Waterfall, Creek, Pathway and Landscape Construction

(click images to enlarge – they get bigger if you click again – most of them)


This is the front yard of the project in question. Those exceptionally healthy-looking Ponderosa Pines tell us we are quite a bit above Reno, Nevada. In fact, it is well on the route to Lake Tahoe via the highway which tops the hill about 15 miles later at 9,900 feet above sea level.

This clients were an older couple who were based both in San Diego and Reno. The man of the house had an extremely active interest in the landscape. He also had his “wish list” of items – he wanted a nice, roaring water feature off his back deck, a walkway bisecting the back yard with turnabouts/patios at each end and – he was adamant – a vineyard. He also wanted a gas-fed fire pit in one of the patios. The goal was to “complete” the total yard. Our interest therefore was pretty much completely out back where he often entertained and sat and considered ponderous thoughts like “Will Steve drink another wine?” 😉  Great guy, generous but really involved. Anyway, so we went to work. We paved our way to the back yard with an access road and carried all you see 100′ to the “back 20”.

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Pictures of this project pick up from the point of construction of the waterfall set at the back of his thin but 150 feet wide back yard. The falls sets up the running water in the creek and it is a rambunctious one, running a good rate of water with some serious sound qualities. From the raised deck above, I rate the sound factor as a home run. It is throaty and deep, but not overwhelming so no one has to raise a voice to be heard. I sort of regret not taking earlier pictures, but it should be fairly obvious that we did our typical build. Liner underneath and rocks placed to give as naturalistic a picture as possible. I also wanted the river course itself to be deep, so I excavated more than usual. I was interested in hiding underwater lighting under the water at various points and the raised level of observation would compromise that. It made for an interesting depth which somehow seemed more real than many others, as if formed from a true chasm.

Work also proceeded at other locations while we constructed the falls and creek.

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As is obvious, it began getting cold. We were on the verge of Winter when we got underway and it did not disappoint. Just the same, planting in these conditions is still fine. At the very end is our “vineyard”. It also shows an antique wagon tucked in behind that we picked up at some second hand dealer and carted back to the job site on a trailer. It was pricey but it was effective. It gave an Old West sort of ambiance to the overall project which we later exploited with a wagon wheel or two in the landscape. The grape plants, by the way, grew from the day we put them in. Grapes really do have a remarkable growth rate when happy and – the fact is – they get happy in some pretty bad soils. Grapes are a landscaper’s friend, in my opinion. That is a reliable plant. These were green grapes, climatically suited for the Reno alkaline soils as well as the hard-freezing climate conditions. They simply thrived here. There was a monster crop at the end of the first year.

Here’s a late season look at the vineyard and the wagon on a dark November day as we hustle to try and get the stamped concrete walk in place. The flags and paint represent the excavations to come.

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We begin excavating and calling for cement. It takes a couple of days to get everything set up just right. The excavated material, by the way, will be used to set a bearm to the creekward side of the walkway-to-be.

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We got blessed by great and surprising amounts of sunshine for the period of the project and there were smiles all around. I remember worrying about some weather front which missed us. The set up took an extra day. There’s more work here than it appears! 🙂

Finally, we got it poured and our walkway was now completed.

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We re-graded and smoothed out the bearms and planted some more plants, but we basically took off for the Winter after most of this. The next time we came back was about 3 months later.

Here’s a shot of one of the wagon wheels along with a wide angle look at the creek and the final basin (where the pump is) itself:

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However, we did get a marvelously sunny day to get some pics before leaving.

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When Spring rolled around, we were suddenly able to finish things. We had grass to lay, mulch to put in, more lighting to tweak, fertilizing on the mind, salvaging a couple of Winter-damaged plants – the usual Springtime stuff. We put in the grass in short order:

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Things were very much taking shape now. We were on a definite finishing roll.

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My buddy and work mate Raoul and I stand somewhat triumphantly over our “slain dragon”. This is the finished look at the source of the creek and the noise.

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Another shot and one I feature in this blog a few other places. It’s a particular favorite because I think it reflects my sensibility about the “depth issue” of the creek as a slow moving but still-substantial artifice, as natural as we could make it. Yup, that is another wagon wheel!

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A look at the Main Patio, at the opposite end of the property from the vineyard and wagon. This one has that gas-fed fire pit in the center, yet still has room for tables and chairs. Yes, I had some fun with the boulders, as usual. The “cut” between the boulders in the distance essentially drains the property in the event of overdoes of precipitation. It has a small rock creek dry bed of some real gorgeous river rocks. Plus, it works!

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This was a design and build home run, one of my favorite ever projects. Not only were the people great but they allowed some license and were proud of the overall accomplishment. They also had a stash of incredibly good wine. Oh wait – I said that.

Anyway, here’s what it looked like in Autumn – and, yes, we did plant for it. Thise spectacular maples are by design. Down at the end are the grapes after one year. What’d I tell you? 😉

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11 thoughts on “Waterfall, Creek, Pathway and Landscape Construction

  1. Steve, I always find such interesting details in your work descriptions. I love learning how you think about the volume of sound from the water feature. (I read one book on rocks in the garden which featured a couple who “tuned” their rock placements in the creeks they created. They would place them in different locations until things sounded right.)

    It’s a very practical consideration, as is drainage, and you’ve found ways to make the practicality pretty. Also I’m intrigued by the idea of grapes as reliable garden plants! As long as you have water, it’s true: maybe they could even be a groundcover.

  2. Pomona, I wish I had a buck for everyone who has complained about how loud the water gets. You learn as you go, unfortunately. Sometimes, the sound is indeed mitigated by placing rocks on the bottom, receiving end, to soften the effect. Other times, we create some steps so the water won’t drop so far.

    There are also few – very few – aspects of landscaping more important than drainage. If it;s not from some forgetful client leaving his irrigation on for literal days, then it’s simply the experience of the outdoors in general, what with all the rain and snow and stuff.
    .-= Steve´s last blog ..Waterfall, Creek, Pathway and Landscape Construction =-.

  3. I have found that it is extremely difficult to control the “loudness” of water. It is such a subjective thing and every clients ears are different. It is very hard to explain to, or have a client explain to you how loud they want or don’t want the water. I agree with all of your methods to soften the sound. Great thoughts.

    New Jersey Landscape Architect NJ Landscape Designer
    New Jersey Landscape Architect NJ Landscape Designer
    New Jersey Landscape Architect NJ Landscape Designer

  4. Of course, these days, they can save some money by just putting in some speakers and get Ocean Waves, lol.

    Why bother with the rest? 😉

  5. I have to tell you, the more I see of your work the more I’m impressed. The last picture in this post really brings out the details and depth a bit. The waterfall/creek is beautifully done as well – its amazing what a wagon wheel can do for adding some atmosphere!

  6. Thanks! Yeah, stupid wagon wheels, lol. (That was a comment someone made when we thunk up the idea.) I am glad you’re bucking the trend!

  7. True story! My pleasure on the sharing. You have an interesting site as well. Cape Cod sounds nice right about now, lol.

  8. What a fantastic garden you must have been very pleased with the finished article. I’d be happy with a stream through my garden but that is a raging torrent. Fantastic!

  9. Thanks, James. It was actually a little weird working on a place so much more long than thick. The porch deck above was where everyone viewed things from, in essence. (Of course, they got more interested in being down in with the landscaping when we finished.)

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