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So Cal Landscaping Ideas

Drought-Tolerant Outdoor Living Space

How a Malibu property was transformed into a contemporary, water-wise landscape

  • A redwood gate flanked by potted succulents and a pair of trees provides a warm welcome.
  • The front entry courtyard features decomposed granite and low-water plants.
  • A limestone path leads guests through the courtyard.
  • A custom fountain adds to the sensory entry experience.
  • The backyard was redone to include an updated pool, fire pit and covered dining and cooking area.
  • The dining area looks out upon the raised pool which was renovated to have cantilevered steps.
  • New limestone decking sets off the dark water of the refinished pool.
  • An outdoor shower makes rinsing off before or after a swim or beach trip convenient.
  • At night the outdoor entertaining area comes to life.
  • The pool before the transformation.
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Project Highlights:

  • Location: Malibu, CA
  • Property size: 3.5 acres
  • Budget: 200k
  • Client: Couple with college age sons and standard poodles

The overarching goal for this project was to turn an outdated, overgrown landscape into a modern, drought-tolerant outdoor living space. The owners were in the process of renovating the entire property to be more sustainable and to better suit their family lifestyle. As part of this project, they hired Michael Fiore, of Fiore Design, to transform the existing pool and landscape.

Michael got his inspiration for the design from the site, its ocean views and the architecture of the home. When he first visited the property, the driveway was old exposed aggregate concrete and the raised pool was surrounded by 1970's tile paving. After more than $30,000 worth of demolition, Michael had a nearly blank canvas. However, he did opt to keep the shell of the pool.

Sensory Entry ExperienceIn order to create dramatic contrasts, Michael combined a variety of hardscape materials with various plant colors and textures. "I selected plant foliage that plays nicely off the simple finishes," he explains. Hardscape materials used include decomposed granite, concrete, smooth plaster, limestone, redwood lumber and glass mosaic tiles. Plants were specified to be water thrifty, deer proof and sculptural. Plant types include ornamental grasses, succulents, Australian natives, low water groundcovers, as well as flowering and aromatic shrubs. "The plants are really happy on this site, they get plenty of sun and the soil is excellent," says Fiore.

At the entrance to the home Michael created a courtyard space with a fountain, limestone path, stucco walls and an redwood gate. Decomposed granite covers most of the courtyard, which saves water and provides a solid surface for the couple's sons to pull the ping pong table out on. Compacted road base was installed beneath the decomposed granite which has a stabilizer added in order to keep weeds from growing up through the crushed stone. The glass mosaic and limestone fountain captures visitors' attention as they walk along the path. "I'm really into sensory entry experiences and wanted the fountain to have a grand presence and produce voluminous water sound," explains Fiore. It also turns out that the poodles love to grab a drink and cool their toes in the fountain.

  • Pro Tip: When it comes to fountains Fiore recommends keeping it simple in regards to plumbing. He prefers in-line pumps installed in a remote location over submersible pumps and always installs an auto fill.

Plant List:

Aeonium 'Zwartkop'
Agave attenuata
Aloe striata
Aloe 'Blue Elf'
Anigozanthus 'Harmony'
Cistus pupureus
Cordyline 'Jurred'
Cordyline 'Red Sensation'
Dianella tasmanica 'Variegata'
Dudleya pulverulenta
Dymondia margaretae
Echium fastuosum 'Select Blue'
Festuca glauca
Grevillea 'Long John'
Lavandula assorted
Miscanthus transmorrisonensis
Puya alpestris
Senecio mandraliscae
Westringia 'Smokey'

Pool & Backyard FaceliftIn the backyard, the existing pool had a raised, rectangular design with an automatic cover. Michael was not happy about the pool being raised, but since budget restrictions didn't allow for a completely new pool he made the best of the situation. The tile and concrete surrounding the pool was torn out and replaced with cantilevered limestone steps that echo mid-century design. "I felt it should be detailed really well as it is a focal point - the steps really set it off," says Fiore. The interior of the pool was refinished with a dark grey plaster that makes the water dark and reflective, while the absence of coping gives the pool an elegant, streamlined edge. Additionally, an outdoor shower is tucked into a corner near the master bedroom giving the owners a resort-like indoor-outdoor bathroom.

Michael arranged other outdoor entertaining spaces, including a dining and cooking area and a seating area with a fire pit according to the architecture of the home. "I placed the outdoor kitchen adjacent to the indoor kitchen for convenience," he says. The barbecue is finished with smooth stucco, redwood and glass mosaic tile. A pergola with smooth stucco columns and Douglas fir beams anchors the nearby dining area. An antique Moroccan lantern and string lights hung from the beams add to the evening ambiance. The fire pit was placed in what Michael considers the main entertaining space between the dining area and pool. Limestone that matches the paving was used as a veneer for the gas fueled fire pit and lava rock was used as filler. The wide edge of the fire pit serves as a place to set a drink or hors d'oeuvres.

Behind the fire pit and pool is a hillside that the owners had been irrigating for some time. However, when Fiore had a property survey done they discovered that this hill actually belonged to the neighbors. Luckily he was able to clean up the slope and plant natives to help with erosion control.

All-in-all these homeowners got exactly what they were looking for - a more sustainable, beautiful and functional landscape. Now their college-age sons frequently use the space for getting together with their friends and the family's relatives from Canada love catching up by the fire pit. And all of this is powered by solar panels that the owners installed as part of the property renovation.

Fiore Design
North Hollywood, CA 91601

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Contributing Author:

Sarah Hutchinson, contributing writer for Landscaping Network

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