Landscape contractor Scott Sohn recalled the day when landscape architect Wayne Connor showed him a pencil sketch and asked for his opinion.
“I had to step back and say, ‘What the heck is that?'” Sohn said, chuckling.
That was the Bamboo Wave, a key element of a plant-free garden by a guesthouse in Rancho Mirage.
In a region where the temperatures hit 120 in the shade, a garden that requires no water and no fried-plant replacement is practical, but practicality was merely a side benefit to the goal here: an unusual design to help the guesthouse entry look and feel different from other parts of a large property.
Materials research: Sohn started by looking for the right dried bamboo. He found poles as large as 5 inches in diameter and in a range of colors, including black. He ultimately specified 3-inch-diameter golden poles from Cali Bamboo, which also sells flooring, decking, fencing and other bamboo products.
Process: The contractor had to figure out how to build Connor's design so that it looked like the drawing and would last with minimum maintenance. He started by marking the footprint of the wave, then excavating 3 feet — 1 foot at the bottom for gravel, to ensure good drainage, and then 2 feet for the bamboo foundation, so each pole would be well anchored.
As a foundation, Sohn skipped concrete, which would have made replacing damaged poles too difficult. Instead, he buried 4-inch-diameter PVC pipes — one for each bamboo pole. All but the top 1 inch of the pipe is hidden underground.
The crew then cut each bamboo pole to the desired height and centered it in the PVC pipe. The top of each pole was cut at an angle, revealing the circular hollow and accentuating the look of the wave.
To fill the gap between bamboo and PVC, Sohn's team poured pea gravel, which not only holds the poles in place but also allows rain to drain. Once all of the poles were in place, Sohn's crew spread lava rock around the base, hiding the tops of the PVC. A row of basalt columns finished the design.
The contacts: Sohnco Landscape, Rancho Mirage, (760) 346-1502. Wayne Connor & Associates, Palm Desert, (760) 340-9277. Cali Bamboo, San Diego, (888) 788-2254.