Structure in a Country Garden

How do you create open space for fun and play, while keeping maintenance low?

Creating structured spaces with raised beds and gravel can meet several design challenges at once.

This country garden is located at the entry to a three acre property on the coastside. Most of the property is open grassy area or pasture that must be mowed and maintained, including a formal lawn area right in front of the entry. Originally, the area in the front of the formal lawn was also a circular driveway, leading to a game of shuffling cars every time dinner guests left out of order.

The homeowners entertained their large family frequently, and were looking for a more organized parking area, capable of accommodating more guests comfortably. But they also wanted to feel less like the driveway took up the entire yard–two seemingly conflicting goals. Mowing three acres was getting really old, so reducing the amount of space that required weekly maintenance was also at the top of the list. All of this needed to be done while keeping the budget carefully in mind, maintaining the historic style of this more than 100-year-old home, and working with a lovely mature camellia and a large magnolia. And creating a shady space to sit. And something the dogs can’t destroy.

This was a tall order, but there’s nothing I love more than a design challenge!

The clients were well prepared with inspiration images of landscapes and exteriors they liked and felt suited their historic home. Traditional landscapes in England, France, and New England that incorporated gravel, formal parterres, and roses. But also clippings and articles about gardening with edibles. Many historic gardens combined food production with high style. From the orangeries of Le Notre, to colonial gardens like Mount Vernon and Monticello, growing food and looking good doing it has been a core part of landscape creation until only very recently. So I knew these two design goals could be resolved beautifully.

The gold gravel creates a neutral background, so now the owner’s pottery, sculptures, and furniture can be the stars of the garden.

I proposed using a palette of gold gravel and structured raised beds to recall these historic traditional gardens, while updating the plant selections with material more suitable for the coastal setting. Using local stone and abalone shells for the sides of the beds and creating the seat caps out of poured concrete with a custom color and texture finish updates the look and marries the garden to the natural materials and textures around it. Putting lights in the sides of the raised beds defines safe pathways for dinner guests, without interfering with the incredible view of the stars. A bubbling pot fountain with a hidden reservoir attracts birds and creates a focal point in front of the entry. The gold gravel evokes formal French garden organization, but also defines a large, permeable, flexible area for parking that could be installed and maintained inexpensively.

I worked with Trellis Structures to create a pergola that anchors one side of the garden, balancing the large magnolia to frame the view of the house. Builder Erick Freels of Santa Cruz installed the pergola kit, adding stone detailing around the base to integrate it with the raised beds. Erick worked with me to create custom seat caps for the stone beds with a baking soda finish, as well as leaf and flower imprints selected from the garden.

The homeowners just sent me some new pictures of the garden!

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