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Small yard makeover: Designing ‘rooms’

Landscape specialist Kim Kabot and her dog Zoe at her home in Petaluma, on Tuesday, July 7, 2015. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)

VICTORIA COOPER , FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Kim Kabot loves designing vignettes or rooms in the yard, especially when it is her own.

When she moved into her rental house in Petaluma four years ago, she faced an unkempt yard devoid of healthy plants and shrubbery. Undaunted, she set to work enriching the soil with compost and planting public-facing and private areas along the front and sides of the house, the only areas available for planting since another house sits behind hers on a flag lot.

Kabot’s side yards had some outdoor wooden archways and screens that she decided to keep in order to demarcate transitions. She created other transitions with trellises and shrubs. Pittisforum “Silver Sheen,” Mexican Weeping Bamboo and dodonaea shield seating areas from the street, for example.

Many of the shrubs, flowering plants and succulents she planted in the front yard were chosen for their drought-resistant nature and to create the eclectic look that she wanted.

“You can’t have hedges of hydrangea or fields of lawns here in the North Bay and expect them to do well,” she advised, though she couldn’t resist planting a few roses, some of the “blousy flowers” she loves. She put them along her white picket fence, which gets full sun.

Her front garden plants also were chosen for their architectural influence and color: a phormium “Apricot Queen” by the front door, an ornamental sambucus nigra “Black Lace” and a cardoon, a relative of the artichoke that has gone to thistle near the fence.

While Kabot, a licensed landscape contractor, has focused in recent years on converting lawns to gardens for her clients, she understands why people love their lawns. “They create negative space, a place to rest your eyes,” she said, “and of course they are good for playing ground sports and for playing with your pets. But the Number 1 ingredient for a healthy garden is a drip-irrigation system.”

Kabot thinks that homeowners often make the mistake of trying to install their own drip systems.

“Oftentimes, we have to go in and undo their work,” she said. “Drip irrigation allows us to modulate the amount of water going into the soil and to direct it. It also allows us to set up hydrazones, putting together plants with similar water needs.

“If you want hardscapes in your garden, I always suggest a permeable hardscape such as gravel,” she said. “There are even special pavers that are permeable but, as with brick and stone, avoid using mortar between them so the water can seep into the ground and feed the aquifers rather than running into the storm drain, which feeds the ocean.”

After soil and hardscapes are set and systems are installed, the fun part for most homeowners is choosing their plants.

“The plants that thrive the best in our Mediterranean climate are lavenders, salvias, poppies, manzanitas, succulents, euphorbia, teucrium and ornamental grasses,” Kabot said. Other good choices are any of the bulbous plants, such as daffodils.

“Don’t be afraid to be eclectic,” Kabot concluded. “You can plant rosemary next to roses, for instance, and just enjoy.”

Kabot’s passion for design began in the fashion industry. She spent many years working in sales, merchandising and management for several companies in Los Angeles and New York.

“The garden was my solace during those busy years,” she said, “but I was born in Santa Monica and lived an outdoor life when young. My passion then was horseback riding and showing.”

After many years in fashion, she decided to make a change and thought about either gardening, which had become a pastime, or pet care. “I had grown up with a fruit orchard and roses at my grandparents’ place in the San Fernando Valley,” she said, “so gardening was a natural choice.”

Kabot studied design, horticulture and drafting at SUNY Farmingdale and SRJC two years, touring the great gardens of the East Coast as part of her training. A self-starter, she has continued to take courses, as she did at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx. Soon, she had discerning clients in Nassau County.

“I was willing to do fine garden care, which has been the bread and butter of my business ever since,” she said. “We do hand pruning, maintain irrigation systems and nowadays convert lawns into drought-resistant and water-saving gardens.”

Kim Kabot can be reached at kimscape@comcast.net, 236-0968.