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San Juan Capistrano, Calif. Residence
Yvonne English, Legends Design Studio

Landscape Architecture by Yvonne English, Legends Design Studio, Inc.


The owners of this home in San Juan Capistrano, California, wanted a landscape that would provide proper drainage, as their home has experienced a devastating flood. Yvonne English of Legends Design Studio created a formal front yard, with the terrain becoming more natural as it approaches the coastal hillside to the rear of the home.

Located in a unique equestrian area of San Juan Capistrano, this 20,000 square foot property rests at the edge of nearby 1000 foot high hills and the La Rhonda Trail. It is an open and peaceful environment visited by deer, racoons and other wildlife.

The Spanish style home is typical of the local architecture in San Juan Capistrano (pop. 34,593), located in southern Orange County along the coast. The city is most identified with the Roman Catholic mission founded here in 1776 by the Franciscan Order of Spanish Catholics, and unfortunately named after Italian saint Giovanni da Capistrano (1386-1456), who one historian has identified as a mass murderer of Polish Jews! Another historic note: The San Miguel Mission (1610-1626) in Santa Fe is the oldest church mission in the continental U.S.


The redesign of the front entry included the creation of a shade garden along the entrance walk. A custom arch with lighting was added over the entrance pillars, and a second arched trellis allows access to the side yard. The entrance courtyard includes a quatrefoil-based fountain, decomposed granite spaces, citrus trees and a espaliered Grewia plant trained into a diamond pattern climbing the front chimney.

Because of the mission, San Juan Capistrano boasts several firsts for California: The Serra Chapel at the mission is the oldest in-use building in the state; Los Rios is the state's oldest residential neighborhood (if you disregard the Native American settlements); and the city can lay claim to the first California vineyard and winery.


The entertainment area features an outdoor kitchen with an open patio cover. The kitchen was located above the previous pool, with additional terraced walls to create the kitchen garden. The multipurpose patio cover was designed for sun protection and to supply locations and conduit for speakers, downlighting and electric heaters. The kitchen counter has food preparation spaces and seating.

Client Goals
The landscape architect, Yvonne English of Legends Design Studio, was asked to design the exterior of this property after the home experienced a devastating flood. The clients' primary landscape goal was to minimize the chance of future home flooding. As the couple enjoys entertaining, it was they wanted accessible, ambient, comfortable and well lit spaces. In the front yard, the goal was to improve curb appeal and create an interesting entrance with a sitting area. The clients wanted to buffer the walking trail adjacent to the property. The wife wished to convert the storage and unkempt patio outside of her office into a private planting area with a swim spa.

The back of the property, approximately 10,000 square feet, has views of the hills and horses on the equestrian trail. The homeowner wanted open views and no privacy fencing. Several fruit trees existed, but were not planted in ideal locations, and many more were desired. An important goal included an outdoor grilling area to include a sink, refrigerator, trash areas, storage space and seating. Since they cook extensively, nearby access to lemons, limes, tomatoes and herbs should be located near the outdoor kitchen. Other desireable features were the sound of water, a fireplace, an area for the dogs to run, and an updated cutting garden space.


Each of the paved areas has a different pattern within a sandstone colored border. The landscape architect created a custom random pattern with four sizes from Olsen Pavingstone's Infinity Collection for the rear and part of the driveway. The fireplace area, the outdoor kitchen and the dining area under the balcony all incorporated a cafe colored, timber texture plank paver. The area off the office integrated a diamond pattern. The front driveway repeated the diamond pattern inside a thirty foot quatrefoil surrounded by a a double border, sandstone and cafe. The half circles of the quatrefoil lead to walkways designed with the two smallest size pavers.

Site Analysis
The landscape architect observed the site sloped toward the house and contracted a civil engineer to create a topographic site survey, along with review of any grade changes she proposed. The transit readings demonstrated the back of the property was eight feet higher than the finished floor of the house, which resulted in a 6% grade change along the length of the backyard. The grade made it difficult to place tables and chairs for guests to sit comfortably.

After researching the walking trail northwest of the site, which had been marked with signage as a trail for over 20 years, the landscape architect learned there was no trail easement designated, which allowed its removal.



Other amenities designed were a custom fountain; planters with additional citrus trees; a sitting area with love seats; and a 14 foot by 26 foot second story balcony with iron railings and spiral staircase. The structure was designed with arched stucco pillars similar to the front of the house. The balcony doubles as an outdoor dining room below to offer an enclosed eating area. The tongue and groove wood ceiling was carefully engineered to accommodate can lighting and built-in Infratech heaters. A chandelier hangs over a ten (10) foot long custom built alder table. Custom hardwood gates were also designed from alder. All were built by Ed Cunningham. Across from the interior dining room is a ten (10) foot tall custom fireplace and sitting area.

Design Concept
After analyzing options for the project, the final design concept was to start at the rear property with the rough, natural terrain of the hillside. As the design proceeded closer toward the front of the property, it became more traditional and formal.

The rear property was divided into terraces to minimize the water flowing toward the house. The areas from rear to front:
• Fruit orchard
• Relaxing natural space doubling as an entertainment area, with a 50-foot stream, ponds and waterfalls
• Open turf space/dog area with a graded swale, dry water bed with catch basins to drain water across and around the site
• The main entertainment zone
• Cutting garden with updated plants, seating and lighting
• Office garden
• Inviting formal entrance to the home
• Formal curb appeal from the street


Recycled broken concrete from the demolition was designed for two new uses: retaining walls and steps to build terraces; and walkways through the more natural areas. The concrete was stained to mimic the appearance of natural stone. Ponds and streams throughout the site were done by Mystic Water Gardens.

Natural Areas
By merely adding an orchard of deciduous fruit bearing trees, the rear tip of the property embraces a natural landscape. A small level seating area was designed in front of twin weeping mulberry trees to provide a view to the rear of the house. The first waterfall was designed next to the sitting area.

The next level was designed as the natural area with two larger sitting areas shaded by existing trees. The stream, a recycled bridge, ponds and waterfalls granted visual interest from the rear of the house, and became an attraction for wildlife.


Rounding out the natural area was the largest pond, a dry river bed swale, a drought-tolerant turf area ('El Toro' Zoysia), drought tolerant plants like lavender, a butterfly garden, and an olive tree transplanted from the front yard.

Traditional and Formal Spaces
The area surrounding the rear of the home became the main entertainment area. A retaining wall was designed and engineered to be one foot higher than the soil level opposite the walls around the rear of the house, and continued as a nonretaining wall around the south side and front courtyard of the house. Steps lead from the entertainment area to the turf and natural walkway. Precast caps and tile accents were used on the steps for interest.

The garden by the office is a shade garden. All of the electrical and irrigation equipment is hidden near the house by the office. A new storage area was added near the garage with a double gate, allowing for another shade garden next to the wall.

The view of the home from the street is the most formal aspect of the design. The client did not want a typical paver driveway, so it was designed with a quatrefoil pattern. Half circle traditional turf lawn bordered by paver mow curb and framed with a boxwood hedge and white iceburg roses sets the traditional formal stage. Two truckloads of soil were removed along with the large alder tree. A field dug olive tree was installed with a crane in front of the walled courtyard and is circled with Rockrose (Cistus). A custom wood trellis was installed for both vines and lighting over the garage doors.

Landscape Architect: Legends Design Studio, Yvonne English
Civil Engineer: CFR Engineering, Cesar Ramirez
Structural Engineer: Phase II Engineering, Dawn Pasol
Planting Design: Yvonne English, Margery Morris
Contractors: Legends in Landscape
Subcontractors: Cunningham Construction
Plumbing: Joe Montano
Pond and streams: Mystic Water Gardens
Saddleback Valley Ornamental Iron: Custom iron railings, arches, front iron window

Olsen Pavingstone: concrete interlocking paving
Pacific Stone: precast, front fountain
Lighting: SPJ Lighting
Fruit Trees: Durling Nursery
Spiral Staircase: The Iron Shop

As seen in LASN magazine, November 2017.

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December 7, 2019, 3:37 am PDT

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