Below the Bridge

 The January weather this year was accommodating enough that an early re-start on the hillside garden proved too tempting to turn down.

view of the unfinished bottom of a hillside garden
"Cut and fill" in the unfinished hillside garden

 The front garden has a roughly "S" shaped path that meanders down the hillside. The dirt path in the bottom left is on top of "fill" from the "cut" to the right.

"Cut" in the lower portion of an unfinished garden
Below the bridge - rough grading for the dry creek

For posterity - the "before" shot.

Pallettes of rock newly arrived on site
A few days later - more rocks arrive

halfway packed palettes of stone at the base of a hillside garden
During the first weekend of work

After the palettes of material arrive there's always a fun discovery phase where I see what exactly I have to work with this time around.

Rock wall in garden under construction
Afternoon in February, 2022

With no rain for some time the ground is already turning color. Normally this is our rainy season and while I appreciate the beautiful weather this means the ground may dry out earlier this year.


Stone wall under construction

Most of the rock at this point is fairly well spread out across the hillside to help with the process of picking and choosing just the right piece.

Stone wall under construction - close up

I've been using some ledge stone for a tighter, more finished look in this area of the garden. This will eventually act as informal seating wall at the back of a garden forecourt.

By mid March the wall has been completed.

The area between the wall and the sidewalk will be covered with a layer of crushed drain rock which will act as the subsurface for the forecourt.

These stakes will be replaced with a low fence and gate at some point. 

Starting a crevice garden
Getting started on bottom of the crevice garden

Unfortunately I don't have the best rock for a crevice garden; it feels too blocky. I'm hoping that once I layer in place smaller rocks, gravel and plants that the final look will improve.

The "crevice garden" also serves as an edge to the dry creek.

By early April both edges of the dry creek are in place. Just like putting together a jigsaw puzzle, the middle remains to be filled.

Rock crevice garden under construction

This part of the hillside will form a rocky outcrop intersected by the seating wall. The goal is to make the outcrop feel as though it's a naturally occurring formation which was cut away in order to make room for the wall and patio.

Rock wall intersecting a rock garden under construction
Seating wall intersecting a rocky outcrop
It's tempting to jump strait to the 'sexy' part of a garden which in my opinion would be the plants. Successful gardens are planned and built in layers and this can take patience. For example the mountain of rocks above are a dominant feature now but will recede into the background over the coming years as plants grow. It's worth spending a lot of time on this 'rocky' phase of the build because the boulders and how they are arranged are adding: structure, visual interest and habitat.

After another burst of activity much of the smaller rock has been interspersed throughout the crevice garden. It's difficult to see but there are roughly a dozen planting pockets nestled in the crevice garden.

The garden's structure introduces obstacles that encourage visitors to walk a path of least resistance and experience the space at a slower pace. The boulders also perform a practical task - retaining the hillside and preventing future erosion. All the cut and fill work and addition of these rocks has changed the flat plane of the hillside into a roughly curvilinear mass punctuated at points with "bump outs" and alcoves. Hopefully this introduces a sense of discovery.

~95% of the rock in place
The smaller, irregularly shaped ledgestone make great infill among the boulders. When these smaller pieces are combined they form an outline which hints a larger mass of rock just below the surface.

The small spaces between rocks will offer a relatively cooler, moister habitat for roots. Space behind the rocks offer planting pockets and an opportunity for water to settle into the ground before moving downhill.

May 2022

A few weeks after putting in some herbaceous plants and I'm pleasantly surprised that they have not been decimated by the deer!

Crevice garden planting in progress
Crevice Garden in the afternoon light

Salvia nemorosa "East Friesland"

The rocky mulch is a mix of native rock / decomposed granite / 1/8" - 3/8" crushed gravel mix. Hopefully the mix looks somewhat natural and does a decent job of retaining soil moisture.

"Cat Mint"


Like many gardener's out there I've been a fan of Kenton Seth's  since first stumbling on his blog a few years back. I've drawn inspiration from pics I've seen of his crevice garden work and tried to create my own version (with a modified plant palette).

Salvia "Lyrical Rose"

Kind of a happy accident that the rust colored flowers of the below Salvia rhymes with the Corten steel, oxidized rock surfaces and the rusted wire mesh of the gabion baskets.

Salvia africana-lutea (Brown Salvia)

Mid-June 2022

The days are long now and the weather hotter so the plants will be put to the test these next several months. I'll continue to hand water them during their first dry season so that they stand a fighting chance.

Crevice Garden
Partially planted crevice garden


Pennisetum spathiolatum
Pennisetum spathiolatum (foreground)

I'm generally excited to introduce more drought tolerant grasses in the garden as well. The above Pennisetum ("Slender Veldt Grass") is native to South Africa so I'm hoping it does well in our Northern California climate.


Crevice Garden
Agave pedunculifera in the crevice garden

The young Agave pedunculifera (above on left) are toothless, soft agave with flexible spines which are largely harmless. It's become one of my favorite plants on the hillside because it's tough but still has a graceful form and green color which soften the garden.

I'd planned on finishing the crevice garden and dry creek with this post but other tasks always seem to pull me in different directions. It will eventually be finished - likely bit by bit!

Happy Gardening


  1. I don't know how to characterize an effort this mammoth - I think I may have already used a comparison to building the pyramids in response to an earlier post but that comes closest. I hope your back and knees are intact! In any case, your work is impressive and, as those plants fill out, I'm sure you're going to draw lots of visitors.

    1. Thx Kris - yes I've been making an extra effort to conserve my back! Very little dead lifting and much more rolling of stone or and leveraging into place.

  2. Wowsa! Coincidently Kenton Seth was just in town to build a rock and crevice garden at Cistus Nursery, it was great to talk plants and rocks with him and his co-author Paul. Looking at your stunning work has me thinking about something we talked about, the undeniable need for neighborhood kids to climb on the rocks. Have you experienced this?

    1. Oh - wow that must have been a great conversation. I have not had kids (that I know of) climbing on in my front yard - the exception being my young cousins that visited one day. Unfortunately out of fear of the litigious nature of America I wouldn't encourage rock climbing in my front yard :( but agreed that activity like climbing and outdoor play is definitely needed. Perhaps I should hire a lawyer, create a waiver and then invite the local kids ... :)

  3. Oh, wow! It's absolutely wonderful.


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