The clients are a family of five with young children and two dogs living on 1.5 rural acres in the hills of Los Gatos, CA. Their desire was to create a safe and fun space for themselves and outdoor entertaining with other families. They requested multiple outdoor rooms for adults and children, all water-wise plantings, and a space that would highlight their amazing views of a nature preserve.

In the backyard, the existing site conditions were typical of a lot purchased with a new remodeled home without landscaping. In other words, we started with an almost blank slate. Grading and drainage had been done by the general contractor which left a natural toe to a downward slope which reached a private gate to the nature preserve trails. The drainage included a dry creek swale that ran the entire length on one side of the property sloping down toward the preserve. The home is situated in a mixed oak woodland and chaparral community with dense clay soils. As a point of reference for you horticulturists reading this, Barrie Coate’s home is just a couple homes over.

As for offsite conditions, the client desired visual privacy from their two neighbors on either side while highlighting the view directly in back of them of the beautiful mixed woodland forest. One neighbor has a huge utility shed that is in poor condition, where we planted a row of native privacy screening plants such as Toyon, Pacific Wax Myrtle and the hybrid, Leyland Cypress.

Working as the principal designer with a design/build company allowed me the opportunity to use my knowledge of not only hardscape, plants, rainwater harvesting, and lighting but also construction details. Since the design/build company was providing both the installation and the ongoing maintenance, I knew the clients and my design intention were in good hands.

Given my experience working with a leading rainwater harvesting architect, I knew that the first consideration to the design had to be irrigation. The clients were already on well water (25,000 gallons with 1 dedicated tank for fire protection) so I suggested a rainwater and grey water system to meet their landscaping water budget needs. At the client’s request, I designed a 2,400 SF lawn to accommodate a soccer, baseball, croquet and possible future pool area. With some research and training, the landscape contractor became the first Northern Californian certified installer for a new system of “passive rainwater harvesting”. Essentially, the sod is laid over sand and then over the water collection system which has perforated holes facing up. The lawn is irrigated with rainwater through a wicking process similar to osmosis. The grey water was used through drip irrigation for the remainder of the decorative planter beds.

Outdoors rooms were created for the children including: a play structure with playhouse, a small rock jumping planter bed, a lawn play area and pathways for exploration leading from room to room. For adults and entertaining I designed a full kitchen with arbor, a steam room and a meandering trail that leads to the nature preserve. This view was left unimpeded and some trees were removed to accentuate the forest view. For the dogs, a pet run at the side yard was designed and a perimeter fencing for the backyard for safety.

The planting concept was inspired by California natives around the perimeter planting to match the existing site and focal Mediterranean plants with high color and texture closest to the center of the yard.

Some elements that were designed but not implemented yet include: an edible garden, dwarf tree orchard, greenhouse, vineyard, water feature, custom iron automatic gate, and compost bins. These items are being installed in the front yard in phases. Originally the play structure in the backyard was a custom design that took advantage of the slope with two structures and a connecting bridge. Due to value engineering (AKA budget cuts), this was the only part of the backyard design that the clients choose to do prefabricated instead of custom.