The client contacted us to help them reclaim a completely saturated, swamp-like piece of land also known as their yard. This mosquito haven was inundated by a deep natural spring, with standing water visible at the surface of the soil. Located in the center of the woebegone, muddy “yard” was a 17-foot deep dilapidated well, which we initially considered for reuse as a post-drainage sump for irrigation. The presence of E. coli bacteria made it unusable and drove us to work towards rebalancing the way the water flowed through the property.
The client was up against a tough deadline. Furthermore, we had a very slim window of opportunity for doing initial crane-assisted boulder placements from a neighbor’s driveway that was about to be renovated.
With no time for formally drawn plans, (and the client’s design budget expended by a previous designer), we came over bright and early one chill morning, and with six colors of landscape marking paint, literally spray-painted a full hardscape design on the ground, including drainage requirements, terrace walls, landscape features, pipe and electrical conduit runs, and lighting conduits. We met with the client that afternoon with the “in situ” design laid out on the ground in front of us, but threatening to disappear at any moment in the seeping mud. After some descriptions and explanations and ritual hand waving, my client approved, and the next day we were marking boulders at a local quarry. We were off and running.
We installed over 75 tons of gravel in constructing French drains around the garden periphery, and the water table was lowered by a critical four feet. This drained the soil enough to permit garden construction.
The garden has many “green” elements that were figured into the design and construction.
Large weathered basalt boulders were used in boulder grouping focal points, stone terracing, and the multiple waterfall and pond constructions. Stone was locally sourced from Napa, CA. Additionally, we used large amounts of decomposed granite that was quarried in Monterey for the flagstone-on-gravel pathways.
Substantial soil amending was required because the soil, while soaking wet, (a highly unusual condition here in seasonally dry California!) was very heavy clay, and poor in organic components. This was done with compost-based amendments. Drainage outlets to a small creek at the back of the property now drain crystal clear water, in contrast to the muddy, silt-laden seepage of before. Even the E. coli has disappeared. In a comprehensive test several months after drainage construction, the water tested “clean,” with the potentially harmful bacteria filtered out in the gravel beds and destroyed by other beneficial bacteria.
Our colleague and expert plantsperson Wendy Wilde designed a bee and butterfly habitat, with profusely flowering plants selected for 3-season bloom. Natives were used extensively and irrigated with heavy-duty, low-water use drip irrigation. The lawn was sodded with deep-rooted, lush, low-water use dwarf fescue grass. The garden was planted and is being maintained organically, with no pesticides or artificial chemical fertilizers used. The ponds now provide a home to several species of fish and turtles. The owner even put crayfish in the larger ponds. The high quality of the new habitat is made possible by a durable, effective mechanical system, including UV bacteria control and biological filtration.
The new garden is a little slice of paradise and a place for placid contemplation. We really enjoyed working with the owner, whose enthusiasm for creating a haven for wildlife was a big stimulus for creativity. From time to time he can be seen out there, hand-feeding the turtles with live crickets!