Fairy Yardmother Landscape Design

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.
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. Each project is different because it is about making your space really shine.

Monday, November 16, 2015

New Gate and Wall Extension Design

At this modern housing complex, my client moved in with these wooden planters on top of the front wall of her new home. They didn't go with the aesthetic of the home at all!


We designed a new look for the gate and a trellis to add height and privacy without taking away air flow. Now this home has a clean modern style with added privacy and security. This is powder-coated metal with mesh and frosted glass.


And here is another screen I designed for the same complex. This is a grey powder coat and a mix of glass panels and wire mesh panels.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Lawn Replacement Design Consultation

AFTER: Lawn Replacement Complete
For this project, the clients did all the work themselves. This was an unusual and fun way for me to provide Design Services. They called me in for a consultation as they were prepping for planting so I could guide them. When I arrived, they'd started placing plants in groups, and I had them change some of the groupings and suggested they buy a few more of the native Heuchera and Iris so they could mass them more effectively.

They were planning to use a high-quality plastic bender board product as a transition from the decomposed granite pathways and the mulched planting areas. Normally bender board is a reasonably good choice, but in this case, there were tree roots everywhere and it was going to be quite a challenge to dig channels for the bender board to lay at the correct level. This is also a shady front yard with a natural forest vibe, and the bender board was not going to add anything aesthetically.

BEFORE: Bender Board Instead of River Rock

Here is a photo of the Bender Board they were originally planning to use.

I suggested using River Rock instead of Bender Board, which can be placed closer to the soil surface, no significant channel necessary. I also recommended adding some large boulders. We talked about the placement of all the elements.

AFTER: Natural River Rock Borders

This was a great example of the value of a Design Consultation. The homeowners in this case were perfectly capable of doing the labor, and they had a good start on a plan, but I know they would agree that getting my advice allowed them to bring the project to completion with wonderful results. Stand-alone consultations run approx $100 to $200 for this type of guidance. Call me to discuss the services I offer.

The clients sent me photos the moment they completed the project. They are so happy with the choices we made together, and they have already received so many compliments.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Beverly & Fairfax Lawn Replacement Design

The goals here included new drought-tolerant plantings in place of the lawn, punctuated by large boulders, a new pathway from the sidewalk, and better access from the driveway.

When I arrived, the clients were considering removing the entire front wall along the front of the house because it was stifling the flow to the front door. The only way to enter the front door was from the driveway, along the back of this wall.


AFTER: New Pathway and Gate in Wall

After some discussion we decided to cut an opening in the center of the wall, preserving a nice part of the architecture of the house while still improving the flow. Taking out the Calliandra, which had become a large hedge along the wall, revealed a very pretty element of Spanish Architecture, and opened up the whole space.


AFTER: New Steps at Sidewalk, Newly Planted

We decided on steps that matched the tile in the front courtyard, and a lovely flagstone pathway.
The plantings are a nice mix of feminine and masculine forms. There will be lots of beneficial insects and Hummingbirds visiting this yard now!

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Silverlake Backyard Design


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

Sitting Area Before
Sitting Area AFTER w/Mature Plants

A year later, plants have grown in, softening everything. And the homeowners are out in their garden all the time!

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. The client wanted room between plants. 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 than using cement between joints. 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.

Here is a broken concrete pathway that serves aesthetically as a dry stream bed. The client wanted to use gravel with the broken concrete, and that is fine for this application because this is a pathway to the side of the house, and is not used very often. The gravel gives the look she wanted, a nice contrast to the plantings in this former lawn area. However if this were a main pathway -- to the front door, for instance -- I would not suggest gravel because it can make a path along a slope like this a bit slippery. For a slope, you might want to install the broken concrete in cement. The first photo shows one way of doing that.

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.

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.