The Plant Nerd
Inn at Laguna Beach
Wouldn't it be great to have your entire yard redone in less than a
week and without spending one penny? Well, that's exactly what's about
to happen. This week we're at the home of the winner of the Landscape
Makeover Contest. We were flooded with applicants and choosing the
winner was difficult. Many that entered had touching stories but all
had a need for a radical makeover. What happens during the Makeover is
hard to believe but our film crew was on hand to capture it all. During
the transformation we'll talk with experts like landscape designers,
irrigations specialists, masons and more. This show is packed with
action, information and ideas. A radical makeover is about to begin on
this neglected yard in Laguna Beach, California.
Joe meets Carol the winner of the Landscape Makeover Contest and she is
excited. Carol has watched the show for a number of years, has always
enjoyed the show and has tried to learn from watching. When the contest
was announced she decided to enter and sent in her application. Lo and
behold she was informed she won and is very excited. She never thought
she would win. Joe informs Carol that there were thousands of
This house in Laguna Beach is close to the ocean. It's an historic
house built in 1923, or so. Carol and her family have owned it since
the early 60's and want to maintain the continuity of the time period
and want to keep it Laguna Beach quaint, as does the city. The yard is
in major need of repair and Carol had no idea where to start. Joe
agrees the yard is a wreck. There is much work to do.
Once Carol found out she had won she then had the opportunity to
interview several landscape designers. Korina from The Plant Nerd was
the final interviewee. Carol first spoke with Korina by phone. At that
time Carol told Korina the house had been in the family for 40 years
and they wanted the landscaping to compliment the style of the home.
And, they wanted the Laguna Beach feel. But, Carol also felt that
anything would be an improvement. Korina said it sounded interesting
and that she would take a look at the house, then call back. Carol was
afraid Korina would walk away but kept her fingers crossed. To Carol's
amazement Korina did call back and said she "Absolutely loved the
house. No problem, I can do it. It's got so many possibilities." Korina
started on the plans and she and Carol have become great friends during
the process. It has been a great experience.
Joe next meets Korina, owner of The Plant Nerd. When Korina first saw
the property she was excited, scared and nervous. She first noticed
that this was a property whose landscape had been neglected over time.
There were a lot of old trees that had been neglected, were ugly and
dying. There were old broken down retaining walls and paths that led to
nowhere. Korina wasn't sure why the yard had all the different levels.
She first had to decide what to work with and what not to work with.
Korina decided not to work with most of it, indeed to remove most of
it. She did realize she needed to retain some of the property levels,
but certainly not all, because there is a significant grade change from
1 side of the property to the other.
In the process of developing a plan Korina takes into consideration
what the homeowner is looking for. She talked with Carol about goals
and objectives. Carol has a large family, thus wanted to make space
available to accommodate this large group when entertaining. They have
grandchildren thus needed a lawn area. They also have a need for
wheelchair accessibility so grading it out and making a less hazardous
walkway was a major goal. Korina then went to work, put pencil to paper
and developed a plan. She created an upper tier patio and a lower tier
patio providing significant space for entertaining. The extra tiers are
to be held in place by retaining walls which will provide additional
seating. Thus, the retaining walls serve a dual purpose. The plant
palate reflects a low maintenance garden but there still will be a lot
of color. Many of the plants are seasonal throughout the country, but
aren't here. Here they're colorful all year long and many have extended
Korina has 2 separate plans. One plan deals with the hardscape, the
other plan outlines the plant material or softscape. She always does it
this way because oftentimes the construction crews do either
softscaping or hardscaping. Thus, breaking it up makes more sense. All
the callouts for construction are on one page for that contractor to
work with. Korina's plans and vision are exceptional. And, her ability
to communicate her ideas is equally impressive. Korina is truly an
The first order of business is the demolition. There are a lot of
neglected old trees that have been poorly maintained over the years and
the same can be said of the plant material. Simply put, there isn't
hardscape or softscape in the backyard that can be salvaged. A bobcat
and crew of construction specialists will clear it out.
Kennah Construction has been hired for this job. Terry, the job
foreman, says that this is a fairly small yard, thus a relatively
simple job. He's been an operator for about 20 years. Thus knows how to
operate all kinds of equipment, but the Bobcat is probably his
favorite. Particularly with a small backyard like this. It has
attachments that can be switched around; almost anything that's needed
in this backyard, it can do. On this job they used many attachments.
They used the breaker or augur, the front bucket, the backhoe and the
grappler bucket. For the cleaning of the yard, he used the front bucket
to scoop up all the debris; the concrete, roots, etc. then load them
into the truck. The backhoe helped take out the footings, take out the
roots of the trees and pull down the bushes. The grappler bucket helps
pick up big, bulky, hard to handle items. The breaker is used to break
up concrete, getting out the rebar and making it all small enough to
take to the recycling dump. For a yard of this size, they took out more
than usual amounts of garbage, debris and plant material like trees and
shrubs. A normal yard this size might require removal of 2 or three
truckloads but they've already removed 5 truckloads. It's been a little
more than anticipated. The last phase of the job requires putting in 3
separate tiers, or creating 3 ground levels. This property is on a
hillside, they want to follow the contour of the hill but also keep it
level for patios, walkways, etc. It makes it a much nicer looking yard
and a more functional yard than if the slope were to follow the hill.
Joe thinks it's neat to see a landscape makeover from start to finish.
The film crew showed up on Sunday and saw the garden. It had garden
rooms but was a mess. Less than a day later a crew came in with
tractors and wiped the slate clean. Joe thinks it's like etch-a-sketch.
There has been a lot going on. This would normally be a 6 month
project, it will happen here in less than a week. In less than 24 hours
it went from a mess to a clean slate. Now there are elevation changes
and the process is off and running.
It's the next day and the next crew to arrive is M & M Masonry. Manuel
"Manny" Cruz and his group first start by tackling the retaining walls.
Manny has been doing this kind of work for about 20 years. He started
when he was young, about 23. He started with a pick and shovel working
on trenches and footings, like they are working on now. This is a
family business. He is joined by his 3 brothers and father but they
have plenty of additional help. Manny and his family all started
working in the same business as young kids. Now they're doing this for
a living. And they do great work.
Manny talks about what's happening today. They're building low
retaining walls. The industry started using this type of material about
10 years ago. Kennah created the trenching for the footings, going down
about 6 inches. Manny's crew will next level the soil, then fill the
trench with rock. The rock is important because when wet, if the
retraining wall were installed on just soil it would get wobbly. With
the addition of rock it is stable, it provides a good, solid
foundation. The retaining walls are laid in tiers and they interlock.
Each piece has a lip on the back of 1 side. When stacked on top of 1
another they don't slide, they hold. Thus, it makes a strong retaining
wall. Concrete isn't needed, thus one need not worry about cracks
because it is flexible. The blocks allow water to drain, greatly
decreasing the need for any future repairs. The 1st tier must be level.
Then just add the next layer of the stacked stone retaining wall right
on top. The lip allows them to interlock, no mater how high one goes.
It works very well. They're stable and no concrete is necessary. Manny
and his crew are true craftsmen.
Joe next visits with Bob Sandstrom with Thompson Building Materials.
The process of deciding which stone to select for paths and patios
seems complicated. Joe wonders how does the process start? Here the
customer can walk around and view many different stone options. They
have a legend that coincides with the numbers on the floor which allows
the customer to guide themselves and make basic color and texture
choices on their own. Then there are basic decisions that then must be
made. For example, some of the stones are flat, some have an undulating
or bumpy surface. Especially for an exterior application they direct
the customer to a quartz like surface, something like the Arizona
flagstone we'll be using on this project. Arizona flagstone has a
flatter surface which is good if there will be patio furniture placed
on top. Some stones are more suited for walkways while others are more
suited for driveways or areas with furniture. Another consideration is
how stable should the surface be? Will the stone be placed in sand or
concrete? If there is going to be a lot of traffic they normally
suggest a mud-set installation. If primarily walkways then a sand-set
is suggested or what the industry calls a flexible installation. This
allows the materials to move. Thickness is also an important
consideration and needed if there is vehicular traffic (driveways,
motor courtyards, etc). Thinner stones are more appropriate for light
pedestrian traffic. These are the type questions that need to be
addressed. Bob knows Manny very well, tells us Manuel has done a great
job in the industry over the years and knows we'll enjoy working with
It's another day, the sun is just coming up, the crew is here and
didn't waste time getting started. They have some jobs to complete but
soon will need the sand and flagstone which has yet to be delivered.
But, not to worry, before 8 AM it arrives. Joe had been sweating it for
awhile but it worked out well and everyone is now busy at work.
The stone walkways and patios go together like pieces to a puzzle. In 1
section they have allowed more space between the stone so planting can
take place in the crevices.
Manny tells Joe why they choose the stone they did. Arizona flagstone
was chosen for many reasons. Time was a consideration. It is easy to
work, easy to cut with diamond blades. Other stones could have taken
longer to cut and install and Manny had only a short period of time
available to complete this project. More time means they require more
labor, making cost another consideration. They chose the thick variety
of Arizona flagstone, which is almost double in size, because this
stone is going to be laid on sand. Thick means heavy, one stone could
weigh 300 pounds, thus they often require 2 men to move each piece, but
it is stronger. The thin variety when wet becomes fragile. It could
crack. There are advantages to laying the stone in sand. One is
obviously the cost. It costs less to put on sand but cracks aren't a
problem. On sand the stone will move slightly thus earthquakes aren't a
concern. Arizona flagstone is available in a red, pink or tan hue. They
have chosen a golden, tan color to match the retaining walls and to
compliment the house and surroundings.
To lay the stone Manny and his crew first make sure the soil is level
and compact. To accomplish this they use a transom. They shoot a line
to ensure it's level. The stone is then set in 3 inches of sand. They
then lay out the stone and again check to make sure it is level. If
necessary they dig underneath the stone, to make sure it is still
level. With this done, it should stay in place for years. Manny and
crew make it look easy but they are true professionals - hard working,
cheerful and efficient. They're a joy to work with.
Jeff Tolly is President and owner of his own Company, Tolly Landscape.
Jeff says his Mom says he has a voice for radio and a face for TV. Joe
knows that to have a crew of 20 people or so that Jeff must also have
some book knowledge and experience in this field. Jeff does, he is a
3rd generation landscape contractor. He has a Bachelor of Science
degree in horticultural science from Cal Poly, Pomona. He started out
with a guy and a truck 6 years ago and has grown to a 25 man crew
today. They do anything from small renovations to aggressive projects,
like this project. He doesn't freak out with a project like this.
Except for the camera this is relatively normal in his business world.
And Tolly Landscape is a great, fun company to work with, very
knowledgeable and hard working.
His crew today will be focusing on the clean up and prep for the
planter beds and sod. They will lay the header board to delineate the
grass, planting and shrub areas. They will get the canvas clean for
Korina. So, when she comes in and tells them where things need to go,
it will be ready and she'll be happy.
Joe comments on the fact that so far we've been spending time on the
hardscaping. Jeff's focus is softscaping. What's the difference?
Hardscaping is the retaining walls, the stonework and concrete, when
necessary. Jeff is involved in the softscaping. That includes the clean
up work, irrigation, lighting, planting, soil and bed preparation and
Joe next notices PVC pipes laying around and dirt arriving. Jeff
explains. The PVC pipe is a part of the irrigation system. PVC pipe is
utilized for the lateral lines and the main lines for the automated
sprinkler system. The soil and soil amendments and mulches will be
utilized in the planter beds. Jeff thinks it important to note that
they won't plant into existing soil, especially if that soil needs
amending. This enriched soil will be instrumental in getting these
plants going and thriving.
Joe is worn out after all the work involved with the Landscape
Makeover. It has been fun but he wanted to get away, especially since
we're in such a beautiful part of the country. Accordingly, Joe is
visiting with David Shepherd the General Manager of the Inn at Laguna
Beach. David welcomes Joe and tells him there is no better place to
relax after a hard day in the garden. Laguna Beach is a small village
nestled between the mountains and the ocean. The climate here is
fantastic year round, from January through December. Everyone knows
about July and August but during the other months, the off season, this
is a quiet little village where people come to relax. It's not just a
getaway for the rich and famous, it's a getaway for everyone. Joe has
noticed that Laguna Beach is filled with lush vegetation, no matter
where one goes. Of course, resorts, like this, have beautiful
landscaping, but it seems even the restaurants and particularly the
homes in the area are all lush. The climate has a big influence on
that. This resort has beautiful views and they are complimented by
luscious greenery. There are full trees and shrubs and flowers and,
when they bloom, which is year round, they have the whole spectrum of
delightful color. Everything in Laguna Beach seems lush. It's a
Joe thanks David for the tour. David, in turn, invites Joe back in the
We'll be back in several weeks and complete the Landscape Makeover
Contest. You'll be amazed at the transformation of the property. It's a
learning experience and a delight for the eyes. Keep checking our web
M & M Masonry - Manuel Cruz - 714-974-2716
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