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.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Before and After: From Lawn to Succulents and More

Here is another lawn conversion that gave this home a significant update. Plants were planted about 4 months ago, so they are just starting to fill in. There will be a lot more flowers as Spring goes on, and the plants will really fill out over the next few years.

Before (Google Maps)

The lawn was patchy and the shrubs were dated.
The client wanted a nice mix of succulents, especially Aloes, with some low-water, flowering perennials.


After Detail

We continued the boulder motif, inspired by a couple large boulders already on site. We brought them out of hiding, and added more. The small boulders help fill in space while the plants are small.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Natural Play Spaces

Young children need places to explore, climb, and interact with nature. Not all playgrounds need expensive play structures to be successful. If you happen to like a more rustic look, and you love the idea of recycling, you can re-use stumps and tree trunks to create a lovely natural play space.

Kids 2 to 5 years old love balancing on short walls, logs or stumps. In this Eagle Rock project, we had to cut down an unsightly tree, but happily, we were able to re-purpose these stumps into a little sitting wall that can also be used as a natural balance beam.

A client was just telling me that he used to play for hours on and around a large boulder in his back yard as a child. It served as a mountain, a ship, an island. Giving kids the opportunity to explore and pretend in natural spaces is so precious these days. Why not do a little bit of it in your own backyard?

Monday, October 6, 2014

Broken Concrete/Urbanite Pathways

Broken Concrete is also known as Urbanite. I love using the material to build pathways and walls. The cement industry produces a lot of Carbon Dioxide. Re-using existing concrete is an environmentally-friendly option for paving needs, and it can look awesome!

This pathway looks a lot like natural stone in person. It is laid permanently in mortar.

Alternatively pathways can be laid in sand or decomposed granite, or broken concrete pavers can be surrounded with pea gravel or larger stones. All of these options create permeable pathways, which are more environmentally friendly. The material will look different depending on how it's installed.

Many people use gravel for pathways, and even though gravel can be very pretty and appropriate for certain situations, it is not kid friendly for scooters and trikes, etc. Here's a recent project where I suggested we replace a gravel pathway and patio with Broken Concrete in Decomposed Granite. Now the children of the house can ride their tricycles along this path.



Broken concrete or any other paving material is usually more successful when installed by professionals. Laying the varied shapes in a pleasant pattern and getting a perfect level on each piece can be quite challenging for the inexperienced person. It also helps to have a pro pick out the broken concrete to make sure it is sound. Not all old concrete is worth re-using.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Whimsical Garden in Pasadena

The moment I met with this client, I was so impressed with her love for plants, her love for her garden and her sense of whimsy! What a fun project!

Working within a large range of plant varieties

We started with the homeowner's attempts to create an interesting border along a stepping stone path. Her concept was there, but she needed help bringing it to life.


The new stone pathway is of a beautiful almost iridescent gray stone called Tumbled Idaho. We helped her get the lawn rebate, planting Ceanothus in the former lawn area.
We trimmed, relocated, and cleaned up many of her existing plants, and added some repetition of new plant selections to give some structure to all the magical variety!


One of the most challenging projects I face is to start with an existing garden that the client wants to keep to some extent. You must work with existing plants, trimming them, possibly relocating them, keeping the spirit of the existing garden, while taking it up a few notches. I find that I must use the limitations of the existing garden to connect with the as yet undeveloped vision that the client has for her yard, and make that vision come to life.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

From Front Lawn to Low-Maintenance Front Yard

On this project, I designed a new pathway to improve the flow from the driveway and sidewalk to the front door of the home. We opened up access to the beautiful front archway for a more direct path to the front door. We 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
Access to the front door through the previously hidden archway makes the property more inviting, brings out the Spanish architecture, and improves access from the sidewalk and driveway. The plant material will fill in over the next 2 to 3 years, giving a lot of privacy from the sidewalk and street.

AFTER: CA Native, Carex Pansa in center of DG circle

We wanted to mix some tough tropicals with ornamental grasses and succulents. It's a fun combination that wouldn't work many places outside of SoCal! As the plants grow in, the homeowner will have a beautiful, yet private view from her front windows, and a nice buffer from the street.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Los Feliz/Franklin Hills Back Yard Makeover

We started with a yard that was divided. One side is a re-purposed driveway that serves as a sunken stone patio. The other side was a large rectangle of struggling lawn with no real connection to the stone patio.

After: Continuation of lower patio

We continued the steps from the lower level to the upper level, matching the existing High Desert stone work. We added River Rock boulders along a new decomposed granite pathway, all helping to create a more cohesive space, and improved flow from the lower and upper areas.

After: New Plants, Gravel, DG and River Rock accents
I chose tough, drought tolerant plants, which flower and attract lots of bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. The shade plants will cover the repaired back wall within a year. The clients wanted quite a few places to sit, so we extended the covered patio with a gravel pad, and the decomposed granite path can serve as additional sitting area.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Eagle Rock Patio

AFTER: The Lower Area of the yard is now an entertaining area
BEFORE: Lower Area

BEFORE: Existing Patio not easy to access

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 only (door on left under overhang), but not from the kitchen nor any other room of the house.

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

AFTER:  Same Steps from Kitchen and Lower Area to Upper Patio
BEFORE: Slope with no pathway
AFTER: Enlarged Level Patio with Steps 
BEFORE: Under-utilized Space

AFTER: Retaining Wall, Level Upper Area

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