Friday, July 22, 2011

Discovering The Pot Stop at Little Baja

For as long as I can remember there has been a big pottery yard in Moss Landing (on coastal Highway 1, about halfway between Santa Cruz and Monterey). It used to be called "Little Baja" and specialized in (you guessed it!) inexpensive pottery from Mexico. Current owners Bob and Polly have renamed it The Pot Stop, and created something quite remarkable; you will not find this particular mix of product anywhere else in the world.

That's not just hyperbole. Bob and Polly buy most of their pottery personally, rather than through a broker, and have many exclusive relationships that ensure you will ALWAYS find something unique here (and y'all know how much I like THAT!) I mean, just look. Water bearers, Buddhas, classical columns, a big stone shell and the promise of an endless aisle of more? Let me show you around...

Um, so really cool or just a little bit creepy? I think it's bothering me that they are missing their brains. What would you plant in this pot? Pittosporum Golfball would add a nice cranium (they are about two feet tall). Perhaps a bowler hat with a green apple on top...

Have you noticed how this narrow-necked urn shape isn't as common at many large pottery distributors? It's because you can't nest them, darling. If you are trying to fit as many pots as you can into a container, these things take up a lot of room. I supposed you could fill them with something else (I'll let you use your imagination here!) but suspect that most ship empty. I love these for fountains.

OK, these are new...and very interesting! Nice and architectural, love the two heights. Maybe on a Craftsman-style porch with a couple of matching Hinoki Cypress or something... everything about this; click to see the detail on those center pots with the shell pretty.

Look at those copper glazed pots. They are big. Just look at them. Near a pool? Are you with me? Planted with some choice Palm...

Those are my favorite brown bonsai-style pots in the back (the little feet make it SO much easier to install drip irrigation) and they come in some really interesting shapes. The urn in the foreground would look good all by itself in a meadow or shrubbery...

Killer water feature potential here...those ridges might do interesting things with the water as it flows down. But can we talk about the stink-eye imp from hell? It reminds me of something that Amanda Thompsen would have gladly used for gnome bowling, back in the day...

I know! I know!

So, a warning, as we reach the heart of the Pot Stop, things can start getting funky. Loved the red fountain on the green pedestal!

The Three Amigo Musketeer Mariachis?

"You can never have too many deities in the garden." I overhead this once at a nursery. You have to imagine it said in an impeccable, clipped Indian accent to get the full effect...

Even the local fauna are color coordinated (lucky shot, this was a loong zoom!)

I repeat, you can never have too many deities in the garden...

The fine folks at the Pot Stop can help you turn any of their pots into a fountain. These can be tricky, so let them help you with all the bits you need for a clean, low-maintenance installation.

The best advice I ever got about working effectively with exceptional pottery is to not be limited by what I can carry to the car by myself.
Go big or go home!
They deliver!

One last find; loved this beautiful modern interpretation of classic terra cotta. Lemon tree in that tall one, right?

This was fun! Thanks for joining me. Which are your favorites?

Monday, July 11, 2011

Two Redwood Grove Landscapes, Part 2

Just a few yards down the private drive from the garden in my last post is a newer garden that I was seeing for the first time at nicely-grown-in-maturity. It was a spectacularly moody day in late June, and little do you know, when you see the small moose guarding the entrance, what awaits you! (click any photo to see detail)

OK, it's just a simple side path from the driveway to the back garden. House on one side, tall wooden fence on the other. It's all in what you do with it, right? This is a textbook-perfect example of how I like to use Azara dentata. With form similar to a Japanese Maple, it's a natural small evergreen tree for narrow spaces. They are zig-zagged along the path, alternating with deciduous shrubs and trees.

A few steps in, looking back to the driveway, and the first of several interesting details within this space. My clients had several lovely, contemporary granite benches that had been used elsewhere; dispersed along the path (thick, stone steps and natural mulch) they lead the eye and provide private resting/viewing spots along the way.

From the end of the path you can better see the gentle slope it travels. Another Arbutus 'Marina' stands sentinel next to the final bench. Halfway up the path there's a third bench on the left, opposite a simple basin on the right. You can see the first bench in the distance.

Yes, this garden actual does have a lawn, but much reduced in size and appropriate water-use wise to to the rest of the garden, which is in cool, damp shade next to a creek, with a high water table. This isn't a particularly low-water landscape, mainly because redwood biomes are naturally moist environments.

Just beyond the edge of the lawn is a not-very-attractive sandbag retaining wall, marking a several foot drop to the creek bed below. Not wishing to fence (as their property partially includes the creek, which runs quite low in summer) we chose a mixed border of interesting plants, sturdy enough to protect from falls, and a nice addition to the landscape.

This is a good place to mention "borrowed" views...I mean, those trees on the opposite bank are as much a part of the experience of this garden as those in it, and they are stunning. The local homeowners have taken good care of their shared views.

The creek meanders on through the redwood grove, which is a public park and quite busy, so it was important to partially screen views all around to protect privacy; being able to do so and still feel so open and natural was the trick.

That is Cercis canadensis "Lavender Twist" by the way...a particularly sexy specimen that Sam found. Yes, she's fabulous. Cercis do very well in this garden, as you shall see.

Here's the long few (I don't give you many of these, do I? Trying to protect privacy!)

Just look at those redwoods. And there are mature pines and cedars as well. It's a shady, acidic, water loving little corner of the world. A second Arbutus mirrors the first one; strong evergreen elements guiding you across the lawn. Deciduous understory trees and shrubs enclose the space seasonally. They (and the lawn) get lots of morning sun; the garden is dappled for the rest of the day.

The big idea for this project was (again) adding a second stairway from the existing deck.  The one on the right is original, and connects to the lawn (which was the only real "garden" area there originally). My clients wished to incorporate the wilder area around the existing redwoods, which slopes gently down to the creek from the lawn, into their landscape. Since this spot is subject to flooding and the closest area to the public, it needed to be designed thoughtfully.

The second stairway connects them more directly with the new garden, improves traffic flow and ties the garden to the house. The generous planting beds along the deck overflow with hydrangea, dogwood,  fuchsia and dianella.

Because of the slope, an identical stairway needed one more step to reach grade. I love how Sam used a single, large slab here (and indeed, for all the steps in this garden) instead of just adding another wooden one. This spot is very energetic; all outdoor activity moves through here (including small children) so that it looks this good is impressive.

Looking closer you can see how blue Isotoma (Blue Star Creeper) is used between the stones. In the sunnier area near the lawn, it blooms a little more profusely, and blends nicely with Sedum 'Angelina' a favorite, bright accent. If there is any succulent that appreciates some water, it's sedum.

Looking down the hill toward the creek. There was a 2'-3' grade change from the bottom of the stairs to the level area along the creek bank; this short set of stone stairs is one of my favorite parts of the design. It just does so much. And the two Cercis 'Forest Pansy' planted on either side? Quite possibly the stars of today's show...

Here it is, looking up. I love slopes, don't you? I like looking for them (not always apparent to my eye, but I'm getting better) and working them into a design.

And again, I can't stress enough how wonderful it is to build a garden like this with a skilled contractor. I started as a self-taught home gardener, and didn't much venture beyond what I could do with hand tools when building my own gardens. So to have the full resources of a contractor, in terms of tools, equipment, labor, skill, etc. is a wonderful thing, and to be allowed a guiding hand in the building is a really great opportunity to own your design.

Plans can always be improved upon, and frequently are. In fact, I get a little nervous when there are no changes during a build...certainly there must be something we can improve on, now that we can see how everything comes together! This job was full of such subtle upgrades and details.

The lower patio, as I mentioned, is nestled in the bend of a creek. And you know what that means: if the levee breaks, you got nowhere to go. Er., I mean, it's a flood risk. The existing retaining walls help control that, and we reinforced the perimeter with field stones and a chunky split-rail fence (so far, so good!) The large flagstones are set in decomposed granite for stability, with a few creepers around the edges. Water running over them won't do much damage.

We chose not to do groundcover between the stones here for a couple of reasons: first it's a frequently used living area with furniture, firepit, and lots of foot traffic. And second, this moist, shady area wouldn't be improved by irrigating the patio. I loved to see how nicely the gorgeous trio of native Redbuds (Cercis occidentalis) had filled in.

Don't just stand there, all tall and majestic, do something! Putting two of the redwoods to work. Originally the swing faced the opposite direction; this works better with the new patio.

See? The bed behind it is planted with hydrangeas salvaged from the original landscape. I like how the layers of trees block the view of the neighbor's house, which used to be perfectly framed by these trees.

The patio is divided into sitting and dining areas. The huge plank table found by the client was perfect in scale and style for this area. And I wish I could take credit for the simple framing element created by two posts, two redwoods, some wire and exuberant vines (click the picture to see it better) but I fully approve, so that counts for something!

The client also conceived this functional chandelier hanging over the sitting area, yet another subtle 'roofing' element that brings this soaring environment down to human scale.

The patio circles around to a smaller set of stone steps that lead back up to the deck. A simpler path to the left connects to the side yard, which was also included in our design.

A simple stone path meanders through a mulched work/dog/play area that mimics (and includes) natural redwood litter. It never looks messy!

A neat sandbox (protected by screens) comfortable adult seating and plenty of storage make this an enjoyable and productive corner for the whole family.

Back up the slope to the steps, and we've come full circle. Many thanks to Sam Whitney of Samscaping Inc. who installed (and now maintains) this beautiful space. It is wonderful to see one's visions made real, even better to enjoy the finished product years later (the ultimate test!)

As small moose greeted us, so big moose says goodbye from her grazing spot in the garden. Thanks for visiting!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Two Redwood Grove Landscapes, Part I

The best thing about a rare June rainstorm in Northern California is the opportunity to experience our summer gardens in a new light. I revisited two of my favorites last week for a weather-induced impromptu photo session. I was thinking a lot about my cohorts at the Garden Designer's Roundtable who were posting articles about designing for shade that very day, as I consider these to be some of my shadiest work!

Hakonechloa macra aureola
As I remembered these projects, I was reminded again about how great designer-contractor-client communication and synergy are so important. Some of the best ideas I've ever been a part of came during animated, focused, in-the-moment, on-site discussions. I can plan and design beautifully on paper (both of these gardens were drawn out in great detail) but the real art comes in the doing, the details, and how the space evolves over time. 

Both of these landscapes were built by Sam Whitney of Samscaping, Inc., a truly outstanding contractor who I would recommend to anyone. (Check out their virtual tours, pretty impressive.) They were also, for the most part, a clean sweep, with only mature trees retained (so necessary when you must significantly alter the grade). We incorporated the displaced right back into the new design wherever possible.

Speaking of mature trees, I should mention that these gardens (just a couple doors from each other) are located at the edge of an historic redwood grove; the magnificent trees in and around them set the scene. Our goal was to fit right in, while making the most of this classic California biome. The owners of these gardens have done a beautiful job with maintenance as well (see my previous post). These visits were unannounced and unstaged on a Tuesday morning...

This is where it all started; my client wanted a rose garden in this narrow, south-facing  strip between the house and a shared private drive. That's all. We were challenged by soil, drainage, and public utilities (a very large EMPTY power company vault is strategically hidden in the area where you see the path widen in the middle. It's a looong story.)

Here's what it looked like in 2003...a brand new fence, a tree in the wrong place and some of the many (very nice) granite pavers used around the property as stepping stones. Just not in a very interesting way. The soil was a rather nasty example of construction scrape; I don't even know how many yards of new soil and amendments were brought in to make it right. The three huge redwood trees in the front (seen in the background) were stressed from lack of water. I knew immediately that this whole landscape was a diamond in the rough. Needless to say, we made more than a rose garden that year.

This is how we made a grander path out of those granite pavers. They were about 12" x 16" x 3" thick, and we had dozens of them! Turned sideways instead of longways, bordered with matching ledger stone and them surrounded by pebbles they make a durable and striking walkway.

The story behind the gate is a classic example of the kind of 3-way synergy I mentioned before. Sam showed us a picture of this lovely wood and copper structure he had purchased at the SF Flower & Garden Show years before, and not yet used. Our client immediately said YES and I immediately said THERE, pointing to the spot that marks the precise transition between the shady front garden and the sunny rose garden. And there it stands; I can't imagine this space without it.

One of the best and most necessary additions to this corner (besides the gate, of course) was the beautiful specimen of Arbutus 'Marina' (my favorite small evergreen garden tree). You can see how exposed the front garden was (seen here from the front walk). Gentle berms and mossy field stone boulders were used to reshape the entire front garden, enclosing it in really subtle ways. And that tree is a striking focal point from both sides of the fence.

Here it is again, from the opposite side of the garden. Without it the large house opposite would be the view; not really the look that we were going for!

A limited palette of greens, creams, and purples dominate the plantings (including the Japanese maples, Pittosporum 'Cream de Mint' Acorus and Heuchera seen here).

Asparagus meyerii,  Heuchera 'Amethyst Mist,' Helichrysum 'Limelight,' Campanula and Oxalis groundcover surround a shady boulder.

Bold variegated Holly contrasts beautifully with Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum).

A beautiful combination of Oxalis and Campanula; both ideally suited for this shady woodland garden.
A couple of years after finishing the front garden, it was time to do the back, which consisted of a small, damp lawn sloping away from a tall, imposing terrace. We created a secondary terrace and surrounded it with gardens; this path down one side is accented by three more Arbutus 'Marina' (this time in standard form). Love those red trunks!

At the back of the garden a stone wall set a couple of feet in front of the fence provided a level space for a private patio. Trees, shrubs, grasses and perennials planted on both levels make for some interesting layers.

Sitting on the bench you can contemplate the copper-glazed fountain that burbles here all day. The pot was hand-picked at Pottery Planet, and overflows into a generous underground basin. Mondo grass is great low-litter groundcover near water features, which need much less maintenance if the recirculating water is kept very clean.

Circling around we come to the new terrace. The old lawn started at the bottom step of the right staircase and sloped to the lower right corner of the garden, leaving it pretty unusable, and very boring. There were some nice maples at the fenceline and a planting bed against the terrace wall, that was it.

The new lower terrace, two steps up from grade, activated hundreds of square feet of unused space. Adding a second staircase from the upper terrace was a late addition to the design (and not an inexpensive one) but it made a  huge difference.  It created a natural corner for the outdoor kitchen and greatly improved traffic flow

We were required by the neighborhood CC&Rs to provide parking space for one car within the fenceline, so that limited how far the terrace could extend. We used more of those granite pavers, set in decomposed granite and pebbles, to mark the "parking spot." The same pavers with groundcover transition to the terrace area. The custom metal gates (here and on the right entrance to the lower terrace) keep the family dog in bounds.

It was a great relief for my client to move her outdoor dining area to the spacious lower terrace. We actually enlarged it twice; first by about two feet to make sure we could comfortably fit their new larger dining table, and a second time to pop out the fireplace section, as that side was not affected by the parking area setback. These layout changes were another example of how projects like these evolve, with everyone agreeing (thankfully) that knocking down a few cinder blocks to get it right was not something to worry about.

The beautiful travertine pavers are by Olympic Stone and Marble, and are a marvelous product. Beautiful colors, easy to work with, nice variety of sizes. I normally specify a square grid on a 45-degree angle, but we got a really good deal on these 16x20 pavers, so we used them in a diagonal running bond pattern, which works great for a larger spaces. We also refaced the existing terrace and steps, which were plain cast concrete and screaming for an upgrade!

This is one of my favorite outdoor fireplace installations. The simple, elegant pre-cast unit is from Designs by Garry Inc. It was easy to install, and five years later still works well and looks wonderful. The top of the seat wall is a lovely green granite, which was also used for the kitchen countertop. The frame inset in the wall is an outdoor speaker. The brown bonsai-style pots were also from Pottery Planet (love the little feet that made installing the drip irrigation a breeze!)

This garden has won CLCA awards at both the state and local levels. Sam and I are very proud of it, and our client's obvious pride, enjoyment and appreciation are gratifying.

Stay tuned for my next post, which explores a nearby home tucked even deeper into the redwoods. Thanks for joining me today!