Large Residential Landscape Project – Part 2

We pick up from the prior post reprising this particular home in what I have always  felt is a perfect example of the entirety of a landscape affair, beginning from the initial meeting to the planning, and the budget work through all the various phases of their implementation.

I believe landscape construction processes are typically complicated dances around all this stuff – and not just rocks and dirt – but which also touch the persons involved as well, on both sides of the job. Of course, we can say this about anything one does to construct anything to improve or remedy the problems found in any home, so much so that my exposition relating to landscaping is not uniquely serious or somehow secret in the slightest. In the end, it is what I do and have done for a living and it’s really not more complicated than that. In a very general sense, it’s universal, yet I opt to make it unique because it’s what I know. I allow others to judge its merits as anything other than typing and pictures.

But it can be cool. ūüėČ

So – with the creek pretty much 80% done, we begin running the water to check the electrical and pump systems and to finish all the detail work in the crevasses and work on ‘hiding’ the liner.¬† We also run¬†the water¬†to clear it. The first passes of water collect all the dust and grime from the initial construction phases- all the dust from feet and from spills and from the rocks themselves. Naturally, someone¬† washes off the rocks as well. We’ll then leave it running for a bit, then grab the end of the hose we saw inserted inside at the top for providing the initial flow, aim it onto the slope or some adjoining ‘dry creek’ and basically empty out all the water. We’ll refill it with the automatic fill apparatus we installed and work away elsewhere while it fills up, runs again and then clears itself a further step. We’ll repeat this step more than once, looking for that clear water.

(click on all pictures to enlarge)

Here we can see¬†the water’s¬†still running pretty murky, as we will also see in a lower photo. About this time, generally speaking, we are ready to start planting the plants and running lighting wire for the outdoor lighting system. You can see our ’12-2′ low voltage lighting¬†cable (above) which we ran to a light under that small falls there. Some wires were also sent through the creek, between the rocks and over to the other side for uplighting trees with.

We also began adding the decomposed granite (“D.G.”) which compacts well and which will provide the traffic surfaces for the horseshoe pit, seen below leading off from the upper patio area. We are add “D.G.” to the pathways on the upper hillside which we carved out. We are pretty much at the compacting stage at this juncture. We will pack them, then get them wet and they tend to crust over nicely. In time, they make a perfect bottom.

Drainage Issue: What is a tedious chore is getting the grade just right, making sure rainwater and irrigation water all are directed away from the house to somewhere relevant that can conduct it then disperse it – in this home’s case – out to the front street. That’s a long way and we made small rock-filled creek beds to do this with. These end up being an aesthetic feature when possible, in the end, adding a designed touch to a very functional consideration. In the picture below, in the distance, you can make out a small creek bed we installed for this purpose. Basically, half the lawn and lower section drains directly to there.

Time to start planting! Bear in mind, this is as exciting as it gets for me. I always see the future in what I put in the ground. Frankly, a newly-planted landscape can look pretty barren when just-finished, and especially one this large. I posted a picture below that shows us¬†a look at this landscaping 3 years later. Suffice to say, you won’t believe the change. Yes, it is the same place.

OK, so on with the planting and the Green part of the gig:

It’s looking a bit more orderly out there now, don’t you think?

Hey!¬† Here’s the sod! (below) The sod comes on pallets of about 550 square feet each, with about 60-65 rolls per pallet or so. We lay these suckers one at a time, just like a carpet. While it is an exceedingly reliable “plant”, the grass, since it occupies so much space, is a huge development towards finishing. It makes everyone’s day, honestly. Grass is the one finishing operation that really brings it all together and points the way ‘over the hump’. There is much to be done yet, but there is something “final” about seeing the green grass outside after staring at dust and mud for a month or so.

Here, we are adding the final pieces, getting ready to trim the edges, roll it all down firmly, then give it its first dose of good watering. We will adjust the sprinklers perfectly at this time and set the clock for a test of it. Right now, Hugo is adjusting the radio, a constant need (!) while sodding as everyone must surely know! We had some good dance music going on for much of this, I remember. Yes, some of it was Mexican on demand, but I got my time in with some good R & B, too. Sam and Dave and James Brown can do a lot for motivation!

Here’s a look from above. What a difference a day makes!

The two colors of the grass were merely different crops, cut at different times. I warned them of this possibility and that it meant zero, in the end. Inasmuch as the grass comes essentially fertilized, it takes about two-three days for the green to really start setting in.

Our remaining work is all “finishing” at this stage. I term applying the drip ¬†irrigation to all the plants as “finishing”, although classically, it’s still strictly ¬†‘construction’. While setting up the drip irrigation lines and running the appropriately sized pipes and emitters to the trees and plants we bury the lines, then rake the dirt¬†– in other words, we finish those areas. This project would not need mulching until some future date, owing to the expense – it was one of the ways we budgeted things – and it turned out delightfully. We were able to use a pre-emergent herbicide for the first two years and the weeds just never got any purchase at all. Jeff and Denise were also able to add plants wherever they wanted quite a bit easier than by dealing with a mulch cover.

Here below,¬†Romero is adding the emitters to the “main line”, a 3/4″ drip line that he sends a bit of smaller pipe off of attached to an emitter which regulates the amount of water delivered to the plants roots per hour. The coiled pipe seen in the picture above is this 3/4″ pipe. It goes to every single plant on the property, run off a valve in a timed release.

Drip irrigation is the single greatest achievement in landscape technology in my recent memory. It applies the water exactly where it goes – to the roots – and does not evaporate in the air or cause wasteful watering which is endemic with spray systems. For those who wonder, that’s a Weeping Larch tree beside Romero there, a favorite plant of mine. The Larch is one of only two deciduous conifers in the world. They look amazing in the Spring, when they ‘re-needle’, in a soft green that gets greener. The weeping characteristic I have always found terrific around water features. “Weepers” are a Steve characteristic.

We also did work on the upper paths, naturally, but in every respect relating to finishing, starting with the top –¬†running the irrigation up there and then bringing it around – we were always working our way ‘out’.

Here’s the patio area. The grass is greening up as promised and the line is about to be buried.

Time for the all-important “Road Testing” of the horseshoe pit. The owner, Jeff, was never going to be easy to please, and especially with his Father-in-Law as competition. I gave them a break and didn’t compete with them. They got a break without knowing it, lucky stiffs. I would’a massacred ’em. ¬†ūüėČ

He liked it!  Well, we were just about finished. Please note the scrawny and tiny little plants all set there looking so lonely and forlorn. Then please look at the picture at the very bottom, 3 short years later.

Meanwhile, guess where our next project was!

Here you go, three years later! Different?

Here’s another look at the more mature place:

In the end, I stood next to Denise as¬†I collected¬†the final check and we had a moment to assess everything – the relations, the progress, the push and pull sometimes, all in respectful ways – and we shared one of the best moments I ever had as a contractor. We hugged briefly, and she spoke of all the guys she would miss (It’s an excellent, proud, professional and nice crew)¬†and how the action would be so slow now for her hyped-up young red heads and how they’d miss seeing us. (It did take a full month to do.). I looked at her and I quietly asked: “Denise, do you like it?”


Denise started sobbing. “God, Steve, I l-l-l-ove it!” she said, tearfully. I looked at her and was just awed. I was dumbstruck, I swear. She was telling the truth. We had shared the deepst sort of history and a nice and sincere warmth together in just that moment and not just then, either. I was embarrassed, because I had put a lot into it, myself,¬†and I began tearing up a little myself. Honestly, who wouldn’t??

It was just the best dang thing I ever heard. I’ll cherish that one moment forever. Love you, Denise!

11 thoughts on “Large Residential Landscape Project – Part 2

  1. Wow, long and informative post! I first read the title as “Presidential project” so made me curious to see if you designed Obama’s backyard or if you were talking about some bush laden design :p

  2. Thanks, Annette. LOL, Bush has been great for garden seo’s. Well, Harry Reid lives around there somewhere, so we have a Democratic presence there!

    Funny about the length. I feel like I just “Potlatched” with someone. It just about wore me out.;-)

    I wonder is the ascending order isn’t sort of screwy too. You see the finish before you see the first part. Maybe I should just reaarange them?

  3. It is every bit of that, Camellia. Once you have the design sort of roughed out and drawn, things change rapidly. Sometimes from the homeowner wanting some new twist or item, sometimes because of real events, like discovering some buried boulder under a tree hole, or in the way of the creek. The materials tend to be the biggest impediment to speed. You try and get deliveries on time – ha ha – and then you have to move them around the least amount to still allow you room to work.

    It’s a real dance, especially when you’re getting the 500 yards of materials this project took. You’d think on an acre, you would have lots of room, but you don’t.

  4. What is so great is taking these very raw spaces and with the use of rocks making them seem very natural when mature.
    Very impressive!

  5. Rocks rock! They can define a border, be used to change elevation, even be used because they are pretty or provide a line you want, something different. Kids love rocks, too and they are truly great places to eat lunch. Just watch the dog when you walk away. They need to eat too.

  6. Congratulations for a superb work!

    I had to read part 1 and part 2 and I am convinced that you really did put a lot of yourself into this project. I’m also a contractor from Florida and I was searching for ideas and stumbled here and glad I did. Nice to know there are people who just love the kind of work we do.

    More power!

  7. Thanks, guys. Kaarina, as our Florida contractor probably knows, these thjngs are a matter of organization and plain work. Set a few goals and plan on taking a month or so. Things soon take shape. It’s a weird sort of magic, in the end, as it all comes together.

  8. Thanks, I appreciate that. Bottom line, as you well know, is that the clients were happy. Sometimes that can be quite a chore. On this one, they let me go pretty wild.

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