Sloped Front Yard Lawn Removal

loreleieJune 19, 2012

I would really appreciate some suggestions & advice from experienced professionals for my first big project. I am not a designer but I studied horticulture & took 2 semesters of landscape construction. I've been working for the past 2.5 years doing mainly garden maintenance and love doing stuff with rocks & stone, but I am totally new & inexperienced.

This project is a front yard lawn removal and it's going to be a succulent garden that I plan to terrace with cinder moss rock. So far, the lawn is gone and I've amended the soil. 1 ton of cinder moss rock has been delivered.

The main part is 13' x 13' and it's sloped, And that's mainly what I need help dealing with is the slope. There are also spaces on each side of the entryway and one side has a little semi circle retaining wall (like a tree well) made with wall block~ If I mess with those blocks, all the dirt spills into neighbors driveway. I was thinking maybe I'd try and remove like 1 or 2 blocks in order to plant something that trails down over to camouflage the block but then I'm still undecided what to do for each side of the entryway. (One thought is a big tall vase on each side, but still not sure)

So the 2 main areas I like any suggestions/ advice for are 1)selecting either the right plant or architectural feature(s)to put on either side of the front entryway(nothing fancy or complicated). I don't think a tree is a good idea since it will litter all over the succulents and shade them but some height & something contrasting and soft against the house maybe. What ever goes there has to be able to tolerate wind.

2) The other question I have is about the existing brick border that's there~Should I remove it or leave it? If I remove it, at what point? Should I wait until after I've planted so the roots hold the soil? Could I use some bender board. I'd like to remove them but I'm scared I'll make a big mess & regret it.

It's not really relevant, but I just want to add that I met the client a couple years ago when she came to my house to buy some plants from me. She's a neighbor and saw that I was replacing sections of my own lawn with succulents & native plantings. Without a doubt, she's saving money by having someone like myself do the work, but she's not cheap and I don't get the sense that's WHY she chose me. She & I are definitely on the same page as far as how we both envision the space. I had taken photos of similar front yards in the area before I got started and when I went to meet & show her, she had taken photos of the exact same front yard on the same day! We realized we had missed each other by only about 15 minutes!

I'd really appreciate ANY advice that might help me avoid any major blunders as well as feedback & suggestions & I welcome any CONSTRUCTIVE criticism.

Thanks so much (in advance)!

Here is a link that might be useful: photo album of inspiraton gardens & progress

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deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

Congratulations on getting 'one under your belt'.
We all had to start somewhere and this seems like a great little garden to sink your design teeth into.

To address a couple of your questions :
The scalloped concrete edging screams cheap DIY'er. From a design standpoint it has to go.
If you need to retain the soil from washing out over the edge you can use stone to create an undulating border - by undulating , I mean think outside of the box and create a whole new outline with the rock.
A mark of an amatuer is lining the outside edges with rock - take it to the next level and create your own borders. You can create pockets, niches and best of all , you can integrate that terrible looking tree well.

Next - ... the terrible looking tree well. - No good. not good at all. It has to be reworked.
A couple of large boulders and a few mid size will do the trick.
If you aren't quite adept with stone placement, get someone who is. This is an important feature., it's the only real elevation change on the tableau and it needs to be wonderfully fit with a sculptural edge. It will pay off big time to have some nice stone placement holding this corner.

In regards to plant placement and choice - well that is up to you, and it seems like you have a nice palette to work with ( judging by your photos, especially of the one taken at Sherman Library gardens )

A nice large beautifully glazed pot strategically placed infront of the gas meter would be a wonderful touch.

Knock 'em dead with a great design.

    Bookmark   June 19, 2012 at 11:15PM
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I'm "seconding" Deviant in that the two worst elements in the picture are the so called "tree well" and the cheap-looking scalloped edging. I'm including a sketch of a wall layout to give you an idea of what would make more sense. The wall should extend below ground and could be stepped at the bottom to save material. Tweak its length to make it work best for the situation.

    Bookmark   June 20, 2012 at 7:29AM
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Thank you dd! You let me know I'm on the right track in my mind regarding the edging~ I can't stand it! Today I went there and started knocking it loose w/ a sledge hammer because it's cemented in some spots. I left it in place but started playing with the rake and started sculpting a few arches & curves from each side to meet in an alternating fashion in the center (if you can imagine what I mean). The last curve sort of formed part of a wavy border along the side walk.

After staring at the entryway today, I thought instead of trying to do something matching on either side of entry way, a cluster of 3 pots diff size & shape but same color would look nice there. The client likes that idea too and said she wants turquoise colored pots~ I love turquoise. .

Should I move the dirt when working that area or make like a silt fence?

Are there any books anyone can recommend? I just ordered "Designing with Succulents" & "Rock Garden Design and Construction" (North American Rock Garden Society)

    Bookmark   June 20, 2012 at 1:04PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Regarding meter coverage, keep in mind that (a) the meter has to be read, and (b) distracting the eye can be more effective than hiding things sometimes. Hiding can scream "there is something hidden here!" if the placement of the pots is not also the most advantageous position for the pots on the wall anyway.

Regarding the tree well, I found myself pondering that overnight for some reason. There is something about it being the neighbour's driveway below it that gives me pause. It is one thing to put an overhead hazard above your own driveway, quite another with the neighbour's. While the aesthetics and plants are a lot more fun to play around with, once you have those kind of worked out in your head, I would put significant attention into assuring that your retaining solution has structural integrity. This is a benefit that the stones presently in use probably have, and is why I would not use dry-stacked natural stone here, for example. I would tend toward manufactured stone with an overlap lip, or poured concrete.

Akin to the deep footings on the wall that Yardvaark has proposed, if you go with boulders instead this means that they must be set below the top of the neighbour's wall and that their weight must be carefully placed so their tendency is to lean inwards.

Sometimes you place a boulder with its prettiest side out only to find its shape makes it want to lean out. Normally you can shore that up with a little packed dirt or a smaller rock. This setting, however, is not the place for that kind of a solution. So choose carefully.

This is actually not a bad pragmatic example of the situation being described in the recent thread by GardenShananagans, and I wonder if a little engineering consult might not be a good thing. We have not, I notice, mentioned water flow or nature of the soil. Perhaps we assume it will just be the same as before, but will it?

The other problem is that someone has to be able to get into the area to weed, but if you make something too walkable, a future owner, visitor, or passer-by will one day see their toddler balanced proudly at the highest point. As a matter of fact, I'm a little surprised there isn't a railing required there and I wonder if there is a solution that incorporates one.

Karin L

    Bookmark   June 20, 2012 at 1:46PM
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The drop off looks hazardous, but also a great opportunity to have a simple but great looking low fence. I see iron.

Check with your gas company - most places they just need to be close to the meter to get a reading, but you'll need to know. The mockup pots look fabulous.

Offer that awful edging on Craigslist - it'll be gone within the hour - and they'll probably help you remove it. Def put in FREE category.

    Bookmark   June 20, 2012 at 2:40PM
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Condo? Townhouse? I would imagine the HOA covenants would control the ability to put a decorative but substantial railing on that retaining wall. Worth a try to inquire. Indeed a hazard - a misstep in the garden and you could do a header down onto the neighbor's driveway.

    Bookmark   June 20, 2012 at 3:09PM
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deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

With out a doubt a simple silt fence is required. You can make one yourself or buy one pre-made at most high end professional irrigation / landscape supply stores. You'll be in code compliant and you'll appreciate it in the long run. I'd go the extra mile and tuck the bottom under the soil level ( dig a small trench) or use some of the concrete pavers as weights on the bottom sleeve.

It almost looks like this is one of our famous 'smart meters', that isn't read by a human being who comes out monthly, rather the info is sent by a computer in the meter to PGE ( our power company) .
Even if it is not been updated with the new computer systems , just leave enough room so the meter reader can swipe the hand held reading device or visually see the read out numbers.

I like the color of the pots that were chosen, It pops with the grey house color.

Along with Debra Baldwins most excellent book(s) you might enjoy looking at the Flickr website of Bay Area designer David Feix who works a lot with succulents, bromeliads and cloud forest plants.

Also check out Living Green's website , they do some very nice work with succulent design .

Flora Grubbs nursery blog is chock full of great design ideas.

Here is a link that might be useful: david feix flickr

    Bookmark   June 20, 2012 at 3:16PM
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I really appreciate all this feedback! I cannot thank you all enough! I know it takes time & energy for your responses. I'm going to respond to each one but just wanted everyone to know I am reading all this & trying to process it all!

    Bookmark   June 20, 2012 at 9:07PM
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Yardvark (I love that name) I dont understand what you mean by "stepped at the bottom to save material" since I am using moss rock. Ill take a photo of the rocks I'm using. Also there is the gas main under the dirt that starts at the sidewalk and goes up to the house. I called 811 and need to wait until June 25 before digging but I'll know by then the exact path of the gas pipe.

    Bookmark   June 20, 2012 at 11:31PM
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Hi Karin & thank you for your thoughtful reply. The lite yellow border on the left side of the photo is the cement wall dividing the properties and is not more than 2 ft high. After reading your description, I understand what Yardvaark meant (duh). . . I read it late last night when nothing was making sense!

Regarding waterflow & soil, I'm not sure if this is the answer but I'm planning to make terraces and the soil is like a sandy loam. I've been amending the soil with loam builder and a little compost (3cu.ft to be exact). When I removed the lawn & weeds~ I used round up (first time ever) & I got rid of about a 4-5 inch layer and rolled it up & bagged it in paper garden debris bags and they took 'em away on garbage day! (SF has no limit on the amount of compostable material) A couple years ago, I would have had to go to the dump. But back to the soil~ I think the drainage is good but I might add more compost (because I've taken out such a thick layer of organic material) and/or some pearlite or pumice.
I dug a hole about 8-10 inces deep & filled it w/ water and it drained most of the way in less than an hour.
Since I'm doing a little variety of natives & succulents good drainage definitely a priority.

And to answer duluth, this is a single family 3 BR home~ not a townhouse or condo. In San Francisco, many/most of the neighborhoods are built with the houses touching like that.

Deviant~ Yes it's a dumb I mean smart meter lol! And maybe Urban Farmer Store will have what I'm looking for. Thank you so much for the resources too. I just went to Flora Grubb and sent my client there as well. It's fun place to go for ideas & inspiration but too pricey for a practical girl like myself!

Cinder Moss Rock in the photo below. .

    Bookmark   June 21, 2012 at 4:01AM
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The drop off into the neighbors driveway doesn't concern me as much as the prickly Agave thorns! Any toddler who ventures into this garden will cry out in pain before reaching the edge!

How do I find that thread by GardenShananagans?
If this job requires anything beyond a french drain it's beyond my repertoire.

    Bookmark   June 21, 2012 at 4:17AM
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I wanted to post an update of my progress on this project. It's far from done but got rid of that wall block & replaced it with the cinder moss rock. The new retaining wall is really sturdy & I'm quite pleased with how it turned out. I was so worried I wouldn't be able to pull it off! I started with 1 ton of rock & wanted to do that part first so I'd have lots of rocks to choose from. However, I now feel like I need more rock for the bottom. In the mean time, I have that bender board holding the dirt back. What should I do?

    Bookmark   July 16, 2012 at 2:26PM
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Here's a close up of the new rock wall

    Bookmark   July 16, 2012 at 2:30PM
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Also~ On the right side, I was just playing around trying to make some steps. Does anyone have some suggestions on what to use? I still have some smaller cinder moss rocks left, some river rock and some flagstone I was going to use for stepping stones but if there's a way to use some of the materials for little steps, I'd love to do that, just not sure what to use.

The previous suggestions were an enormous help to me while doing this project so thanks everyone!

    Bookmark   July 16, 2012 at 2:42PM
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Just thought Id post a photo of the thriving succulent rock garden - I's been over a year now since I finshed but photo was taken Dec 2012.

This post was edited by loreleie on Fri, Nov 22, 13 at 12:14

    Bookmark   November 18, 2013 at 2:55PM
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You've done an utterly amazing job, loroleie. Would have to see a few more pics - what you put along the sidewalk, etc.



    Bookmark   November 18, 2013 at 4:12PM
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Thank you, Rosie! Client ended up buying more moss rock. I will post a recent pic soon! Client is really happy with it too. I'm actually not working as a gardener an longer but I did keep this one client and maintain her garden. As you probably know, with this type of garden, the maintenance is minimal- I do about 2-4 hours every other month to keep it nice.

Laurel Rose

This post was edited by loreleie on Mon, Nov 18, 13 at 17:11

    Bookmark   November 18, 2013 at 5:06PM
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deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

Nice !

    Bookmark   November 19, 2013 at 2:26AM
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Thank you for the follow up. Kudos to whoever thought to paint the gas meter. It vanishes.

    Bookmark   November 19, 2013 at 2:18PM
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Thanks DD- you've been there since the beginning & I really appreciated your input. You, Yardvark & karini were extremely helpful, as were all the other helpful replies here! I purchased the Debra Baldwin book & many plants came from Flora Grubb, including the 2 beautiful Cordylines framing the entry, one of which just got devoured by a gopher andfell over!

    Bookmark   November 19, 2013 at 2:19PM
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mikebotann(8a SE of Seattle)

I'm a latecomer here.
The design doesn't seem bold enough. The rocks are too small and not arranged to the shape of the planting area, so the design doesn't flow. The plant placement doesn't help the flow either. No drifts to enhance it, or a taller focus plant, or plants. The result is a spotty look with no clear focus. The design is too timid. A professional would show some clout.

I notice in that last pic you neglected to show the stepping stones on the right next to the driveway. You don't like them? Neither do I. What are they for? Driveway too narrow? Hardscape may be called for.
You also don't show the strip on the bottom placed there to hold the soil from getting on the concrete. Doesn't look good, does it?
The soil should have been thrown up hill so you lower the level of the soil and use the existing concrete as a barrier rather than some cheap alternative.
David Felix has a good eye and is familiar with your climate. Study his work, he's good. Real good. DD pointed out right from the beginning that you needed some boulders. Good advice. I know they are hard to place in an uphill situation, but it still needs to be done, no doubt about it. Figure out a way. Boldness is called for in a small, highly visible, entry way space. Not unfocused mayhem.
I notice you didn't take any courses in landscape design. That might be next on your agenda.
I really like the turquoise pots and painting out the gas meter. Nice solution for an area that doesn't get much natural water because of the overhang.
You asked for constructive criticism, that's all it is. Wish I had been here from the beginning.


    Bookmark   November 22, 2013 at 9:22AM
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Hey Mike, Ouch! Did you really need to be so harsh on me, guy? It's somewhat of a relief you weren't here from the beginning. I asked for the constructive criticism before & during the job. It's not really all that 'constructive' when you focus on telling someone all the things he or she did not do, pointing out all the things done wrong and throw out a bunch of subjective, opinionated insults in my opinion, but never offer any ideas or solutions. I hope you don't waste any of your time in this forum insulting people and calling it constructive. If your intention is really to be helpful and not hurtful, focus more on the ideas & suggestions to correct the errors and omit the meaningless comments such as 'The design is too timid' or 'A professional would show some clout' and instead share some ideas or make suggestions as the other professionals here have done. It would serve you well to read some of their posts so that you can gain a better understanding of how to be constructive with your criticism.

I was a teacher for a little over 12 years before I burned out & went back to school to study horticulture. I've always really loved gardening & filling empty spaces with lots of plants, but after this job, I realized, at the age of 40, it wasn't something I could do for the next 20 years or more. (notice how I figured that out all on my own) (>‿◠)✌
So I actually pursued another dream I had for quite some time and started my own dog walking & pet sitting business. I didn't just put an ad out there on craigslist and call myself a small business owner either. I have a registered business in SF, pay my taxes & carry insurance. I celebrate 1 year in business this January!
Anyway, I just wanted to share that because if I still was working as a gardener, I would have woken up this morning, read your comment, & felt like a complete failure on my birthday!

Here is a link that might be useful: Golden Gate Dog Walking

    Bookmark   November 22, 2013 at 12:32PM
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Your website is great and I hope you thrive in this business.

There are only a few turkeys on this particular forum, and some on other forums. Chill. Disregard.

Have a blessed birthday.
Rosie, Sugar Hill, GA

    Bookmark   November 22, 2013 at 2:18PM
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