April 21st, 2011

The house is mostly a blank slate when it comes to fixing up the landscaping, well, except for the spring time weed “lawn” that shall be pulverized. Though the plan is to do everything in stages as budget and weather and will power permit, I have to admit to being a bit overwhelmed by the scale of the project. This will be a massive undertaking requiring oodles of hardcore filthy labor and serious cash. My brain refuses to acknowledge how long this project will drag out (years, likely) or how many new skills are needing learning or that the future holds face to face dealings with nests of earwigs, feral cat crap and other horrifying surprises lurking in the dirt.

Thankfully, I’ve been working with the talented and soothing (and award winning) Ryan Prange of Falling Waters Landscape fame to help quell my anxiety and give the low down on drought tolerant low maintenance landscaping. We’ve whittled out my landscape needs (cheap, low maintenance, desert modern, neighborhood appropriate, water friendly) and he’s been pulling together some design recommendations for plantings.

In response to the layouts and ideas Ryan’s been sending over, I’ve been screwing around with SketchUp to flesh out the landscape.

Admittedly, the free version of SketchUp’s plant selection sucks. The program also goes wacky with the 2-D face me plants which wander out of place as the viewing angle shifts – not just a little out of place, but jumping 10 plus feet out of their plant “zone”.

These renderings are supposed to include a bunch more feather grass or rush or grassy bush type things to help fill out the blanker areas. Putting the right amount of plants in the model causes it to start resembling very sloppy and confusing photoshopping. The pared down renderings do illustrate basic layout of the major plantings and hardscape elements which are still getting fiddled around with and finalized.

In terms of making this stuff physically happen (without hiring contractors and workers) I need to learn some new skills like pouring and finishing concrete. Initially, concrete seems messy and hard and fits neatly in my frustrating projects that I suck at category. I also want to figure out how to install drip irrigation and exterior lighting. Sexy and thrilling projects like those will need some in-depth research, which is is fantastic, since there is nothing more exhilarating than researching piping or timers or whatever.

The neglected side yard needs some attention and extreme weed annihilation. The more obvious question though – who the hell installs a spigot like that? Extend that sucker over one foot to the right and out one foot please. Perfect. Logical. Extra functional.

We picked up the ridiculous blue spa cover at the local thrift store for a couple of dollars.  The cover is a few feet wider than required, so it’s rocking a stylish droop and devil may care attitude whilst keeping leaves out of the empty tank. Trust that I know it’s looking kind of ghetto.

Still working out the plan of attack in the side yard, but the idea is to keep it simple and add an eating area. We need to rip out the brick planter and install hot rolled steel edging, pour some concrete pavers, plumb the pool, build a deck, stain the fence, grade the yard, throw decomposed granite everywhere, plant many plants, build a table, install lighting and then done? Maybe? This is going to take years.

Above are a few of the design options Ryan has been sending my way. I’ve been picking and choosing ideas and incorporating a little of each into the finalized plan, which shocker, might ultimately change as we dive into the nitty gritty of finances and skill levels and what stuff actually looks in real life.

Landscaping. You soul crushing monster.

The big sale will hopefully raise funds to help get us going on some projects. I can’t wait for the exterior to shape up a bit and be usable.

Also, if you have a landscaping project in need of some help, design, project management or otherwise, give Ryan & Falling Waters Landscape a shout. He’s good people, with a great eye and super easy to work with personality. I might know, because admittedly, I’m a demanding she-beast with a highly specific design sensibility who worries that it’s not as easy to switch out trees as it is sofas. Then again, I don’t have to sit on trees and constantly look at and criticize them.

Should be fine, right? Right?! RIGHT. We are nowhere near ready to plant trees.

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  1. Ryan on 04/21/2011:

    Option 1 or option 3. But my fav is 3. I just like how the path is and the placment of plants around it and the rest of the yard. Very excited for the sale and for it to be over so we can start on this project haha.

  2. Tonia on 04/21/2011:

    Morgan whatever you decide to do will be FABULOUS

  3. Maggie on 04/21/2011:

    you didn’t ask us to vote, but I vote number 2! (I like the path) though I like the idea of the low ‘trash barrier’ in no.3, we need one at our place. All the rubbish from the fast food joints across the park trundles along with the prevailing breeze to our front yard. Ghetto!

  4. Jennifer H on 04/21/2011:

    A definite 2nd on #3, but give it time.

    On the irrigation issue, Rain Bird provides free design services online. You send them your info, they send you a plan and list of needed supplies:

  5. Jessica on 04/21/2011:

    I 3rd number 3! It’s going to look great!

  6. jill lune on 04/21/2011:

    i hate yard grass. our back yard is entirely reclaimed brick from an old building – flanked by hostas and ferns, and one giant tree. I have plans of eliminating grass in our tiny front yard too – grass in parks – rad, grass in my yard – sucks.

  7. Heather on 04/21/2011:

    Hey lady – go to the Sketchup warehouse for more plant options! Everything your little heart desires:

  8. L on 04/21/2011:

    Your Sketchup vision is awesome, and I lurve the idea of a trash barrier (could use one in my yard!).

    Remember too that the more of those “feather grass rush-y bushy things” you plant, the better your yard is shaded and the better they will thrive.

    You are the Queen of Good Planning. I bow.

  9. The brick house on 04/21/2011:

    Oh I do, that’s where I got what you see. Plant stuff can be kind of a pain. Those face me models are frustrating.

  10. Julia on 04/21/2011:

    hmm, I dont like desert landscaping that relies on so much rock — and I dont like paths running thru the front of your yard from street to door (especially over rocks or whatever — I mean, what are you protecting?)

    is that mean? I don’t mean it to be, and I’m sure you could pull it off somehow.

    if it were me, I’d till it and plant the hell out of it with desert flowers OR plant a low-water no-mow grass like Buffalo Grass.

  11. Emily M on 04/21/2011:

    I love option #2! The flip flopping of the stones in the path, and flanking it with hunks of stone to either side, it just feels nice. A bit less orderly and more natural than the other two options. (I really don’t like option 3 – sorry fellow readers!) I love the hot rolled steel edging for the planting areas! And to help offset your planting budget, lots of places are giving away free trees and/or seedlings for Earth Day this weekend. I know Lowe’s and a local college are doing it here. Maybe you can hit a bunch and manage to pick up a few things you need?!

  12. Jennifer H on 04/21/2011:

    One thing to keep in mind, the more stone you use, the hotter your yard will be. I was thinking of doing something similar, until I realized that the hardscape materials will absorb the heat, raising the temp of the general area, from both research and personal experience. A 90 degree yard at 9pm is a terrible thing. More groundcover/grasses would help alleviate the heat issue.

  13. Rocky B on 04/21/2011:

    I like option #1, the idea of grouping all of those shrubs together appeals to me. We moved in 6 months ago and have been trying to landscape our yard. I have found that buying a few plants every once in a while helps you slowly fill in “bald spots” of the garden without completely breaking your budget. Every time we go to home depot I buy a couple under $5 succulents to add to my newly built planter boxes. They are still a little sparce, but I am working on it 🙂

    Have you looked on craigslist? People give away plants pretty regularly. It may not be the exact tree you were hoping for, but you can find some Great Deals!
    Good luck, and I love that you are using sketchup to visualize the space 🙂

  14. kb on 04/21/2011:

    What is the deal with the pool/ stock tank. I’m new to the site have you writen about this already? water circulation etc?

  15. erin@designcrisis on 04/21/2011:

    Holy. Shit. That is going to be AMAZING.

  16. alice on 04/21/2011:

    yeaaaah! i can’t wait to see what happens with this… there’s a really good cactus/succulent garden on design sponge’s recent “sneak peek”… makes me want to move to california!

  17. my little apartment on 04/21/2011:

    holy f, good luck, girl. I mean, if anyone can do this, you can…but I am tired just thinking about it.

  18. Karlito on 04/21/2011:

    I like option 3! Don’t worry about there being too much rock creating heat, this will be true for a short time but the canopy from your mesquites will shade the whole shebang in just a couple years. I would however suggest you pick another plant besides aloe for your red accent flowers as shown in the front elevation sketch-up. I’d suggest hesperaloe aka “red yucca” it will provide a virtually identical visual effect and it’s native! Aloes are from Africa…

  19. Karlito on 04/21/2011:

    Also, lots of people will try & tell you your landscape will not be successful without an irrigation system. In my opinion they are a waste of money. What do you have, more time to spend in your beautiful yard (watering) or money to spend on an irrigation system & it’s upkeep? If you plant all natives and are willing to hand water for the first ~2 years, you’ll save money and after that everything will be established and you’ll have yourself a “rain garden” the most Eco kind there is! It’d only require occasional (like once a month in drought times) hand watering… A good way to make good plant choices is to see what is doing well in abandoned/neglected yards in your hood.

  20. Lauren @ chezerbey on 04/21/2011:

    I’m not going to weigh in on desert landscaping (the sun, what’s that?), but I do think it’s going to be fabulous.

    Also…love the large scale pavers. We’re going to pour our own at our place this summer (hopefully) so maybe we can exchange tips and tricks.

  21. Karin on 04/21/2011:

    I just wanted to mention that I am much, much, much older than you and I (along with my even older boyfriend) not only learned how to mix, pour and finish concrete, but over the course of 5 or 6 weekends of the worst, backbreaking days of my life, we managed to dig and pour ourselves a beautiful new terrace that looks like slate. Yes, we bought our own concrete mixer (cheaper than renting one for 6 consecutive weekends) and yes, we almost killed ourselves, but man, do we enjoy it now. My point? You can do it! And it will be fabulous! Karin

  22. Cereus on 04/21/2011:

    A desert sanctuary in the making. the most exciting part of owning a home, i’d say. at least you’ll have something new to look forward to year after year. i love watching plants make babies! sweet stuff.

  23. Kat on 04/21/2011:

    I love landscaping … just another space to design and futz with. I love the tree placement of #1, the stepping stones of #3. I’m in a condo now and really miss having a yard. We have huge overgrown landscape from the 60’s? that just needs to be pulled out and started over. The board won’t let me touch it. I’ll just have to live vicariously through you and your modern landscape design! I can’t wait to see what you do.

  24. Falling Waters on 04/21/2011:

    Karlito, the landscape will NOT be successful without an irrigation system. This is the high desert. If its to be done efficiently it needs it. The last thing you want to do is spend 2 hours each day watering every little plant in the yard till it establishes. But good tip on the Hesperaloe and I agree about the ‘heat-island’ effect… not really an issue.
    Thank you all for your comments about the options!

  25. Karlito on 04/21/2011:

    I live in Tucson
    (10″-12″ of rain a year) and I have succesfully established 3 desert landscapes by hand watering… Yes, in the non monsoon parts of the summer it takes about an hour to do all your watering. But I like drinking beer & hanging out outside so it’s not a problem for me 😉 Plant choice is key, both quantity of plants & using all native, a “rain garden” is possible in an arid environment… Also you don’t have to establish all your landscape at once. Whats the fun in that? I start with a reasonable number of plantings and keep adding, watering has never been a burden for me but that could just be my temprement. I know you are a pro and I’m not but even many pros would agree with me that this is possible. Have you read Scott Calhon’s books?

  26. avimom on 04/21/2011:

    I love the “trash barrier” in option three. That cracks me up.

  27. Sandra on 04/21/2011:

    #3 is my fav… don’t put a tree right in front of your house and hide the lovely horizontal wood! Karl Forester grasses will be fabulous in front of the wood.
    Having landscaped a new house build, my advice is to pick an area to work on first and finish it completely–it will give you a space to enjoy while you work on the rest. Consider temporary fixes in the to get to areas (I covered my front yard with mulch for a year while I finished the backyard–I prioritized the areas we not the neighbors would use).

  28. L on 04/21/2011:

    Karlito & Falling Waters: Isn’t the question really “what KIND of ‘irrigation system’ are we talking about”? Overhead: no way. Popup sprinklers: yuck, and water wasteful too. Underground drip to individual plants/areas: great invention, although costly to install.

    Karlito, I’m with you on enjoying the yard with a hose in hand, but remember, Morgan HATES gardening!

  29. tallin on 04/21/2011:

    Hi Morgan,

    Love how the plans are coming along!

    I’ve read that feather grass/pampas grass is invasive in California and should be avoided when possible. Perhaps something to look into a bit further and discuss with your landscape guy. there’s a pdf on the right side bar.

  30. The brick house on 04/21/2011:

    I imagine myself hand watering for a week and then giving up. We’ll need some sort of drip just to get things established since plant neglect is my gardening skill.

    I think the side yard will be the experimental zone for working out some ideas and kinks. It’s smaller and cheaper to finish off and we’ll end up using it more.

  31. Chrystal on 04/21/2011:

    My Man works for a landscaping co that does mostly succullents and low water gardens. You can check out some of the stuff here: When we started dating a year ago, my yard was a mixture or dirt/rocks/weeds. Now I have (courtesy of him) an awesome garden that doesn’t take much water, consisting mostly of succullents, grasses and such. The best part is that 90% of it was free! Either because he brought stuff home when they demo-ed a new job or I got it from Freecycle/craigslist. So, here are my 2 suggestions to you: 1) call up local landscapers and see if they have some accounts with out of control plants that you are looking for. They are probably gonna tear them out trash them, so why not put them to good use. And 2) see if they have Freecycle in your area. There are always people giving away plants and other random supplies: rock, soil…you get the idea. Oh and the person who mentioned craigslist’s free section is right on, I’ve gotten a few things there too. I’ll be honest, I haven’t really done much for the yard, but once my Man has it planted, it’s pretty self sufficient. Good Luck

  32. Raymonn on 04/22/2011:

    What do you sketch your designs with? Look like it’s going to be a really neat project. We are just starting our mid century modern conversion. Wish us luck!

  33. THE BRICK HOUSE on 04/22/2011:

    Google SketchUp – you can download it for free.

  34. Ryan on 04/22/2011:

    Thought about this as I went to go get the mail. Mailbox ideas? Or are we even at that point haha.

  35. Süsk on 04/22/2011:

    Love the spigot comment. Another gem for the Previous Owner’s Seriously Lacking Design Sensibility Hall o’ Shame.

    “No, seriously, I want it to REALLY be an eyesore. To hell with common sense and aesthetics!”

  36. Falling Waters on 04/22/2011:

    @ L
    Yes, in-line drip or individual emitters to the plants would be the way to go. Hand watering the plants would waste a TON of water, and most likely produce lots more weeds in the areas that get over-sprayed. Even though irrigation systems can be costly, you gotta think about what your time is worth.

  37. Jen on 04/22/2011:

    As a New Yorker with small, old apartment with one plant of course I am addicted to anything having to do with landscaping. That said, “This Old House” just did a house in LA. They used reclaimed concrete (busted up with raw edges) as a walkway. The TOH guy did not like it at first but the landscape designer pushed for it. Ended up looking great. Maybe that would save you $ and grief. Somehow, no matter how handy you are, I just can’t quite grasp the idea of you mixing cement in the quantities you may need for that project.

  38. bianca of terri planty on 04/23/2011:

    those are some seriously sexy plans. lucky lucky lady!

  39. bryant on 04/23/2011:

    WOW! First off I have to say you are very ambitious! My girlfriend and I just moved into our first house and I have been trying to clean up an 8 month neglected yard. It’s getting somewhat respectable but this post may have inspired me to get a little more motivated about landscape design.

    Good luck and I’ll definitely be following along!

    p.s. what’s going on with the neighbors lawn??

  40. John Hedge on 04/24/2011:

    I like option 3. I love the deck around the pool, I think I may do that too, slightly smaller and build it as a jacuzzi.

  41. TJ on 04/24/2011:

    De-lurking here to share a laugh about wonky faucet placement. We had one of those in our stairwell. It burst in the cold one New Year’s eve. Damned thing flooded our basement, we had to have the fire department come and help us because our shutoff valve was buried under 3 feet of snow. Blessed firemen vacuumed our basement of water, cut off the wonky pipe, and re-installed the faucet – at 11:30 at night. I will now gladly donate to any fire department related causes ’cause that is service! Oh, and we refer to the previous owners of our house as “those crackheads”.

  42. Guenevere Brown on 04/25/2011:

    Hi, I have an entire front yard of mulch on almost 1/4 acre. We live in PDX, OR and I’ve been grappling with these very ideas for the 2 + years we have been living in our house. We demo’d a pool and filled it in and during that time I had them scrape off all the dead/crab grass in front as they moved 12 giant truckloads of material into our back. Since then, with little money we have maintained our mulch yard until we come up with a design. You are lucky to have a white background (the house) and hot climate with which to choose large succulents, cactus and grasses. We are struggling with the color of the plants against our newly painted, but very challenging shade of green. Not to mention our house is a post/beam modern with a cabin-type feel. Any palm tree of the sort would look ridiculous. I think I’ve been looking at grasses and the various shades for about 5 weeks. It’s a huge commitment. I suggest renting a sod-ripper (about $90 per day at Home Depot) and getting mulch. I keep the weeds down with the spray you had mentioned before. You can always start a small corner or the grasses up near the house. When you are ready for pavers then add those in and do it slowly. Your designs look great and more rock may be too much with the driveway. More power to you. I think we may commit to three birch trees this spring/summer and that’s it.

  43. Paul on 04/25/2011:

    Great plans. I agree that you should start by planting a few things NOW. In a few years you’ll be able to divide these original plants and have 3 times as many. Also, try joining a local native plant society, they can have very good members-only sales, or members will happily share extra plants with you.
    And if you’re seriously considering doing the concrete yourself, at least rent a cement mixer. It’s very hard work though, so consider having it professionally done or at least making your own forms and having the concrete delivered. Badly done concrete can ruin the best design. Good luck!

  44. Kelly Raye on 04/25/2011:

    Seriously everytime I read your blog I giggle out loud. I love it.
    I am going through the same shit girl. A mud pit of epic proportions limited by money taken over by weeds. I was telling someone yesterday, In about ten years this yard will look great. Ugh
    Cement sucks big time doing it yourself. Because I was doing it on the cheap, I went and bought AC pads. They come in a bunch of different sizes and work well as pavers. Not as smooth as freshly poured concrete, but they turned out looking pretty good. Heavy though.
    Plans look awesome. I feel your Pain.

  45. Karlito on 04/25/2011:

    OK, I have to speak in defense of this hose bib which no one seems to understand. Back in the day there would have been some sort of bushes right up against the house, the hose bib is where it is for easy access and to be be barely hidden by the leaves of those bushes. A common placement on a house of this vintage & very easy to “fix”.

  46. Jason on 04/26/2011:

    Hi – love the design and your site in general, I have found it recently. Would love to know more about the pool tank and also the solar sail, thinking of getting one of those for my yard!

    Delaware – J

  47. bigBANG studio on 04/27/2011:

    Just catching up here, and wow, Morgan, this is going to be incredible. There’s plenty of great advice above, but I’ll add one local(ish) rec:

    1. Unique Landscape & Cactus desert nursery in Yucca Valley has *the* most excellent selection of xeriscape/ native and low-water non-native desert plants you can imagine. Cleveland sage and the myriad desert mallows are amazing bloomers, attract hummers, grow big, and require very little water. I can’t recommend Unique enough, but call ahead to see what they have before you trek up the mountain- they have year-long wait-lists for certain plants!

    Can’t wait to see how things develop- xo

  48. Florian on 04/27/2011:

    YAY Lanscaping! All that space. And that heat. And that pool. We have a tiny balcony. I’m so jealous.

    It’s going to look great, whatever you do. One of the blogs (can’t remember which one)in your blogroll featured round concrete pavers in different sizes which looked awesome.

    I love the idea of landscaping with rock. Power to the rock. And I think you need something arty, sulcuptury in your front yard. You pick up all those incredible paintings, never any sculpture?

    I am so looking forward to see how this comes along. Good luck with the big sale, so you can afford lots of cool stuff!

  49. Tina S on 05/01/2011:

    Where I used to live, my roommates poured a concrete floor to level off a wonky one, and it wasn’t that hard to do at all. They were total amateurs and it came out great. Good luck!

  50. Rebecca on 08/29/2012:

    Ok, I admit it, I’m stalking your house. When I first read this, I drove by once a week, but after a couple of months, I only drive by when it comes to mind (every few months). I keep waiting because Hemet needs some pretty non cookie cutter yards! I can’t wait to see what you’re going to do!!!

  51. living wall on 03/26/2013:

    This design is steller! You most certainly know how to
    keep a reader entertained. Between your wit and your videos, I was almost moved to
    start my own blog (well, almost…HaHa!) Great job. I really enjoyed what you had
    to say, and more than that, how you presented it.

    Too cool!

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