. We went with three Quercus virginianas (Virginia Live Oaks) to anchor the the landscape to the native Quercus agrifolias (Coast Live Oaks) that surround the entire property.
From left to right, Aloe alooides (in flower), dwarf Kangaroo Paw with Aloe rudikoppe (in flower) and Dudleya brittonii at bottom center.
I love using Festuca glauca ‘Elijah Blue’ and Senecio vitalis “Serpents” as ground cover and filler plants and you will see these used throughout the project. These can be thinned out as the key plants in the landscape grow and demand more space. You will notice I also really like Tulbaghia violacea ‘Silver Lace’ (Variegated Society Garlic) and Anigozanthos spp. (Kangaroo Paw).
From left to right you can make out three Agave ‘Blue Glow’, Aloe betsileensis (in flower) and Aloe alooides (in flower).
Left to right again, Aloe ‘Cynthia Giddy’ (in flower), Aloe rubroviolacea, trunk of Quercus virginiana, Agave guiengola ‘Creme Brûlée’.
A creek runs the entire length of their property, a true anomaly in Southern California. A zero edge pool and low growing plants make sure the view to the creek from the house is wide open.
Aloe vaombe, Dracaena draco, Agave colorata and Cycas thouarsii in the back. Dymondia margaretae was planted to fill in around the flagstones used for the secondary paths.
The photo below is of the view looking back up at the house. We put in numerous sitting areas around the pool with each offering a unique vantage point to view the surrounding landscape. The tree with no leaves is an Ash. It provides much needed shade in the summer and lets the sun in during the winter. Ash trees drop their leaves pretty fast, so clean up doesn’t last more than a few weeks. They enjoy the trade off.
The pool is something I also helped consult with. Pool contractors love adding things that sound great on paper but once built are of little value or get no use. The two biggest waste to me are slides and swim-up bars. With this pool we kept it shallow to help with solar heating, we added a beach entry for the kids and the Stainton’s wanted the sound of running water to be heard outside their kitchen and family room, so a multi-level stream was also added.
What landscape is complete without a fire pit and hammock? The center piece plant here is a Furcraea macdougalii. The Canary Island Date Palm in the background was not planted but is instead a volunteer.
From left to right, Agave ‘Blue Flame’, Furcraea macdougalii and two Aloe rudikoppe (in flower) bookending the the rocks.
The Stainton’s are very pleased with the results. The difference between the first plans offered up to them and the ones after I came on board is night and day. Just with the plant consultation alone we placed over 20 different plants that you will not find in 99.9% of any Southern Californian landscape. The Stainton’s are constantly asked by neighbors and guest what the different plants are, and that really is one of the points with landscape, to make it interesting and unique.