When a young Cal Poly couple, Chris and Heather Foudy, purchased a home in the historic area of Carmel Valley near the Carmel River in 2013, they knew they had their work cut out for them.
The yard had been untended for years, and was overgrown and unusable. A cement circle drive was cracked and broken from roots of trees and years of use. The rest of the yard was dirt, littered with marginal outbuildings, tools and basic “stuff.” With two small daughters, the Foudys needed a functional family yard with areas for barefoot summer play and outdoor living.
The front yard had the most usable land, being the wide “crust” side of the pie-shaped lot. It ran for 150 feet along a curve in the narrow oak-canopied street. The backyard was small, the point of the pie creating a triangular space. The Foudys realized they needed to make the front yard their “back yard” and that would only be possible with a gated fence along the street.
The task of landscaping and fencing an entire yard was new to them, so I (Heather’s mom), offered to help draw up a plan for a contemporary, low-water yard. My idea was to use as much attractive hardscape as possible to create several outdoor seating and play areas, find an aesthetically pleasing fence and gate and fill beds with drought-tolerant trees, plants and soft grasses.
The first step was to completely scrape the existing yard, front and back. Old sheds attached to the house were removed; oversize trees, shrubs and random plants were taken out. Then we removed all of the old cement in the driveway.
Once everything was out, the house could be seen and the new yard could be visualized. Charcoal-colored pavers that allowed water drainage were chosen for patios and walkways around the exterior, unifying and connecting the front and back yards. Local contractors were hired for the various types of work: paving, pavers, cement, irrigation, planting, fence and custom gate construction.
The big question was, “What about a lawn?”
Carmel Valley was already considering water restrictions and higher prices, so the Foudys knew their landscaping had to incorporate low water use. They soon realized that a regular lawn was out of the question. I researched artificial turf in retail stores and online. After getting several samples and price quotes from all sources, the Foudys decided on higher-end artificial turf from “Artificial Turf Supply” out of Dalton, Ga.
The next step was to choose the trees and plants that would be able to survive on their own in three years. The growing grounds for the Drought Resistant Nursery of Monterey are in Carmel Valley, enabling us to stroll through 10 acres of plant possibilities. The nursery began in 1985 during a previous drought and specializes in plants for Monterey, Carmel and Salinas. Their plant zones 15 and 16 are the same as much of San Luis Obispo and the South County, making their 12-page double column lists an excellent resource for our area.
For trees, I recommended Eucalyptus nicholii “Willow Peppermint” for its airy small leaves, fast growth and low water needs. A Tristania Laurina Elegans was chosen for its small size, slow growth and yellow flowers, the Arbutus unedo for its dainty pink bells. The Podocarpus gracilior was handpicked by my daughter Heather as the feature tree in front of the house.
In the open planting areas, she wanted a mix of lavenders, penstemon and grasses resembling a mountain meadow. Four lavenders were found for variety in height, texture and bloom; English, Fred Boutin, Provence and Spanish.
The tall Muhlenbergia rigens “Deer Grass” was placed as a background in front of the fence, with silver-green Miscanthus “Maiden Grass,” Carex tes tacea “Orange New Zealand Hedge” and Nassella tenuissima “Mexican Feather Grass” placed in groupings of three throughout the meadow. The hardy Salvia leucantha “Mexican bush sage” with its long purple spikes of color provided a bright color spot among the grasses. Several low-water groundcovers were added for texture and interest.
Construction of the new yard took six months, with several trips to county officials to comply with their complicated, slow and restrictive permitting process.
Now that the fenced yard is in its second season, the Foudys are pleased with the beauty and functionality of their new yard. The artificial turf has been especially successful for play, and Chris Foudy was quite happy to get rid of his lawnmower. The small backyard with a water feature under a spreading oak was the setting for a friend’s wedding this winter.