Last month, before our three youngest nieces showed up for their annual December visit, I tried my hand at creating a miniature forest, of sorts. I started with a shallow black TubTrug (but you could use other colors) and put about an inch of gravel on the bottom, then potting soil.
For the plants, I started hunting for specimens that looked like—our could be made to look like—miniature trees. After surveying my backyard, I cut a branch off a jade plant and pruned it to look more open and tree-like. I placed it at the back of the container. The small, lush Selaginella plants I found at a nearby nursery. And I tucked in a few cuttings from my Sedum rupestre 'Angelina' plants. (Note: Some houseplants are toxic, so you'll want to be sure to select kid-friendly specimens. Nursery staff should be able to help, but you can also type the plant name into Google to double-check.)
The girls range from barely seven to almost two-years-old. And fortunately, the creation was a hit with all three. The youngest was the biggest fan. She is a busy, busy toddler. But she'd plop herself down next to it and run her hands over the plants, and pick up and examine the rocks and the dragons. I was afraid she'd start throwing the rocks out of the container, but that only happened once. I explained the dragons needed the rocks for their home and she was pretty good after that. (But I'm not pushing my luck. Next time I'll be using larger rocks like these—much easier to clean up than tiny pebbles.)
I included airplants (Tillandsia) in Cholla cacti skeletons with a bit of moss so the kids could pick them up and move them around. I did buy three adorable dragon figurines, making sure they were too large to be swallowed. But I didn't make sure they were durable enough. One of the dragon's necks snapped in two, luckily a surgery involving some super-glue saved it, but I don't like our odds of not breaking it again. (I wish I could say it was one of the kids that broke it, but it was me. Nice job, Auntie Amy.)
Definitely going to create one of these again. Next time I'll gather the materials before the kids arrive, but hold off assembling it until after they get here, so they can be a part of it.
I'm still a little achy from helping to place all these stones, but so pleased with how it turned out. A simple, soothing yard, with graceful grasses and softly-colored shrubs.
Soon the space will turn into a low-maintenance meadow. And a bit further in the future, the shrubs will have enough height to provide privacy, with their light-colored foliage keeping the space from feeling tight or hemmed in.
One of my favorite things—seeing how the plants I've chosen have grown and filled a space. These plants were installed less than a year ago and already the Oxalis vulcanicola 'Molten Lava' is tumbling over the concrete wall and will continue to do so. The aeoniums are quietly thriving among the oxalis. And the Woodwardia fimbriata looks pretty darn good considering the drought. I'm looking forward to seeing this space again, after we've had some winter rain.
At the beginning of this project, the clients told me they didn't even need to see a presentation from me. "We trust you. Just do what you think will look best." (Dream clients!) Of course, armed with that kind of freedom, I felt even more pressure to do a good job. And I'm really happy with how it turned out.
Some hard-working clients turning their yard into a thing of beauty. Jennifer Nix (pictured above) is the founder of ModNomad Studio and one of the creators behind The Go-Go Kitchen. An all-in-one kitchen unit created from salvaged materials and innovative appliances. (And sitting on caster wheels, which I love! See photos below.) Each one is unique and made in Marin County.
I couldn't resist posting one more photo of the in-progress yard! And here are photos of The Go-Go Kitchen...check out ModNomad Studio's website for more info.
I love clients that send photos! Back in March, I helped two clients transition their front yard into a water-wise space. They ripped out their lawn and installed DG (decomposed granite) and I selected plants that would soften the perimeter, add color, and use less water. Today they sent me this photo, with a note saying the plants are thriving. I can't wait to see how it looks later this year.
A fun project I got to do yesterday.
Cecile Lozano Interiors asked me to create a vertical garden for a SOMA apartment with great cityscape views. A corner of the apartment is flanked by huge windows and Cecile wanted some natural, living materials there. Before I installed the plants, she and her team added reclaimed wood to the corner walls, providing a great backdrop for the greenery.
It's the first time I've done an installation while looking down at cars on the I-80, speeding to and from the Bay Bridge. There was so much urban activity going on below me while I quietly worked with dirt and plants. I loved the contrast.
Once Cecile and her team have finished redesigning the entire space, I'll link to the photos. They've already created some great shelving made from the reclaimed wood. I'm looking forward to seeing how it all turns out.
Cecile and her team finished the redesign and it looks great. I stopped by the other day to check the plants and felt like I was walking into an entirely different room—so much more inviting than before.
And the plants are doing well. There was one type that wasn't thriving, so we replaced it with plants that have been flourishing. Now we can barely see the felt pockets through all the greenery!
I'll admit it, I get a little envious when I see a garden with a simple palette. It's not an option for my yard—I want to keep experimenting with new varieties of plants—but I love the calm, serene feeling that comes with using only a few types.
The owners of this yard are also fans of a simple palette and also love spending time on the coast. So I chose grasses that remind me of the meadows of Point Reyes and ground-cover plants that remind me of the vegetation you find on the cliffs above the ocean, or the creatures you find in tide pools.
Pegasus Construction created the hardscaping, collaborating with the client on the design, and pulling me in to give my two-cents. (Still thrilled they agreed to wider spaces between the concrete pavers so I could use larger rocks and tuck in more greenery.)
Amy John Headley is a landscape designer based in San Francisco.