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Making the Grade : Award Cemented With Landscaping, Brickwork

August 24, 1991|JOHN O'DELL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

COTO DE CAZA — The first thing visitors to the James and Terri Gick residence here see as they wind around the final curve on the approach to the couple's sprawling Cape Cod-style home is the trees.

The house, designed by Irvine architect James Mickartz, is impressive. But it is the stand of 100-year-old California live oaks out front, and the way the whole site has been designed to make them the focal point of the property, that draws rave reviews from guests.

The layout and landscaping, particularly the lavish but unobtrusive brickwork and the extensive use of large specimen trees to complement the native oaks, also has been well received in the industry.

David Lee Landscape Co., the Placentia firm that modified and executed the Gicks' original landscaping plan, recently won the President's Award in the annual competition of the Long Beach/Orange County chapter of the California Landscape Contractors Assn.

The judges, in reviewing the firm's work at the Gick residence, were impressed with the complex subterranean drainage system Lee installed to enable the moisture-sensitive native oaks to coexist with the thirstier plantings that surround them in the terraced front and side yards.

But the hardscape, which features a herringbone-patterned brick pool deck and an extensive array of brick retaining walls, pilasters and planters, clinched the award. The judges noted that the "incredible intricacy and precision alignment" of the brickwork set the Gick residence apart from the other 129 entries in the competition.

The American brick industry has been trying for several years to persuade homeowners that brick isn't just for fireplaces and back-yard barbecues, and the Gick residence goes a long way to supporting that argument.

Richard Lee, David Lee's son and vice president of the family-owned company, said his masonry crew installed nearly 75,000 red clay bricks.

With brief time-outs for several rain delays, it took a crew of eight nearly six months of full-time work to complete the brickwork, Lee said.

The Gicks, whose Irvine-based Gick Cos. publish how-to books for craft workers and hobbyists, declined to discuss the cost of the project. But Richard Lee said his company's budget for the job approached $250,000.

Gick said he and his wife had a definite image in mind when they outlined the landscape scheme--a soft English country look. But they left it to their landscape architect, Clark & Green Associates in Irvine, to pencil in the specifics.

To find a contractor to do the work, Gick asked a friend in the Orange County Nurserymen's Assn. for recommendations.

"He handed me the association's book of award winners and I picked David Lee because of the prizes his projects had won."

Lee, who began a one-man gardening maintenance business in Glendale in 1959, said the key to his success has been "to treat each project, no matter how big or how small, like it was for my own house."

That often means that the 61-year-old contractor is not the low bidder on a project--these days the company seldom does jobs that come in at less than $10,000. For that, said Richard Lee, a typical Orange County homeowner "would get just the basic irrigation system and plants. No hardscape."

But a basic job for the Lees would probably qualify as a deluxe project for many landscapers.

Among other things, the Lees insist on installing a complete garden and lawn drainage system that carries excess water away from each landscaping zone to avoid problems with erosion, slope slippage, root rot and the growth of plant-damaging mold and bacteria.

"No job should be done without a drainage system," Richard Lee maintains. The additional cost will be repaid in lower maintenance and longer plant and lawn life, he said.

"This is your home, and your landscape is part of where and how you live. You should figure a minimum cost of real quality landscaping will be 20% to 25% of the market value of your house," adds David Lee. "You will get it back in enjoyment and resale value."

For the Gick job, the price quickly surpassed the Lees' minimums because of the extensive use of mature trees, the substantial amount of grading and the complexity of the masonry work.

Among other things, Lee's crews hand-carried 10 towering Leilani cypress trees from the road across more than 100 yards of steep slopes to the planting site on a hill above the pool. Each tree, roots encased in a well-watered 30-inch cube of soil, weighed in at about 1,500 pounds, Richard Lee said.

A heavy crane was used to place other large trees, including eight 15-foot liquidambars in 48-inch boxes, three feathery-leafed podocarpus trees in huge 64-inch boxes and six podocarpus in 48-inch boxes.

"It was incredibly difficult," said Richard Lee. "The pool was already in and we couldn't do anything to damage the oaks, so we had to have the crane driver bring it down an embankment and wind around the trees."

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