ISSUE 36  |  Get to Work

Michelle’s Garden Rehab: Creating a Mood Board

September 03, 2012 5:00 PM

BY Michelle Slatalla

The contractors left my yard looking as bleak and barren as Black Rock City the week after Burning Man. As a result, a month after moving into my remodeled house in Northern California, I’m embarking on a garden rehab. Step One: Collect inspirational images.

My post-construction backyard, previously bordered by beds of old-fashioned flowers and fruit trees, is a dusty wasteland of hard-packed clay and broken drip-irrigation tubing. (Why do they have to ruin the in-ground watering system? Discuss.) My front yard, with irregular, kidney-shaped flower beds sloping gently toward the street, fared better—although, yes, they managed to destroy that irrigation zone, too.

The other day while I was Goggling (as my father puts it), I stumbled across a garden in Los Angeles, created by Grow Outdoor Design, with lots of good ideas:

Above: Inspirational Idea No. 1. No fence in the front yard. I love that. This is a garden that invites passersby to stop for a chat. A Mediterranean olive tree (R) provides shade. Image via Grow Outdoor Design.

Above: My front yard. Ignore the jasmine attacking the living room window—I’m going to deal with that tomorrow. Look instead at the fence—intended to repel deer, but they just laugh at it. The rustic wood, which I happen to like, unfortunately is at war with the facade of the house, built in the 1920s (during the throes of the Hollywood Spanish Revival era).

While we’re thinking about what to do about that fence, here’s an idea I like for the front walk…

Above: In Los Angeles, Grow Outdoor Design created a walkway bordered by gravel and decomposed granite, which makes a nice crunchy sound—and feels good—underfoot. Alongside the path grows small cape rush (Chondropetalum tectorum) and also deer grass (Muhlenbergia rigens), a California native. Image via Grow Outdoor Design.

Above: My front walk (L) doesn’t meander; it’s an abrupt chute connecting the street to the house. A mishmash of plants borders the walkway.

Above: My front walk, old pavers and brick, is impermeable; water pools in low spots during the rainy season.

Above: In the Grow Outdoor Design garden, stepping stones create a permeable path that aids drainage. Against the foundation of the house is wild rye Canyon Prince, a California native. Image via Los Angeles Times.

Above: In the Grow Outdoor Design garden, different leaf shapes and textures create interest. Images via Grow Outdoor Design.

Above: Unlike the grass-free front yard, the Los Angeles garden has lawn—or “turf,” as they say, which somehow sounds more environmentally friendly and less water-hoggy—behind the house. To my Midwestern eye, grass is the ultimate luxury: velvety, green, and lovely to loll on. Image via Los Angeles Times.

(N.B.: For a glimpse of what my backyard used to look like, see “Our Houses—Michelle.”)