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The challenge with this project, a one-acre parcel in a quiet neighborhood, was to take a home with traditional, formal landscape design and create a softer, more inviting feel. The client wanted to bring out the grand style of the home’s Colonial Style architecture and maintain an Old-World charm, while adding several new features into the framework of the back yard.

Colonial Style Home

At Susan Friedman Landscape Architecture (SFLA), we listened closely to the client to understand the vision they had for their landscape. We performed a complete site analysis and considered the style of the home, the mature trees and existing hardscape to start the decision-making process. We would have to decide what should stay, what should be re-purposed and what should go. How could we inject new life into this well-established landscape? How could we create a flow between existing and new elements so it looks like one cohesive yard? We involved the client in an ongoing conversation about their vision and the materials they desired. Their passion and connection to their outdoor space fueled a design that creatively met their needs, their style and their personality.

Site Analysis: The Front Yard

This 4600 square foot home sits several feet above the neighborhood road with a gentle slope connecting to the front of the house. The existing symmetrical hedges along the driveway, street and leading to the front door felt too stiff for the warm welcome the client wanted to convey. A brick and exposed aggregate path to the door had the wide and grand presence they desired, but did they need updated paving there? Two mature Japanese Maples were located on either side of the path in lawn. Due to variant sun exposures, the maples were very different in size, throwing off the former goal for symmetry. Finally, expansive lawn covered a good portion of the yard. In view of increasing water restrictions and their love of colorful plants and pollinators, they wanted to replace part of the lawn with water-wise native shrubs and perennials.

Lawn Reduction
Yellow Areas indicate proposed lawn reduction of 2350 square feet
Final plans showing 3000 square feet of actual lawn reduction!
Final plans showing 3000 square feet of actual lawn reduction!

Symmetry vs. Balance

Our design goal for the front of the property was to provide them with a grand and welcoming entrance while replacing the structured symmetry with a balanced, naturalistic planting. We decided to grade and terrace the slope from house to street to create more planting areas and reduce the lawn. We installed a new dry stack wall using fantasy river flat stones from American Soil & Stone. This conjured the feeling of an old-world estate wall shaped by the natural forces of time.

In order to grade and terrace the yard, we decided to remove both maples. This revealed the façade of the home and more of its beautiful architecture. With this more open view, we studied the entry walk and considered other paving options. The entry path was a size and shape that worked for the grand entrance. The condition of the brick was fine, so we retained the original feature. We removed the hedges, except for corner segments at the driveway, leaving room for plenty of free-form pollinator-friendly planting. These charming updates to the 23-year-old landscape made the home feel rejuvenated and welcoming once again.

Colonial Style home with traditional landscaping
Before: Colonial Style home with traditional landscaping
Colonial Style home with a landscape injected with new life!
After: The same home with a landscape injected with new life!

Site Analysis: The Back Yard

The ample backyard had its own challenges, including several mature trees and borders with existing paths and hardscape features which gave this property the potential for a park-like botanic garden. We wanted to give them plenty of opportunities to experience their landscape in different ways and from different vantage points. Existing on site was an exposed aggregate patio at the back of the house, a meandering concrete path, a circular concrete walk providing the framework for a small rose garden, an original glass & water sculpture by David Falossi, a gazebo and fire pit. On the wish list was a hammock area, comfy seating areas, fruit orchard, edible garden bed, outdoor cooking, flagstone paths and patio, water feature placement and lots of colorful, low water pollinator plants.

New basalt recirculating fountain in existing circular path

Concrete and Boulders

We considered replacing some of the existing paving but was it in good condition. Instead, we used the shape of the existing paving to provide inspiration for the design of the rest of the yard. The concrete path took a fun curving course, and provided the main “spine” leading through the yard.

We knew we wanted the rose garden to come out. This left us with a circular path surrounded with about 3 feet of concrete bordered garden bed. We considered removing it completely, and also considered re-purposing the area. In the end we set a grand basalt fountain boulder in the middle. The birds and other pollinators love to visit this fountain! The client hand-picked this boulder from the yard at American Soil & Stone for its character, its nooks and crannies, and for its size. They also took great care in choosing locations for where the water would flow out of this fountain column.

At Peninsula Building Materials, they fell in love with several large white natural stone “Ocean Pearl” boulders. We at SFLA got to work with the client and their landscape contractor, AJ’s Landscaping, to find homes for all of them! Two of these delightful boulders became the “Flintstone’s couch and ottoman” tucked under some relaxing redwoods.

Before: Redwoods, Lawn and Glass Sculpture
Before: Redwoods, Lawn and Glass Sculpture
After: Flintstone’s couch under Redwoods, Veggie Beds and Fountain

Art in the Garden

We decided to relocate the glass & water sculpture to be to their new succulent garden. In order to do this, we had to disassemble the sculpture piece by piece and reassemble it in its new spot to replicate the artist’s original design! The gazebo was a prominent element they wanted to keep, so a fresh paint job gave it the face lift it needed. The client loves lots of plants, so we created a mini botanic garden with many varieties of California natives and pollinator plants offering year-round color, texture and interest.

Original placement of Falossi sculpture
Original placement of Falossi sculpture
Falossi sculpture with lighting
New sculpture placement with up lighting

Drawing It All Together

With so many of the original features kept, how could we introduce all their wish list items and produce a more flowing, naturalistic look? Well, everything made it into the design except for a fixed kitchen Island. Instead we created a BBQ area for the client’s portable grill-which still satisfied the “outdoor cooking” requirement for them. The client chose interesting flagstones with fossils for paths to the hammock and comfy seating areas. These we puzzled together, not only making sure the fossil side was visible, but also ensuring the flagstone placement distributed the fossil prints in a pleasing pattern. The fruit trees we aligned with a sunny fence where the owner can easily collect a variety of citrus fruits, which they love to share with friends and clients.

Remarkable Raised Planters

The raised planter area for herbs and vegetables became a prominent feature of its own. The 6 COR-TEN (weathered steel) planters of various shapes and heights found a home in the sunniest portion of the yard, in place of lawn. This material has a distinctly modern flair, but the layout was inspired by the radius of the circular fountain area. Decomposed granite paths form a functional walking maze between these complicated planter forms. ‘Jim Pola and Eagle Iron Works in Concord constructed the planters via an interesting process. The fabricators drew the layout on thick pieces of cardboard, on site at full scale, in their precise locations. The cardboard pieces were individually numbered and brought back to the shop where the huge steel planters were built. Once they were delivered to the site, they were anchored, leveled, and filled with veggie soil mix, irrigation and plenty of edible plants.

COR-TEN raised planters and decomposed granite paths
Unique COR-TEN raised planters and decomposed granite paths

Finishing Touches

We used 2 Toro Evolution Irrigation controllers for this property. The “Toro-Evo” also controls the lights of partner company Unique Lighting Systems. We were able to reuse many of the existing light fixtures with the help of a representative from Unique for quality control. Toro representatives visited to help set up this combination of many irrigation zones and Unique Lighting fixtures. They showed the client how to use Toro’s SMRT Logic application to control all of their irrigation and lighting zones from their smart phone.

In the end this project was a wonderful collaboration between client, contractor, SFLA and our vendors. We gave the client a landscape design marrying the old with the new, a soft, eclectic plant palette balanced with their grand home by strategic hardscape choices and lots of pleasant destinations to explore at their leisure.

The property at evening with landscape lighting

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Kalich - Boulder fountain, Japanese maple tree, native planting, stamped concrete

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