Romancing the Stone

Dave and Linda Klein have a steep and rocky three-quarter-acre lot that they've spruced up with a pool house, firepit, raised planting beds and more.

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A landscaped area near the free form pool in the backyard of the Dave and Linda Klein's home in El Dorado Hills, Calif. The family landscaped the property themselves.

Dave and Linda Klein are rock 'n' roll gardeners. First they dig up rocks, then roll them out of the way.

The Kleins' three-quarter-acre lot in El Dorado Hills, Calif., is steep and rocky. After three years of hard rocking, the back yard now is an oasis of outdoor living, boasting pool, pool house, spa, firepit, hammock and raised planting beds.

Kiki likes to sit on the rocks alongside the free form pool in backyard of Dave and Linda Klein's home in El Dorado Hills, Calif. The family landscaped the property themselves. (SHNS photo by Owen Brewer / The Sacramento Bee)
The Klein family's dog Chip patrols the backyard along the rock retaining wall the family built. They landscaped the property themselves. (SHNS photo by Owen Brewer / The Sacramento Bee)
Dave and Linda Klein with children Sean, 16, and Amy, 14, on the front walkway steps of their El Dorado Hills home they landscaped themselves. (SHNS photo by Owen Brewer / The Sacramento Bee)
Bacopa grows and blooms in the rock wall in the backyard of Dave and Linda Klein's home in El Dorado Hills, Calif. The family landscaped the property themselves. (SHNS photo by Owen Brewer / The Sacramento Bee)
White, yellow and purple irises bloom in the front courtyard of Dave and Linda Klein's home in El Dorado Hills, Calif. The family landscaped the property themselves. (SHNS photo by Owen Brewer / The Sacramento Bee)
Flagstone walkways and steps in the backyard of Dave and Linda Klein's home in El Dorado Hills, Calif. The family landscaped the property themselves. (SHNS photo by Owen Brewer / The Sacramento Bee)

In the front, the Kleins weren't enthralled with the developer's minimal trees-shrubs-lawn landscaping. Rocks were moved and stacked and beds were planted with shrubs, perennials, bulbs and annuals.

The Kleins didn't consult celebrity designers or landscape architects. They did the planning and backbreaking work as a family project.

"There was a time my family thought I didn't want to be around them because every day I was in the spa," says Dave Klein. "My back was hurting so bad from lifting rocks, all I could think about was getting in that spa."

The couple and their two teenage children, Sean and Amy, wrestled tons of rock, poured concrete, laid flagstone and stacked rock retaining walls that now wind throughout the lot. One particularly large granite boulder took an entire day to unearth.

"Every shovel-ful seemed to uncover a rock," Linda Klein says. "But after we pulled the boulders out, we'd have a nice hole for planting."

A nutrient-rich topsoil mix was worked into the depressions and raised beds. Japanese maples, crape myrtles and bedding plants softened the edges of the garden's hardscape. The back yard is nearly devoid of lawn.

"We're really into entertaining and don't need lawn," she says. "We just put in a small strip to soften all the hardscape."

The Kleins spend time outdoors year-round, dashing into the spa during winter storms, weather-watching from the back porch or warming hands near the fire pit. A space heater warms the air when needed. In spring and summer, they swim, sway in the hammock, play outdoor ping-pong or work in the garden.

"For us, it's all about outdoor living," she says.

The Kleins did their best to move mountains in transforming the rock-strewn hillside populated by blue oaks into a vacation-like retreat. The back yard was terraced in three levels. The pool house, sitting area and fire pit anchor the highest level. Down steps are the pool, spa and circular raised beds capped with slabs of slate. A rock retaining wall wraps around the lowest level, where more steps are in future plans, along with a secret garden.

"It was just a big pile of dirt back here when we bought the home," says Linda Klein. "But it turned out just as I envisioned it."

Dave Klein says the pool and spa were designed by his wife and built by a pool contractor. The family worked together to create the rest of the yard. They hauled rocks in wheelbarrows, built forms and poured concrete.

Later, Dave mortared in flagstone atop the concrete that fronts the pool house. Other slabs of flagstone were set into sand around the fire pit. He had no experience in any of those tasks. A friendly neighbor offered tips and moral support.

Linda Klein says she picked up some of the techniques from watching the swimming pool and spa being poured and studied how-to books.

Dave Klein admits his strength is in concrete and rock, while Linda is the family planter.

"I love crape myrtles, rhododendrons, azaleas, any plant that flowers," she says. "I don't want to plant anything that doesn't bloom. I have to get over that some day."

Daylilies, Japanese maples (Bloodgoods), cannas (Tropicana), butterfly bush, spirea and many others were planted for color and foliage in her garden. A berm alongside the neighbor's driveway has 800 daffodils, and more will be planted in coming years.

In the front yard, Flower Carpet groundcover roses, Million Bells calibrachoa, vinca, heather, rosemary and ceanothus now greet visitors from the street.

Linda Klein really doesn't mind all that rock.

"I'd rather be out here stacking rocks than inside cooking," she says.

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