What a Difference a Day Makes

The day after the planting was done.

Don’t get me wrong, this project has been in the works for a long time, but a few days ago, the design was installed. This client did all the work themselves: tear-out, grading, irrigation, soil amendment and planting. He did such a quality job, I told him he could start his own landscape business!

When we first started talking, I just advised them on the walkway. It needed to be as close to 5′ wide as possible (wide enough for two people to walk-up hand in hand) and to leave enough room on the driveway side to plant. Later we moved onto plants and topography. He wanted no turf grass and she wanted flowers.

Ornamental grasses fill a sunken dry stream; a small berm is planted with a lavender crepe myrtle multi-trunk tree; California natives with pale pink flowers, bright yellow day lilies; year-round blooming purple and yellow iris; sweet-smelling Santolina will bloom pale yellow balls and mauve succulents. It will grow in vibrant and beautiful.

20 Years Ago Today….

…we were married. My husband Scot and I were married at the quaint St. Bartholomew’s Church in Belmont Shore by a visiting Irish priest with a heavy brogue; I wore my mom’s wedding dress; my dad sang; the church was full with friends and family and JOY. We honeymooned in romantic Italy.

As I was looking for a picture to add to this post, I found all sorts of memories. At my bridal shower, we had asked for a ‘Recipe for a Happy Marriage’. One of my friend’s mother, whose husband is now afflicted with Alzheimer’s, wrote, “Always be thankful to God for each other”; Scot’s grandmother, who passed away a few years back underlined, “..give a large amount of telling it like it is”; and an aunt, whose been married about 50 years, wrote “Keep a sense of humor”.

Our reception was on a grass lawn of a Long Beach hotel, overlooking the bay. We walked in with the USC Fight song playing and Scot’s mom gave a beautiful toast. Fireworks lit up the sky from the Queen Mary and everyone stopped dancing to look. It was magical.

This Ain’t California

The world I work in repeats words like, “Drought tolerant” and “California friendly” in describing plants. When I see dark green lawns, I cringe because I know the amount of water and fertilizer it takes to pull it off. But last week I was in Sioux Falls, South Dakota visiting family and had to adjust my thoughts.

We stayed at my cousin Steve’s house and I took these pictures walking around the neighborhood. I’ve been here before, but I still find it strange (I admit it) that very few of the houses have property fences. My mom says that was the first thing she had to get used to when she and my dad moved to California. The second thing is the endless green lawns – all mowed weekly. Drought is not a way of life here. In fact, the week before we arrived they had 6″ of rain in one day…in the summer! And, of course, this is all covered in snow in the winter.

As a Southern California landscape designer, I must say, we just can’t pull this off here…not responsibly anyway, but if we could….

This is one backyard.

I took this picture standing in a front yard, looking past the backyard.

My brother overlooking the creek that runs through the neighborhood.

These large Blue Spuce's were everywhere...beautiful.

Keeping Design Integrity

When the plans are done and the contractor is hired, my work is not finished. This is Phase II and I offer my services to make sure the design intent is staying true. I’m using a recent build example to make my point.

Keeping the design true

The contractor had built the small raised planting beds in the correct place, but they lacked the nuances shown in the drawing. This particular design has no straight edges and none of the ‘shapes’ are quite expected. When the builder created these planters, they were perfectly even. That just blew up in the face of this client who wanted nothing typical. The client called me early one morning and said, It doesn’t look right. I called the contractor and we met there in about an hours time, with the client. Using orange paint, I drew where the edges of the planters needed to be. The walls were taken down and built again. Know that nothing was drastically different, but these subtle changes made all the difference. Now these little walls have style and interest – they are not rubber stamped. This is what is meant by keeping the ‘Integrity of the Design.‘

Wall with stone

I Wanted Everything!!

Yesterday was a day out of the ordinary. I drove into West Hollywood with my friend and interior designer Alisia Moffett of Domani Designs (www.domanidesigns.com) to ‘shop’ at the Pacific Design Center. I’ve been there before with the APLD and at that time we looked at the many outdoor lounges, tables and fabrics, which was super fun. BUT this time I allowed myself to ogle over the amazing interior stuff with a designer who has projects to talk about. Super-duper fun! We spent the most time in a tile store and ….well…since our bathroom needs to be re-vamped completely, I fantasized about how I would use all this amazing and glorious tile, stone, glass, cement…ahhh. How to decide! (I caught a glimpse of how over-whelming a trip to a nursery can be for my clients.) I did get tuned-in to a few new finishes to be used outdoors. Very fresh and for another post.

We lunched at the Design Center on Sashimi and we couldn’t decide if we had a waiter or waitress. Hmmm. So West Hollywood.

An Elegant Outdoor Room


When I first met with Courtney and Michael, they were desperate for a re-do of the back. The space is small, which we couldn’t do anything about, yet creating more living area was a must. The first thing to do is change the perspective: think large European courtyard – not small yard. No turf grass. Instead, a large entertaining area.

Another issue to be addressed was view of the neighbors roofs, telephone poles and wires. Raised planters immediately raise the height of plants and trees. The design of the planters is geometric for style and to have enough space to plant Japanese Maples. The fireplace creates a destination and it is purposely not set in the corner. This key element can be enjoyed as a ‘living room’ conversation with comfy chairs or by moving the dining table near, a perfect back drop for an elegant dinner party.

The pavers are set at a diagonal to give the illusion of more space. In a few years the Japanese maples will create a gorgeous canopy, the Metrosideros ‘Springfire’ will grow tall behind the fireplace where its orange flowers will accent the stone.

It’s a peaceful place to be with music playing from hidden speakers and hummingbirds visiting.

The Making of a Digitwirl Video

It really came out of the blue. An email came across, via Smartypeople.com (an woman’s entrepreneur group I belong to), from Carley Knobloch of Digitwirl.com wondering if there was a gardening expert who would like to be part of a new video for her company. I replied I would, and after her reviewing my website and a conversation, she invited to the filming. Cool. I’ve never done anything like this before.

There was a script, a camera man, and a sound guy. I flubbed quite a few lines….’take 2… take 3″. Now, Carley is a natural and beautiful. “Katie, just say it like you would say it, ” she’d say. Digitwirl is a free site where Carley creates videos explaining technology in an easy to understand way. In our video we reviewed a gadget by Black and Decker. I’ll post the link when it’s up.

My New Green Shoes

My teenage daughter’s response when I asked her what she thought of my new shoes was, and I quote, “Gross”. Well, Miss-Skinny-Jeans, I beg to differ. I think they will be most fabulous with any outfit. Green is neutral. Just look outside. Every plant, tree and shrub has some color of green in it with a miriade of flowers. It’s not brash. It works.

A green that is a spectacular neutral in the garden is chartreuse. It pops whatever it is next to. A drab combo will come alive by throwing chartreuse into the mix. It will make the ordinary look special.

Chartreuse and Tangerine flowers!

Hot pink and Euphorbia!

Ceanothus with chartreuse!

We are not stuck with only black and white shoes! Take it from nature, a little green can pop any color to make it stunning!

Consider your front lawn….

Reimagining the California Lawn

There is a new book coming out called Reimagining the California Lawn that I am just giddy over. I can’t wait to pour over it, be inspired by it and put it into play. It’s not that I don’t understand or appreciate the draw of turf. It does feel good under bare feet on a hot summer day. The problem is I haven’t done that since I was a kid lolly-gagging away the summer. Now I look at those vast green lawns and see ‘water hogs’ and lack of depth and life. Really! When was the last time you saw any activity on anybody’s front lawn. No people, no animals. With a shift in thought, imagine shrubs that hold berries for the native birds or flowers for the butterflies and hummingbirds. Can you see the ornamental grasses swaying in the breeze? There you are sitting in a sturdy teak chair with a soft red cushion, cup of coffee in hand and book on your lap. You can’t help but watch the butterflies and you listen to the speedy wings of the hummingbirds. Serenity. Imagine that!

Woodbury Design

You know how you’re not supposed to have favorites with your kids….and I don’t. (Of course, I may have a least favorite depending on the drama that day.) Well, this project falls under one of my fave’s. I love how it turned out and in my mind I see it ‘all grown-up’. This small backyard is in the new development of Woodbury and our starting point was dirt and a small cement square set by the builder. Now, there is phenomenal flagstone with flecks of gold, blue succulents, giving fruit trees and textural plantings. The grass area is for the kids to play on, but notice who is skipping along the flagstone path.