Digging Deeper

An attractive raised planter within your landscape design creates a point of interest, adds contrast to the layout, and helps to define space.

However, there are a few points to keep in mind before adding a raised planter. If you don’t get the proportions right or you don’t have the right level of soil for plants, you’ll end up with a planter that is just in the way. You also need to make sure you get proper drainage and soil.

Here is an example of a raised planter that is not working, and one that good proportion:

Bad: Incorrect Proportions

This photo shows an 18” high raised planter.
raised planter san francisco landscape design

What’s wrong?
• The interior planting bed width is also only 18” wide with the wall width on each side being about a foot. Very odd proportions.
• The soil line inside the planter sits way below the cap stone so the plants appear to be sunken down and are not visible.

The second photo shows good proportions for a raised planter:
raised planter san francisco bay area

Good: Correct Proportions for Your Raised Planter

What’s right?
• The proportion is 1:3 meaning 18” height (a good seating height) with a minimum of 4’-6” wide planting area.
• The soil/mulch line comes up almost to the top of the cap stone

In summary, pay close attention to planter proportions. Install proper drainage and fill the planter with well-drained soil. Expect a certain amount of settling with watering and over time.

Do you need to correct your raised planter? Need an improved landscape, better drainage, aesthetic and functional plant choices? Get your free landscape design consultation by calling me at 925-998-0927. Use code WEB5 and get a 5% discount on services! If you prefer to contact me online, visit my contact page.

Quite often I am asked “What’s wrong with my lawn?”

As we proceed to a shady, tree-filled area of the yard I hear “It looked good for several years and then has started looking worse and worse.”
no grass growth in shade
The images here show an old lawn area that has become increasingly shaded as the surrounding trees have matured. In addition to the shade factor, the surface roots of the trees have also created challenges for the lawn. Also, there are no visible drain inlets in this lawn, so any water that drifts into this area sits on the lawn and is continually wet without ever really drying out.

no grass in shady area
In this case, I was not surprised that the lawn was failing in these conditions. Regardless of how much ‘shade’ seed was put down or fertilizing was done, the result and the key lesson here are the same:

Grass does not grow in shade.

How To Correct The Problem
My best advice for areas with nearby trees is to expect the lighting to change as the years pass and prepare to renovate by removing some ‘lawn’ areas. When the time comes, consider adjusting the irrigation, and adding shade tolerant groundcover or plants to fill the shady void where lawn once thrived.

Don’t be fooled by bags marked ‘shade ’seed or sod. These still require a certain amount of sun to perform well.

On this project, the renovation included adding a serpentine flagstone stepping stone path through a dry creek bed. Also, the addition of various sized stones around the exposed tree roots, along with some shade-loving groundcover and perennials.

The spray heads on the lawn that previously occupied this area were capped off. Now it is a much more aesthetically pleasing area with the appropriate planting accents, as well as a visually-pleasing and functional area.

Do you have a lanscape challenge? Call me or use my contact form to ask me about your question!

It’s always best to give yourself a safety zone of at least a couple feet when you consider a wall anywhere close to a driveway edge.

This photo shows the wall actually curving in, at the end of the driveway where most of us would begin turning the steering wheel as we back out.

The end of the wall curves into the driveway. This is an obstacle that has obviously been hit a few times.

The end of the wall curves into the driveway. This is an obstacle that has obviously been hit a few times.

It is cracked and has had an obvious collision at least once – and perhaps more. I have seen this several times, and it’s almost like it is an optical illusion when a driver backs out of the driveway.

The Problem With Walls Alongside Your Driveway
The problem is that walls set too close to driveways WILL get hit causing considerable damage to the wall. Then add on the the damage the vehicle encounters. It is not advisable to build a wall directly adjacent to a functional driveway – if the drive will have vehicular traffic near the edges.

A Better Idea
My recommendation is to allow room for car doors opening, turning radiuses, young inexperienced drivers, some of us older ones and even for just being in a rush – when we might not pay as close attention to the location of the wall.

Where possible, push the walls back at least a couple of feet away from the driveway edge. If this is not possible, consider re-grading or re-thinking the overall design. Sometimes no wall may be the better option.

If you have a problem with a driveway wall or another landscaping issue, call me or use my contact form to ask me about your question!

The Problem: Lack of waterproofing material and lack of proper drainage system in retaining wall.

Waterproofing a retaining wall is necessary to prevent damage or collapse.

Waterproofing a retaining wall is necessary to prevent damage or collapse. (Click here to enlarge image)

This client had their pool, coping, surrounding walls and concrete installed during the previous year.

Because concrete is quite porous, it can wick water from the soil side and cause issues both structurally and cosmetically. As seen in the photo, this pool has no visible form of waterproofing material. Generally, a tar-based paint like substance such as ‘Blackjack’, or a sheet membrane would be used for this purpose.

Click to enlarge image.

Click to enlarge image.

Lack of waterproofing can result in visible bleeding of mineral deposits leaching through to the front of the walls and leaving unsightly white chalky residue behind. This can cause the stone veneer to actually loosen from the cinder block behind it.

Diagram for a typical French Drain system, to provide adequate drainage for a retaining wall.

Diagram for a typical French Drain system, to provide adequate drainage for a retaining wall.

For any retaining walls (walls that hold something back), it is imperative to have an adequate drainage system installed in conjunction with construction or before the area is backfilled. The most typical type of drainage for this application is a French Drain. See diagram included below.

This perforated pipe would run along the base of the backside of the retaining wall, and would have clean outs at approximately 20′-30’ intervals that T up to the surface.

These clean outs are used to rout out the pipe if any clogs occur over time. Lack of proper drainage can cause the wall to lean forward and perhaps collapse or crack.