Localize It!

By providing your zipcode, we can custom tailor your experience!

Palette Builder

Grab, Drag 'n Drop any Additional Image to the box below or click the click icon icon to add.

About This Landscape

New Life after Wildfire

Thursday August 12, 2010

Landscape Architects & Garden Designers: RMLA - Santa Barbara, CA

Landscape Contractors: Eladio Soriano Landscape - Santa Barbara, CA

Stone & Masonry Contractors: Morse Stone & Masonry - Summerland, CA

This project site is wonderfully perched on a manufactured bench near the top of a steep canyon filled with a mixture chaparral and coastal sage scrub.  Sweeping vistas extend from the foothills to the coast, and beyond to the Channel Islands.  But in 2009 when the Jesusita fire roared through, the owners narrowly escaped disaster.  Amazingly, the structure was spared from the devastating effects of the fire because of heroic firefighter skill and courage.  And just days after the fire threatened, the owners were able to return to an intact home surrounded by an utterly devastated landscape.

image of home post fireA clear distinction between scorched and saved.  Just 10' separated the home from the blaze.

(Left) The steep slope below the home was covered in a thick mass of Algerian Ivy that reached 10-12' tall.  (Right)  A thin strip of lawn and patio helped the firefighters's cause.

Lost opportunities:  (Left) This rear patio with amazing views baked in the sun to the point of driving the family away.  (Right) Oversized plants block the views from the family room's floor to ceiling windows.

When called upon to visit the site, RMLA quickly recognized  serious erosion potential, as well as fantastic opportunities to develop a unique and memorable garden.  In turn, a master plan was developed that addressed the immediate erosion concerns, and enhancing clientss hopes that their landscape would soon evolve into a garden of their dreams.

The master plan and design sketches helped the clients with the difficult task of visualizing their landscape.

The landscape design was heavily influenced by the location, geography and California Ranch architecture.  Of course, the client's desire to have a space that "feels good and is inviting" was paramount.  In response, RMLA focused on creating a series of outdoor rooms in the rear yard that manage the spaces more creatively, and called attention to spectacular view corridors. 

The design called for gathering areas and outdoor rooms to provide opportunities for enjoying a sunset, preparing a weekend barbeque, reclining in a small meadow, relaxing in the spa under a mature oak canopy, veggie gardening with the kids, watching coyotes and deer in the canyon below, or simply taking in the stars on a cool, crisp evening next to the custom fireboulder. 

Although the rear garden rooms are in view of one another, the details of each space are obscured through careful plant selection and placement, changes in elevation, and low walls to help delineate boundaries.

From the onset of the project, RMLA informed and encouraged the clients to adopt the most environmentally appropriate construction methods and products throughout the project.   A sample of the projects sustainable and "green" characteristics follows:

  • Minimized the amount of PVC in the irrigation system by using Blu-Lock HDPE (high density polyethylene plastic) that is cleaner to produce, less noxious to those installing, and recyclable.  All scrap pipe was simply tossed into the owner's recycle bins.

  • Sourced locally quarried sandstone boulders and gravel (all from within 45 miles of project site).  

  • Water Efficiency:  Used extremely drought-tolerant plant material, smart-controller with rain-gauge, heavy use of locally produced mulch, and use of high-efficiency rotary spray and drip irrigation. 

  • Minimized the size of the lawn area for the children of the household to a very modest size. 

  • Use of plastic-free erosion control measures including 100% coconut netting and 100% coir and straw wattles.

  • Restored the steep slope below the house to valuable habitat by selecting locally native plant material.

  • Utilized the sourcing capabilities of Bamboo Pipeline to reduce truck trips between nurseries for acquisition of the diverse plant palette.

  • Installed LED, low-voltage lighting fixtures.

  • Constructed the pergola from FSC certified Timbersil glass-lumber which is treated in a non-toxic process to extend the life of the wood.


The slopes above and below the home are planted with a mix of native California plants:  on the upper slope, Ceanothus 'Yankee Point', Heteromels arbutifolia, Ceanothus 'Ray Hartman', and Erigeron cinereum to play off the color of the olive trees dotting the mid slope.  On the precarious rear slope, a combination of straw wattles and 100% coconut fiber blanket was used to retain the slope, in addition to the selection of aggressive native plants that will hold the slope in place long after the coconut blanket has bio-degraded.  And importantly, 75% of the area is covered in low-growing plants while the other 25% is covered with islands of larger shrubs to maximize fire safety and minimize the fire ladder effect.

With the final touches under way, the Wood family has embraced their garden in every way possible.  The outdoor dining and barbeque area has become a frequented location for evening meals.  Every guest visitis the lowered viewing terrace, and the fireboulder has seen many marshmallows roasted. The children have created imaginitive games in the landscape, and on most nights, the family closes the day relaxing in their the hot-tub overlooking the Pacific.

(Left) A low-flow copper runnel fountain provides a bit of white noise and is a magnet for hummingbirds.  (Center) A low sandstone wall with a built in succulent planter separates the fireboulder area from the patio behind.  (Right) Loose, organic stone placement with gravel joints is rustic, yet refined.

(Left)  Thyme creeps through the joints around the fireboulder.  (Center)  View towards the upper viewing terrace and ocean beyond.  (Right)  Outdoor bbq area and pergola.

(Upper left) A gravel space provides a small amount of visual relief and also functions as an informal gathering area.  (Upper right)  The spa was tucked into the slope to minimize its presence.  (Lower left)  The lower viewing terrace with boulder ottoman.  (Lower right)  Simple plant selection highlights clean lines.

Construction Photos

Palette Images

  • thumbs/633-164.jpg
  • thumbs/632-164.jpg
  • thumbs/631-164.jpg
  • thumbs/629-164.jpg
  • thumbs/625-164.jpg
  • thumbs/624-164.jpg
  • thumbs/622-164.jpg
  • thumbs/628-164.jpg

Member Reviews

  • Fireboulder is amazing!

    By: medplants on Thursday October 14, 2010

    What a great firepit! Great job.
Submit Your Review