Rugged rocks, irregularly spaced along a woodsy pathway, require one to pay attention while traversing the trail that winds its way from the front to the side and back yards of Jeff and Audrey Esko’s Carmel Valley home. But that’s the point. By being mindful, one stays attuned to the moment. The senses awaken to a landscape that comes alive with contrasts, textures, patterns, colors and scents. “The challenge was to develop a plan that would tie together the front of the house, a side yard and a narrow back yard,” landscape designer Kohei Owatari says. “I used boulders and chiseled rocks, Mexican beach pebbles and cobbled stones to make a natural mosaic pathway connecting them.” To imitate nature, Kohei scattered wild-flower seeds between the rock’s gaps. As the pathway meanders to the side and back of the house, smaller pebbles and gravel become more prominent. A young forest of fruit trees, a variety of flowering shrubs and a sprinkling of showy annuals and long-blooming perennials flourish along the trail’s edge. They bring a seasonal assortment of pleasing surprises. The weep-ing branches of an existing pepper tree sigh contentedly from above the path when the breeze sweeps through. “Previously the side yard was completely dysfunctional. It had a lot of grass,” Jeff says. “And we never went out to the round patio in the back. Now we have a leaf-shaped patio that we’ve turned into an outdoor living room with a sectional sofa facing a curved, 7-foot fire pit. We call that space ‘The Lounge.’ It’s a great place to sit around with other couples and drink wine and watch the fire
One can glimpse the fire’s blaze from the side yard while walking along the trail. But the raised patio — an intricate and complicated leaf shaped design by Kohei that combines mangaris with quartzite — is a happy discovery as one approaches the pathway’s end. Just beyond this outdoor living room, hand-chiseled boulders provide a stepping-stone path leading to a small backyard bistro that provides an intimate spot for breakfasting (with blueberries from the backyard garden, accompanied by hot tea with a slice of lemon from the side yard’s lemon tree) or reading a favorite novel. “I bought 24-inch-by-24-inch slate that I cut into four shapes to make an unusual pattern on the ground of the bistro and outdoor kitchen space,” Kohei says. His love for stonework detailing is no clandestine affair in this garden. Besides the black slate’s custom pattern and the meti-culous hand-chiseling of boulders and rocks in pathways and on stones for the fire pit wall, Kohei hand-sculpted an 18-foot-long stone slab into a meditation bench and trough. Through a channel cut in the slab, the water pours into a tranquil stream.
“The fountain creates ripples that reflect underwater lighting against two stone walls that stand behind the water and provide a visual backdrop,” Kohei says. The trickle of water carries the suggestion of movement, while the stone walls intimate permanence. Pairing these opposites reflects the thoughtful balance that exists throughout this contemporary, Zen garden. The artful placement of granite pavers suspended over the water could represent the earth amid a changing current. Practically speaking, the pavers function as a way to reach the last section of this landscape: the outdoor kitchen. “We had to drop the fabricated barbecue station in with a crane,” Jeff says. “I love to cook; and it has a built-in barbecue, a Big Green Egg smoker, burners, sinks and plenty of counter space. Kohei made a stone mosaic across the top and sides, which was unexpected.”
An elegant fence of horizontal mangaris boards acts as a backdrop for the cooking area. Its twin runs along the side yard to the front of the property. “You get these very different views depending on what section of the garden you are sitting in,” Jeff says. “Rolling through the landscape, you see greenery, stunning plant-ings, colorful flowers, fruits — including strawberries — and many kinds of trees.” The varying, delightful sequences work together to fill one with a sense of wonder for nature’s harmonious essence. Or, as Jeff puts it, “People stop and say, ‘Wow! Your yard looks cool.’”