A living sculpture dresses a hot, dry bank

Escondido resident Peter Bailey doesn’t own a lawn mower and doesn’t intend to. Instead of putting in a thirsty, high-maintenance lawn, Bailey ― a mechanical engineer ― landscaped 700 square feet behind his contemporary home with a grid of 2-foot concrete squares, crushed rock, and cactus. Outdoor living spaces flank other sides of the house, so the goal for this area was simply to make it look good from eye level as well as from the home’s second-story windows.

Before planting, Bailey leveled the soil, installed a weed barrier of black plastic, and outlined the grid using stakes and string. He arranged 25 precast concrete squares in five rows, 2 feet apart. Crushed rock, chosen to harmonize with a backdrop of granite boulders, fills the rest of the grid and extends beyond it. Where the lines of crushed rock intersect, he cut 12-inch-diameter holes in the plastic, then planted a golden barrel cactus in each (16 total). He also installed drip irrigation, but he seldom uses it (about twice a month in summer). To add character to the checkerboard and visually tie it to its surroundings, Bailey removed one of the squares and replaced it with a tree aloe; its leafy topknot echoes the silhouettes of nearby palms and agaves.

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