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A R C H I V E D...S U N D A Y...M O N T H L Y S 


Last month, I wrote that I lived in a Dark Sky Community. On May 10th, the photos of the Aurora Borealis below were taken in our neighborhood. I think our dark sky helped to capture this atmospheric event.


M Y ..S E C O N D .. O F.. - ..A T.. L E A S T.. F I V E.. -..

D E S I G N.. C H A L L E N G E S


Of the four homes I've owned, including a condo in Marin with certain HOA restrictions, my current one has been the most difficult to cosmetically improve. This is mostly due to the fact that I no longer have my trusted construction crew at my fingertips nor do I have my trade accounts with access to product that can't be found in retail stores. (The latter would be okay if our retail stores here carried things that I liked.)


If you have ever felt stymied like me, maybe my solutions will give you some ideas.

In Sunday Monthly Issue 2, I described my first challenge - updating my guest bath. I had big ideas. Beautiful ideas. But after running into multiple obstacles, I settled on Plan B. When it came to my backyard, I settled again. This time, because of other factors:


1: The plants I wanted don't survive in the snow.

2: Black bark (something I've always used to add spectacular contrast) was also out of the ....question - no match for a snowblower.

3: Our fire-wise and water-wise community guidelines further limited my choices. (However,

my appreciation for their intentions outweighed my frustration.)

Below: My open-rail fence looks onto the back of neighbors' homes and the adjacent curvy strip was a mix of random, unkempt bushes and jaggedy rock (I call it "angry rock.)


My immediate thought was to block my neighbors' homes with a tall hedge, replace the dreary deciduous plants with evergreens, and most definitely, get rid of the rock. If it was small, smooth river rock or pea gravel, I would have kept it. Or, if I was at sea level, this would be the perfect spot for black bark.


As I did with client projects in the past, I first removed what I knew I didn't want. This helped clear the space to see what remained. In my case, I kept two Mugo Pines (that don't grow too tall) located at each end of the fence. Also kept arborvitae hedge bushes - even though they were unevenly spaced - which wreaked havoc on my stubborn, symmetry-freak sensibilities.


Solution (1)


I added six more arborvitae (and a lot of fertilizer to help them grow as big as those beside them.) By the time they fill out, their spacing will be even enough to stop my complaining.


(2) Replaced the rock with decomposed granite - now the curvy strip looks like a sandy beach.


(3) Scattered a few euonymus evergreens 

(4) Added solar lighting.


My house sits on a fifth of an acre - more than I want - but the sides and back are mostly hardscape, bushes, or short trees. Now that the hedge and evergreens are planted, maintenance will be minimal.


Can I get an "AMEN!"

While I was thrilled with the low-maintenance concept, I was unhappy with the lack of variety and color. Potted plants were the logical next step but I learned that clay pots crack with exposure to the snow. I assumed the same with glazed pots.

This "before" picture shows the mass of concrete.

What to do?!


I needed height, color - and SOFTNESS.


But how could I do that without pots or jackhammering holes in the concrete for soil and plants?


Solution (5) After scouring the internet, I ordered six containers with attached trellises. Plastic that has weathered two winters so far. I planted snowproof and maintenance-free boxwood and clematis in each container and snuggled in St. Francis and a water fountain. So now, all I have to do is annually replenish the hanging baskets... AND ...


sit back and enjoy the views.


Garden Design Tips:


The principles of landscape and garden design are similar to those of interior design. Color, texture, lighting, scale, proportion, function, budget, and style are factors in both. After considering these, one next typically chooses a focal point.

I chose the mountain range in the distance. (Duh...!) 

Color was wide open and I followed a basic concept - using one overall color with one or two (or no) accent colors makes the most impact. I've always planted white gardens, aka "moonlit gardens" in the past, with no accent, but I needed color this time because white would get lost in such a vast and open space.


I chose purple as the main color. I love a purple-green combo. Some pink flowers tend to fade in the outdoor light and yellow flowers are pretty except that I don't like a yellow-green combo. Reminds me of the Oakland As. Boo... Go Giants. I chose red and orange as accents.


Given my limitations and compromises, I'm happy with the results. It's a quiet space except for the welcoming cooing of quails and mourning doves, flowing water from my fountain, and the soothing passing of the occasional train in the distance.


B R I E F ..H I S T O R Y.. O F ..A R C H I T E C T U R E.. &.. D E S I G N 


Years ago, I wrote a 13-part series for the Napa Valley Register skimming the history of architecture and design. I began in 3000 BC Egypt and ended with Mid-century Modernism.


I thought I'd skim even further and present one part in each upcoming Sunday Monthly. If you’d like to know the difference between a curule chair and a Barcelona chair, Bas Relief and Bauhaus, Chippendale and Frank Lloyd Wright, Queen Anne and King Louis, or want to know how Columbus’ discovery of America contributed to the end of the Italian Renaissance, this series is for you.


No worries, if it's not for you, I'll still be including other topics.

From early times, art, design, and architecture reflected a people’s culture and circumstances. Public works, especially religious buildings and forums, were built with both function and aesthetics in mind. They served as showcases of building techniques, engineering, stone and metal works, painting, stained glass, and mosaics. They were intertwined with historical movements like the Renaissance, Arts and Crafts, and Modernism. Geography also played a crucial role - Egypt is the perfect example.




Egypt led an isolated existence for a very long time with deserts to the east and west, mountains to the south, and the Mediterranean Sea to the north. But its Nile River served many purposes. Its northerly flow provided a means of transportation, its fertility provided food, and its clay provided a means to record history by depicting it on pottery.


Because ancient Egyptians were a nomadic people, they designed "movable" furniture such as the curule chair. Whether backless or not, the folded base was designed to make it easy to carry to new locations.

The Nile also enabled the shipment of ebony, basalt, granite, limestone, and sandstone from Nubia (Ethiopia). And, Nubia’s rich gold mines led Egypt to produce fine art and structures as well as become a wealthy and powerful force. 

Wood was imported from Lebanon because Egypt's indigenous palm, acacia, and papyrus were too soft to construct buildings. The Nile’s plentiful mud was made into kiln-dried building bricks. But because most of the brick has been destroyed over time, our understanding of Egyptian architecture comes from its stone pyramids, temples, and tombs.


The Egyptians developed post and lintel construction which relies on the strength and balance of the structure itself, square and plumb.


This method of construction consequently resulted in balanced, symmetrical, and serene architecture. These characteristics would later be embraced by the Greeks who would build the Parthenon, one of the most classical and proportioned edifices in history.


Archived columns about garden design below:


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