It’s been quiet on the journal lately, but in an effort to record major life events so that I can remember them once I start going senile I’m going to publish a few entries before the year ends.
Obviously a lot has happened in 2019, but one of the highlights has been our project to redo the landscaping at our house. Unlike most homeowners whose first big project would be a bathroom or kitchen remodel, several years ago Audrey and I decided that we wanted a friendlier outdoor space that didn’t require tons of California’s scarce water supply for irrigation. However, we’re still relatively new to this whole homeownership thing, and we were utterly lost as to where we should begin.
One of our first forays into figuring out what our new landscaping should be was attending a workshop on “turf removal” where we actually went to someone’s house and were given instructions on how to assist them in removing their grass. Any benefits the owners might have gotten from the free labor were likely erased by having amateurs doing the work; I was told to dig a trench around the edge of the yard and promptly put a shovel through a buried irrigation line, and while others were less destructive with their incompetence, mistakes aplenty were made. As the workshop proceeded we learned how to use a turf cutter to remove grass, assisted in digging a new swale for rainwater capture, and introduced mulch and humate into the dirt to promote better soil biology. Unfortunately, while we left more knowledgeable about the process of removing turf, and also with the important insight that we didn’t want amateurs doing the work at our house, we were no closer to figuring out what we actually wanted our yard to look like.
Further efforts at figuring out our future yard design included joining the annual Theodore Payne Foundation Native Plant Garden Tour. This local event is sponsored by an organization that promotes landscaping with native plants and operates an impressive nursery & educational center in the Valley. The tour let us see how other people on the Westside had created native plant gardens, and also gave us the chance to talk to several different landscapers responsible for the designs. In many cases these yards felt like rocky deserts or disorganized tangles of weeds, but some of them captured the feeling of being in nature that we were hoping for, while still providing the functional outdoor space we wanted. We got contact info from one landscaper we liked, and booked an appointment for him to pay us a visit and make some suggestions. Sadly, after discussing our vision for the yard he proceeded to mostly ignore our requests and spent the bulk of his visit doing calculations to determine how deep he would need to dig swales to capture the rainwater from our roof, and we ended the day without any better idea of how to begin our project.
For the next few months I occasionally researched local landscapers online, but none seemed to match what we wanted. Some focused entirely on plants and didn’t seem like they could integrate a patio or other non-plant elements into the design. Some were contractors whose projects all seemed to be sterile creations of stone and concrete with a tiny bit of greenery thrown in as afterthoughts. Finally I stumbled on Stout Design Build, and felt like maybe his combination of landscaping and contracting experience matched what we were looking for. We scheduled a consultation, and shortly thereafter Tom Stout was patrolling our backyard, notepad in hand, sketching out ideas as we described what we wanted our yard to become.
The story of our landscaping project is going to spill into several posts, so I’ll provide a spoiler now: things didn’t go perfectly, but we’re very, very happy with the end result. The designs Tom sketched out in that first visit got us incredibly excited, and by the time he left it was tough to see our yard as anything other than what he had drawn on his notepad. We knew we wanted native plants (at least in the back) that would be attractive to birds, insects, and the other critters that roam our neighborhood, but we also wanted functional outdoor space. Tom’s designs gave us those things, so after overcoming our shock at the cost estimates we signed a contract and began demolition of our existing yard.