Terra firma Unearthed boulders become part of the landscape | TheUnion.com
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Terra firma Unearthed boulders become part of the landscape

When Bill and Maggie James first saw the 11 plus acres in south Nevada County where their home now sits, Maggie James was adamantly against building.

“There had been a terrible fire in 1987,” she said, “and the land was a mess. There were blackened stumps of oaks, all the Ponderosas were gone and there was debris everywhere. It was actually depressing.”

Still, the view was spectacular and the possibilities endless, so they went ahead and built their home atop the ridge in 1991. A visitor today would never know that the immaculate house and dramatically landscaped grounds had not always been so.



Two things stand out when one visits the James’ home. The first is the view. Few places can boast a 360-degree panorama of forest, mountain and valley. From the covered front porch, Emigrant Gap stands sentinel, as do the Sierra Buttes.

From the covered back deck one can view Browns Gap and Valley, the Sutter Buttes, and the twinkling lights from the Sacramento Valley at night.




On the day this writer visited, the coastal range was clearly visible. Mature pines already cover the hills where the fire burned. And this breathtaking vista is not visible merely from the front and back porches. The couple installed many large windows and sliding glass doors so that even while cooking dinner, or washing clothes, the beauty of nature is always present.

The James’s other passion grew out of the house construction.

“Every hole we dug for a gallon size plant, we had to pull out five gallons of rock!” said Bill James. “Maggie began designing beautiful rock gardens from the stones we needed to move to build.”

Since the couple’s contractor, Bill Divine, had the bulldozers there anyway, they used them to move massive boulders to form escarpments, terraces and cliffs. Allowing the natural shape of large stones to determine placement and direction, the couple created walls and pathways out of smaller rocks, most of which Maggie moved herself.

As a finishing touch, Bill James installed a cement patio below the back porch to flow around the edges of the largest boulders, creating a concrete “river.” A rock bulwark that elevates a lawn and rose garden in the back of the house boasts boulders that are 6 feet high. They rest upon each other much as schist tumbles upon itself at the edge of glaciers.

On the northeast side of the house, the couple planted Mexican sage, pineapple plants, liquid amber and Colorado blue spruce, intermingled among rock pathways.

“The sage and the pineapple plants hold well and bloom over the winter,” said Maggie James.

On the southwest side, they planted pear, apple, cherry, apricot, Italian plum, and fig trees. All bear fruit in the summer.

To support this approximately one acre of landscape, Bill James created an underground irrigation system and uses extensive mulching to hold moisture in during the dry summer and keep weeds down. An “invisible” deer fence surrounds the northeast garden.

Built in benches along both front and back decks are great places to catch the breeze that comes up from the valley, cooling off hot summer evenings, and to watch the magnificent sunsets that play across the “big sky.”

Beautiful. Yes. Cozy? Just ask the mama fox that made her den and raised her kits in a natural cave created as a result of Bill and Maggie James’s love affair with stone.


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