A few general thoughts to begin with. Every home I owned I have re-landscaped, in both large scale and small scale, doing it mostly on weekends. Most of the people helping me have been Mexican laborers; I was the Gringo with a shovel, a label that touched my heart. Loved working with these guys, there is no better way to bond with other men in a primitive way than to move a big rock together; and I now have a pretty good handle on all the cuss words and expressions in Spanish! I'd like to share in pictures some of that deep satisfaction which comes with changing the shape, the colors and the smell of the land around a home. For me, it's painting with live flowers and sculpting with live trees, my only forays into artistic activity.
This is where the kids grew up. The apple tree they used to climb, the beautiful yard and view of the western hills of Danville are the best memories. The home was on a cul-de-sac, which meant quiet and no traffic. The soil was terrible, hard clay that took days to break up and enrich. I tore down everything, except the largest trees. Subsequent owners were told it was an Italian artist who designed the landscaping, a very heartwarming compliment when I learned of it. I planted a Chinese scholar tree, a Jacaranda, two camphor trees, fruit trees on the downslope, many Japanese maples, many bushes, roses. There were 4 raised beds in the middle of the yard where I grew vegetables. The 9-inch rounded brick and the retaining walls in the front were copied by other homes in the neighborhood, and you can see them often now. Terraced the entire yard, although I do not have pictures to show that.
... at our home in Woodinville, Washington
The Puget Sound area is one of the most beautiful places in the world. And the 3 months of summer are absolute bliss. Our house was majestically framed by very tall trees: Douglas firs, blue spruces, redwoods, Big Leaf maples. The whole idea was to take advantage of the trees and the fact that the house was sitting upwards from the street level. The houses in the Seattle area are built much sturdier than the ones in the San Francisco Bay area. The landscaping here was much more involved and I took time from work to complete it. I had very heavy machinery clean up the right side and the back side and remove all the dead trees. I had many tons of rocks delivered, my neighbors thought I lost my mind. I planted a few Japanese maples and blue spruces, but most of the plants were rhododendrons, azaleas, roses, English ivy and an assorted variety of low lying spreaders. I absolutely love rocks, the bigger the better! I think my ancestors must have been Japanese! I put grass over most of the yard, the kids could play soccer there. And also put in a basketball court. In the Seattle area, you are allowed to make outdoor fires more often, because of the high humidity and periodic rain. And we did.
... at our vacation home in Aptos, California
When a home is by the ocean, the ocean is everything. The presence of the ocean humbles all objects around it. We went to the Seascape resort many times, fell in love with the bluffs and the quiet long beach before deciding to purchase a home there. The best way to landscape by the ocean is to keep it simple. There was a lot of overgrown vegetation and mold around the house, I removed all of it down to bare ground and added two side gates. Used colorful thick Irish flagstone for the walkway and the inside courtyard. Used large pebbles embedded in concrete for the driveway and the sides. Planted boxwood, privet, Japanese maples, and roses in the back. The home had a relaxed structure and a beautiful view of the ocean coming over the green of an agricultural area. The farming was completely organic and the crops were mainly lettuce, cauliflower, and cabbage. The cauliflower tasted especially good when picked fresh. That home touched my soul more than any other. I have always been happier in smaller places with long distance natural views. To this day I visit Seascape at least once a month, walking miles of beach. There are no two days at the ocean that are alike, there will always be a surprise.
... back in Danville, California
This is a home we bought for my (now ex) in-laws originally. Although we had moved to Seattle, I kept my job in San Francisco, and commuted via Southwest usually Tuesday through Thursday. A confluence of circumstances led to our return to the Bay Area: my job, the youngest was about to finish high school, and my ex mother-in-law deciding to move to Florida. This was a more difficult home to remodel. Gutted everything, the inside and the outside. Took time off from work and slept in a tent in the back yard while working on the house (with plenty of hired help of course). The family was still up in Seattle.