Project Profile: Los Osos Backyard Retreat

See how this landscape was transformed from an unused, weed covered expanse into a peaceful and earth friendly backyard oasis.

There’s something indescribably satisfying about these types of landscaping projects. The type of project that involves taking a space that is unused and overgrown, and converting it into a peaceful retreat that the homeowners can be proud of.

It’s the contrast between the before and after states of the landscape that is so fun. I’m not just talking about the added beauty – the lush green foliage, flowing native grasses, bright pops of color, and the artfully designed hardscapes – I’m talking about what the new landscaping adds to our client’s day to day lives!

Now their yard is serving their needs. It’s a fulfillment of the landscaping they’ve daydreamed about for so long. They now have a yard they relax in and feel right at home. An outdoor space where they can entertain guests. A space where they can sit back and watch the hummingbirds in the morning, or gaze at the stars at night.

What a joy it is!


The first stage of a landscaping project is the consultation. This is an on-site meeting between us and the client. It’s a chance to get to know each other, to learn what our client’s needs and wants are for their landscaping, to share ideas, and to discuss how we can help them bring the project to fruition.

When meeting with Gwen and Judy, our clients for this project, we discussed how they envision their new outdoor space. This is one of my favorite parts of my job. I love seeing the excitement on people’s faces as they share their ideas for their future landscaping!

They told us they’d like to have a space where they can sit outside in the evenings and listen to the nearby ocean while enjoying a glass of wine. They wanted the patio to be made using flagstone and to include a gas fire pit, to keep them warm on cool Los Osos nights.

Before photo of Los Osos landscaping

Before: Weeds and grass covered the yard due to recent rains.

They also said they would need a walkway leading from the back deck to their detached garage. For safety and ambiance, they wanted outdoor lighting that would illuminate the path at night.

One concern they had was about the side of the detached garage. It’s a large exterior wall adjacent to the backyard that only has one window. Aesthetically, it needed something to “break up” the monotony of the siding. We decided a vertical garden mounted on the wall and tall plantings against the garage would solve this problem in a beautiful way.

For plants, they wanted them to be drought-tolerant and low-maintenance while having different colors and textures. They also said they’d like to put a tree in the new landscape.

The style they wanted for the new landscape was informal, natural, and beachy. They wanted something that would match their tastes and fit right in with the sleepy beach town of Los Osos.

The detached garage needed something to “break up” the large, open space.

One of the challenges we discovered during the consultation was the need for irrigation valves. Even in a water-wise landscape, we like to install drip irrigation to help the plants get established and to give the plants some extra water during the driest times of the year. Since there were no existing irrigation valves, we decided we would create new ones from a water pipe serving a nearby hose bib. We decided we’d also install a new irrigation controller, which would be wired into the garage.

Other obstacles were the large amount of existing weeds (and the possibility of them coming back even after the landscape was completed), the narrow access points to the backyard for machinery, and the possible need for a retaining wall since the backyard is on a slope.

All of this and more was discussed at our initial consultation. We explained to Gwen and Judy that the next steps were to do a design and then move on to the installation.

The Design

The design phase comes first so that our clients can work with our designers to turn their vision for the space into a professional landscape plan, complete with planting diagrams, plant palate, materials selection, hardscape design, and a scope of work.

This ensures that our clients will know how the landscape will look, what materials will be used, and exactly what work will be performed. That way there are no surprises and clients can make design revisions if they like. The design also allows us to have a fully fleshed out plan from which we can calculate accurate pricing for our client. It also gives our installation crew the ability to perform their work based off the plan.

Our lead designer met with Gwen and Judy to discuss the design in more detail. During the design meeting, we ask specific questions meant to draw out the client’s ideas and style. We also share our professional design advice as it relates to the project. Specific plants, materials, placement, and any other design considerations are discussed. The objective here is to take our client’s goals, desires, and ideas for their new landscape, and combine them with our construction and design expertise to create a detailed and beautiful landscape design.

After the design meeting, our team went to work. There are many steps to creating a landscape design. For this project, we made both an overhead plan and a 3-D digital model of the new landscape. The 3-D design is much appreciated by our clients since it enables them to better visualize the completed landscape.

The first draft of the design placed the patio lower in the landscape, away from the back deck. For this patio placement, a stone retaining wall would be built on the uphill side, to keep soil from spilling over into the patio. The wall would also serve as a sitting area.

The patio had a dispersed flagstone design, meaning the flagstone would not be tightly fitted to each other. Instead, they would be placed with an average of 4-6 inches of space between the stones. This space would be filled with 3/4” Palomino pebbles. This design would give the landscape a less formal and more artistic look while maintaining the functionality of a hardscaped patio.

A mass planting of a California native Sedge grass would be adjacent to the patio, visually softening the hardscape. Other plantings throughout the landscape included Protea, Chondropetalum grass, Flax, Lavender, Agave, Echeveria, and a row of Pittosporum along the east side to hide the fence and add privacy. Several other plant types were used in this design as well as a Manzanita tree.

The walkway in the plan went from the back deck to the garage. It featured the same dispersed design as the patio and used the same materials. Both the walkway and the patio would be built to be permeable, meaning there would be no impervious foundation, concrete, or grouted joints. This allows rainwater to be able to quickly and effectively flow off the flagstone and sink into the soil, reducing run-off and conserving water.

Building a succulent wall

Melody made the vertical garden even before we started the installation to give the plants time to root.

Boulders, the vertical garden, and lighting were also included in this design to help meet the aesthetic and functional goals for the landscape.

After presenting it to Gwen and Judy, they decided they would like to make a revision. They wanted to see how it would look with the patio closer up towards the back deck. For this, they asked if we could swap out the plantings that were previously near the deck with the patio, which was lower in the landscape.

As we made these revisions, we ended up changing the plantings as they were moved lower in the landscape. This area of the landscape had slightly different sunlight exposure, and moving the plants lower in the landscape necessitated some changes so that these plantings would accentuate the view from the patio.

Moving the patio up closer to the house also meant that we would need to alter its shape. Now that it was next to the defined architecture of the house, it made sense aesthetically to have the patio’s shape be more defined. When it was lower in the landscape, it had no defined shape or edges. Instead, the patio had the visual effect of fading away, which led the eye outward towards the distant mountain view.

That look would appear jumbled and messy next to the house and deck. Instead, we kept the informal, artistic look of the dispersed flagstone, but just slightly defined the edges into a more circular shape.

The patio would also need a short boulder retaining wall on the north side to ensure structural stability and long lasting build quality.

With the patio now closer to the house, it made it much easier to run a natural gas line to the center of the patio to fuel the fire pit. Gwen and Judy liked this option since they wanted the convenience of a gas fire, but didn’t want to have to use propane. The natural gas option seemed like the best fit. They selected a beautiful fire pit from a garden store in San Luis Obispo.

The final design still included the vertical garden, which would help break up the large side of the garage. Plants that will grow tall were also placed along the side of the garage so that once they are large and mature, the blank garage wall will not be as visible.

For the weeds, it was decided that we would use a biodegradable paper barrier underneath a thick layer of mulch to help suffocate any unwanted plant growth. The biodegradable paper decomposes over time and does not have any of the environmental and practical issues associated with the type of commercial weed mat that is sometimes used. Wild Bloom does not use that type of weed mat for a variety of reasons. It is harmful to the environment and it only works for a short while, before becoming a huge headache. We want to do what is in the best interest of our clients and the environment. Commercial weed mat does not pass this test.

For the lighting, we would use low energy LED pathway lighting for the walkway, and a LED spotlight to illuminate the Manzanita tree.

One more area of concern was the open void underneath the deck. We wanted to have something that would hide that space, so it was decided that we would plant Trumpet Vine along the bottom of the deck so that when it grows in it will provide a green, flowery backdrop to the patio and hide the underside of the deck.

With the design revision complete and Gwen and Judy ready to move forward, it was time to schedule the installation.

The Installation

After a design is complete, we gear up to do the landscape installation. This is the actual construction of the new landscaping.

This installation took place in January of 2017, which was both an excellent time to do the landscape and a difficult time to do it. January was a very rainy month, which meant the plants got a thorough soaking as soon as they were in the ground. This helps their roots to become established, decreasing the chance of transplant shock and making them healthier and more drought resistant.

Removing weeds in Landscape

Getting the weeds out!

The flip side was that all the rain made construction trickier. There was a good amount of stopping and starting as our crew waited for rain storms to pass. Fortunately, this landscaping project was in Los Osos, where the sandy soil drains quickly and doesn’t stay muddy, which made it easy and quick to get back to work after it stopped raining.

The first step in the installation phase of this project was to get all the weeds and grass out of there, as well as the existing plants and trees. This was accomplished using a combination of a skid steer and good old fashioned hand labor.

Excavating for patio and walkway

Excavating for the patio and walkway.

After we had everything out and were looking at a blank slate, we moved on to grading. For this, we simply used our skid steer to even out the soil, eliminating any dips or rises. We also excavated 6 inches of soil from where the patio and walkway would be to make room for the base, or foundation, of these structures.

Before moving forward with the hardscapes, we needed to install the irrigation valves and piping. We installed 4 valves and buried the irrigation lines. It may seem surprising that we used 4 valves for such a small space, but this enables us to make the landscape more water efficient. Using the different valves, we are able to split the plants in hydrozones. Hydrozones are sections of plants that will have similar water requirements. This can be due to the plant’s innate water needs, sun exposure, soil type, or the steepness of the land. Each valve irrigates an individual hydrozone. By using this type of system, we can fine tune the watering times to be appropriate for all the plants. This increases efficiency and plant health. Without hydrozones, an irrigation system is only as efficient as the highest water use plant in the landscape.

After the irrigation valves and piping were in place, it was time to build the patio and walkway. We built our base and laid down a sand setting bed before installing the large flagstone pieces. The flagstone was a beautiful quartzite material with lots of character. Some pieces had swirls, some had lightning shaped patterns, some had crystal layers and variations in color. All of these characteristics were subtle but added an artistic flair to the hardscape that could only be made by nature.


Installing flagstone in patio

Nevin installing the flagstone.


Lightning markings on flagstone

Beautiful lightning pattern on one of the flagstone pieces.


patio and walkway build in progress

Flagstone are placed and set.


Patio build in progress

Filling in the joints.


Hand picked cobble for that “extra touch”.


Finished patio and walkway

Finished walkway and patio (minus the fire pit).

In addition to the Palomino pebbles we placed in the joints between flagstone pieces, we also placed some strategically located cobbles. These cobbles were each hand selected for their unique attributes. Some had a burnt orange hue, some had a soft lilac color, some had interesting patterns. They added that extra bit of expression which would round out the walkway and patio’s imaginative look.

With the patio and pathway complete, our installation crew started on the soil and plantings. First came the soil. During any landscaping project, it’s important to ensure the long term health of the soil is accounted for. This will improve the health of your plants and increase permeability to water. The result of this is that your plants will be more resilient, take less maintenance, not need any fertilizers, and use less water. This is also an important step in making your landscaping environmentally friendly.

For this project, we added a thick layer of compost to the soil, then the paper weed barrier, followed by a thick layer of bark mulch. These materials will decompose into the soil over time, increasing soil health. To achieve plant and soil health, we stick to this maxim – feed the soil, not the plants. By feeding the soil, we create an environment that is conducive to life. The microorganisms and fungi that live in the soil provide the plants with the nutrients they need to survive and thrive. This is an ecologically minded and practical approach to making your landscape healthy and environmentally sustainable.

Planting day!

Next came the planting. In Los Osos, the soft sandy soil makes planting quite easy. It’s fun to see this stage of a landscaping project. The color and softness that the plants add really bring the space to life.

One thing about landscaping, however, is that it requires patience. It’s not like building a house, where once it’s done, it’s done. With landscaping, the plants will need time to grow before the space comes into its full glory. Although we try to use the largest plants possible at the time of planting, we are at the mercy of our plant suppliers. Sometimes the plants we want are only available in small sizes, and we go ahead and use them, knowing that they will grow quickly and fill in over time.

Sometimes our client will request this as well. If they want to save some money, they will ask if we can use mostly 1 gallon plants, knowing that they are much less expensive. This is perfectly acceptable and a good way to save, as long as your expectations are clear and you know the landscape will need extra time to grow in.

Along these same lines, we sometimes can’t get a certain plant or plant variety that was available at the time the design was made. In the case of this project, we couldn’t find a suitable 24 inch boxed Manzanita anywhere! Instead, we substituted it for an Arbutus, which is very similar to a Manzanita tree.

Once the plants were installed, the drip irrigation was put in. Using drip irrigation, we can give the plants a very precise and measured amount of water, and avoid any over-spray or water waste that sprinklers typically cause. With the drip in place, we tested the system for malfunctions and covered up the black tubing.

With the irrigation done, the project was almost complete. One of the last steps is the clean up. Although our crew cleans up at the end of each day, we always do a more thorough cleaning before we are totally finished. Our goal is to make it look just as clean as it was before we came, so we make sure to take the extra time to make it spic and span.

Installing vertical garden

Taylor installing the vertical garden.

With this project, we still had one more step… the vertical garden! Melody made this succulent wall weeks before and we left it lying flat so that the plants could root and not fall out. After we were sure the plants were secure, we mounted it to the side of the garage and built a frame around it.

With the vertical garden installed, the landscape was complete!


Even with installation complete, we don’t consider our work done. We want to ensure our clients are satisfied and we want to help them as they get used to their new landscaping. We check in to answer questions, we schedule times to come visit and make sure the plants are healthy, and we adjust the irrigation as needed.

Communication and customer service are sadly missing from many people’s experiences with contractors. Our company wants to change that. We want to treat our customers just the way we’d want to be treated – with respect and honesty. We’re in this for the long run, so throughout the project and long after it’s complete, we are here to support our clients.

At Gwen and Judy’s, we have already made follow up visits and will continue to check in with them. Their landscaping appears to be doing great. It’s still winter, so as of this writing, the plants don’t have many blooms and have yet to show a lot of growth, but as we move closer to spring and get more warm sunny days, I suspect they will grow faster than expected, considering the large amount of rainfall they’ve received in the past month. I’m looking forward to seeing the landscape in another month when spring will be underway, and the plants will be flowering and quickly growing fresh new foliage!

View from the flagstone patio.

When I recently went to visit Gwen and Judy, I found them on the back patio, each with a glass of wine. As their landscaper, this filled my heart with joy! I loved seeing them enjoying the landscape that was just a dream and an idea only a few short months ago.

Needless to say, they are enjoying it very much. In fact, here is what they said about the entire project in a review they wrote:

“We highly recommend Wild Bloom for your landscaping project! As many central Californians know, Los Osos has (& is) going through a septic to sewer transition and many of us are now ready for new landscapes. We met owners Luke and Melody at a home show & were impressed not only by the designs we saw pictured but the entire philosophy of the company. The company is very focused on using native plants & keeping water requirements consistent with our natural supply while using drip irrigation to enhance plant establishment & lushness. They created a beautiful backyard for us that included our wishes and also filled in all the gaps where we had no idea what to do. The entire staff was so helpful, friendly, & knowledgeable. They quickly responded to all our questions and were flexible with any changes we requested. After completion of the project, they continue to follow through, making sure you & the plants are doing well. We have really never seen such a dedicated design & installation team focused on extreme customer satisfaction.”


What great feedback! It was a joy to work with Gwen and Judy on their landscaping project!

If you are thinking about re-doing your landscaping and want to learn how we can help, then I invite you to give us a call. All of us at Wild Bloom are committed to giving you the landscaping you deserve and would be delighted to work with you to build your own backyard (or front yard) retreat!

We are also committed to environmental sustainability, so even if you don’t want to hire a landscaper, we invite you to ask questions or attend one of our free workshops to learn how you can make your property more environmentally friendly.

Look forward to hearing from you!


Luke Huskey, Wild Bloom