Re-Visiting A Garden Grotto


We had a client with a quite religious orientation. He was Italian, as can be readily concluded from the start here. He was also very Catholic and he was intimately involved with his church and things related to it. He was a premier chef at one of the casinos in Reno – a very nice man who wanted a private and peaceful spot for his meditations. He is in a moderately-populated but upscale neighborhood, with a few acres, actually. The idea of a recessed area with some religious motifs around is what he very directly asked for. This would give him not only privacy, but the quiet he so craved. We excavated a huge hole about 50 feet round and 6-7 feet deep. We would use a floor of sand for a soft subsurface, put a ‘crust’ of decomposed granite about two inches thick on top of that and put a couple of rocks in strategic locations, perfect for sitting and relaxing. For walls, we used local rocks and tried to go for a sort of early Romanesque look, a little primitive, yet stacked nicely. The rocks add a sense of permanence to the overall effect. We placed a few Christian Themes around: a grotto, recessed in the wall, which would double as the “Tomb of Jesus”, an opening into which he placed his own very interesting Salvador Dali print of “Gaia On The Cross”.


The visible plants here are two Viburnums Opulus ‘Roseum’ flanking the “Crypt” and a steamy and creamy Tree Hydrangea behind. Others include junipers and some lavender, for scent. ;-) We also put a number of smaller grasses around with some perennial color, including a pitch black-bloomed Hollyhock plant.


We also made a small fountain, bubbling in small amounts but audible and visible, to double as a sort of “Lourdes”. In this picture, we reveal the small water feature, our “little Lourdes”, embedded in the rocks to the top. A kneeling figurine prays there, lending some placidity and a serene contemplative subject for the eye. As can also be seen, we dealt with potential drainage issues in such a trapped little scenario by making a sort of French Drain around the base of all the rock walls and connected to a pipe which we ran under the walls and the soil to the rear of the property, where it “daylights” and drains.

He placed statues around appropriately, for example The Pieta by the “Tomb”. It is a delightful area, rather serious, very quiet. The privacy was achieved immediately, simply by the depth of the structure. As plants develop, it will only increase the sense of isolation and privacy. It is a place of repose and meditation, an interesting project for us, and the client was delighted with the overall result.


This shot above the “Little Lourdes” goes across the top of our little Garden Grotto towards the front yard and the driveway and street. The trees at the top I arranged to be a grove of ornamental cherries (“Shirotae”) which make a spectacular Springtime look. Inasmuch as this was taken soon after completing the project, their growth is not as visible or rewarding as the current look offers, 4 years later. The branches are all nearly touching now and the blooms tend to the spectacular. There are abundant perennials planted throughout the trees near the edges of the upraised planter walls as well. One of our grasses is visible in the foreground.

We placed a meandering band of lawn, from the driveway itself, connecting generally with this aspect. Naturally, the Garden Grotto will not be seen from there, which was the initial purpose of this little sunken hideaway in the first place.



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Here are some looks at this project from other angles, beginning with the actual construction of it itself:


We spent literal weeks building walls at this home. For the grotto itself, we actually went with a more primitive look than with other rock walls. I was happy with less-than-perfect, the truth was. I felt it somehow reflected the hoped-for era better……..more like a Pre-Romanesque look.


He got plenty of bells and whistles with this project, make no mistake. The Grotto was but one element of one of the more complex projects I ever worked on. Here are a few:

You got – for instance – your average gigantic tumbled brick paver rear patio:

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And who could forget your very individual and rather unique Infinity Edge water feature at the end of this big old patio?


It was unique.

4 thoughts on “Re-Visiting A Garden Grotto

  1. Thanks, it was pretty unique. The rocks, oddly enough, gave an almost intimidating solidity. It was almost like being in a cave, believe it or not, even as open as it all is. As the plants have developed, it made for an even more entrancing and enclosing feel.

    You have an absolutely terrific web site. Picture rich, me likey!

  2. Very nice blog and interesting landscaping projects.
    I will have to check back to see what new projects you are up to. Good job.

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