Gardening: A ‘work of art’ landscape

Eileen Ward

I was recently tasked with a very creative landscape renovation for my longtime customers, Joe and Barbara Parisi.

This is how Irma left the couple's backyard.

The couple had the typical, although large (50’ x 100’), back yard of grass and it never did very well due to the roots from nearby Poinciana trees along the city’s linear park on Winterberry Drive. It constantly needed water, fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides. There were also a dozen or so huge, mature royal palm trees and an old ficus tree. And there were a few small trees and plants that would be saved for the new garden.

Barbara had talked to me many times about her dream to have a cactus garden with a false stream running through it.  She had a great collection of cactus they had acquired on various trips out to Arizona that were surviving in pots along her lanai.  And a bed of sansevieria that was doing what it does best and taking over the garden it had been planted in. She had the basics for her dream garden.  The space, the plants and the vision.

When Hurricane Irma knocked down all those monster palm trees leaving only two standing in the back yard this was the impetus she needed. She drew a rough plan on construction paper and pasted pictures of various plants in the locations that she wanted, and we began. 

The ledge rock are delivered.

The first step was to kill all the grass. This took a few weeks while the herbicide did its job. A couple of applications were needed. Once we were sure no offending grass would re-emerge into the new garden we went into the yard armed with a can of marking paint. The raking garden was roughly outlined with the landscape timbers that were to hold the gravel in place and we walked with our paint while imagining where the stream should meander. It began on one end and curved around the first corner of the raking garden where a mound would be created for plants.

There would be other mounds created throughout to give some dimension to the flat back yard that was. Then it wandered in toward the raking garden where a bridge would cross the stream into the garden. It ran along the length of the garden but became more shallow and wider and then split into two streams as it went around another of her visions. An area that would hold one of the ledge rock boulders and a short wall made of thin pieces of flagstone. And then the stream merged again and separated into two streams which continued around either side of the last island mound and ended in an eddy of the pooled river rock that was to come.

In the meantime, while waiting for the grass to die, she and Joe had their work cut out for them. They became very acquainted with the staff at Superior Stone as they decided on the various stones and gravel that would eventually be used in the design of the garden. They chose ledge rock boulders for the large focal points. These were placed strategically throughout the garden to serve as mountains. The 13 stones she chose were delivered on pallets and decisions had to be made on where each one would be placed. 

For the stream Barbara had her heart set on Beach Pebbles. They are a smooth black stone which she had as a screen saver on her phone. However, it was a small fortune to fill the stream with them and so we thought we could mix some in with the Brookstone that I had suggested. This was a more natural looking stone for a stream. The two did not look good together at all so it was decided that Brookstone would fill the stream.  We got some of the smaller 1/12” and some of the larger 3” to 5” to scatter throughout for the natural look we wanted. I say we got some, but it was many tons of gravel in all. I was in seventh heaven working with it as it took me back to the rivers of Vermont that I had grown up with. 

The raking garden would be filled with rice rock. A small, gravel-like rock that would hold the designs she would eventually be raking in her garden. It looked fabulous!

Finally, we had to choose the material that would cover the rest of the ground surrounding the stream, raking garden and rock features. At first, they thought brown egg rock. But it was decided that would look too like the stream. They already had a side yard garden covered in brown pea gravel and that would transition the side yard right into the new garden and gave the sandy, desert look perfect for a cactus garden. Again, many tons were needed.

Now I know I write about not covering your yard in rock, but this was a creative and artistic use of several different rocks and it also included plants to help filter pollutants. The result is stunning! And the best part is it will use minimal water and fertilizer.

Next time, I’ll tell you all about the process of creating the stream and mounds, placing the rocks and gravel, planting the collection of plants. And then, adding the decorative accents to finish off this “work of art” landscape.

More:Gardening: Good planting practices

More:Gardening: Tropical winter wonderland

Eileen and Peter Ward have owned a landscape and lawn maintenance company for 35 years. Eileen can be reached at or 239-394-1413.