Natural Bridges Landscaping

30 Years of Connecting People and Plants

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Have you ever heard of a landscape designer who talks to a tree before cutting it down?

Then you probably don’t know David Ross, the founder and owner of Natural Bridges Landscaping of Los Gatos.

“If we have to remove a tree for a project,” Ross says, “I will go to it the day before and just say, ‘thank you for your service, but we are returning you to the earth tomorrow.’ I’d feel badly if I didn’t do that.”

Before you start snickering about Ross as a tree whisperer, it’s important to know his work has always been marked by a passion for plant life and a strong belief in the calming influence that comes from connecting with nature.

Ross, who founded his business 30 years ago, views a garden as a “microcosm of the universe and our relationship to it,” an outdoor sanctuary that liberates us from the confinement of the indoors.

“When you go outside, into your garden, you renew and reconnect with a part of you that is more relaxed, aware, and alive,” says Ross. “That’s the goal.

“A garden is a story you tell yourself over and over with the help of everything around you and all our relations – earth, sky, sun, moon, stars, the elements, the seasons, the plants, the birds and the bees. What we try to do is put you in a story you want to be in, and then help it grow.”

Natural Bridges Landscaping, whose design work has been featured on HGTV, brought that approach to the design they did for Lily and Dan Halem at their Montevideo neighborhood home in 2012.

“They’re fantastic,” says Lily Halem. “David Ross listens really well. He has really good instincts for what customers want and need. He asked us a lot of questions. Gardening is very important to me. I wasn’t going to be satisfied with just anything.

“I really wanted a vegetable garden,” she adds, “but the front yard has the most sun so we put it there. They worked with us to be thoughtful about how it would look. I wanted an edible landscape. We used ornamental flowers and plants that were also edible, like artichokes and ornamental sage.”

The project, she added, also included a play structure for the Halems’ son and daughter, a row of citrus trees for privacy along one fence and a small lawn that’s “enough grass to play on but not water crazy.”

Ross even incorporated a driveway plug-in station for the Halems’ Prius.

“What they did was so exceptional,” says Lily. “The neighbors walking by stop all the time to ask who did our landscaping.”

In these rainless, drought-stricken days, says Ross, people are more conscious than ever about water conservation.

EDIBLE GARDEN: Natural Bridges Landscaping created these vegetable planters for Lily and Dan Halem’s front yard.

EDIBLE GARDEN: Natural Bridges Landscaping created these vegetable planters for Lily and Dan Halem’s front yard.

“Succulents are popular not only because they are drought-tolerant but they are unusual-looking and can be quite beautiful,” he says. “We’re also using more accent plants in urns, pots and other containers. They create a focal point and use less water.

“You should start with the smallest size plants that you can. Plants adapt and do better if they start smaller. Some designers have a tendency to install too many plants. Over time it can look overgrown.”

Ross remembers first getting excited about gardens when he was seven years old and his family moved to South Korea, where his father worked as an international consultant.

“We would visit the mountaintop temples with these exquisite gardens and that planted the seeds for me,” he says.

In the early 1980s, Ross was living in a Mission District apartment in San Francisco. For his 23rd birthday his father sent him some gardening tools and his girlfriend at the time gave him the Findhorn Garden book, about extraordinary organic gardeners in Scotland.

“What was I going to do with gardening tools and a garden book in an apartment?” says Ross. “I took it as a sign.”

Shortly after that he moved to the South Bay and one day found himself attending a workshop on American Indian Shamanism at the Louise Van Meter School.

“That’s where I found my gardening mentor, Robert Ross (no relation), my future wife, Shesta, and my spiritual path, all at the same workshop. It only cost me $40 and it changed my life completely.”

DREAMS BY DESIGN: Natural Bridges Landscaping owners David and Shesta Ross

DREAMS BY DESIGN: Natural Bridges Landscaping owners David and Shesta Ross

David went into business for himself the following year, choosing a name reflecting his view of landscaping as a bridge to nature. He and Shesta married two years later. They are partners in the landscape business and they have a son, Sean, an art major at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Over the past three decades Natural Bridges has completed hundreds of residential projects in and around Los Gatos, ranging from small yards to complex designs for wealthy tech execs and others.

One of his favorites is the Balinese hanging bed pavilion he installed for John and Renai Fitzpatrick in the back yard of their home near Belgatos Park (as shown on previous page).

“It’s gorgeous,” says Renai. “I knew I wanted a hanging bed back there where the most sun is in the winter, and Natural Bridges worked with us to create a plan that included the pavilion and walkway with rocks, a water feature and a small bridge over a dry little riverbed.

“The pavilion is a ten-by-ten-foot structure made of Ipe wood (a durable hardwood sustainably harvested from the Brazilian rainforest). It looks very tropical.

“It’s really a place of refuge for us. It turned out way more cohesive and special than I ever expected.”

Natural Bridges designs and installs gardens from modest backyards, up to large involved estates with all conceivable aspects. Still, Ross emphasizes that “the key to good garden design and gardening is what you find in nature,” meaning harmony, adaptation, balance, diversity, unexpected connections and inspiration, and keen awareness through all the senses. Also the intensity of nature.

“Conceiving, giving birth to, and raising up a beautiful garden is a lot of work, but most of the work is done by awesome natural forces we all too easily take for granted,” he says.

All of which helps to explain why you might see David Ross in your yard talking to a tree.

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