This project is located in Nicasio in Northern California – a pastoral area near Point Reyes known for its wine and cheese, with miles upon miles of sheep and cows grazing along rolling hills. The climate there has a phenomenological quality – the kind of place where you would see what looks like rain moving in reverse back up from the landscape into the clouds.
The client, Steve and Mary Keith, split their time between New Orleans and their new home in Nicasio. They brought us on to help them redesign and reimagine their half acre outdoor landscape. The existing site was rocky and barren with some thistle, reeds, wild tilia, yarrow and small remnants of native grasses growing across the property. But beyond the barren immediate landscape was a stunning view from the backyard onto a reservoir and surrounding hills.
The design challenge and opportunity for this project was to turn a moderate, rocky ‘nothingness’ of their existing backyard into an idyllic and curated garden-like natural setting. Steve and Mary Keith tasked Terremoto with improving the site plantings and better integrating their property and outdoor amenities with the surrounding landscape. And to create a place for their dogs and future grandchildren to run around in the lower part of the yard.
We developed hand sketches of our initial ideas for the landscape, landing on two concepts for the property. The idea that was ultimately selected and implemented sought to bring the features of the hills in the distance into the immediate site at a human scale. We made a figure-gram of the wider region to identify the patterns found in the topography to inform how we arranged the mound formations on the project site. These curated layered mounds across the site were built from imported soil, which allowed us both to create a bucolic environment and aesthetic while also improving the soil conditions on the property.
Across the site we introduced a larger central stairway connecting the upper part of the property to a wider wilderness open area down below and meandering pathways that would allow them to rearrange tables and seating across the site to create different vistas and experiences.
The overall idea for the planting strategy was to have a color wheel of bloom times – the client wanted things to be blooming throughout as much of the year as possible, making this landscape luscious and evergreen through the Spring, Summer and Fall. In additional to centering native California wildflowers and planting, we also included a nod to Mary Keith’s Texas roots by bringing in lupines like bluebells. We went big on wildflowers for this project creating a floral, grassy and textural garden experience across the site.
We considered the design and placement of all outdoor programming and amenities in terms of their relationship to the surrounding vista, reservoir and landscape. This included moving an outdoor soaking tub from next to the house to out onto a sunken deck so they could be immersed in the landscape, creating a more gracious design for outdoor dining, placing lounge chairs and outdoor seating on the top of a hill overlooking the reservoir, and bringing in raised beds for flowers and herbs.
The project now stitches together layers of curated mounds introduced across the site and a textural native garden meadow woven throughout, all of which seamlessly blends in with the wider Nicasio landscape.
What was once a barren site now is home to a dense and lush landscape full of movement and life – blades of tall grasses and wildflowers rustle and sway in the wind and glimmer in the sun and new buzzing pollinator create a hum.
Within this, programming and seating elements are designed to be hidden when viewed from the house, with built in benches and seating retaining the back of the mounds and with the redwood deck structure and gas burning firepit hidden by surrounding plant growth.
This project has been a beautiful reminder that planting a garden takes a lot of faith – when the plantings were first placed we had to reassure both ourselves and the client that they would grow into a beautiful thick and lush native landscape. Which of course they did.
Landscape Architect: Terremoto (Nadia Alquaddoomi (lead) + Alain Peauroi + Sarah Samynathan (plant layout))
Project location: Nicasio, California
Design year: 2018
Year Built: 2018
Landscape Construction: Manuel Fernandez
Client: Steve and Mary Keith
Photos: Caitlin Atkinson