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!


  1. WOW! Hoe beautiful photos, i am so inspired from your post, i like it..
    Thanks for sharing..
    Dogwood trees Tennessee

  2. Beautiful garden! Thanks for sharing.