Upon taking ownership of the Rancho we had to come to grips with some facts, the first being that the place had been neglected for probably decades. The entire back end of the lot (the property is actually a double lot) was completely overgrown and clogged with weeds, shrubs and detritus left by both humans and animals. The two lots were fenced off between them and the backyard area was a mess of neglected shrubbery, now-dead grass clumps and featured a well-entrenched bees nest at ground level. First order of business was to rip all that out; that divisive fence, dead grass, shrubs, bushes, dried up trees, bees nest and leftover people trash, it all had to go. Once that had been accomplished I thought about how we could merge what had been two separate yards. How could I make the former backyard that sloped away from the house meet the once-neglected rear property in a seamless way? I knew we didn’t want grass any longer and I knew that I’d want to create seating areas and places to display my pots/plants obsessions, but what? I finally settled on a series of large flat stepped tiers. Paul co-signed the idea, and now I needed to find someone to help me accomplish what I had in mind. My usual accomplice, my brother-in-law, José, was not available. So, I turned to where I always go when I’m looking for something for the yard: craigslist.
I drew up what I had in mind and called a couple of landscapers I found there to talk about the plan. And, I found someone! Not only was this landscaper willing to take on the job but he also contributed some design fine-tuning that told me he was into it. Also, he was far and away less-expensive to work with than some others. (Finding a contractor who actually gets into one of my projects is priceless to me. They not only get the idea behind what I’m looking for but offer suggestions and go the extra mile to help me achieve my goal … worth every penny.) The basic design was to use railroad ties to be the frame for each tier. Inside, each frame would be dug out to make way for weed fabric, fine sand to create a level base, followed by large 2-foot by 2-foot concrete pavers to be separated by small chipped stone. The team drilled holes strategically into the railroad ties and stacked them to create the level tiers, sinking some into the ground. Lengths of rebar were then hammered into the pre-drilled holes in the ties and into the ground to secure them in place. The two highest tiers come down from the back of the house, meeting a third that ends where the backyard fence used to sit on a concrete retaining wall. To continue the visual flow created by these three tiers we added another larger tier on the other side beneath this retaining wall. This creates a bed featuring an old and very tall palm tree. I included a fountain I also found on craigslist for $100 that used to be a hand-washing basin at an airplane factory during WWII (transported by José from San Diego). The previously separated areas of the Rancho had now been united and it looked great. Paul had the brilliant idea to use more railroad ties to create a seating area under the huge tree at the back end of the property. We pitched the idea to the landscaper and his team and they took on this additional job. As you can see in the first picture, the railroad ties create a functional seating structure that defines the area under the tree. Now when we look out the windows into the backyard it seems vast and there’s a sense of space and flow all the way back to the fence — we love it!