Possibilities Blossom in a DIY Landscape
An arsty couple do all the heavy lifting and create a garden labor of love
Before she retired, elementary school teacher Rosemary Stark split her time equally between work and family. “There weren’t hours in the day for anything else,” she says as she and her husband, commercial construction executive Patrick Stark, raised their two children in a ranch home perched high on 2 acres in Eucalyptus Hills.
After the couple became empty nesters and left the work-a-day world, “the floodgates opened to all the possibilities,” Rosemary says, with a wide smile. Travel in their motor home, volunteer work, golf for Patrick and yoga for Rosemary—all soon crowded their calendars. So did newly discovered gifts for art, created in his and her home workshops.
In the past decade, the duo also poured time and talent into major home landscape projects, often doing most of the heavy lifting themselves. Among their accomplishments are a custom entry gate to welcome visitors up their long driveway, a cobble-edged labyrinth Rosemary strolls daily and a colorful succulent tapestry garden outside the front door. Behind the house, a new spa and cozy built-in seating nestle in a broad slope, now a vibrant outdoor gallery.
Here the couple’s art—Patrick’s metal sculptures, Rosemary’s fused glass and mixed-media pieces they create together—glint in the sunlight. Often pieces are tucked next to intriguing specimen minerals the two rock hounds collect on road trips. Also in the mix are glass vessels by Rosemary’s friends in the Art Glass Association of Southern California and Patrick’s delicately balanced cairns (stacked stones).
One of Rosemary’s favorite garden books, Designing with Succulents (which we featured in our February 2018 issue) by San Diegan Debra Lee Baldwin, sparked their first project, the backyard redo. “I showed Patrick a picture of a simple built-in bench and this is what he gave me,” Rosemary says, admiring her husband’s handiwork from a shaded patio outside the home’s family room. “He’s a Renaissance man. He can do anything.”
Centered in a tree-dotted slope that sweeps up to the rear property line, Patrick’s design embraced the bench his wife envisioned with a Honey Ledge stacked-stone wall that curves behind a silver flagstone patio. A second stacked-stone wall stretches low on either side of wide access stairs to hug a slender rectangle of lawn. “Patrick likes to say he lifted each stone four times to build the walls,” Rosemary says. “He gets lots of gold stars for that.”
Steps from the bench and a warming fire pit is a new spa splashed by dual waterfalls that course down a granite slab set into the wall like fine art. “When we dug away the dirt during construction, we saw all these beautiful layers of earth and stone,” Rosemary explains. “This piece of granite resembles them. When we saw it, we had to have it.”
Over the years, Rosemary struggled to find plants for the slope unfazed by searing summers, water cutbacks and munching critters. “I had lots of failures,” she admits as survivors like succulents, lantana, rosemary, geraniums and other water-wise “toughies” eventually emerged. Her fused glass “stakes” in fiery oranges and reds, gazing balls and glazed containers “mulched” with glass beads fill in for floral color in the foliage-rich landscape.
“There’s always something to do in the garden,” reflects Rosemary, a member of three garden clubs and participant in last summer’s inaugural Eucalyptus Hills Garden Tour. “As a teacher I nurtured students. Now I take care of plants.”
Three years ago, the DIY couple turned to the sloping front yard, tapping Laura Eubanks of Design for Serenity for a landscape plan they then installed. Flagstone steps curve up from the driveway to the front door, pausing midway at a circular, boulder-edged patio where two turquoise Adirondack chairs offer prime views of flitting hummingbirds and other wildlife. “It’s always so peaceful here,” Rosemary says. “And in spring, when everything blooms, it’s awesome.”
Lava rock mulch, ribbons of river rock and more boulders showcase foxtail agave rosettes, copper-red Aloe ‘Cynthia Giddy’ and A. cameronii, long-legged ‘Plum Petal’ aeoniums, ‘Sunset’ and silver jade plants and mounds of brilliant pink-flowered ice plant (Oscularia deltoides). Two airy palo verdes add green limbs, lacy foliage and profuse yellow flowers. “Beautiful—they’re now our favorite trees,” Rosemary says.
Not long after this makeover, an abundant rainy season sent raging runoff down a far edge of the property, digging a deep gulley and unearthing thousands of cobbles. “I thought, ‘What good can come of this? Well, maybe I can build my labyrinth,’” remembers Rosemary, who had pinned a picture of one on her studio bulletin board years earlier.
Together, bucket by bucket, the couple hauled rocks to shape the circles, separated by decomposed granite paths. When the majestic pepper tree at the center died, the stump left behind became a pedestal for Patrick’s gleaming aluminum sculpture, “The Wishing Tree.”
Annually, the garden now hosts festive family celebrations, including a Thanksgiving feast in the backyard and a Christmas gathering to walk the labyrinth and make New Year wishes. Future plans include a meditative “secret garden” near the labyrinth and a one-of-a-kind playhouse for the couple’s first grandchild, born last fall.
“Our dream was to make this lovely property a place to be enjoyed by family and a sanctuary from our hectic world,” Rosemary says. “It is truly a labor of love.”