Mother and daughter Carolyn and Melissa Bilger consulted with the Yard Fairy wanting to create an eco-friendly landscape for their Escondido home.
They had recently combined households in an effort to support each other as they aged, and looked forward to a professionally landscaped yard that would offer them relaxation in a tranquil nature setting. The project was part of their “greening” effort – which already included cork flooring and low-VOC (volatile organic compounds) paints and finishes inside their home.
When they first met with Diane Downey, owner of the Yard Fairy, the Bilgers’ larger-than-average yard in the Eureka Springs development was mostly dirt, with the exception of some builder-installed, low water, slope planting.
They described their vision as a “highly water-efficient yard that would need minimal care.”
“Neither of us are very good at keeping plants alive,” laughed mother Carolyn Bilger, “But we had done lots of research and felt confident that the Yard Fairy would be able to create something pleasing and original that wasn’t your average ‘mow and blow’ yard.” Being from the midwest, they did have a penchant for certain plants, and the Yard Fairy’s challenge was to make the necessary changes to the soil that would allow such vegetation to flourish without too much effort on their part.
“We also were thinking about paths to walk and things that would draw us out there,” explained daughter Melissa. “And we really wanted our cats to be able to enjoy the landscape as well.” Because of the threat of coyotes in this area, their three cats were leash-trained and taken for walks, rather than allowed to roam freely.
The Bilgers had been thinking of maybe adding a cat kennel to the garden at some point, and wanted the cats’ daily explorations of the grounds to be pleasant and stimulating. All of this would be considered when creating the plans for the Bilgers’ newly landscaped yard. But first, some basic water-saving measures had to be taken.
First Steps: The Creative Design Process
The Yard Fairy replaced the traditional sprinkler heads with low water, rotating heads (MP Rotators from Hunter Industries, San Marcos), and then they covered the existing planter areas with wood chip mulch. This cost-effective mini project resulted in considerable water savings and left the planter areas looking attractively ‘finished’. (The plants have benefited from this treatment and become established much more quickly, giving a beautiful Spring show of blooms on the Cistus rock roses).
Meanwhile, The Yard Fairy began the design process with the clients, collecting their wants and needs via interview and questionnaire. They requested paths and walkways to allow for gentle exercise, lots of places to pause and enjoy the view, interesting focal points viewable from the home, flowers to attract wildlife, and fruit trees. They also asked that the Yard Fairy incorporate as many ‘rain water harvesting’ techniques as possible. Armed with this information, and the general agreement on a combination of native Californian plants and compatible Mediterranean selections, The Yard Fairy set about creating the initial drawing for the Bilgers’ new backyard scene.
“Diane’s process was great,” said Melissa of being involved in the creative planning. “We trusted her knowledge of horticulture, the expertise of her team, and her professional design eye to make the best use of our selections and choose the color palate – we just really felt good about implementing the plans after that.”
A Park-Like Work of Art
The Yard Fairy’s resulting design passed the Home Owner Association approval process in short order and installation began in mid-November 2007. Three months later, the yard is described by many visitors as ‘a park like work of art’ with beautiful, open views of both the yard itself and the surrounding hills. The walkways get much use as the Bilgers stroll along with their pets, pausing to notice the fresh blooms and fragrance of the California-friendly plant pallet. The rose cutting garden is under planted with flowering perennials to provide year round color, and by grouping these thirsty plants together, ensure maximum water efficiency.
“It’s like our own park!” said Melissa and Carolyn of the final presentation.
“And the cats couldn’t be happier with the selection of catmint and other, feline-friendly plants, as well as the wildlife they attract – beautiful birds, butterflies…. it really is quite an intoxicating experience for them!”
As was requested, the yard contains many unique elements that work together to create a highly water efficient and low maintenance landscape. Hummingbird-attracting succulents surround a dry stream bed with a pond less water feature at its head. Patio areas and walkways use a combination of interlocking pavers and stabilized decomposed granite (DG), creating room to entertain while allowing rainwater to seep back into the soil. A hidden drip irrigation system delivers water directly to the roots of the plants, which are protected from evaporation by the mulch.
Water Conservation: How Much Will They Save?
The MP rotators that replaced the existing spay heads on the bank help to save approximately 7,000 gallons per year per 1,000 square feet or about 600 gallons per month. The drip irrigation that was used to irrigate the rest of the landscape will likely produce an even greater savings.
The lot size is about 10,000 square feet, of which about half is planting – which represents a water saving of approximately 35,000 gallons per year. To put this into perspective, that’s about as much water as one person in the home uses over a year.
The Bilgers have since submitted photos of their yard for a local Water Conservation Contest and were delighted to have been invited to the City Council’s Earth Day celebration.
Putting on the Finishing Touches
For Melissa, who spends a good portion of her time in her home office, “The Yard Fairy designed a spiral of river rock with a thyme planting as the centerpiece, that I can view from my window while working. It really is a peaceful and meditative scene.” Carolyn had a last-minute idea to bring in some Birds of Paradise, which was also honored.
In a break with convention, the Bilgers’ front ‘lawn’ consists of low growing elfin thyme which, while slow to establish, will eventually fill in to create a much more eco-friendly alternative to sod. “We appreciate the mixture of both mature plants, and young plants that we’ll get to watch grow and fill in over time,” said Carolyn.
The Yard Fairy was also able to incorporate the techniques of passive solar cooling with the use of shade trees and structures. The crape myrtle and African sumac shade trees will mature gradually, while the unusual circular patio cover provides a solid structure for vines to be added later. Wall-mounted pergolas offer passive solar cooling by shading the sunniest windows when the sun is at its highest – during the summer – but allow the sun into the house when it’s needed in the winter.
The Bilger women have been enjoying their first spring in the newly landscaped yard, watching everything bloom and grow before their eyes.
“It’s such an evolution… truly stunning!” said Melissa of the experience. They have received compliments from the home building company and neighborhood residents (some of whom are making plans for their own, water-friendly landscapes). And they recently received an award and special mention for their yard at the Escondido City Hall meeting.
Overall, the two women could not be more pleased with the outcome and plan to spend many happy days basking in the serene atmosphere of their own, water-wise garden, together.
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