Fairy Yardmother

by Kathy Oberg, Landscape Designer, Los Angeles, CA.

Thank you for visiting my site. I enjoy bringing you pictures of gardens, plants, and ideas from sunny Southern California.
As a designer, I love using plants to create drama, provide color and form, and compliment the architectural style of any home or business.
I strive to provide a buffer from sun, street, and neighbors while still fostering connections.
As I examine landscapes for my Blog, I am even more aware how important the Design process is in creating a truly wonderful space.
Inspired plant choices and site layout can make any space a success even within a small budget.
I can help you makeover your patio, paths, planting areas, or entire property. I will consult with you, choose a look you love, and compose a plan and plant list to update your landscape as quickly and economically as possible, re-using what you already have wherever we can.

Friday, April 4, 2014

From Front Lawn to Low-Maintenance Front Yard

On this project we improved the flow from the driveway and sidewalk to the front door of the home, planted some wonderful drought-tolerant plants, and helped the homeowner get her lawn-removal rebate.

BEFORE: Front Lawn with no path to front door

AFTER: Pathway to Door and New Plantings

AFTER: Detail, Carex Pansa in center of DG circle

Monday, March 17, 2014

Eagle Rock Patio

This project entailed a few Design challenges. The house was recently purchased. In the client's only private yard space he had a small patio that was easily accessible from the bedroom (door on left under overhang), but not from the kitchen nor any other room of the house.

BEFORE: Needed Better Access from Kitchen

Turf was planted on a sloping area adjacent to the existing patio when the house was put on the market. But this lawn was not practical. The shady area under a Pepper Tree was often muddy and difficult to traverse.

We removed the lawn, leveled the slope, and used broken concrete pieces to extend the living area. The client benefited from a turf removal rebate.

AFTER: Extended Patio, Better Access from Kitchen

BEFORE: Rarely used space

AFTER: Extended Patio, Retaining Wall and Bench

BEFORE: From Kitchen to Patio, Muddy Slope
AFTER: Steps from Kitchen to Patio

AFTER: Access improved for the whole space
AFTER: Another Angle
Now the client is spending every weekend in his new yard! The retaining wall allowed us to make best use of the upper space, creating a level extension of the patio, and greatly improving the flow between the upper and lower levels of the yard, and the house.

I chose many tough, shade-tolerant plants for this project because of the tree cover. We also removed very old Cypress, and planted a new hedge all along the property line. Within a couple years, the plant material will be lush and wonderfully soft, with some sculptural elements like the Agave, Chondropetalum, and Aeonium.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Franklin Hills (Silverlake/Los Feliz area) Backyard

This was a fun transformation!

The clients wanted a small patch of lawn so they could walk outside their bedroom bare foot. They love succulents and grasses.

The biggest challenge was the existing yard's long rectangular shape. It felt small and closed in, an afterthought running along the large expanse of concrete driveway.

I knew we had to change the shape, so I suggested cutting the driveway at a diagonal. This made it possible to enlarge the lawn area, and create a pleasing planting around the existing tree. We continued one of our diagonal lines into the patio area, and not only is it striking, it really changes the flow and feel of this space.

The block wall was cold and uninviting. We painted it to match the house trim, and placed drought-tolerant, easy-care succulents, grasses, and shrubs all along it. Within a year, the wall and fence will be softened by foliage.

After: New Sod, Patio, Painted Wall, Immature Plants

Before: Runway Shape, Lawn too Small, No Plants


After: Extended Lawn on a Diagonal

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Hancock Park Front Yard

We accomplished some big changes and met our goals on this project within a relatively small budget. The most pressing task was to improve access to the front door. The driveway and sloped lawn were the only ways to get from the sidewalk to the front porch. Squeezing by cars in a driveway or walking on the edge of a grassy slope is not comfortable for anyone, but especially not easy for an older person or someone with a stroller. The flow to the front door was further complicated by an existing boxwood hedge and a small brick pathway 10 feet from the door. In all, we began with an uncomfortable and unwelcoming approach to the house and limited space for the homeowners and guests to exit their cars when parked in the narrow driveway.


AFTER: New Path Extends Driveway

We built a comfortable new path with a short concrete wall covered in a faux stone veneer to keep us on budget, and capped with flagstone to match the flagstone on the house.
It's difficult to communicate through words and pictures how different the space feels now that one can access the front door so easily from the sidewalk, and exit a parked car with a load of groceries without missing a beat.
Our other goals included: updating the plant material, adding trees to define the space and accentuate the new walkway, and replacing the brick around the front porch, again with an affordable stone veneer and flagstone cap that plays off the original flagstone details on the house.


The plant palette is subdued and focused. We only used eight plant varieties. The client and I worked together quite well. After going through a lot of landscape photos from magazines with her to see what she was drawn to, I decided to use diagonal lines for the pathway and planting areas, and I think it was very successful. I added a little path through the plantings, so one can still easily access the lawn from the front door.
The nicest moment for me was when the client told me that now she is proud of her home, and she could have never accomplished this without me.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Little Spanish Courtyard

This was a little covered patio that needed some updating. Adding foliage, comfortable seating, and a bit of color and playfulness went a long way toward making this an attractive space, where the clients spend a lot more time than they used to.
This is a small property with very little outdoor space to enjoy, so it was important to make this little lanai very comfortable and inviting.

Little Oasis

We cleaned things up and purchased quite a few cheery ceramic containers for plants with lush foliage. We hung a Toucan, and added a few other Talavera pieces to bring in color and whimsy.
Ferns and houseplants thrive in this protected environment, with moderate watering. The client asked that I only use non-poisonous plants, and I was happy to work within those limitations.
We hung a fern from the spiral staircase to stop everyone from bumping their heads, and it has worked wonderfully.

The small, narrow back area was not really usable when we got there. The beautiful old bricks were uneven. The Madagascar Jasmine, which is a wonderful climber and somewhat rare, was all over the place. We re-laid the bricks and trellised the Jasmine. We also removed a few spiny plants, and added a Passion Vine to the house side. We planted some Coleus at ground level for color, a good choice as it is non-toxic.
I suggested the client use this narrow area as a playspace for her toddler. It is a perfect spot for a water table, and the perfect space for little people. I've heard it has gotten a lot of use since we left.

Uneven Brick, Messy Foliage
After: Re-laid Brick and Trellised Plants


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Atwater Village Front Yard

This simple front yard needed some help. Weeds and Bermuda Grass were coming back with a vengeance. We cleared the soil thoroughly, and mulched heavily after planting.
The owners had planted Hop Bushes along the top of their slope for privacy, but they weren't thriving, and they were part of a collection of various tall plants that overwhelmed the space.
We relocated the Hop Bushes to the side, along the neighbor's driveway, to give some privacy, and used Echium at the top of the slope to act as a lower but still significant barrier to the street. We planted the whole front slope with Senecio, to create a carpet of lovely blue grey. And we re-laid the flagstone in a pleasing circle, creating room to sit out front and enjoy this very friendly neighborhood.



Before: Mix of Tall Plants wasn't working

Layered Plantings Work Together

Friday, November 9, 2012

Before and After: Stone Patio/Path

Here are some pictures of a problem area. The yard slopes down to the entrance of this Guest House, and regular watering of the lawn caused this area to be wet or moist most of the time. It was a recipe for muddy shoes and potential foundation problems.
I think we came up with a very elegant solution by building a short stone wall and generous pathway, which makes the area more attractive and more useful, while encouraging water to run down toward the driveway.

Before: Water ran toward foundation

After: Dry, Usable Pathway

Friday, October 26, 2012

Plant Combinations: Achillea and Carex

As I was working on a front yard, softening the front pathway with some plantings along each side, we all fell in love with this simple combination: Red Yarrow and Carex testacea.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Before & After: Child's Fairy Garden

I designed and supervised the installation of a Magical Fairy Garden with lots of flowers, ornamental grasses, shady nooks, and stepping stone pathways earlier this Spring. Here are a few pictures.

We started with a blank slate -- a back area that was composed of recently-weeded dirt, a few trees, and a shed.

The clients' wish list included:
non-toxic, soft billowy plants, lots of flowers, and spaces left open for a sandbox, tee pee, adult seating, and eventually some kind of play structure.

We softened the perimeter fencing with Podocarpus, Pennisetum, and Coleonema. We created rounded planting areas, and used Stachys and Alyssum as edging. I relied on Lavender, Salvia, Coreopsis, Penstemon, and Roses for flowers. We chose a soft, shredded bark mulch to cover the soil.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Dry Creek Bed

If you have a large yard with some changes in elevation, and you want a natural feel, a dry creek bed is a lovely way to give flow and structure to your space.

Oaks or Sycamores, which need a lot of room, are potential trees to surround a dry creek bed. Woodland plants, grasses, sedges, or rush-like plants, and California natives like Ceanothus and Mimulus all help to create a beautiful natural-looking space. Succulents also find a place here. If you have a sitting area from which you can view your creek, you will really enjoy it.

I just designed a dry creek planted with some of my favorite California native plants, including Mimulus, Arctostaphylos and Ceanothus. I also used Chondropetalum tecorum among the boulders, a South African rush-like plant which is drought-tolerant, but looks like it belongs along a creek or stream.

After we removed the lawn, we started placing the boulders.



We sunk the boulders into the earth a few inches, so they look like they belong. We added Mexican River pebbles around and between the river rock boulders, and added plants and mulch. Kids love walking on the rocks! Natives do well planted small, and we had the roots of a mature Sycamore to worry about, so we planted very small plants.


Newly Planted After
Boulder vignette ties in with creek

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Backyard Makeover on a Budget

New Planting

Here are some pictures of a recent project I completed on a tight budget. Plants and trees look small now, and you'll notice there is quite a bit of space between them. Forgoing the use of annuals to fill in, the clients decided they were happy to use smaller plants and wait until these relatively fast-growers fill in. And fill in they will. In person, the garden looks cheerful, fresh and clean.


The plants may look small now, but many like the Lavender and Miscanthus will double or triple in size within the year! Perhaps even by Summer! Starting with small plants saves money and often gives the plants a better start by allowing them to get established in their new home instead of in the container.

I really enjoyed this project because the clients were wonderful to work with, and I was able to use some of my favorite plants including Manzanita, Tagetes, Euphorbia, and Penstemon.

Goals included:
Installing a lawn area for kids.
Surrounding that lawn with perennials and trees to soften a small space defined by large walls.
Improving the sprinkler system, in part by installing separate valves for lawn and planting areas.
Creating a lovely view for the clients while enjoying their covered patio.


Immature After

We chose Geijera, Australian Willows, to help soften the twenty-foot-tall wall of the neighbor's garage, which defined the space. I also asked the clients to paint the wall the same color as their house.
The Willows fit nicely into a modern aesthetic, can be planted near structures, and have soft, weeping foliage. We surrounded them with drought-tolerant plants that give color and will provide lots of foliage.


That stick along the far wall is Cercis Forest Pansy

In the shady area down slope, toward the driveway, we planted thirstier plants around an existing Camellia. The Loropetalum, Heuchera, and Sword Ferns should get extra water from the lawn when we begin watering the planting beds as little as once a week once plants are established.


Much of the water from rain and sprinklers is directed down toward the driveway. We placed Mexican River Pebbles in a shallow trench at the edge of the patio to solve the problem of mud flowing down the driveway during hard rains. First rain, so good!

Detail of Shade Planting