Landscaping – a look back and a look ahead…

As noted on the “Recent News” page, we’ve been working on plans for a landscaping project with Ten Eyck Landscape Architects for almost a year. Last week, I described two key elements in the post talking about the residential architecture tour, but the scope of this project is broader, covering irrigation, lighting, extensive pruning, plant removal, plant installation and, of course, these two elements. Today I’ll take a brief trip back in time, courtesy of several photographs from Bill and Carol Byrne, share a couple of photographs of the east stairway, then talk about what’s next.

First, two views of the site as it appeared in March of 1998. The first photograph, (below), was taken from the roof, looking northeast. The native plant material is being randomly placed to replicate pattern found in the undisturbed area to the west. A handful of trees were carefully placed later, once the irrigation was installed. Rock material, decaying saguaro spines and several native cacti species were also reintroduced.

In the second photograph, (below), again taken from the roof, looking southwest, you’ll see the same random placement being executed. Specific specimens were re-introduced in specific spots, (note the red circles on the dirt in the foreground), to replicate what was there before the site was disturbed to accommodate the septic system. I’ll be sure to take photographs from the exact same positions to illustrate the seamless transition from disturbed to undisturbed areas on the site as it exists today, as well as a subsequent series of photographs after the project is completely wrapped up.

The next photograph, (below), is of the driveway being poured, as seen from near the corner of the CMU wall bracketing the southern and eastern edges of the auto court. Notice the two gray PVC sleeves: one forms an arc from the south CMU wall over over to the planting bed where the mesquite tree is, just to the right of the walkway leading to the front door, the other sleeve angles from left to right across the entire photograph, terminating in the planting bed just to the right of the garage doors. These sleeves, (and many other sleeves), will enable the team installing the irrigation and lighting systems to get either water or power to each of the planting beds without having to bore new holes beneath the concrete or cut the concrete itself!

This photograph, (below), was recently taken by Martha. In fact, she took it last Saturday, the day before the tour, shortly after I’d finished power washing the auto court, (yes, obsessive, I know, I know), which is why you can see color variation in the concrete – it’s still damp. The enlarged image, (you can enlarge by clicking on it), shows three darkened patches of soil, the first in the foreground, immediately below the mesquite tree, the second off to the left where the east CMU wall ends and soil spills out beneath the boulders stacked between the slope and the wall and the third in the center of the south wall, just to the right of the drain where there is a semi-circular cut-out to accommodate a tree, (likely an old craggy Ironwood, but we’ve got some footing clearance constraints to worry about, so we’ll see what ends up there).

This landscaping project is an exercise in subtraction and then very selective addition. We have the benefit of leveraging Todd Briggs’ practiced eye to help us identify where plant material needed to be removed vs. where careful pruning or deliberate placement would enhance the overall effect. Martha’s auto court photograph is supposed to underscore this notion: the idea that while deliberate removal is, in some cases, rather severe since it leaves the site in a raw, almost sterile, state, it is also a very important – and informative – stage too. This raw, almost sterile, state often helps clarify one’s thinking about what needs to be there vs. what doesn’t. This is a crucial point, particularly as we think about the east stairway…

This is the first photograph we’ve published of the new stairway, (above), in its entirety, taken looking west, just after sunrise, about a week ago. I think it’s a great example of stripping something to its barest essence, then adding back just enough to make it “fit”. The “adding back” here hasn’t happened yet – that’s part of the next phase involving the stairway.

Here’s what the dry stack stone stairway looked like 3 weeks ago, (below):

As I mentioned in last week’s post, we wanted to incorporate a suggestion of the randomness achieved with the dry stack stone stairs, but improve the functionality of this stairway as well.

and what happened to all that rock? Martha captured the results of the sorting which took place this past Friday, (below):

Todd Briggs will hand select the pieces from the pile on the right to be grouped on the treads, with some of the larger pieces being partially sunk into the granite – it’s as if the stairs are the sloping floor of a desert ‘slot’ canyon, with the embedded rock representing chunks of the canyon wall that have worked their way loose and fallen down onto the floor of the canyon. Small plants poking out from between the rocks and draping over the corten steel risers will complete this mosaic, but not until the project is almost done, as irrigation needs to be installed after the rocks are placed on each tread.

Martha will be accompanying members of the team from Ten Eyck on a “tree hunt” of sorts…

The objective is to find the perfect – which means an entirely imperfect – Ironwood specimen to anchor the south wall of the auto court, (barring footing clearance issues), and the north wall of the west patio.

We’ve received a number of photographs of potential candidates from Todd – I found this one, (below), particularly intriguing. Old, craggy, somewhat asymmetric, survivors are what I’m hoping for, so I can’t wait to see what Todd and Martha end up selecting!

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