San Roque lawn replacement
Photo above is a formal portrait of this San Roque backyard, just after our lawn replacement job was completed. A photo of the lawn in its original grass state is on this page. The lawn space was converted into sections of pea gravel and low-water plantings. Basically it now is a lavender garden. Several lavender varieties run from low-height plants midway to the back, where reign long and aggressive French lavender. The idea was to encourage human eyes on the patio to wander to trees and a partly hidden patioette in the woodsy area. With no visible interference from tall plants in front. About seven yards of gravel replaced much of the grass. The gravel also became an important graphic element in the design. One gravel area directed attention to an elegant fountain. The other gravel alleyway invited the eye to the patioette. A flagstone serpentine path was built from the house patio to this partly hidden and mysterious patioette. A second and separate flagstone path was constructed to define the oak tree and wood border.This path intersected the serpentine path. These two paths crossing created a point of view, a point of vanishing view and piqued eye curiosity at the distant entre-nous patioette. We planted senecio in a prominent section between the serpentine path and the gravel. This was destined to mature into a blue lawn. We collected all the hybrid teas then around the backyard and transplanted them as a traditional rose garden. We transplanted existing rosemary into two low section-defining hedges. Finally, we planted an incredible boxed cycad in the crescent-shaped gravel area. It now functions both as landscape and dramatic sculpture.
the blue lawn six months after planting
thoughts on lavender garden design
On seeing this backyard for the first time, I was struck by the oak at the end of the lawn. Make it the absolute center of attention. Make sure eyes easily could see its magnificence and nobility. No plants under it. No dwarf citrus in front of it. Clean up around it. Next, make one and only one lawn area. There were two, and they were separated with a rosemary hedge. Only the rosemary hedge felt to me like a sharp elbow being used as a weapon. That must be moved. After this — how would I divide this space? Guides to this were the oak and the lovely formal water fountain, an Eye of the Day legacy. An old and little used flagstone patio existed in the woody area. You could barely see it from the house and that made me wonder about a path meandering toward it. I thought I could create mystery around it. As vanishing points, the oak and the water fountain would take care of themselves. Their presence could not be diminished, even if you tried. The trick would be to define an additional path to the mystery garden without overt competition from the oak and fountain. I imagined a path that snaked out from the main patio would draw justifiable attention to the mystery area. An entry point to the old flagstone patio would make more dramatic sense if a crossroads was there. So a second path, this one defining the back border, would intersect the serpentine. This junction would create a vortex-like, swirling look, bringing the eye into the mystery garden area. Sections of lavenders and gravel would fill the areas between paths. Boulders would act as sculpture, creating contrasting and occasional vertical interest. We later dropped the boulder idea, finding the flagstone paths, plantings and gravel interesting enough in themselves.
construction comments: getting border shapes right
After marking the ground for hardscape paths, the main job was to prep the shapes for flagstones. Then cut the stone, and in this case, set flags in a sand-decomposed granite mix. At this point the design becomes but a rough guide. We don't try to force everything on the ground into linear measurements made beforehand on a blueprint. We see the ground as an artist might see a canvas: how do you divide this space? We spend the time to spray-paint the border shapes, then cut them into the landscape. There always are differences between the design and the landscape. The job is to solve these ground problems, which arise daily. Once the hardscape is installed, and gravel added where gravel is supposed to be, the rest of the old lawn is cut out and the ground prepped for planting. That means planting sections are covered with a fabric to reduce weeds, and over-covered with bird cage or chicken wire. That is a kind of an anti-inflammatory to discourage gophers. Finally the planting: the most prominent section, in front of the house patio, in senecio, a blue-gray agave family succulent. The idea here was to encourage these plants to grow sideways into a space I think of as blue lawn. In our water distribution system, this plant was assigned twice a week minimal water for five months. Then a ball valve is turned by hand to shut off water altogether for the winter. The other sections were planted with different size lavenders. Small ones in front and gradually larger in the back to the French lavender. That can get 5 or 6 feet, if allowed. That won't be allowed, except maybe one or two plants inside the wood area . Nevertheless the big lavender in the rear section will blend into the main border garden and create ambiguity, if nothing else. Another, and also prominent part of this landscape, is a horseshoe-shaped area. That was covered with four yards of pea gravel. In the middle of it is a monumental cycad revoluta, which functions as a contemporary example of one of the oldest plants on earth, a piece of garden sculpture more than worthy of the name, and a talking point for all who see it.
curves in construction
I want to say a little something about the use of curves on this job. Every stone path and structure and almost every Bendabord border were subject to one curve identity, and this came from the formal fountain sitting area. We traced this stone bench curve onto fabric, then bent a 10-ft piece of 1/4-in rebar steel to copy that curve. We used the bent rebar to outline the same curve in all stone paths, patio circles and the natural back border, plus related Bendaborder sections. Smooth deviations to linear contours were encouraged. Not once did I seek out logarithmic spirals or x/y slope coordinates. The revelation of all this: unity and continuity was baked into the visual mix. Each section's perimeter shape related to adjacent construction and to the whole because the curve was a constant. I point this out, at the risk of too much information, as an example of organic integration. And walking the whole mile. — HENRY NULL