Home & Garden: After the Lawn


If you look, you can see hints, Becky Mesker says. Subtle signs that an artist once owned the Sierra Oaks home she bought in 2006. She points out what she calls “little clues”: A curved wall in the kitchen. A handcrafted mosaic in the front yard. And something else—something Mesker says was not fully revealed until she had landscape designer and contractor Gary Kernick revamp her yards, front, back and side. “You walk through the house, and the yard is on view everywhere,” Mesker says, adding she didn’t appreciate all the windows looking into the front courtyard until Kernick completed his work. “Becky and I talked a lot about color and the artist’s touches in the house,” he says. “We wanted to bring those aspects of the house out and have the garden match them.” They also talked about spaces for cooking, dining and entertaining and for enjoying peace and serenity in quiet, secluded corners. “We felt good about removing the lawn,” Kernick says with a smile. They kept a bit of turfgrass to soften the streetscape, but there’s not a blade to be found anywhere within the garden walls. What did Mesker think about that? “I love this house and garden every single day,” she says. “Every single day.”

Design/contractor: Gary Kernick, Change of Seasons, Sacramento. Kernick is known for landscapes with a contemporary vibe and effortless balance of color, texture and scale. He invariably includes something fun. 

The unexpected: In the backyard, Kernick created a mosaic of turquoise tiles that swirl around a portable fire bowl. Uh-huh. Portable. It’s made by EcoSmart Fire and uses liquid fuel. “The great thing is you can pick it up,” Kernick says. (Not when it’s lighted, of course.) “It’s lightweight and looks like concrete, but it’s polymer, so if you want, you can move it around.” And there are no ashes, soot or embers to clean up. 

Front yard, before: Lawn, a large Chinese pistache tree, Japanese maple, some crape myrtles, a group of roses and a straight slate pathway from the garden wall to the front door. Mesker doesn’t know who created the mosaic on the garage wall but thinks it was likely the artist who owned the home in the 1990s. 

Front garden, after: The trees, roses and mosaic stayed. Just about everything else changed. Out went most of the ever-thirsty turfgrass. In came broom-finished concrete pads and brick-lined pathways. Gardens of brilliantly hued plants and lime-green grasses play off the splashy terra-cotta color of the home. 

Peace and harmony: “I wanted a Zen feeling in the front,” Mesker says. “And I wanted the sound of water. That was really important to me.” The recirculating feature Kernick designed has a built-in bench seat. (Heavenly, right?) 

Oasis: “Hummingbirds come here to take a bath, and I’ve seen flocks of 20 or 30 little birds that take turns coming down into the water with their wings fluttering,” Mesker says. “ . . . It feels perfect.”

Backyard, before: A lovely old oak and established shrubs kept it private. That was the good news. The not-so-wonderful features included turfgrass no one needed or used and a long, narrow, elevated patio. “You could step down into the yard, but it was so narrow, you felt like you could kind of fall off,” Mesker says. 

Backyard, after: The shade trees and privacy plantings stayed; the turf and unfriendly patio went away. Kernick designed an easy-to-navigate one-level hardscape beautifully organized into spaces. 

Playtime: One end of the yard is outfitted with an outdoor shower and some artificial turf for Mesker’s above-ground pool. “It’s our summer play toy. The grandkids love it,” she says.

What a difference a curve makes: Kernick rounded a portion of the patio to add a cool, contemporary feel. An outdoor kitchen (concrete countertop with sparkly embedded bits) anchors the far end of the yard.

Giving it a whirl: “I don’t know why we thought of it,” Kernick says about the whimsical swirl mosaic with the fire bowl at its center, “but I’ve always loved swirls. They are just really fun, and remembering that Becky really enjoys colors, we wanted to bring the turquoise tones into the space.”

Finishing touches: Containers stuffed with fleshy succulents and water-thrifty ferns line the back wall. While all the basic elements of the garden are in neutral tones, the containers pack a colorful punch. Bye-bye, boring lawn.