Helix Customer Profile
Mt. Helix in La Mesa
When Carey Hultgren and Paul Geldbach purchased their half-acre Mt. Helix home, they became the owners of a 3,000 square foot front yard that included a beautiful pool and a dead lawn. Ready for an upgrade, they participated in the San Diego County Water Authority’s free WaterSmart Landscape Makeover Program and developed a design plan which included flagstone pathways, a cost-effective conversion of their existing sprinklers to MP rotators and lots of flowering, water-wise plants. They removed the dead lawn, composted over winter and began planting in spring. Currently 50 percent installed, the flowering aloes, colorful bougainvillea and sprawling yellow lantana already enhance their 1930s Spanish-style home.
Q & A with the homeowner
Q: What was here before?
A: We had the remnants of a dead lawn mixed with large expanses of rocky dirt before we started planting. We began by adding several yards of free Miramar landfill compost periodically (for about 2 years before planting). The compost inadvertently worked well as a weed-preventative as it decomposed and made our soil healthier!
Q: Where did your design ideas come from?
A: I had recently been to Palm Springs and stayed at The Alcazar Hotel. They had just completed a significant landscape remodel and I picked their gardener’s brain, I was so inspired. We wanted plants that would thrive in the highly exposed and hot upper terrace above our pool but also wanted floral color to give it a touch of the tropics. We planted fuchsia “Barbara Karst” for background color and coral-pink “Rosenka” bougainvillea in the middle. Hesperaloe Parviflora sent off long, rose-colored flower stems all summer long and the New Gold Lantana is intended to eventually spill over the wall towards the pool deck below. With careful placement, we located a thornless Chilean Mesquite for some filtered shade for the plants. It is at least 25 feet from our pool. We also planted several Blue Flame Agaves, Senecio and Lemon Bean Bush. I googled hundreds of pictures and I especially liked using a contrast of greens – from frosty gray greens to lime greens to deep jewel greens.
Q: What motivated this project?
A: Since moving to Mt. Helix from Bay Park in 2012, we’ve been shocked by the incessant heat of our new climate zone. Although we just loved our new home, we knew we had to rethink our approach to planting and watering – especially with one-half acre to conquer. I always tell people that San Diego County is an irrigated desert and people usually find that funny, but it is so true. Our approach has been a blend of desert plants and Mediterranean succulents with desert trees.
Q: What do you like best about your new landscape?
A: It frames the view down to our pool and the hills of Mexico in the distance. We are now proud of our yard instead of making excuses for it. It can take a beating in the heat and the bougainvillea just keeps blooming and blooming! We have more to do to finish it – refining some of the plants and adding more mulch and adjusting the irrigation, but we are happy with its beginning.
Q: Are you saving water?
A: We never had the lawn when it was living, but unequivocally yes!
Q: Does it take more or less time for maintenance?
A: Given that we had nothing but dirt and weeds before, maybe a little more. Believe it or not, our dirt patch took a lot of work with weed remediation! Since we have planted and mulched, it’s much better at keeping weeds at bay. Plus, I enjoy working on it so much more because now it gives back to me with color and beauty.
Q: Do you have any tips for other homeowners?
A: 1) Rinse and repeat! Use the same plants over and over again for a more finished garden with continuity and intention. Using one or two plants at a time looks random and confusing. A good design seeks repetition, contrast and color repeats. You can really appreciate the plants when you see several of them at once. I confess, against my better judgement I do often buy heat-loving plants spontaneously with only a vague plan for where to put them, especially if I find nice, healthy ones. But I always buy in groupings of five or seven or even nine. I never buy just one!
2) Mix your greens. Explore all the different varieties of greens out there – greens with blue, gray, purple, yellow, even whitish undertones – and blend them for the best effect.
3) Opposites attract! Pair softer, feathery plants with sculptural plants. The visual contrast is striking and beautiful.
Thank you, Hultgren-Geldbach family for sharing your lovely and sustainable landscape with us. If it looks this good already, we can’t wait to see it completely finished.
Inspired to upgrade your landscape but not sure where to start? Consider registering for a free WaterSmart Landscape Program workshop or series of classes.
Do you have a beautiful, WaterSmart landscape that you would like to share with others? Contact us at email@example.com and you could be featured in a future blog article.