When Janet Pozzuoli-Vallin’s client called her, she was looking for a new outdoor lifestyle to go with her new home.

“She wanted her backyard to have more of a clean line, more of a Zen feel,” says the owner of San Diego-based Belle Terre Landscapes. “She also wanted it to be low maintenance and to be able to play with a lot of different lights.”

Not only is Pozzuoli-Vallin pleased with the overall flow of the project her designer, Denise Memory, created and her company installed, but the lighting component was given special recognition by the San Diego chapter of the California Landscape Contractors Association as part of its annual San Diego Beautification Awards.

But, then, Pozzuoli-Vallin and the client had a great relationship from the very beginning of the project. She explains that she had known the woman probably 30 years ago, and when the client needed a landscape design/build firm she remembered her and found her contact information on Houzz.

Because the home was new, Pozzuoli-Vallin was offered pretty much a blank canvas for her work, although she says the small front yard had been finished after a fashion by the developer.

“He had left a couple olive trees that I repositioned,” she says. “Because the homeowner was trying to watch her water, we regraded it and then used a mix of lantanas, aloes and agaves. We also added a couple statement pots with succulents pouring out of them.”

The remainder of the property, an L-shaped side yard and backyard combination, was pretty much dirt.

Although the property doesn’t have a swimming pool, Pozzuoli-Vallin says the client was looking for an area for her older children to simply hang out. Pozzuoli-Vallin answered that need by installing a concrete courtyard and a downsized bocce ball court in the side yard.

“The courtyard area has a wrought-iron structure that I had made,” she explains. “We then ran strands of market lights on it. That’s also where we did a natural gas fire pit. The bocce court isn’t a regulation size, but it’s large enough for them to use and makes the space a little more usable than just putting some plants in it.”

Pozzuoli-Vallin adds that the wrought-iron structure is attached to the house, and has the look of an art form. Initially she ran into some pushback from the homeowners’ association in getting it approved. The area is finished off with outdoor furniture for seating.

“She’s able to turn the lights on from a switch in the house,” says Pozzuoli-Vallin. “It creates an illuminated courtyard area if she wants to entertain there, and if she isn’t using it, she doesn’t need to turn on the lights.”

The backyard itself is a combination of large areas of colored concrete separated by pebbles that provide the area’s drainage and keep any rainwater on the property.

“We installed gravel drains throughout,” Pozzuoli-Vallin says. “The drains are hidden under the gravel, so you don’t realize you have drains under there, even when it rains.”

While the backyard provides seating areas – Pozzuoli-Vallin helped the client color-coordinate the furniture she chose – including a table and grilling space, an important component of the backyard is a fountain.

“The client wanted a water feature that was as minimal maintenance as possible, as well as something unique,” she explains. “We had been going to construct a fountain with stone, but she wanted something even simpler, and she ended up finding it on a Restoration Hardware site.”

Pozzuoli-Vallin describes the fountain as “very modern” with both stainless-steel and pewter components.

As for the award-winning lighting, beyond the strands of market lights hung on the wrought-iron structure, she describes it as a mix of low-voltage LED spotlights and path lights purchased from Unique Lighting Systems of Riverside, California.

“When I’m designing a lighting project, I’m trying to pay attention to what the homeowner, as they’re walking outside, wants to visualize and what ‘wow’ factor we can add,” she says. “In this case, we spotted pretty much all the trees, so there’s a great illumination of foliage. We lit up the fountain area, and then there are the pathway lights — just enough to illuminate the path someone is walking.”

Her other goal with lighting, Pozzuoli-Vallin explains, is that the homeowner can see and experience the landscape, even if she’s in the house.

Plantings included 24-inch box trees (Pozzuoli-Vallin says the client was willing to wait for them to grow), Texas privet hedges, and a mix of grasses, agaves, aloes, succulents and day lilies. Again, the client was interested in low water use and low maintenance.

“My goal was to mix the plant material so it comes in at different times,” she says. “We have some that bloom in the winter and early spring, some spring-to-late-summer stuff, and then some fall-blooming plants. I wanted there to be something always going on in the yard.”

Pozzuoli-Vallin says the $50,000 project took 12 weeks from start to finish, with her hardscape and softscape crews alternating at the site during construction. Part of that speed she attributes to the fact that it’s her practice to make sure that all the decisions are in place before the work starts.

“If you wait to ask about plants or colors, the client gets flustered and then things slow down because we don’t have decisions,” she says. “My goal is that before I put a shovel to dirt all the decisions are done.”

Consequently, she says the biggest challenges were dealing with the indecisive homeowners’ association, and the comparatively small size of the yard.

“Often, when we get a space to play with, it’s a little larger,” Pozzuoli-Vallin says. “When it’s a smaller space you need to analyze things like if I put the fountain here will I have enough area for the plants to thrive and not crowd it in the future? Space was a concern, but once we got ironed out how she was going to use the yard and what was important to her, it all came together.”

Having a client she describes as an absolute dream didn’t hurt, of course, but the way the entire project came together is what makes Pozzuoli-Vallin most proud of this award-winning job.

“As I visualize the whole backyard, I’m proud of how the job just flows,” she concludes. “If you enter the front door, it flows into the courtyard. And, if you go past the side of the house, there are grasses and then you see the backyard with the plants and the pebbles and the fountain. It really just works.”