Paseo Tranquillo

A designer’s best laboratory is her own garden. Years ago, when our principal Margie Gracewas a recently divorced single mother of two struggling to launch a landscape design/build business, she looked out to her own front yard and saw an opportunity. While she could not yet afford to build a garden like the ones she designed and installed for clients, she knew she couldn't afford to live without one either.

The Design Challenge

"I was clear what I wanted," said Margie. "Nothing less than spectacular would do!" But her garden also needed to be functional -- easy to maintain on a working woman's schedule, filled with flowers for outdoor pleasure and indoor bouquets, user-friendly for two boys and their cohorts, and a source of tranquility and rejuvenation.

The house sits on a small, flat rectangular plot, exposed to the street and traffic. While this presented the perfect opportunity to create a living showcase for her landscape design business, the plot's size and orientation presented challenges.

Like most new entrepreneurs, money was in short supply. Her budget resided somewhere in the realm of little to none. Where were the funds for the project going to come from? 

The Design Solution

Margie created her dream garden through a combination of creative sourcing of materials and getting the maximum mileage from her botanical knowledge.

Margie became an innovative scavenger, scouring flea markets, garage sales, thrift stores, and on occasion friends' garages and attics. A large urn and iguana pot were in the "70% off" corner of the statuary store. Second-hand fire bricks, found curbside with a "free" sign on them, form the risers for the steps. Donations of bearded iris, succulents, yarrow, and other plants appeared quite miraculously from friends, neighbors and the odd inquisitive passerby.

Recycled materials were patched up and utilized. A large concrete bowl used for the fountain was originally cracked, leaky and unattractive. She coated it with a concoction of cement, mineral tints, feldspar sand and a special admix to make it waterproof, sound and harmonious with her garden palette. Old hand-hewn curbstones and a sandstone wall cap were salvaged from an abandoned orchard and incorporated into the garden's dry rock walls. Existing mature plantings were incorporated to give the garden stature and complexity from the outset. The jacaranda, tulip tree and California pepper were already "in and paid for," defining the space and creating green walls and welcome shade. Margie also retained the climbing roses scrambling along the gable-line trellis, installed a decade before.

A flexible, extended timeline was allowed for installation. Margie worked on her garden during evenings and weekends, when she had enough energy left over from a full day building Grace Design Associates.

Today, Margie's little house and yard on a street called Paseo Tranquillo is truly a tranquil sanctuary. She learned beyond a shadow of a doubt that great spaces can be created in any small corner, and on any size budget. She learned that anything is possible with vision, commitment and resourcefulness. And she learned that, as Walt Disney once said, "It's kind of fun to do the impossible!"


Association of Professional Landscape Designers, Merit Award 2011

Association of Professional Landscape Designers, Judges Honorable Mention 2011

Santa Barbara Contractors Association, Builder of the Year: Best Landscape and Hardscape 2001