Editor's note: These stories first appeared in RESIDENTIAL CONCRETE, THE CONCRETE PRODUCER's sister publication.
Landscaping is not defined by its traditional focus on plantings, turf, and irrigation. Clients are now demanding sophisticated hardscapes that encompass many facets of the concrete.
Backyard settings now range from water features built with either shotcrete or concrete, concrete pavers, cast cement-based structural stone, and stamped concrete flatwork. Other concrete uses include the dramatic rise in concrete countertops on barbecues to structural concrete used in outdoor fireplaces, fire pits, raised planters, arbors, and underlayment for natural rock paving.
GCS is a design/build landscaping firm in Woodbridge, Calif., that specializes in large private estates. A typical GCS project encompasses five to 80 acres and lasts from two to four years. These estates usually cost $5 million to $25 million. All of GCS's landscape designs include hardscapes, often highlighting concrete features.
Concrete is so predominant that a portable concrete batch plant is maintained onsite. In-house crews perform all the work, other than electrical and pool plaster. Crews are trained and promoted from within the organization. The company views training as the most important investment it can make.
High-end clients typically spend more on the landscape than they do on the residence, making it even more important that all designs match and views from all of the structural components work together.
Clients also frequently love water, so including multiple water features was paramount on a recently completed 4.2-acre private estate project in northern California. The site provided GCS planners an initial flat, blank canvas with no structures or vegetation.
Designing around water
The house's design began in conjunction with the landscape design. GCS planners considered view angles, destination points, transition, and overall flow in the landscape as they laid out the primary design criteria around the water features and other hardscapes. The client also wanted to be able to entertain 250 people comfortably and elegantly. This presented a design challenge because the homeowners also should be able to entertain a very small group comfortably.
GCS accomplished this with hardscape design, elevation change, and isolation of areas with proper planting design. Concrete played a key role:
A crew of eight completed the landscaping in 33 months. GCS started with a bare piece of land and brought in 655 truckloads of soil, more than 16,000 tons of which was used to sculpture and texture the landscaping. The hardscape features are the focal points of the project. Executing a project of this size and complexity requires meticulous planning and finite scheduling.
— Bill Goddard is the principal and founder of GCS. He writes articles in a variety of landscape publications and gives seminars across the country on both subjects.