Lazar Landscape clients Patricia and Peter S. have been in their Elmwood, Berkeley home for more than 40 years. They’ve certainly seen a lot of changes in the neighborhood, and in their own home, over that period of time. They have raised 3 children, and are now proud grandparents. For anyone that hasn’t explored it, Elmwood is a dynamic, friendly neighborhood. Every time I was on their property working with them on their recent landscaping project, whether I was taking photos, measurements, or going over plans, a neighbor would stroll by and stop to chat. Some of their neighbors have lived there for many years as well (though few as long as Pat & Peter), and there is a true sense of community, even with the increased development of the nearby commercial district and the proximity to the Cal Berkeley campus.
In 40+ years, a house and property are bound to go through some changes. In 1995, an enormous Fir tree in the back corner of the property had to be removed due to disease- a difficult decision for the clients, as the tree had been in place longer than the house itself. (It’s brother survives and is a dramatic feature in the tiny front garden). Up to that point, the backyard consisted mostly of a small deck off of the house, and a lawn, which was suffering under the deep shade of the tree. As their children were grown, the need to keep a lawn had disappeared, and even though they were distraught at having to remove the Fir, they saw it as an opportunity to rethink the space to suit their changing needs. Pat and Peter hired Lazar Landscape to design a lower maintenance landscape where they could entertain guests and use the garden as an extension of their home year round.
Lazar installed a large, dry set brick patio, which jogs around the deck to the driveway, giving the small yard a more expansive feel. New wraparound deck stairs, boulders, stepping stones, a built-in bench, and planting beds create a charming space that has been a wonderful addition to a quintessentially ‘Berkeley’ brown-shingled home. It won a California Landscape Contractor’s Association award for Best Small Residential Installation, and was featured on a Lazar Landscape postcard!
Over the years, Pat & Peter have gotten enormous pleasure out of their garden. The hardscaped areas of brick and flagstone have held up beautifully. Plants designed to provide screening after the Fir tree was removed have flourished, creating increased privacy in the garden. Personally, I appreciate how fully these clients understand that landscapes change over time. They have truly enjoyed watching those changes. For example, the amount of sunlight in the garden has been reduced remarkably as the larger trees and shrubs have matured, so some of the underplantings have needed to be updated over the years- but until recently, that was about it. The garden has proved to be low maintenance, especially compared to the water-needy lawn which couldn’t be used during the rainy season, but still needed to be fertilized, seeded and regularly mowed.
Then last year, the client’s needs changed again. Having undergone countless back surgeries and dealing with compromised mobility, Peter had to make significant changes to the home if he and Pat intend to stay there, which they do. Pat & Peter had to rethink the entry points to the home, both front and back. The entire front driveway, stairs, and path to the backyard were removed, as was a large planting area in the front which necessitated the removal of a Birch tree, planted by Peter- yet another difficult decision concerning tree removal. The space was graded and repaved, and reorientation of a retaining wall on their neighbor’s side of the driveway created a larger planting area for their neighbor. The deck in the backyard was rebuilt in a similar style, but with the addition of a lift, new benches, and adjusted railings. Involved in that project were Mark Feinman and Surane Gunasekara of Complete Construction, who specialize in disability and accessibility construction; Andre Ptaszynskian, an architect and friend, and of course Pat and Peter. All of them had the common goal of increasing accessibility, but to do so without compromising the overall aesthetic of their Craftsman home.
Here’s where I come in. I wasn’t a Lazar employee in 1997 when their first landscape project was completed, but I have seen photographs of the garden and heard tidbits about the project since I joined the Lazar team more than 7 years ago. Once the accessibility project had been completed, we were thrilled to hear from these clients again, as they hired Lazar to help with planting, irrigation, and rebuilding of a native stone drystack wall in the front yard. The changing grade in front meant a taller wall, and we were able to mix in moss rock to create a seamless appearance between the new wall materials and the old stone, which are is longer quarried in the Bay Area.
We worked with the client and their next door neighbor to introduce a planting scheme that links the two properties on either side of the new concrete path. The site is mostly shady, especially this time of year, so woodland plantings are ideal. They are also appropriate with the Craftsman style of the home. We reused Bamboo, Orchids and Irises that had spent years in containers and become root bound, and replanted a large Winter Daphne that had always been a focal point in the garden, but had to be relocated after the landscape renovation. We added a new Mayten, Fringeflower, Liriope and Coral Bells, repeating some of the successful plants that were part of the 1997 project.
We are lucky at Lazar to have a lot of repeat clients. Some chose not to construct their whole project the first time, others want to add a few bells and whistles to a mostly completed garden, or take care of that last problem area that’s been bugging them. In a few cases, our clients have completed a construction project, and then moved, getting to start all over again! But rarely has this much time gone by between phases of a project, and seeing this kind of garden evolution has been a true learning experience. It’s been a pleasure to be able to go back into a garden 16 years after it was first installed, and thanks to Pat & Peter’s meticulous records, see the original photos and plans- both before and after the first landscape project. This second phase of the project was small compared to the first. Most of our clients do one sizeable project and can make limited adjustments over the years to keep the garden thriving. But sometimes life throws you a curveball. Pat & Peter’s willingness to roll with the punches and adapt has allowed them to stay comfortably in their beautiful home. I’m honored we got to be a part of their garden renovation. Again!