|A blend of drought tolerant plants in the Coray Garden|
Even though I am best known for my stone mosaic work, my first love in gardening is working with plants. I aced my tests in Plant Materials in the Department of Landscape Architecture at the University of Oregon because I loved studying plants so much that the information just seemed to stick, which isn't the case with me for subjects like math. Give me Nature, beautiful Art, Architecture and Music and I'll be a happy man.
In the past year I have worked on two gardens where I was able to create an entirely new planting scheme from a blank slate, one in Portland, and one in Los Angeles. The Portland garden belongs to a good friend who bought a well built new row house in a large development in an inner city neighborhood. Each row house came with a rectangular patch of blank earth, covered in a blanket of bark mulch surrounded by a wood fence.
|The garden as a clean slate|
|A view of the neighbor's gardens|
The way we started out was funny, because my client had never gardened before, and now he had this patch of bark mulch with an air conditioning unit ceremoniously placed in a prominent position and a view of lots of other peoples homes. The site is flat, with a dry stacked retaining wall on one side raising the fence on the eastern property line to 10 feet above the ground plain. We were out shopping for basic tools he would need to begin, hoses, a shovel, a hoe, etc. when we wandered in to the garden section of a Home Depot. Most of what we bought came from the local hardware store rather than the big box giant, but I wanted to introduce him to a corporate garden center. The plants in one gallon pots at HD are usually cheap, and since there was nothing but bark in the garden so we ended up buying some tough plants that would tolerate the crappy subsoil that had been dumped and spread behind his new house. We bought two kinds of Cistus, and Osmanthus heterophyllus variegata, 3 Yucca aloifolia 'Variegata', 3 Berberis thunbergii 'Aurea', 3 dwarf Russian Sage; Perovskia atriplicifolia 'Little Spire', and a Spanish Lavender. It was a starter garden for less than $100. I had opened a can of worms by doing this because he was totally dependent on me for direction. All of the plants were chosen for their ability to adapt to rising temperatures and dry summer conditions that are the result of a warming climate.
We could have just plunked these in to the existing soil but I was soon able to convince him that it was worth rising to the next level and preparing the soil. I suggested an easy gravel patio, but in the end he decided to commission me to build him a Pennsylvania Bluestone Patio with some pebble mosaic inserts to give the garden an elegant structure that would be beautiful to view from above and be easy to maintain. So I hired a couple of strong friends to cart a two cubic yards of yard debris compost up the steps and in to the back yard, which was mixed in to the existing soil around where the patio would be built. This was enough organic matter to turn the marginal soil in to a rich planting mix. Then they hauled in 2 yards of crushed 1/4 minus gravel for setting the bluestone slabs. We went to a stone yard and found a couple of nice pallets of stone for me to work with and hauled all of that up from the street and spread it out. So much of the process of building gardens is about hauling lots of heavy things. The pretty parts are a small part of the equation.
|A crushed gravel base for setting a Bluestone patio, surrounded by amended soil and new plantings|
This is like working with a jigsaw puzzle, moving the stones around until I find the most pleasing placement. Then I use a large angle grinder with a stone cutting blade to trim the stones to fit tightly together and improve their shapes. I left gaps throughout the patio to make simple small striped pebble mosaics using black and gold bagged Mexican Beach Pebbles. The patio is essentially rectangular with an arm connecting to a concrete threshold for the steps leading up to the back porch. I set most of the stone on a thin bed of mortar but left small permeable gaps so that the patio would drain without having to be sloped.
|Cutting the bluestone slabs to fit|
|Finished layout with holes for pebble mosaics|
|A stepping stone path leads from the patio to the front of the house|
The garden needed a focal point so I cast a stone mosaic fountain using a form I had built for other projects and scraps from trimming the stones for the patio. I poured a concrete base to set the fountain on with a pond liner filled with beach pebbles surrounding a concrete pipe that makes a reservoir on which I placed a nice glazed Vietnamese plant saucer I bought at a friend's import store. I covered the edge of the pond liner with beautiful quartzite boulders I bought from a local stone yard. They came originally from Northern Idaho.
|Installing a cast free standing fountain|
|Installing the wiring|
|The fountain creates a focal point in the garden, centered on the end of the patio|
|Wooly Thyme and Golden Oregano soften the edges of the patio|
The garden was able to establish a good root system over the winter in the well amended soil and the following year only required watering once a week, although it would survive on considerably less water than that.
|Contrasting ground covers and shrubs with complementary colors of foliage tie the garden together|
|The garden at 14 months of age|
I've been working on the Los Angeles garden of Brooke Adams and Tony Shalhoub in installments for 7 years. Most of that work occurred in the large back garden while the front remained a traditional lawn with two messy Coral Trees and a thorny clipped Carissa hedge lining the wide front walkway, dividing the garden in to odd linear inaccessible sections. I had been suggesting we remove the lawn for years but they resisted as it would be a radical departure from the traditional look of the neighborhood, where green grass and clipped hedges are the norm. You would never know you are in a desert around here.
|A typical Los Angeles Garden surrounding an expensive home|
|The original narrow strip of lawn along the sidewalk|
|A dry garden replaces a strip of lawn|
|An old photo of the lush green lawns, young Coral Trees, and Carissa hedges|
|A clean slate|
|The Aloe Garden at Lotusland. Aloe bainsii is the tree in the photo|
|An image from the web of Bismarkia nobilis, two of which I planted in the wide parking strip|
|Dasylirion longissimum and Senecio madraliscae in the Parking Strip|
|An image of Dasylirion longissimum taken from the web. I planted 6 of these in the wide parking strip|
|Night blooming Cereus Cacti, Firestick Euphorbia, Aloe striata, Senecio serpens, and Golden Barrel Cactus by the driveway|
|Yucca rostrata and gloriosa along the slope|
|Aloe bainsii, the Tree Aloe, with Aloe ferox and Aloe vera|
|A new pink sandstone path runs through the garden from the driveway to a bench on the other side|
|Crushed ornamental grey gravel mulches the slopes which will eventually cover with spreading plants.|
Thanks for reading, Jeffrey