Outdoor Projects – Lawn-Free Landscapes

I live in Southern California, and don’t get me wrong- I love the sun, but I am OVER trying to keep my lawn green. We happen to have a HUGE parcel, and I think it’s a terrible waste of resources and time, laboring over lawn. It’s been on ongoing issue for our family – the cost of keeping it watered, and the labor it requires- and we only achieve sub par results. I’ve been itching to have someone design a landscape featuring drought-tolerant plants and shrubs for the front yard and hill. Knowing it’s not in the budget, I’ll have to dream for now. Sunset Magazine must have been thinking the same thing, because they did a Lawn-Free feature this week that was delivered straight to my inbox. Eye candy awaits you. First, let me torture you with my personal struggles.

This is MY “after” photo. I’ve been planting drought tolerant, crappy-soil resistant plants that will grow and hopefully spread….and THIS is MY end result. See what I mean? Pathetic. It’s frustrating beyond words.

Sad. But.True
Sad. But.True
Fugly Front Hill. I won't even bother with the grass.
Fugly Front Hill. I won’t even bother with the grass.

After you stop laughing, we’ll move on to the dream yards.

Here’s a few teaser pics…..

Credit: Sunset.com
Credit: Sunset.com


ChoreFree backyard. Credit: Sunset.com

To see the article, go here….


There are 21 delicious ideas for your yard. I’m in love and inspired by so many of them.

Have you had any landscaping success stories? If you have, please share!

Lackluster Landscape Update

September last year, I asked myself the question, “What does a mid-century modern landscape look like?” (Click here for the original post)

Being that a year has passed and there has been more money spent at Home Depot than I’d like to admit, let’s cut to the chase and talk results.

Before. Fail.
Before. Fail.
After 1 year of planting and watering....
After 1 year of planting and watering….

Um…. Yeah, so not remarkable success on the hill. As it turns out, all it took was water to bring the original ice plant back to life, and I planted some different variations in the bare spots. It’s amazing how ice plant can re-populate after being pretty much scorched to death by the sun. The weeds were also amazing, so we had to throw some cash at mulch. Nothing worse than paying for MULCH.

Landscape After (1 year) 005 Landscape After (1 year) 006 Landscape After (1 year) 007

The flowers and jasmine that you won’t see died. I had visions of jasmine vines growing like weeds, providing us with fine-smelling privacy from our neighbors, but the dying plants mock my best efforts. Maybe that’s why I don’t generally deal with flowers. It’s an “I’ll dump you before you dump me” sort of dynamic. I knew I’d kill them….or the soil would, or the sun would, and it happened. Even after adding Amend to the soil and watering like the dickens, they wilted away almost instantaneously.  I’m leaning towards more drought-tolerant succulents in the future.

"Green Apple" wins the award for "Best Grower in Caca Soil"
“Green Apple” wins the award for “Best Grower in Caca Soil”

I won’t entertain you with stories of my newly installed sprinklers rotating themselves to water my neighbors slope, and me, getting soaked in my pajamas at 6:30 a.m. trying to re-adjust the sprinkler heads. Three.Different.Times. Evil poltergeist sprinkler heads.

I will however, share with you an example of how when not aimed at  your neighbor’s yard, a little water can go a long way.

BEFORE: Favorite plant and ferns
BEFORE: Favorite plant and ferns
AFTER: Busting at the seams with tropical beauty.
AFTER: Bursting at the seams with tropical beauty.


The following section is still a work in progress. Meaning I started the work, but then lost interest in killing myself over the yard.

Before: Remember the ugly shrubs?
Before: Remember the ugly shrubs?


After: The ugly shrubs and I are 2 : 1. I replaced the unlucky guy with this plant. A philomenondenroaoamenopeana.
After: The ugly shrubs and I are 2 : 1. I replaced the unlucky guy with this plant. I think they call it philomenondenroaoamenopea.

Okay, technically, it’s a version of Philodendron (“big leaf” I think) and it’s doing quite well in the shade. I’m hoping it will grow tall and wide enough to disguise the rotting fence. One thing at a time, people.

(If you’re looking for ideas for your own yard, this month’s Sunset Magazine features a special “Water-Wise Design Guide” and offers great ideas for your fall planting.)

The lesson here is mid-century modern landscape means different things to different people, and certainly different plants for different soils. You have to work with what you’ve got. The mid-century modern movement aimed to create a seamless transition from the indoors to out. Nature, whether in the form of tropical or succulent, is to be enjoyed and appreciated. I’m hoping that at some point these beautiful plants will draw my visitors eyes, and butts, outside.




Change of Plans

I wrote recently about my plans to create a mid-century modernesque landscape in my own backyard. I cited my lack of interest in flowers and favor for organization even in nature as a reason to do so. However, I’m rethinking that logic. I’ve been reading the book, “Eames, by Gloria Koenig” in what little spare time I have, and I was taken by the section on the Case Study houses; specifically the ones done for architects and MCM legends Charles and Ray Eames and John Entenza in the Pacific Palisades. The Case Study houses #8 and #9 were “to share a rolling grassy meadow dotted with eucalyptus trees and rich in wildlife that overlooked the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean.” Sounds lovely, right? Well, in the process of building, the Eameses and John Entenza fell in love with that meadow, and subsequently moved the location of the Case Study houses to the hillside in order to “keep the structures more integrated with the landscape.” Ray Eames was quoted saying, “We’d got to love the meadow and the idea of putting a house in the middle of it seemed terrible at the moment. So that’s how it happened.” I admire how important nature was to them, and that the more time they spent observing it, the more essential it became for them to preserve it. Ironically, I’ve experienced the same pull from nature that I’ve been reading about. My preschool-aged son and I spend a lot of time in the backyard together and we have begun to love seeing lizards, red-tailed hawks, hummingbirds, butterflies and even bees. We have a family of owls nesting in our neighbors untrimmed palm tree,  and as a result, we got to pick bones out of an owl pellet found in a plant bed. I remember doing that in science class as a kid and thinking how cool it was. I now find myself making excuses to hit Home Depot, and gravitating towards butterfly and hummingbird-attracting plants when I really went in for lightbulbs. Lantana, Cleveland Sage and California Fuchsia are butterfly and hummingbird-happy plants, drought tolerant, and native to California. With qualities like that, they’re quickly climbing to the top of my planting list. I scarcely think that if I uprooted everything I had in favor of being orderly, that I would get the enjoyment out of the outdoors that I do now. Why not just add native flowers to further enhance the scenery? So if you’re busy planting this October like I am, here are a few ideas should you be in the market for drought tolerant, nature-attracting plants.

California Fuchsia
Cleveland Sage
Silver Bush Lupine
Shrimp Plant – Did you know hummingbirds are attracted to the color red? I had no idea. I just thought hummingbird feeders were all obnoxiously colored that way. Seriously. Shows how much I know. I also had a skateboard as a kid that had the word “awesome” on it. I pronounced it, Ahh-wee-sum for years before being corrected. There you have it.

All of the flowers/plants pictured above are drought tolerant, full sun plants as an fyi. The only exception is the shrimp plant, which needs a bit more moisture – and could be placed in a planter, or in a flower bed that is part sun/part shade.

Happy Planting!

Retro Re-Deco Update

I’ve been so consumed by my thrifty California adventures and new discoveries, that I’ve completely lost sight of the original purpose of this blog! Blame it on ADHD…whatevs…but I’ve circled back. So here’s an update on our home before & after.

The entryway and staircase had ugly matching glass chandeliers. Out with the old, in with the uh…older.

Entry & Stairs Lighting Before. Not sure what you call this style. 90’s Fugly?
Danish modern replacement chandelier. This will make more sense once I get my frame wall going.
The Danish chandelier’s identical twin. This pair were found on Ebay. Made circa 1950’s. It was NOT easy finding affordable twinkie chandies with 12-plus feet of chain. WINNING!
HIIIIIDDDDDEOUSSSSSSS Brass Chandelier that I couldn’t GIVE away. Seriously, this 8-armed bad boy was generously donated after it sat on Craigslist unloved and unwanted for 3 weeks.
Dining Room After: Cloud-like, curvy, creamy and dreamy, this lighting fixture looks almost edible.
I love you, cream puff. I don’t mind at all that you’re starting to show up in yogurt joints. I found you first, mi amor.
I wanted to strike a balance between old and new without too much of a disconnect. I like to think I achieved that with this room.

Outdoors, our yard is getting a makeover too. The landscaping is an ongoing process. Determined to tackle this alone, I’m getting serious guns from shoveling into our granite slopes.  The neighbors probably think I’m bat-crap crazy. “Check this out, Bob! She’s digging to China and cursing at the shrubs again!”

It’s so much easier to hit an estate sale than spend a day performing manual labor. More to that point, our patio recently got some jewelry courtesy of a dirt-cheap find.

Backyard bling. I fully intended on re-covering the seats in teal or turquoise, but that pink is starting to speak to me. “Love me! I’m girly! I match your flowers. POP go my pink seats!”

More before and after’s coming soon!!!!

P.S. In other MCM news, I have opened up shop on Etsy.com. I was so taken by the Etsy community and totally affordable prices that I decided to open a store of my own online. http://www.etsy.com/shop/MidCenturyObsession?ref=search_shop_redirect

Besides, it’s a fun way for me to make a few extra bucks if for nothing else than the thrill of the hunt!

Check it out!

Lackluster Landscape

“What does a mid-century landscape look like?”

That is the question I asked myself when glancing over my back yard today. I actually felt silly when it occurred to me to search on Google and I was bombarded by results. In my defense, I’m still new to the mid-century realm. How was I to know it translated to landscaping? (If by chance you too are looking to clean up your yard in MCM styling, see Houzz.com. It’s an excellent resource for ideas.)

I’ve got the inside on lockdown. It’s nowhere near done, but, I know what I want, I have a vision and I will not rest until it comes to fruition. However, when you step outside, you will notice the huge disconnect between the inside, and my front and back yards. It’s like someone else’s idea of a pretty garden with dainty red and white flowers in the now overgrown flower beds, and big messy trees planted everywhere.  And shrubs.  Ugly, round, nondescript shrubs. Not unlike the excruciatingly dull guy you once dated. ‘Will I keep him around because I have nothing else going on right now…or will I just admit he bores the crap out of me and give him the heave-ho?’ Years later, I am experiencing that same struggle: Mr. Right verses Mr. Right Now (er, shrub)? The other glaringly obvious issue is that my home is located at the bottom of massive naked slopes. When I wake up in the morning, hear the birds chirping and get to feeling proud like I too, am walking on sunshine;  I look into the backyard, and a faint voice interrupts my minds song….”You suck, Brooke. What are you smiling at? Look at us. We’re naked. Have you no shame?”  I won’t even discuss the wood fence that is between our home and our neighbors. It would have fallen down by now except for the big tree it’s leaning on.

The Hills are Naked
The Hiiiillls are alive with the sound of faillllluurrrre

Needless to say, I’m in Home Depot CONSTANTLY.  As new homeowners, we really ought to buy stock. The returns lady knows me by first name. I arrive at Home Depot fully sure of what I need, don’t see it, and desperately start grabbing at the substitute flowers I know will die in a month because they’re only 88 cents! This gal is a sucker for a deal, even if it’s not at all what I came to buy! Emphasis on sucker. I actually bought petunias today….more for the neighbors benefit than my own. Who doesn’t like flowers, right? I should mention I don’t particularly enjoy them. Unless the flowers are very fragrant, or planted en mass in an arboretum, I’m not a fan. I would much prefer those slick clean lines that I’m obsessed with; even outdoors – in the form of perfectly spaced ornamental grasses.  Like a spreading garden pest, my kind of crazy overtakes other areas of life. Nothing goes untouched by the vines of insanity.

Falling Fence
Falling Fence, Ugly Shrub

I just want to know one thing: Where are you when I need you, Ahmad Hassan with Yard Crashers? Why must you forsake me? Can somebody help me please!?!??! Oh, yeah, and I need you to do it for free too…..I’m a do-it-yourself-er, but this is one project I need some serious help with. Until I meet said landscaping legend, here are some ideas I spied online that I think might be do-able later this fall:

Huettl Landscape Architecture seen on landscapingnetwork.com
“Retro Ranch” by
Jeffrey Gordon Smith Landscape Design

A girl can dream, can’t she?