Category Archives: green design

Sustainable gardening tips

Blazing hot weather one day, foggy the next – our summer is turning out to be a particularly hot one.  The last two winters saw more than the usual freezing weather.   If weather tells us what clothes to wear, then climate tells us what clothes to buy.  Is all this proof of climate change?

Our planet has always experienced heating and cooling cycles.  A warm period from 300-1300 AD allowed the Vikings to fish and farm Greenland.  They were frozen out after 1300 when the Little Ice Age changed Greenland’s climate.  A 20 year drought starting in 1276 probably drove out the cliff dwellers in Utah, Arizona and New Mexico and the Mayan culture collapsed about the same time as an extended drought occurred in Mexico and Central America. 

People who cultivate plants have always taken climate change more seriously than most.  Many tomatoes stop setting fruit when daytime temps stay above 90 degrees.  Higher levels of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, have been accelerating weed growth.  Our best defense as gardeners is to choose wisely what we plant in the garden and how we water. 

  • Start with smart design by evaluating how the space will be used and what plants will thrive with minimum of care and pruning.  Select the best trees and place them to shade the south side of the house to reduce  cooling costs.
  • Supplement the soil by making soil health a priority.
  • Examine your irrigation system and watering plan for efficiency and minimal waste.
  • Reduce, recycle and reuse whenever possible.  Simple ways include reusing plant containers and composting  organic waste and fall leaves.  

  We can all become stewards of the land by using these sustainable landscaping tips.

Originally posted 2008-07-24 08:59:39.

Affordable design trends

We spend more time relaxing, playing and entertaining outdoors at this time of year. Your wish list might include a state-of-the-art outdoor kitchen and a pool with built-in spa but with todays gas and food prices those additions may be on hold for the time being. So what landscape design features can you implement on a budget to make your time outdoors really count?

Affordable design trends

  1. Water features – relaxing self-contained fountains are easy to set up. Some styles incorporate child-safe pond-less fountains. What about a simple outdoor shower with a Mexican pebble floor and vine covered lattice for privacy?
  2. Fire pits – you can warm your family and guests around a simple fire pit while you wait to install the pizza oven and outdoor fire place next year. Fire pits can be purchased ready-made or you can construct you own with fieldstone or concrete blocks. Either way they’re a fun addition to your patio or sitting area.
  3. Outdoor lighting – you’ll be amazed at how beautiful your garden looks when you add some lighting and how much you’ll want to stay outdoors after dark. Light a path or uplight the trunk of one of your trees. Back light a plant with interesting foliage or wash a wall with light. Todays solar lights are getting better and better and low voltage lights are more affordable, too.
  4. Stone in the garden – whether you want a seat wall to surround your patio or a permeable flagstone patio, stone lends a sense of permanence and elegance to your property.

Consider adding some new elements to your garden so that you can spend more time outdoors both in the evening and throughout the year.

Originally posted 2008-06-25 10:04:32.

Rana Creek

Sisyrincium bellumRecently I had the opportunity to tour Rana Creek Nursery in Carmel Valley that grows native plants for restoration projects, green roofs and bioponds. They designed and installed the green roof at the California Academy of Science Museum in Golden Gate park in San Francisco. Over 1 million native plants were grown for this roof scheduled to open Oct. 2008.

Originally posted 2008-05-29 12:13:45.

What is a Sustainable Landscape?

I have a bat house on my property although the bats haven’t taken to it yet. I understand the importance of bats and bat conservation in the environment. I incorporate many California native plants in my own landscape and continue to add them to gardens I design. I encourage bees and other pollinators by creating a sustainable habitat for them in my garden. I use my water wisely conserving our finite water supply. I use organic pest control only if necessary to protect our watersheds from chemical contamination. I feel I am on the right track of sustainability and stewardship of the environment. But can I do more?

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Organic plant starts at Garden Faire

Last week I attended The Garden Faire held at Sky Park in Scotts Valley. As I walked around the exhibits and listened to interesting speakers all the while serenaded by world music I thought to myself how can one person put all this valuable information to use in their own lives and gardens? How can I live more in harmony with nature?

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Apple tree display at Garden Faire

How can I sequester more carbon by my plants to store in the soil? How can I protect the biodiversity already in place in my mixed redwood forest environment? Even though I don’t have the right conditions to grow my own organic food can I buy from growers who use ecological process on their farms? What native plants around my own house can I eat?

You hear the word sustainability used to describe everything from flooring to roofing to landscaping but what exactly is a sustainable landscape?

Sustainable landscapes are so well adapted to their environment that they require little in maintenance. Choosing plants adapted to your garden size, type of soil and climate keeps watering and fertilizing to a sensible level and reduces pruning as plants grow to the size needed and stay there.

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Urbanite retaining wall

Sustainable landscapes use recycled, salvaged, durable building materials whenever possible. They use mainly materials that are harvested locally and use imported stone as an accent. Sustainable landscapes try to reuse what you already have laying it out differently to look like a totally new landscape.

Sustainable landscapes clean the air and water. They increase on-site infiltration of rain water to reduce runoff and minimize the amount of contaminants washed into the watershed and the bay. By keeping water onsite it can move into the soil where organisms breakdown pollutants and naturally filter them out before the water reaches groundwater or our waterways.

Sustainable landscapes conserve water by installing and

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Swallowtail feeding on butterfly bush

maintaining high efficiency watering systems making every drop of irrigation water count. They create drought resistant soils by adding compost and mulch. They group plants by watering needs to irrigate them more efficiently.

Sustainable landscapes restore habitats by attracting native pollinators, beneficial insects and other organisms that reduce the need for pesticides. A sustainable landscape restores natural areas on the outskirts of your landscape to diversify your plant community.

Sustainable landscapes are responsive to the environment, re-generative, energy efficient and can actively contribute to the development of healthy communities.

Gardens Change with Time

quiet_path.1280Call it a trick, call it a treat, but all gardens change with time. It’s part of nature for the fittest to survive. Now possibly you have different ideas of what you want your garden to look like but it’s hard to fool Mother Nature. Recently I had the opportunity to visit a special garden in the Gilroy area that has evolved with time. This garden of California native plants truly demonstrates how nature can decide the best plants for birds, butterflies, wildlife and people.

It was one of our classic mild autumn days when several fellow landscape designer friends and I were treated to a tour by the enthusiastic owner of the 14 acres of land called Casa Dos Rios at the base of Mt Madonna. Jean Myers loves to share her deer_grass.1280property and especially the journey that has transformed it from a formal landscape with lots of lawn to the present truly native wild garden. She loves that the landscape now supports all sorts of wildlife including birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, insects and fish.

A few of the native plantings have been more successful than she would have liked, Jean laughed as she pointed out the California Rose thicket has taken over the entry garden. She wishes she had planted the native wood rose instead which doesn’t spread as much. She plans to remove the wild rose eventually to make room for other native plants that aren’t so aggressive.

At this time of year a native garden is at rest. There’s a quietness to the landscape as the wind blows through the grasses. Large swaths of deer grass have naturalized. Originally, Jean planted many varieties of native grasses and some still remain but the deer grass have been particularly successful. Jean explained that this grass was used for making baskets by the Ohlone Indians that used to live in the area. To keep this grass fresh looking she cuts them back to 6 inches from the ground in late winter.

Calif_fuchsia.1280The California Aster was still blooming along the path as we made our way to the frog pond. This plant is well liked by the native moths and butterflies, Jean said, as it provides a late source of nectar. The lavender flowers make perfect landing pads. The two species of butterfly weed bloomed earlier in the season and had already spread their seed for next year.

The frog pond consists of basalt columns that drip water into a deep pool filled with rocks which cools the water in the heat of the summer. Jean said the area is usually alive with birds but they were keeping their distance during our visit. Lots of time for them to bathe later when we weren’t invading their space. She said Pacific Tree frogs and Western toads call the area home, too.

Another late blooming plant, the California Fuchsia, covered a slope alongside massive granite boulders. You could barely see the foliage through the hundreds of flowers of this red blooming variety. These plants spread easily and with a bit of late winter pruning look great late into the season.

Jean loves all her native plants. From the butterfly garden to the bog garden she has a story to tell about each Calif_buckwheat.1280area. In the spring, Jean said, the native iris steal the show. She rounded up 600 of these from nurseries all over California when the garden was first planted. Grouping each type together she says was half the fun to keep the colors pure in each stand. I was amazed to see them in areas of full sun as well as part shade locations.

We picked late blackberries and raspberries as we walked around this amazing 14 acre property that benefits all wildlife. She is an avid birder and she and her husband manage two creeks, the Uvas and the Little Arthur that support hundreds more bird species, including bluebirds, swallows and owls. “There’s so much for them to eat here.” says Myers. She lets nature feed and attract all the native wildlife that visits.

It was a privilege to listen to Jean share her enthusiasm for gardening with California natives to attract wildlife and to conserve water. I left with my pockets filled with seeds from native wild grape and clematis so I’ll always have a bit of Case Dos Rios in my own garden.

Landscape Design Tips You Can Use

When do art and science come together to make your life more beautiful? If you thought of garden design you'd be right. Recently I was treated to a garden tour by fellow designer and good friend, Joy Albright-Souza, who has combined her love of art as a hobby with her degree in science and her passion for the environment to create beautiful spaces for people to enjoy. "It was natural to combine the two interests into garden design", Joy says.

Last fall several of her design ideas were featured in a DYI book called 'Landscape Ideas You Can Use'. Understanding garden design is the goal of this book and offers specific information on plants and hardscaping options. Fountains, rock gardens and landscaping for play are three of the categories that Albright-Souza Garden Design provided examples.

I have been to Joy's garden many times enjoying a game on the petanque court during a barbeque. petanque_court2Petanque is a game similar to bocce but can be played in a smaller backyard. It's a great way to get the whole family involved in a game together. I've heard Joy laugh that she'd like a petanque court in every yard- it's that fun.

Located on the outskirts of Scotts Valley we visited one of the gardens she designed that features a petanque court. Replacing a lawn with drainage problems, the court recently served as a dance floor for a wedding. The property is located on the site of an old quarry and the granite walls conveniently provide crushed gravel to top dress the petanque court.

As we walked around this garden at sunset the back-lit grasses sparkled like jewels. Locating plants to achieve this effect was no accident on this designer's part. She carefully thought out every aspect from the deer resistant plant palette to the water fall prominent from the dining area inside the house. Even the fenced veggie garden is on a grand scale to protect the owner's roses and hydrangeas from the deer.

Some of plants that are not bothered by deer in this garden include the lavender flowering prosanthera or Variegated Mint Bush. Both beautiful and fragrant this small shrub makes a good hedge or accent plant in deer country. Another blooming plant and favorite of mine, Petite Butterfly Sweet Pea shrub, looked great paired with a helianthemum called Mesa Wine Sun Rose.  The Pink Muhly grasses will bloom in the fall. The new, fresh Japanese Blood grass glowed in the late afternoon sun.

We talked about the accent boulders in the garden as we walked around. Joy explained that when the accent_boulder2rocks were delivered she ear marked the largest and most interesting for particular spots. One is at the corner of the petanque court and looks to be an invitation to sit a while. Another flat topped boulder marks a junction of two walkways and begs one to try it out, too. Others were placed reminiscent of Japanese garden design.

A large dolphin sculpture was moved from a driveway location where few could enjoy to a spot in the upper garden where it serves as the focal point in a widening of the cobblestone paver path and can be viewed up close. Placing garden art in prominent places that can be seen from different parts of the garden is part of a good garden design.

dolphin_fountain2If you are ready to transform your own space, consider some of these ideas. Understanding landscape styles, materials, structures, lighting and plants is part of the fun. Joy writes a blog as part of Albright-Souza Garden Design called per joy that is informative and entertaining. This spring get inspired to transform your own garden.