Gardening: ‘Work of art’ landscape, part 2

Eileen Ward

Last week I wrote about the beginning process of creating a new back yard with no lawn for Joe and Barbara Parisi.

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The borders of the raking garden were decided on and roughed in with pressure treated landscape timbers and the stream was outlined with marking paint. The rocks and gravel were purchased and so we began! 

Jess Stackpoole of JES Tractor was hired to do the machine work for us.

The pressure treated 4 x 6’s were cut and put in place to create the large, square raking garden. This work was done by their friend and fellow artist Eric Walton. Holes had to be drilled in them so metal rods could be driven into the ground to hold them in place. Then the Greensward crew laid landscape fabric in the entire area inside the wood borders.

Progress on the Parisi raking garden.

One end was left open, so the ledge rocks could be placed inside the raking garden. After the ledge rocks were inside the last piece of wooden border was put in place on the raking garden. Then the rice rock was dumped in along the edges. It had to be distributed in a four-inch layer throughout the raking garden with men and wheelbarrows so as not to disturb the wooden borders with the equipment.

The next step was the digging of the stream. Jess did this job with his cute little backhoe. The bucket was just the right size for our stream. With all the palm tree roots throughout the back yard, hand digging would have been too labor intensive. He drove his machine around the raking garden to the beginning of our stream and slowly began carving out our painted stream, piling the excavated dirt into mounds along the way as directed by Eileen.

The idea was to create topography the same way a stream would as it coursed downstream and around and through hills and dales. Once the entire stream was roughed in a few more yards of dirt were piled onto some of the mounds for more effect and planting areas. 

It was time to place the beloved ledge rock boulders. Jess had to be careful not to flatten his stream and mounds as he brought in the other materials. This was not easy and his prowess as a machine operator was noted by all. Barbara had gone through the boulders as they sat in the field waiting to become part of the garden and decided which ones went where. Jess wrapped tree straps around the rocks and into the garden the six of us went following along to place them. There were 13, so this took some time and patience as we had to plant these thin, yet very heavy, rocks on their sides making sure their best side was showing so they stood as the mountains of the garden facing the lanai.  It was a great adventure. Helping were Joe and Barbara, Sarah and Tim (Greensward Gardeners), me and even Jess got off the machine when needed to secure these monsters into their places. 

Now we had organized chaos with tree roots sticking out of the side of our stream and mounds, the raking garden basically complete and the ledge rocks placed. Jess was sent home to return once we did some hand work and laid some more landscape fabric into the stream. We labored for two days pulling and cutting the obnoxious palm tree roots as I shaped the mounds with an iron rake. I also had to fix some parts of our stream which were unavoidably flattened by the heavy equipment. I found this a very peaceful process which I did quietly and alone.  A Zen moment which is what Maria Lamb labeled this garden.

Then we had to piece landscape fabric into the stream. Once this was done to our satisfaction Jess returned and began putting the Brookstone into the stream bed.  We had two sizes of Brookstone and laid a base of the smaller stone along the entire stream and then put the larger rocks sparingly on top of them.  I would later hand place the larger stones in areas that they would naturally gather as in eddies they were washed down stream by water.  At the end of the stream was a mega eddy with three sections of strangler fig donated by Eric Walton. They represent trees and stand as sentinels at the end of the stream along with a forest of Orange Bird of Paradise.  Once again harvested by dividing existing plants in the yard.

The stream had an island just in front of the lanai where one of the larger ledge boulders was placed and coming out from the end of the boulder was a low wall created out of pieces of Flagstone that would encase a bed of sansevieria. This was one of her visions on the original plan. 

Now it was time to plant the collection of cactus she has accumulated. Suffice it to say it is a rather large collection with more than a dozen different types of cacti.  These were placed on the mounds and in open areas of the garden until we were satisfied with the look.  And then they were planted using a small amount of Osmocote, a slow release fertilizer, so they would have a healthy beginning to thrive in their new garden.     

We then placed more landscape fabric on the areas that would become the walking paths through the garden.  And finally, the tan pea gravel, that was the sand “look” that tied together all of the features of the garden, was placed using wheelbarrows. 

The final chapter will be next week.

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