stone work

Tuscan transformation…

It’s really quite an honor when a former landscaping client calls us back to design again at a new home. Several clients have entrusted us with repeat projects, including our current installation.

Located on a large ranch in the Hill Country, this Tuscan farmhouse begged for a fresh landscape to match the grandeur of this beautiful home.

I was first struck by the way the existing split rail fence seemed to detract from the view of the home. The entrance to the front door came in from a tight, side angle, the existing path gray and worn limestone. As I walked the front of the property, inside and outside the fence, the existing beds appeared tiny and out of scale. I realized that the front of the home, with it’s fairytale front door, roofline and window detail was lost to visitors coming up the walk from the side so close to the house.

As I explored further back, two large oaks caught my eye and I envisioned a new entrance, winding through the oaks and arriving at the front door straight on, giving guests an opportunity to experience the stateliness of the home.

With the cornerstone of the design determined, the rest of the plan fell into place.

We moved the new fence back a full 40 feet from the house, tore up the existing path and front stoop and build a mortared Oklahoma flagstone path that meandered from the driveway to the entrance. New, deeper beds enveloped the front of the home on both sides, anchored by a series of ‘tiny tower’ cypress trees and traditional xeric, Mediterranean-style native and adapted plants.

You can see where the old stone path came out and the new, albeit muddy, flagstone path meandering through the trees.

Having redesigned a landscape with these clients before, I knew their taste well, so choosing plants they would love was easy. We did leave the existing mature Crape Myrtle in the new landscape. The beds include a mix of rich red Salvia Greggii and Texas Betonies along with Zexmenia, Jerusalem sage, dwarf Greek Myrtles, ‘sandankwa’ Viburnum, Foxtail ferns, Dianella, Catmint, ‘new gold’ and variegated gold Lantana, ‘soft caress’ Mahonia, yellow shrimp plant and an existing Sago palm. The blend of texture and form gives the design a lush feel with many traditional Texas plants.

The project is ongoing – we’ve moved onto the back of the property now, building stone beds around the pool and creating a rose garden. More photos to come as we progress, though it may take a while with rain forecast for the next 7 days.

Stunning L.A. garden’s lovely vignettes delight at every turn…

We discovered a rustic paradise among the gardens we visited in L.A. last weekend (you can see the other garden I’ve already blogged about here).  We drove around and around to the top of a steep hill with spectacular views of the mountains, where our generous hosts, Joy and Roland, welcomed us.

A large, sleek kitchen, entertaining and living area became part of the outdoor experience, with huge floor-to-ceiling glass doors that opened entirely. As the inside intermingled with the outdoors, multiple seating and viewing vignettes were scattered around the fully cleared top of the hill.

After some wine and appetizers, we headed to the path to make our way down the hill.

 Sumptuous succulents filled containers, nooks, and crannies at every turn.

 A whole host of focal points shine at strategic places winding down the hill.

 These succulents spill off of the hill as you approach the house from the driveway.

The Joy and Roland have added layers and pathways over many years, creating mini beds and spots to sit and appreciate the view different vantage points.

 This is a collector’s garden – filled with a wide variety of succulents and other plants, adding interesting contrast, color and texure.

Carefully crafted stonework with unique designs defines the slope — a artful masterpiece in itself.

The attention to detail is so striking.

 More nooks and crannies flank the entrance to the spectacular wine cellar.

 Cut into the side of the earth, the cellar was mercifully cool on a 100+ degree day.  I felt as if I had stepped back in time – with cool stone and rows of bottles inside – offering just enough room for an intimate wine party.  A long hallway will soon be connected via tunnel to just outside the house, the next major project already planned and waiting to be implemented.

This would be my favorite seat in the garden.  Close up and far away, both views equally enchanting.

 Empty on the way down, but by the time we came by again, someone had taken up residence in my spot.

Fully content and unfazed by visitors to his garden, the dog, Domino,  thinks this is a great spot, too.

In front of the bench, a delightful pond filled with koi provides entertainment as the Koi dart around under the shade of beautiful plants.

A statuesque heron stands guard over the koi, who also have many deep areas to hide for predators, just in case the heron falls asleep on the job!

Don’t forget to look up.

I could sit for hours and watch the fish and the view; electronic devices have nothing on this.

Another outdoor room awaits.

More vertical gardening — these mid-century modern hanging planters from Potted bring color and contrast to this magical hot tub oasis.  (More posts to come, as we visited both Potted and the home of the store’s owner on this fabulous trip.)

Rustic and natural, this hideaway brings outdoor living to a new dimension.

 I also saw these planters in the garden of a fellow blogger in Seattle who blogs at Danger Garden.

The echo of a subtle orange glow on the tips of these succulents is an artful planting design touch.

Another view up the hill, filled with interesting plants, containers and found garden art that Joy has collected over the years, like this sweet deer statue.

The mostly mild California climate yields big, beautiful plants like these aloes.

 The repetition of these gorgeous anemones creates a dramatic ridge along the hillside.

I’ve tried to grow these in Austin with no success.  But I’ve see them used as stunning elements in LA, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle gardens.

Nestled ear the top of the hill, this greenhouse is home to garden tools and pots now, and awaits more delicate plants as the weather cools.

By the end of our visit, Domino tired of us and went back to his own bed to take a break from the sweltering heat.

A huge thanks to Joy and Roland, for your hospitality and for opening your home and garden to us. The garden is magical, and masterfully crafted and I loved spending time in it and I’m pleased to be able to share a small part of it with others through this blog post.

Chinese garden is an oasis in the heart of downtown Portland

The second stop on the Portland Garden Bloggers Fling was the city’s Chinese garden, located right in the heart of the downtown bustle of Portland.  It encompasses an entire city block.  Entering the garden, you leave behind the bus fumes, honking horns and scads of people click clacking their heels on the way to work.

 Waiting for the doors to open.

 I’m not sure if this statue was greeting us or trying to keep us away!

 Intricate stone work greeted us as we walked into the garden.

It takes your breath away.  This pearl nestled among skyscrapers provides a welcome respite from city life.The view across the lake makes you feel like you’ve become a time traveler to a faraway land.

 I love the lines and the curves of all the pagodas.

 I can only imagine how long it took carvers to create some of these intricate pieces.

 Beautiful details adorn even the windows.

The point of this pagoda roof looks almost menacing as it peeks out from the trees.

Garden bloggers fan out to check out all the sights.

The sounds from this waterfall add to the spiritual sense in this garden.

 Inspirational writings adorn the rocks along side the waterfall.  I wish I knew their meaning.

The entire garden surrounded this lake.  The blooming water lilies made me think of Monet’s garden and paintings.

A tea room on the grounds offered a resting place from some bloggers. But with the growing warmth and humidity of the day, I passed on the hot tea.

 This clever pepper-shaped window offered a glimpse into the neighboring courtyard.

 The courtyard is framed here by a life-sized circle.

 Our visit to this garden was a beautiful and peaceful start to our day.

And a peek into the distance revealed the glint of the city lurking with its modern skyscrapers as we left the garden.

Beautiful Austin gardens on Wildflower Center tour inspire with details and structure…

One of my annual Mother’s Day treats — the day before Mother’s Day — is to spend the day on the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s annual garden tour with my garden blogging friends. 

This year’s tour included exceptional gardens that were previously featured during past tours.  Since I had previously seen three of the gardens,  it was a great opportunity to see how they had evolved over time. 

Our first stop was an early invite to catch the morning sun in Tait Moring’s garden before the crowds arrived.  Situated on a hilltop with an amazing canyon view, this garden is always a treat to visit.  It includes classic elements and eclectic focal points — finely-honed view corridors and magnificent vistas.  Several water features and a range of plants from xeric to native to tropical fill garden rooms with unique appeal.

This beautiful iron gate – which matches several others around the property, is the gateway to the beautiful view.

Strategically placed pottery and other objects serve as focal points around the garden.

Pots decorate patios, too.

I remembered the wonderful sculptural pruning of this pittosporum and after several more years of growth – it was even more beautiful than before.

 More simple, understated pots with lush plants made a perfect match with the clean lines of the house.

Along the side of the house, these dramatic pots planted with yellow hesperaloe grab your attention.

In another vignette – this hardscaping elevates these pots with oversized agaves, both in height and in interest.

This ornate gate mirrors the other iron work on the property.

This wall was created with stones from Moring’s childhood rock collection and other memorabilia and art.

Pieces of glass are interspersed with the rocks in the wall, and a trio of pots adds more color to the display.

 We couldn’t decide if this carving was Aztec or Southeast Asian in origin — but it was very cool.

 And a field of native plants and wildflowers cascades down the hill.

 Wonder what my tour mates are laughing about?  I know!

 This fence was definitely not meant to keep these beautiful blooms on one side of the fence or the other. 

Pops of spring color.

I’m not sure this guy paid for a tour ticket!

This hammock, hidden down in the woods, called to my blogging buddy.

 Intricate raised stone beds in the potager were filled with vegetables and flowers.

 Artichokes on tour.

A small pocket of sun in a secret sitting area in the woods illuminates a blooming cactus.

After a long trek down the hillside and through the woods (no river), we found a beautiful Texas madrone tree.  The Texas madrone is known for is its distinctive exfoliating bark. When the older layers come off, the new bark is smooth and can be white – like this one – or orange or even red. The madrone needs a xeric climate and very good drainage.

Another addition since our last visit – a beautifuldark-bottomed swimming pool.  Subtle and simple, it fades into the backdrop of the garden.

A collection of tropical plants lines the stone wall and wood fence that serve as the backdrop for the pool.

This made me feel like I was in the Yucatan!

A delightful and fascinating garden, I left feeling peaceful and inspired.

Landscaping project solves drainage problem…

We’ve lived for 10-1/2 years with a terrible drainage problem on our front sidewalk.  When we get a good rain, a lake forms in front of the front door, making it impossible to come into the house without wearing galoshes or looking for a ferry.  (Well, that might be an exaggeration.)  If you look carefully, the edge of the stained concrete porch stops and you can see a tiny sliver of the sidewalk on this side of the puddle before you step up to the porch.

This is only a moderately-sized lake.  When we get gully washers it’s much bigger.

I try not to think about the builder and the contractor who thought it was ok to build a sloping sidewalk that comes down the hill, and then goes back up with the next piece of concrete, making a V in which water will always puddle.  They did the same thing in front of our garage doors as well, making a 3-car trench over which we also have to leap when it rains.

But I digress.

So, in addition to addressing our sprinkler/rain drainage and erosion problems in the beds that line the sloping sidewalk, we are fixing the entire sidewalk.

My crew dug the sides of the sidewalk out, separated the two pieces at the angeled joint and placed a BIG ‘ol pipe under it.  They then deepened my dry creek trench (the first attempt to fix the problem, but it was inadequate). 

I could not believe how meticulous they were with the cement pieces as I was sure they would crack in the process – the sidewalk is 14 years old after all.  They cut it to fit together so it is perfectly level and far above the trench that will carry away the water.  Before, the two pieces of cement met at an angle roughly down where the pipe has been laid.

It’s hard to see, but it’s all nice and level now!

And they made great progress today on the Oklahoma flag stone cap for the limestone edging.  In this photo the mortar is still wet and they haven’t finished cleaning and brushing the excess off.  But you can see where it’s going.

It was cold and windy and damp and they worked really hard today.  And it all looks great.  I’m proud of my crew and their skills, but I really was in awe today.  Craftsmanship.

Oh, and did you see all that beautiful red clay they dug out around the sidewalk in the first pictures?  I’m happy to say that it is officially basura (Spanish for trash) and is going away, to be replaced by 3-way garden soil and covered with fresh native Texas hardwood mulch when the edging is all done.

It should all be finished this week.  I can’t wait to see it.  And I really can’t wait for the warm sunshine of spring so I can start planting in it.

Landscape bed getting stone edging facelift…

No more pondering — it’s time to get started on the next landscaping project here.  In an effort to address some erosion and drainage problems and spruce up the front walkway – the beds on either side of the walkway will be getting stone edging.

As it is now, the sprinklers cause water runoff — the path here has a slight decline, but as you walk around the corner, it slopes down dramatically and turns the sidewalk into a pond in front of the porch every time it rains.  And that leads to soil and mulch erosion, because the bed level is slightly higher than the walkway.  And the lack of mulch along the edge also creates a weed wonderland for me.

Our house is limestone, so a 4″ limestone border will be laid, topped by a thin cap of Oklahoma flagstone in darker browns and tans.


This is what it will look like.

But no project is ever that simple.  (We knew that, didn’t we?)

First, the sprinkler heads that line the bed will have to be moved  inward by more than 4 inches.  Then they will have to be raised to accommodate the additional yards of soil and mulch that will then have to go into the bed.

Then we’re going to raise up two sections of existing concrete to level the sidewalk and place drainage pipe under it from one side of the dry creek to the other to help with drainage.

I can’t wait for the freezing weather to be over so I can visit all my favorite nurseries and put pretty plants into the garden.  But, this is winter and I can’t do that yet.  So, hard scape it is.

I hope when it’s all finished, the pretty, newly-lined beds will be ready to welcome spring and a bevy of new plants.

I can’t wait…