Falling Waters Landscape

March 7th, 2011

Hey, it’s Ryan Prange! Fancy founder and lead designer at Falling Waters Landscape in San Diego.

So, why is he slumming it at the Brick House? Well, he’s helping us figure out how to landscape our little patch of weed riddled desert land and turn it into something respectable. I’ve really loved Ryan’s crazy award winning work which has been featured all over the place in magazines, on Bang for Your Buck on the HGTV as well as the blogs of course, and was stoked that we had a friend in common who could introduce us.

Unfortunately, it’s starting to be that time of year that we need to start taking the landscaping a little more seriously. It’s going to be blindingly hot in no time and my heads been filled up with all sorts of landscaping quandaries and soul crushing despair over our lack of budget and the need to learn some new DIY skills.

I turned to Ryan to ask him for some insights into his process and what tips he had for those of us who want to go modern with our landscape but might not have a huge budget or tons of experience.


Who (or what) influences you and your design process?

I read a lot. I try to stay up to date on the industry magazines specific to landscape, but also check out kitchen and bathroom magazines for inspiration. Really amazing things are coming out of Australia these days, that place is on the vanguard of trends when it comes to eco-friendly design and construction. If I see something that inspires, I usually try to sketch it out on whatever I have handy and then will reference it later. On new projects, sometimes the design comes quick and then we just tweak the details, but more often than not, I sit down, tune the Pandora to “design inspiration” and start messing with shapes and angles… something eventually happens.

As people have become more eco-conscious and budget strapped, what do you think will be the next big shift in landscape design?

People are demanding lower cost. Unfortunately something is always compromised when there is a strict budget. But we try to look at those problems as opportunities that maybe we would have looked past if the restrictions weren’t in place. We try to educate people that there are certain things you can compromise on and others that just shouldn’t be messed with. More often than not, we hear from clients that hired someone else; “It ended up costing us more because they screwed it up”. Lesson: Don’t hire the cheapest guy, hire the best guy and keep him on a short “financial” leash.

What person/residence would you most like to design for?

I would love to design a traditional Japanese Garden. I would dare say there aren’t many things as beautiful as a well-designed Japanese Garden. Even more than that, I would love to design a garden using Japanese theories but with plants native or acclimated to my climate (think Native Manzanita pruned to look like a Japanese Maple…mmm beautiful)
My ideal client is the person that trusts me, I don’t care how much money they spend.

What is the most interesting type of project for you to work on?

Hard to say. I really enjoy learning new things or new ways to build something, so the project that employs multiple custom-designed items would be the most interesting.

What’s the one thing every DIY landscaper should know before starting a project?

Every person should sit down and ask how much their time is worth. How much do you make an hour? Is this the best use of your time? There are certain things the average DIY’er should farm out… irrigation and masonry are best left to the pros, but of course, its possible to tackle, just do your homework.

Which current ideas or trends do you think are brilliant and which do you despise?

I’m in love with ornamental grasses. John Greenlee’s new book (The American Meadow Garden) is inspired and encourages appreciation for these great plants. I also love poured in place concrete anything; its beautiful in its simplicity.

I hate how everyone is using the word “sustainable”. Its the most overused word around. I saw a gym today in a strip mall calling itself “green” and “sustainable”. What makes you green, do you reuse the dirty gym towels and harvest the sweat to water your plants? Can you define sustainability? They are buzz-words that are being used to sell product. While there is nothing wrong with using clever marketing to sell… most of the time there is nothing clever about it, its just regurgitated jargon that people are programmed to respond to.

What is one thing every home owner should avoid at all costs?

The lowest bid. Also, avoid hiring someone just because they are working on the house next-door, or because they are a distant cousin, etc.

Any tips for those wanting to have a great landscape on a meager budget?

Yes. Plants will grow… plant them small. Use materials that will last a long time. There is a saying, “buy once, cry once” Really its true, if you cant afford it, don’t but the cheaper version, you’ll just end up spending more money in the long run. Talk to your friends/family… if everyone needs work done, or something fixed, perhaps you can convince your contractor to reduce costs by taking care of everyone at the same time. That equals more work for your contractor and less costs to all of you. Look for materials on Craigslist. Look for a creative contractor, or a design/build company with great references. Visit their past completed jobs if possible.

What are your favorite go-to plants for Southern California?

I said this already, didn’t I? Gotta love those ornamental grasses! Any of the Sedge grasses (Carex sp.) are great as well, low water, and thrive on neglect. Mother-in-Law tongue (Sanseveria sp.) is great too, its the “Betty White” of plants; having a great resurgence.

What would you like to be doing with your company in the next 5-10 years?

I would like Falling Waters to be recognizable. I want people to equate Falling Waters with quality and affordability (blah blah). We are currently working on a program to create a “Menu Garden” where clients pick all their materials from a “menu” and we then design using those elements. The square-footage costs will all be the same. The clients will know exactly what they are getting and Our time will be maximized since the guess-work is removed from the equation. This formula will work whether you have 500 or 5000 square feet. This idea is rooted in a belief that everyone should have a garden space they can enjoy and be proud of, no matter what the budget is. Eventually, the goal is to have a store-front and be able to offer design services, retail gifts and garden accessories, and possibly a venue for events. Construction and maintenance will form the backbone of the business, the retail side will reinforce the brand and draw in new clients. Any venture capitalists reading this, eh?

Best books you recommend?

Sunset Western Garden Book
The American Meadow Garden – John Greenlee
Private Landscapes – Pamela Burton
Making the Modern Garden – Christopher Bradley Hole
Gardening in the Southwest – Sunset
Patio – Jamie Durie


Damn. Now I’m getting revved up and motivated to go push our dirt around. I just got back from the San Diego Home and Garden Show to check out Ryan’s design entry as well as other landscape stuff, but more on that later.

Otherwise, go check out more of Falling Waters Landscape projects HERE. Or if you have a project big or small, some questions or have been stuck in a landscaping rut, you should totally touch base with Ryan HERE.

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  1. bianca of terri planty on 03/07/2011:

    super post! he seems rad. i am excited to see your garden!!

  2. THE BRICK HOUSE on 03/07/2011:

    I need you to come help me. I have to many black thumbs.

  3. Ryan on 03/07/2011:

    Sounds like a super chill guy. Iv seen some pretty “upity” trendy landscapers recently but he seems legit. Can’t wait to see the designs and layouts.

  4. Tami on 03/08/2011:

    GREAT post – good to see you aiming high.

    I was completely unfamiliar with Prange and his work but now I have him bookmarked so I can stop in regularly. And the Greenlee book: buy it. I’ve just given two presentations on meadows and it was at the top of my list of recommendations to all. Also, if you ever get a chance to see Greenlee speak, go! I saw him at ASLA and he was fabulous.

  5. Adriane on 03/08/2011:

    His ideas about “menu” landscaping plans strike me as genius. I love professionals who are interested in making their awesome services available to as many people as possible.

    I can’t wait to see your new landscape designs!

  6. Natalie on 03/08/2011:

    In this photo, do you know if that is just dirt or mulch covering the ground? I love the color of it.

  7. THE BRICK HOUSE on 03/08/2011:

    Natalie, I’m not sure which photo you are referring to.

  8. Chaucea on 03/08/2011:

    I adore ornamental grasses! They are so easy and fun to work with, and they look really good and have wonderful movement and color throughout the whole year–even in the dead of winter.

    I took a peek at The American Meadow Garden book, and it seems that our “lawn” is already a perfect meadow design. 😉 *chuckles*

  9. casey on 03/08/2011:

    Ryan is amazing, does incredible work and knows what he’s doing. I’m so happy to see him working with you. You’ve found a gem of a guy. Can’t wait to see what you all decide!

  10. Bia Silveira on 03/08/2011:

    “[…] “green” and “sustainable” […] are buzz-words that are being used to sell product. While there is nothing wrong with using clever marketing to sell… most of the time there is nothing clever about it, its just regurgitated jargon that people are programmed to respond to.”

    as is the word “design”. eyebrow design anyone?

  11. Sherry on 03/08/2011:

    This is so beautiful! I just can’t wait for the snow to melt so I can get started on my yard!!! I can’t wait to see your yard when Ryan is finished working on it!

  12. simone on 03/08/2011:

    Are these pictures all gardens by Ryan so we have examples of what he does? Or are they your references for what you would like to happen in your garden? (Pretty though)

    I side with Bia, design is also a word used in very strange ways for inappropriate things.

  13. Tim Payne on 03/08/2011:

    I live just outside London and have a 60’s place I’m restoring. I’m getting all my inspiration from a daily fix of the Brick House. Thank you! Garden-wise, Falling Waters is totally on the button. Absolutely love it! Can’t you guys come over the UK and sort out the design scene over here? You would be such a hit! You can start with my place:)

  14. L on 03/08/2011:

    Side w/ Bia on “design” as trendword.

    Also wonder which of those awesome pix are of Ryan’s work and which are your dream images.

    Can’t wait to see what you two cook up!

  15. Jen H on 03/08/2011:

    Anyone have any recommendations for an East Coast (FL) designer with comparable skills? It seems all that all the good’uns are on the West Coast.

  16. The brick house on 03/08/2011:

    All ofthose images are Ryans projects! Super great stuff.

  17. Jennifer H on 03/08/2011:

    I love his ability to mix modern style and materials, and still produce environments that feel full, almost lush, without the cold, sterile feeling of many other designers. Honestly, I’ve never been particularly attracted to ornamental grasses, but some of his uses (check out the projects on his site), make me a believer. The use of pattern and natural elements are soothing and energizing at the same time.

  18. Tonia on 03/08/2011:

    Looks like lots of time going to be spent outside once the project is done.

  19. Beclu on 03/08/2011:

    I babysat Ryan when he was little. Just saying.

  20. SAJ on 03/08/2011:
  21. Jora on 03/08/2011:

    um yeah, that’s my house!

  22. Kevin Beer on 03/09/2011:

    Dear Brick House, I never thought I would see a brown leather Chesterfield couch as beautiful as the one I own, but now I have. If and when you change the couch again, please let me know. I am a big fan your blog and all your work and I hope we meet some day. Keep the visuals coming, Hf,K

  23. Ryan on 03/09/2011:

    Who babysat me?? Haha
    and for the record… ill go to London, Florida, Mars…
    Also, on the Vess house, I worked off a concept plan prepared by Tod Pitman of Verde Landscape, gotta give credit where credit is due, hes very talented and a great guy

  24. Laguna Dirt on 03/09/2011:

    LOVE this guy. yes, on the poured concrete just about anywhere. however, kind of prefer a quiet night to the sound of “falling water” fountains these days. and totally not into those colored glass pebbles in fire pits. too miami vice. (maybe clear or white) otherwise, he’s the man!!!

  25. Mamaholt on 03/09/2011:

    Buying lottery ticket tonight.

  26. Florian on 03/09/2011:

    have no garden, just balcony seating two. so sad, oh no…

  27. teresa on 03/09/2011:

    wow, i really like his work. i just checkd out his website and looked through his projects. i am so inspired and have some great ideas for my own landscape (like horsetail in front of a big window for privacy). i dream of being able to hire someone like ryan (someone who gets it) while i run around doing my life and show up one day and our landscape looks amazing.

  28. mimosa on 03/09/2011:

    I. AM. IN. LOVE.

    I saw Greenlee speak a couple of years ago- he’s right that guy is on to something big- just absolutely artistic what he does with grass.

  29. Alice Q. Foodie on 03/09/2011:

    Not to brag or anything, but I am lucky enough to live a mile away from Jora’s house and swim in that that pool in the summer! 🙂

  30. Logan on 03/10/2011:

    Dang, this couldnt have been better timing. I just rented a backhoe last weekend and carved out our driveway and filled in the yard. We have been trying to plan out the landscaping and we’re definitely stuck in a rut. This guys’ ideas are amazing and alot of the questions you asked really had helpful answers. I was just looking at that Private Landscapes book last night on amazon! Thanks for sharing the tips!!

  31. Natalie on 03/10/2011:

    ooops. I meant the last photo… the brownish-purple dirt. Is it dirt or mulch? I am in love. <3

  32. THE BRICK HOUSE on 03/10/2011:

    Oh it’s mulch. Like that basic brown mulch I believe…

  33. iulian on 03/14/2011:

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