Landscape designer Michael Glassman uses trial and error to find the perfect plants for this highly shaded California backyard. Once found, the landscape is transformed into an Asian-influenced outdoor retreat, full of varying textures, colors and heights.
Describe the homeowners' wishlist.
She wanted to incorporate Asian-inspired features and make the garden very simple, colorful and interesting — including architectural details.
What were the homeowners' design problems?
The shade of the existing plantings and the desire for greater privacy. There were existing oak trees and until they were pruned for more light, there were few choices that grew successfully. There also was a privacy problem since once the oaks were pruned for light; my clients were able to look right into the neighbors' yard. We experimented with different shade plants for texture and privacy and found that one choice of Japanese "fern pines" worked well.
What was your biggest obstacle in this space?
When you're working with a heavily shaded garden, you need to try different plants and see how well they do. Because of the intensity of shade from the oaks, there were so many dark areas, which made many plants not thrive. We kept trying more, and if they didn't work, we removed them.
How does the end result match up with your original vision?
We would remove plants that didn't do well, including a pine tree and replaced it with a bonsai. We learned to have greater patience when dealing with this kind of challenging landscape.
What lessons did you learn?
How gorgeous it turned out in the end. We learned that trial and error are often required, and also that the original solution might not be the final solution.
What are the "hidden gems"?
Take an area and create small focal points — Japanese lantern, different textural choices, a Japanese maple with dark red coloring and purple azaleas. Mixing colors, textures and heights can create a wonderful layering effect.