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About This Landscape

Riviera Pocket Garden

Wednesday February 24, 2010

Location: Santa Barbara, CA

CA Plant Climate Zone: 24

In the quaint neighborhood of the Lower Riviera in Santa Barbara, narrow winding roads snake up the hillside.  Countless small, well-maintained pocket gardens accentuate a delightful hodgepodge of Cottage, Craftsman, and Mediterranean style homes making this area a prime target for long walks and Sunday drives.  Recognizing the quality of the gardens and architecture, it is clear the vast majority of homeowners have spent countless hours of labor beautifying their gardens and homes.  However, this residence was the exception to the rule!

View of residence from street

The owners inherited a front landscape overgrown weeds and ailing fruit trees, as well as a preponderance of concrete, drainage problems, safety issues, privacy issues, and a "landscape" leaps and bounds away from being called a "garden".  In addition, the owners desired a simple, clean landscape with minimal maintenance as a large rear garden would require a majority of their time and attention.  Quite a laundry list of challenging issues in such a small space!

To address the issues in this over-programmed site, RMLA prioritized the concerns in the following manner: 

1)  Environment:  Design and install a garden that sits as lightly on the landscape as possible.  Scrutinize each material selection, paring down the plant palette to include only long-lived, site-appropriate plants.  Eliminate stormwater run-off.  Recycle as much "waste" as possible.  And when the design is all but finalized, finally, take a step back and critically ask whether the planned landscape benefits the client and the environment.  If not, start the process anew.

2)     Safety:  Provide barrier along road to prevent runaway cars from entering the garden and home (yes, a car had made its way into the front room in the recent past).

3)     Drainage:  The basement would flood during storm events and needed immediate resolution  

4)     Privacy:  Create a "courtyard" with living walls to screen the home from passing cars but allow foot-traffic to appreciate the details of the garden.

5)     Circulation:  Clarify the point of entry for residence

6)     Maintenance:  Focus all design work towards minimizing amount of attention and resources the garden would require.

7)     Aesthetics:  After all, form follows function!

To begin, a sandstone wall (stone from site) was built to encase the eyesore traffic bollards.  Behind this, an informal "living wall" of Eugenia was planted to enclose the space in keeping with the neighborhood hedge material.  Afterwards, the concrete parking spot directly in front of the master bedroom window was removed (and recycled at the local concrete plant) in order to increase the garden area and eliminate an inappropriate use from the front garden. 

After this, the existing stamped concrete was overlaid with a thin stone veneer.  A veneer was selected in order to preserve as much existing concrete as possible without conflicting with existing tight tolerances at door thresholds. 

At the new patio edge, a recycled HDPE plastic vertical root barrier and French drain were installed to intercept and re-direct all moisture from entering the basement. The overflow was piped into the rear yard and daylights in a shallow, rocky depression.

Rather than discarding the enormous amount of scrap stone chippings from the patio work, a low 16" retaining wall was dry-stacked ledger style to address an awkward grade change.  And finally, the informal pathway, stairs and locally-quarried gravel were installed.

The plant palette selected was a combination of tough, tolerant Mediterranean-climate plants.  Succulents, grasses, cacti and select perennials and shrubs help place emphasis on the mature citrus tree and accent the organic stonework.

Because of the tough plant palette, no permanent irrigation was installed.  And with a carefully selected planting window, the plants were only watered once at install and have received all the necessary supplemental irrigation from rain (Luckily, Santa Barbara has experienced a wet winter to date).  During the upcoming summer, only minimal hose water will be required to maintain the landscape in superb form.

Even with the landscape being three months old, the owners could not be more pleased with the transformation of their "parking lot" into a beautiful garden.  They excitedly anticipate watching the garden mature and evolve over the years to come.

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    By: RMLA on Tuesday August 24, 2010

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