A Treat for the Senses

Barren yard transformed with eco-friendly touches.
Photos: David Croxford

On the arid, rocky slopes of lower Wilhelmina Rise, a yard of lush green foliage thrives in the heavily populated neighborhood. The landscape was recently transformed from dirt on uneven ground into a livable space perfect for entertaining or relaxing in relative solitude.

Before the renovation, the yard was unusable. There was no outside access to the second-story lanai. There were drainage issues. The asphalt driveway was eroding and a lava-rock retaining wall along the driveway wall was crumbling — hazardous and not leaving much room for cars.

The homeowners envisioned a patio and dining area where they could host guests. They wanted to complement the charming plantation-style look of the recently renovated home while centering the landscape around a massive mango tree. The yard needed to be functional and sustainable — “friendly” as well as “eco-friendly” was the homeowners’ intention. Enter Steve’s Gardening Service.

“There were a lot of infrastructure issues that needed to be tackled first,” said Steve Dewald, owner of Steve’s Gardening Service, which designed and installed the hardscape, planting, irrigation and landscape lighting. “In the end, bundling all the projects was more cost effective.”

The landscaping job was done in two phases, according to a master plan that included infrastructure, landscaping and lighting. Prior to completing the landscaping, gas and plumbing lines were rerouted and the driveway fortified. Grass pavers and LED lighting from Beachside were installed along the driveway. The lava-rock wall was fixed and open-picket vinyl fences (made of Ipe) were used to match other railings and keep the plantation-style look as well as frame the driveway.

To mirror the home’s steps, Steve’s Gardening Service used large concrete blocks with a rock-salt finish to create a courtyard that also included the addition of an elegant outdoor kitchen. An outdoor stairway was added to provide easy access to a covered lanai overlooking the yard.

Throughout the property, Steve’s Gardening Service adjusted irrigation, redirecting an underground water source that was previously runoff. A retaining stone wall to the lower portion of the yard was built and the patio was back filled with the pavers. To prevent stumbling over the retaining wall and create a pleasant visual, Steve’s Gardening Service planted monstera, which will thrive in the shade of the mango tree.

This yard’s beauty now starts at the curb with a “green” driveway of grass and natural stone leading to a simple wooden-trellis entryway. In the yard, water flows from a cobalt- blue pot onto surrounding red ti leaves and green-and-white variegated plants. Mountain orchids and heaven-scent gardenias complement ferns, palms and philodendron. Steps to the house resemble natural stone and match the home’s traditional look. Black river rock and liriope, grasslike, flowering groundcover, complement the patio’s darker stone.

A self-sustaining eco-system, the yard relies on rain harvesting from the gravity-fed rain barrels and an underground well system (or catchment tank) from which captured water seeps back into the soil. The irrigation system, drought-tolerant plants and porous natural stones, like the puka lava that lets rain seep back into the ground, minimize the amount of watering needed for the yard. Recycled water from an outdoor shower nourishes nearby landscape in the backyard.

Sustainability for this home and landscape is enhanced by photovoltaic solar panels and a compost bed.

Separate eco-friendly, LED lighting systems for each area of the driveway and yard were installed for optimal light and beauty. A Kichler outdoor chandelier hangs over the patio and dining areas. Landscape light fixtures provide light for the outdoor kitchen and lights are wired around the mango tree for a dramatic effect.

Now the owners and guests can enjoy the “outside” lifestyle, lounging or eating under the mango tree and cooking on their new outdoor kitchen, in a relaxing and easy-to-maintain setting that treats the senses.


1. Plant what thrives naturally in your environment. The fewer chemicals (and water) you have to use, the more environmentally friendly.
2. Use efficient irrigation technology.  Consider smart controllers, rain sensors and low-flow sprinkler heads.
3. Reuse rainwater at every opportunity. Consider rain barrels (shown above), underground recharge systems and rain harvesting.
4. Use LED lighting, like those mounted to the mango tree shown above. It saves energy and money, plus replacement is a snap.

Categories: Landscape Design, Outdoor Living, Sustainability