Top tips for a better investment and landscape, from design through construction
What is Design-Build Landscaping?
Design-Build landscaping is exactly how it sounds: one team provides both the design and installation of the landscape, rather than splitting those services between companies. Design-build landscaping is quite common and provides multiple benefits. Unfortunately, a homeowner or building owner will often hire a landscape contractor to install plants and irrigation without design. This is not the ideal scenario. As with any type of building, it is always best to begin with a design.
When the same company performs both design and installation, their professionals work together often and can provide a more seamless delivery The teamwork involved in the design-build process for landscape construction can add a lot of value to your finished landscape. Often an integration of architects, designers, engineers, and builders, the design-build process takes advantage of professional, licensed experts working together from concept to finished construction. The goal of this integrated process is to fulfill your priorities of landscape design and budget. At Madrone Landscapes we believe strongly in the design-build process because the benefits are twofold: it allows us to do incredible work with and build great relationships with both our peers and our clients.
Design-Bid-Build vs. Design-Build: What are the Differences?
Design-Bid-Build: The design-bid-build process is common in the construction industry for clients who want separate design and construction firms. A landscape designer will provide plans for you, and then you will ask contractors to bid the plans. The design can go quickly if there are no cost limitations discussed. Once the contractors provide their costs to install the project, you may be shocked to see how much it will cost to build. This is when you or the contractor decides how to change the design to fit within the construction budget (this process is called value engineering, where items are removed from a plan or less expensive options are chosen to reduce overall cost). You may also go back to the landscape designer to re-design (typically for an extra fee). In design-bid-build, you select a contractor based on the bid price. It then becomes your responsibility to orchestrate all of the design and construction activities – including introducing the contractor to the designer.
Design-Build: At Madrone Landscapes, we specialize in the design-build process. Our landscape designers not only help you with the initial design, they also help navigate any obstacles encountered during construction. We provide construction cost estimates during the design process (for more information, see https://madronelandscapes.com/services/design/). This usually adds time to the overall design time, for good reason. Knowing construction costs during the design process allows you to make decisions on where to spend money and keeps the plan within the desired budget. A cost-informed design means the value engineering is done well before the project starts. The entire team will be working together with the landscape designer to make sure that there are few unforeseen lapses between designs or construction activities. For new construction, this will include your engineers, architects, and builders. For custom residential updates, your design-build team becomes your expert advocate through design and construction and we handle scheduling and coordination with all parties involved.
Five Tips When Choosing Design-Build Landscaping
1. Know what you need/want before you start.
Often, a client will come to us with a list of items they want designed into their landscape, such as a patio, wall, fountain, or pergola. What they may actually mean is that they need a shady place to entertain guests with pretty things to look at. While your spouse may want a fountain, he or she may appreciate boulders and flowers just as much. When you prioritize your goals before starting design, you can prevent being caught off guard during the design process. Design is almost always a team decision. If you and your family can align your wants and needs before the design starts, the design will turn out better and go more quickly.
2. Establish a construction budget.
Before starting the design process, establish a budget or range for what you intend to spend on construction, and share that information with your designer. This will help them design within range. Typically, the construction cost of landscapes is between 10 to 25 times the design fee, although this may vary.
3. Take your time with budget decisions.
During the beginning of the design process decisions are easy; we refer to this as the honeymoon period. You may find yourself saying, “I love that stone veneer, it looks just like the picture I saw on Houzz!” After construction costs are introduced, major design elements may be on the chopping block. Do you keep the outdoor kitchen, or the stone paving? Allow yourself time, so you don’t rush these decisions.
4. Trust your gut – and your landscape team.
Taking on a big project and the resulting investment of your funds will greatly affect your daily life. You need experts you can trust to help you achieve your goals. If you don’t have a level of trust with your landscape team, the relationship and project will not work. You need to feel comfortable giving them both positive and negative feedback, and they need to feel comfortable giving you good and bad news. Your designer will not only be helping you with the initial design, but also will be helping to navigate any obstacles encountered during construction.
5. Communicate often and clearly.
During design and construction, changes happen. To best facilitate these changes, we will ask a lot of questions to make sure we are designing efficiently. Whether you would like to give us artistic license on decisions, or you have particular opinions that need to be known, it is important you communicate your preferences clearly.
A Better Investment and Landscape
It’s our experience that the design-build process produces a better product with stronger teamwork and a healthy working relationship. The process takes time to do well. Expect two to six months of design before construction for custom residential updates, and often longer for new home or new commercial construction. Being well prepared can shorten this time frame. If you have new construction, you should consider hiring your landscape designer at the same time that you hire an architect. We strongly believe that the design-build relationship you foster with us will make you feel good about the investment and the landscape you create.
Do you have additional questions about the design-build process and its benefits? Email us at [email protected] or give us a call at 805-466-6263.
How can we help? Here are answers to some of our most-asked landscape design and construction questions.
Committing to a new landscape or landscape overhaul for your home can be daunting. Especially if you haven’t done a remodel project before, there can be a lot of unknowns when taking on this type of home improvement project.
Our landscape designers do their best to guide clients through every step – making it as seamless, painless, and stress-free as possible. Every project is different and has its own unique variables, but the basic questions we are asked most at the beginning of the landscape process are often the same.
Have more questions? Review our design services or contact our landscape designers, [email protected] or (805) 466-6263.
We are building a new home and new landscape. When should we bring in the landscape designer?
For new construction projects, you can count on landscaping to be the final step. Planned correctly, landscape installation can begin during the final construction stages. Talk to landscape designers from the get-go so that they can get you on their schedule.
Sometimes landscape designers work concurrently with architects and civil engineers on landscape plans, but your designer will need a finalized site plan with building footprint and finished grading to work from.
TIP: Be sure that your general contractor helps plan for landscaping by adding sleeving underneath any concrete or asphalt for future irrigation pipe.
We are thinking of updating our landscape. How far ahead should we plan?
Landscape construction crews can book out anywhere from 2-6 months in advance, so make sure to get on your builder’s radar early. This is one major benefit of working with design/build companies like Madrone.
TIP: The best time to plant in our California Central Coast region is the fall, so that root systems can develop over the winter months.
Will we need permits for our landscape construction?
Check with your local municipality to find out if you need any permits for your landscape. Shade structures that are attached to your home or are built within a certain proximity to your home may need to be permitted. There may be water usage allowances for irrigation, and permits are often required for graywater irrigation systems. Permit filings can take 6+ weeks to be processed once received.
What is the design process and how long does it typically take?
The design process is the time that you, the client, spend with a landscape designer on the conceptual vision of your outdoor space. Most landscape designs can be completed from start to finish within 3-6 months, while others can take up to a full calendar year.
Every designer or firm has a unique process, but generally will start with visiting your site and asking questions about your needs. The length of time spent on design will vary based on size of project, number of built elements, complexity of site constraints, and the number of changes made during the process. If a design isn’t agreed on at the first or second draft, more revisions may be necessary.
Once the designer has developed an understanding of your project, they will create an overall layout on paper, then gradually start to specify treatments, finishes and building techniques as ideas are approved.
At the end of the process, the owner will receive a complete set of construction documents which will serve as a tool for estimating construction cost and to ultimately guide the landscape installation.
How much does a landscape cost? What are the variables?
The cost of a new installed landscape can vary widely. Just like designing a house, with all things being equal, it will cost more to design a large area than a small one. The price then increases depending on how many built elements you want to include and the types of materials you choose.
Click here for a basic outline of some of defining elements that will ultimately determine the cost of your landscape design and installation.
How much information/direction does a designer need from the client?
The more information you can share up front with your designer, the more likely they will be able to design an incredible landscape that reflects your personal flair while including your desired or required elements. We love hearing about what styles and elements you do and don’t like so we know what direction to start with on your design. Browsing Pinterest and Houzz boards can be super helpful for this.
On the flipside, there’s also no shame in not knowing what you want—that’s what we’re here for!
Whether you know exactly what you’re looking for or not, the most helpful thing you can do throughout the design process is provide your feedback. We try very hard to customize each design project to the personality and needs of each client, so when we go through our concept and revision meetings, we want to hear what you really think. Honest feedback during our meetings is the best way to help us give you the design you’ve been dreaming of!
How do we decide what to include in our landscape design?
There are two interconnecting pieces to consider: landscape design area and desired landscape features or amenities. For instance, if you are looking to include a veggie garden, new patio, pergola, hot tub, flower garden, and meandering paths, you’re going to need a relatively extensive landscape design area.
Often in design, we encourage creating a landscape master plan. If it makes most sense financially to proceed with construction in steps, a sitewide design will ensure a functional and cohesive final design and finished project. Even if you envision installing the veggie beds at a later phase, it makes sense to design their location, orientation, and aesthetic or “design language” from the start.
As far as design features go, it may help to draw up a list of your desired elements before an initial consultation. You can discuss these items with the designer and see if any other ideas arise out of the design process. Browsing inspiration online on places such as Houzz or Pinterest, flipping through design books and magazines, or taking a walk around your neighborhood are also great ways to pinpoint your list of features and amenities.
How do we determine what plants to include in our landscape?
To determine the plants for your landscape, also known as the plant palette, your designer will ask questions of style—Mediterranean, modern, xeric, Spanish, something else. During our design process, you will have opportunity to discuss planting selections, ask questions, and provide feedback.
Our designers are familiar with plant species that work well in the Central Coast, from Arroyo Grande through Paso Robles to Grover Beach through Cayucos and beyond. Each area has its own set of microclimates—unique characteristics including sun patterns, wind, humidity, shade, and more, that determine a plant’s suitability. Regardless of where the project is within our region, we strive to propose appropriate plantings that will use minimal water throughout the year, thereby promoting water conservation.
Don’t have a green thumb? That’s not a problem! Let our designers know, and they will be sure to propose the most low-maintenance options.
At what point will we know how much our desired landscape costs?
Our design process includes using cost information as a tool to help guide design decisions. Once we’ve established our initial concept plan, our next step is to revise and refine the landscape plan and provide the client with budgetary installation prices. This estimate includes individual line item descriptions, quantities, and costs for every element of the project. This means you can see clearly where every dollar is being spent, and where there are opportunities to substitute materials or methods with less expensive alternatives without sacrificing functionality.
Top tips for selecting a landscape maintenance team
From weekly or seasonal maintenance to event preparation or landscape enhancements, here are the top questions to ask to ensure you hire a licensed landscape maintenance team who will meet your needs.
1. How long have you been in business? What kind of insurance and licensing do you have?
A company that has been in business ten years or more is likely a reliable, trustworthy contractor. Whether you are a homeowner who needs weekly maintenance or a commercial property owner who needs pest control, check the company’s portfolio to see whether they have expertise on projects like yours.
Madrone Landscapes has been in business for over 40 years. We offer weekly gardening services for residential clients in North San Luis Obispo County and estate maintenance for the broader San Luis Obispo County, Northern Santa Barbara County, and Southern Monterey County. We also offer high quality commercial, municipal, and HOA maintenance services for all of San Luis Obispo County.
For additional consideration, ensure that your landscaping company has workers compensation insurance, general liability insurance, bonded workers, and appropriate state licensing. For weed, pest, and disease control, your maintenance contractor will need to be spray certified.
Madrone Landscapes has workers compensation insurance and general liability insurance. Our landscape maintenance crews are bonded, and we maintain a California state landscape contractor license.
2. Do you have specialists on staff? What services do you offer?
Professional landscaping firms will employ experts with degrees in landscape architecture and horticulture. They should have expertise in landscape irrigation, as well as a thorough knowledge of the type of plants you have growing in your landscape design.
At Madrone Landscapes, our degreed and trained landscape designers and horticulturists establish and maintain our clients’ landscapes in superior condition. Our landscape maintenance teams are led by Taryn Via, Maintenance Manager. With a background in property management, Taryn has over 13 years of experience working directly with homeowners, HOAs, and commercial property owners.
Homeowners, commercial property owners, and HOAs all require different services for different properties. Ensure the company you hire provides the services you require. Traditionally, maintenance projects may include mowing and editing, irrigation repair, fertilizing, dead-heading, and mulching. Larger projects may need specialized maintenance at different intervals throughout the year. Consider whether you need seasonal maintenance, event preparation, and/or regular landscape enhancement.
3. How do your maintenance crews practice sustainability? Do you offer alternatives to chemicals?
If sustainability is important to you, be sure to ask about alternatives to fertilizer and chemicals. Companies at the forefront of landscaping will employ methods such as compost tea fertilizer, integrated pest management, and organic fertilizers, ensuring your yard is a safe and healthy place for your family.
At Madrone Landscapes, we are known for sustainable practices. We focus on plant health and the effective use of water. Our Healthy Gardens program introduces organic methods to fertilizer and weed, pest, and disease control.
4. Can you provide us with an estimate? How do you communicate with clients?
A professional landscape contractor will provide you an estimate tailored to your individual needs. After visiting your project and listening to your wants and requirements, they will ask you questions to determine your exact needs.
Once you’ve accepted your estimate, your contract ensures you know what to expect on each visit, from weekly maintenance to seasonal maintenance, plant replacement, and irrigation repairs.
At Madrone Landscapes, each contract is different—just like each project. Madrone Landscapes provides a customized written estimate for each project. Once we’ve discussed your estimate, we put together a landscape maintenance contract specifically for you. Our Maintenance Manager, Coner Boaen, is the one point of contact for our maintenance clients.
Check with your landscape maintenance contractor to see whether they will have an account manager assigned to you. Will they call you to schedule appointments, or simply send notices in your invoice?
5. Will you provide references?
In addition to checking Yelp to see how the company ranks, ask for references, including addresses. Check the properties to see if they are maintained at the level you expect for your own property, whether residential or commercial. Madrone Landscapes recently was awarded “Top-rated Local” for ranking in the top-five landscape companies in the state for customer satisfaction.
We are happy to provide a list of references for you to call and testimonials for your review!
Do you have additional questions? Call us at the office and ask for Coner Boaen, Maintenance Manager at (805) 466-6263.
Eight Winter Bloomers for the California Central Coast
During the colder months on the California Central Coast, many of our plants fall back and go dormant. Throughout the region, from inland San Luis Obispo to coastal Morro Bay and north county’s Paso Robles, central coasters love year-long landscapes. With so many beautiful bloomers that thrive in our area, we can count on flourishing flowers to take the stage during any given season.
Here are eight of our winter favorites.
Aloe striata, or Coral Aloe, is memorable for its tall floral stalks the color range of a citrus sunset, but its leaves take the cake. Elegant and pale, their reddened edges lend a delicate blush year-round, even as it blooms in the winter.
Drought-tolerant and robust year-round, these Manzanitas shrubs are popular for their handsome, red-toned bark and bunches of round, gentle flowers.
This showering splash of flowers is commonly known as channeled heath or hairy gray heather. Its bell-shaped flowers bloom in a cloud of pink to purple, lending waves of colorful body to every landscape it flourishes in.
While the Foxtail Agave is typically known for its year-round architectural form and drought-tolerance, mature specimens will put out massive flower spikes once in their lifetime. Vibrant green, cool blue, and beautiful variegated cultivars are available, and will spread from basal shoots, eventually filling in a sizeable area.
Another shrub bursting with fragrant and elegant blooms, the Viburnum tinus not only blossoms in the winter but provides a burst of metallic blue from its berries as well. It is well beloved by butterflies, bees, and clients alike..
One of the few aloes with verdant green leaves, Aloe camperi or Popcorn Aloe, is a mid-rise plant with beautiful apricot flowers and a spindly, dramatic shape.
Large, fast-growing, and with lovely flowers reminiscent of loose embroidery, Grevillea ‘Moonlight’ is a bushy evergreen that brings its luminous ivory to your winter landscape.
Ribes ‘Spring Showers’
The pendulous pink flowers of this dainty plant come alive in winter, a vibrant display that can almost cover the foliage.
Looking for a landscape with plants that bloom in the winter? Talk to our landscape designers for a design tailored to your specific climate. Some of the species in this list are better suited for milder coastal climates, while others are bullet-proof even in frosty north county. Contact our landscape designers at [email protected] or (805) 466-6263.
This Atascadero redesign focuses on updating a community landscape into a cohesive, native, and climate-adaptive whole. The low-maintenance plan revitalizes the landscape with pops of year-round color, distinct recreation areas, reduced water usage, and a smooth vision that facilitates future improvements.
Our design scope included an assessment of the existing landscape to determine which trees contribute to the long-term vision, which existing lawn areas are appropriate to retain, and what important views and connections could be enhanced or created. For both selection and layout, ease of maintenance was foremost. The planting palette includes a diversity of textures, shapes, colors, and sizes for intrigue and a dynamic, quietly flourishing landscape.
The extensive street frontage is enhanced with large shrubbery, and pedestrian access points beckon visitors with a lay of boulders, ornamental grasses, and clusters of flowering perennials. Due to the surrounding oak woodland that stretches into the project site, we kept our tree selection limited to species that would preserve and maintain the native area, introducing other oaks, olives, and cedars to create a well-rounded palette.
Want more information on our landscape design services? Contact our landscape designers at [email protected] or (805) 466-6263.
Transforming a landscape can be overwhelming—there are so many places to find inspiration, and there are drastically different styles to consider. It can be helpful to work with a professional—landscape designers are trained to see the big picture and identify opportunities that elude most homeowners.
Maximize Your Residential Landscape
Written by Daniel Mazawa, General Manager
Originally published in Living Lavishly
Here are a few steps homeowners can take to understand the design process and get a grasp of what they want from their landscape:
Analyze the Site
On the Central Coast, there are several different natural backdrops that most homes enjoy. Whether it is a distant view of rolling oak woodlands or a beachfront bluff experience, it is important to understand the setting of a place as influenced by the natural world. Take stock of existing trees or plants on site as well as sun and shade.
The architecture of the home and the neighborhood aesthetic may set the tone for the landscape design style. Consider the experience of driving up to the house and walking around the yard. A guest arriving at the home should know right where the front door is and where to park. The movement around the landscape should be functional and beautiful. Where are the areas of interest? What is the flow and the circulation? Identify the opportunities and constraints in a setting before figuring out what to do.
Establish the Functions
It is easy for someone who owns a home to identify what they want, but it can be a little more difficult to define what they need. Everything takes up space, so prioritizing functions is extremely important. Figure out how much usable space is needed for parking, outdoor entertaining, open utility areas, connecting pathways, and any other high-frequency functions. Pools, hot tubs, sport courts, outdoor kitchens, vegetable gardens, and other secondary functions can be fun additions to fold in.
Consider the best locations for all functions as far as convenience, sun exposure, views, and feel. For example, both an outdoor kitchen and a vegetable garden are convenient near an indoor kitchen, but the garden wants open sunshine and the outdoor kitchen benefits from shade or shelter. Also consider the indoor/outdoor connection as perceived through windows and doors from inside. A pergola can feel like an extension of an indoor room, or a distant view can be framed to be enjoyed from inside.
Define Design Style
A good first step is to decide whether a landscape is going to be geometric and calculated or free flowing and natural. A modern home may work better with a straight-lined landscape, but these forms can deconstruct as they move away from the structure. A natural setting such as a woodland can work well with curves and natural pathways especially if preserving existing trees.
People who like control, simple bold design, or tidy surroundings gravitate towards straight lines with geometric configurations. People who like tranquility, natural settings, or designing with nature gravitate towards flowing curves. Bold Modern style utilizes straight-line end of the spectrum and Natural Style falls on the curved line end. Mediterranean, Southwestern, Cottage, and Japanese gardens fall somewhere between. Having a clearly defined style that repeats and transitions smoothly will make a landscape feel complete.
Design Spaces Before Features
While design features are important, the spaces they create are more important to the user experience. For example, a tree may be a beautiful feature, but the shade and shelter a tree grove provides can create a comfortable room complete with walls and a ceiling. Comfortable spaces are often perceived as a bit wider than they are tall, or 1 to 1.618 height to width per the golden ratio. A pergola 16 feet wide by 10 feet tall is a good example. The same comfortable feeling can be achieved with shrubs and trees.
Conversely, putting too many plants next to a front door entry can make it feel tight and uninviting. Open it up and make the path wide, prominent and inviting. Wide open views will feel more comfortable when framed with trees or from a comfortable viewing patio. The psychology of spaces can be overwhelming, but it is obvious when a space feels right.
Work Out Transitions
Landscape is the glue that holds together spaces and structures. Transitions can be the most dynamic aspects of a landscape, or they can be eyesores. Complex hardscape features such as patios, retaining walls, fences, pergolas, outdoor kitchens, water features, and fire features will often intersect and connect with one another.
Figure out how connections will work to make a seamless transition point. Formal landscapes will often transition to a natural area. Utilize decorative bunch grasses on the edge of the landscape to blur the line between mulched landscapes and natural areas. When utilizing multiple design styles, create transitional landscapes to blend gradually. For example, a contemporary landscape may transition to a natural area going from straight lines to calculated arcs and then to a curved path.
Iron Out the Details
Details in the landscape should emphasize the overall design style and theme. In most cases, color themes should be complementary, so they don’t clash. Choose colors for concrete, stone, wood, paint, mulch, and plant material that paint a picture that goes together.
Textures should also be considered. Fine texture details such as exposed aggregate concrete, small ledge stone, or small plants can feel lost in a large space. Bold coarse texture details like large boulders or big leaved plants can feel overbearing in small spaces. Perennial plants provide color, texture, and movement.
Plants should fit the design style with color as well as layout. Bold masses of plants work well with contemporary landscapes, while multi-species combinations can work well with natural areas. Finishing details can make the difference between a hodge-podge yard and a cohesive landscape.
There is a lot to think about when trying to maximize a landscape. A professional can help. Landscape designers can take ideas and dreams and turn them into a buildable design. Knowing the process before starting design or construction can be invaluable to being able to communicate goals and expectations to create a successful landscape to enjoy for years to come.
Ready for a landscape design and not sure where to start? Contact our landscape designers at [email protected] or (805) 466-6263.
Madrone was hired to design a low-water landscape and irrigation plan for a new commercial building on an existing half-acre empty lot in Paso Robles. The placement of trees and shrubs was critical to creating an appealing front entry and visual screen for the sizable building.
Native plant species were selected for year-round interest with low maintenance requirements. Tree plantings were arranged to enhance views toward the building entry, screen certain areas, provide seasonal interest, and shade during summer months. The company color, visible in a band on the building, has been reflected in seasonal color accents within the landscape.
As part of the design package, Madrone created a 3D landscape rendering to visually communicate both the landscape and proposed structure.
Want more information on our landscape design services? Contact our landscape designers at [email protected] or (805) 466-6263.
We are honored to have worked on this beautiful property, highlighted in the Living Lavishly Fall/Winter 2022 Issue. https://livinglavishlymag.com/
Four Winter-hardy Plants for your California Central Coast Landscape
Here on the central coast, we don’t typically have freezing temperatures, and we have fewer plants that die back or go dormant during these colder, wetter months. During the winter months when nothing else in the garden is showing its colors, here are four of our favorite plants to steal the show.
Nandina ‘Fire Power’ is a great evergreen shrub that has year-round interest. It is especially beautiful in the fall and winter: the leaves turn a deep red with cold weather.
Arctostaphylos ‘Howard McMinn’ is a low-maintenance, low water-use shrub. Manzanitas are striking year-round thanks to their evergreen leaves and gorgeous red bark, but their dainty winter blooms really give them another dimension.
Sempervivum (Hens and Chicks) This cold-hardy succulent comes in a variety of colors and can be planted in rocky places with very little soil. We love the look it creates when you stick them in cracks and crevices of stone walls or walkways.
Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Irene’ like Manzanitas, Trailing Rosemary is low-maintenance and low water use. When planted on top of retaining walls and allowed to drape over, they add drama to your garden, while their scent and seasonal flowers give them an added edge over some of the other trailing plant materials.
Interested in a winter garden landscape design? Contact our landscape designers at [email protected] or (805) 466-6263.
Plants make for a dynamic and vibrant landscape. Showy flowers bloom in windows during spring or summer. Deciduous trees will sport vibrant new growth in spring, yet revert to bare branches for winter. Successful landscapes plan for this seasonal interest and evolution of space.
Other elements of the designed landscape are more stable: hardscape such as concrete and stone, tables and chairs, pergolas and fire pits, gravel mulch and water features. Combined with thoughtful plantings, they take on a special character throughout the seasons of the year.
What if a landscape has none of these things? What if a landscape boasts a massive lawn bordered by shabby plantings and cracked flatwork? How does one get from current run-down reality to the final vision for a space? Where does one start?
The steps below move in sequence, with simplest and easiest first. Halfway through, technical & design expertise begins to play a greater role. But don’t be discouraged, coming to a landscape designer with ideas and inspiration, will make their job easier! More importantly, time spent exploring, collecting, and considering preferred landscape styles will direct design exploration toward a clearly defined vision.
Explore The Neighborhood
One of the best ways to kick off a design effort is to take a walk around the neighborhood! Take a friend or family member along and critique the landscape types and styles. Better yet, discuss the desirable and undesirable elements: the plants, materials, and the edges and joints that stand out. Bring a notebook to make lists and a phone to take photos. Take a short video or two, recording the landscape areas while talking.
“Neighborhood” is a relative term; consider expanding the search to neighborhoods in the vicinity. Most towns have multiple pockets of unique or inspiring architectural styles and landscape designs. Newer developments might have the hot new low-water planting palettes; historic districts might have a variety of styles incorporating local materials and time-tested layouts. Consider the orientation of structures in the landscape and pay attention to how similar spaces are utilized within them.
Collect Inspirational Imagery
Once oriented to real landscape projects in your local context, move to the digital universe. In addition to print publications, the internet and even social media are a wealth landscape inspiration. Several platforms are built around curating image content—these include Pinterest, Houzz, The Spruce, HGTV, Instagram and more. Even a simple Google search will turn up a trove of landscape images across all types of styles and climates. For inspiration appropriate to the various drier regions of the Central Coast, adding keywords such as California, Native, Mediterranean, Drought Tolerant, and Desert will help, especially with plant species.
The digital exploration phase is a great opportunity to familiarize with a network of frequently used terms—modern versus rustic, drought-tolerant vs xeric, low-maintenance vs lush & colorful, or turfgrass vs ornamental grass. Some are self-explanatory, others are less-so. An understanding of these terms can give clarity when communicating with others, especially designers, architects, and contractors.
Assemble a Palette of Materials
After collecting images and notes for inspiration, it’s time to organize. Begin by saving all the noteworthy or important photos; web links to specific materials or products will save time later too. Now is the time to start narrowing down style and identity; lay the photos out, either on a table, in a word processor, or in another photo management tool. Identify the imagery that best captures your ideal feeling or vibe and begin culling the least cohesive images. There are various ways to organize a material palette, but one simple approach involves a breakdown into three categories:
Character: Character photos contain a mix of elements, including furniture, architecture, vegetation, and landscape. These images are often broad angles and represent a particular style or sense of place.
Hardscape: Hardscape is the structure and backbone of a site—walls, flatwork, fountains, walkways, boulders, rock mulch—anything that is installed once and stays put. Hardscape elements are typically the biggest-ticket items, consistent throughout all seasons, and relate closely to building layout and materials.
Plant Palette: Plants breathe life into a space—yet come with a unique set of opportunities and strengths; not the least of which is need for the proper combination of sun, soil, and water. Taking plant inspiration from the neighborhood is often one of the best ways to find climate-appropriate plant selections. Even so, the microclimates within your property (particularly sun and wind exposure) may differ and affect plant viability. A palette based on the desired look can be combined with some horticultural know-how to develop a specific plant list.
Develop a Concept Plan
After all this preparation, it’s finally time to begin design. Be advised, here’s where the little details about your site begin to matter. Developing a concept starts with a properly scaled base map. That includes measuring locations of utilities—electrical, water, gas—as well as existing plants and trees, buildings and hardscape edges, changes in elevation, and more. A good plan starts with an accurate base map: if in doubt, hire a professional surveyor or designer to get it right.
Every concept plan is unique. For most landscape designers, the concept plan is an initial and approximate plan view drawing of all the proposed elements. At this state, it’s important to locate key features such as shade trees and shrub areas, but an exact quantity and size is less important. Concept plans are easiest developed on paper with pen and paper. Start with a pencil, work through a few options, and then get a thicker pen out to trace final shapes. Make notes for each unique piece to assist in communicating the design intent.
Sketch Landscape Vignettes
Perhaps a concept plan would help a bird visualize your landscape, but a plan drawing doesn’t really show you what the landscape feels like from ground-level. A sketch or “vignette” of a view can be a powerful visualization tool. In fact, this can be helpful before, during, or after development of the concept plan. The plan drawing helps to organize and orient in the horizontal plane, but “perspective” views orient both horizontally and vertically.
One powerful shortcut to developing vignettes is drawing over a photo. A professional-level program such as Adobe Photoshop can help produce high-quality vignettes, but a hand drawn sketch on paper or a tablet is great too. It can be helpful to lighten the background image, or adjust it to black and white, to help your drawing overlay pop. Use thick dark lines if necessary, and bright colors or markers to differentiate new elements from the existing.
Experiment with 3D Modeling
While some have natural creative impulses, others may need to take a more technical or mathematical approach. In recent years, free and low-cost 3D modeling software has emerged as a powerful tool for visualization. Google Sketchup is a commonly used and user-friendly platform for 3D design of all sorts, landscape included. Many other companies have developed a variety of digital tools across a range of price points and user-friendliness.
At this point, an accurate base map is critical. Property lines, building footprints (including doors and windows), trees, walls, and edges of existing hardscape elements will be important to note and include on the digital base map. It may not take much to model the basic elements of a flat space with simple elements; curves and slopes can add significant difficulty. Even if your landscape area isn’t perfectly straight, it may still be helpful to model the basic layout and shapes of all the pieces.
Render in Photorealistic Detail
Digital rendering technology provides opportunities for realistic 3D images to capture the elements and even the feeling of a landscape. Combining simple 3D models with extensive libraries of textures, plants, environments, and more produce incredible results. Lumion is a program that has emerged as a very user-friendly yet powerful tool for landscape visualization.
Most homeowners can very realistically explore their neighborhood, collect inspirational imagery, and assemble a palette of materials. If the rest of the sequence sounds like a bit much, that’s no problem at all; landscape designers will be familiar with what it takes to get further and all the way to installation. Developing plan drawings are the bread and butter of landscape design practices, but these additional visualization methods are the helpful and fun tools on the journey toward creating the perfect landscape!
A collaborative project with Signum Architecture and Pederson Construction, Clos Solene Winery’s tasting room area is in its design phase. With multiple indoor-outdoor rooms and access to a new wine “cave” built into one of the winery hillsides, the project is coming together with structure and poise.
Our job has been focused on plans for planting, irrigation, lighting, and hardscape decomposed granite areas, all while giving careful attention to beautiful views. Everything is oriented along vine rows with sight lines maintained over a foreground of waving grasses.
With an emphasis on flow from space to space, the main walkways from the parking lot and the cave intersect at a junction with a water feature and lush grasses, the plant layout forming a smooth transition between architectural spaces.
Clos Solene’s many nooks mean precise planning and placement of various plants in our native and mediterranean palette—from the perfect tree for a narrow planter to low-growing grasses softening the central corridor. The plan is coming together with exciting promise and a beautiful payoff.
Want more information on our vineyard design services? Contact our landscape designers at [email protected] or (805) 466-6263.
Guidelines for Illuminating Your Outside Living Spaces
When choosing outdoor landscape lighting for any area, first think about how you will use the area. Do you want to see an ambient space out your window? Does it need to be easily walkable at night? Will you be holding al fresco dinner parties? Would you like an open-air dance floor? Do you want a cozy nook for a nightcap around a fire pit?
If you have one activity in mind, you can keep the lighting simple with a single switch for all lights. If you want to use your space for several activities, you may want options. To diversify your landscape lighting, you can arrange it into different switched zones, creating flexibility in how the space feels at night. Here are five different ways to customize the lighting for your outdoor spaces.
1. Provide Functional Light
In ancient times, sailors preferred dim light to eat their hardtack in ship galleys to avoid seeing their not-so-enticing food. Nowadays, you will likely want to show off your entire spread, and see your guests. Downlights, or directional spotlights with bright light, can be mounted on pergolas, walls, or trees to provide light directly to a table. For these zones, it is essential to provide more lumens with higher wattage lamps.
Suppose you want to provide illumination for safe walking. In that case, you can use path lights elevated on posts to cast broad light over walking surfaces. It is imperative to provide clear, direct lighting to stairs and precarious edges of patios. If you are building a new space, you can put recessed lights in the flatwork and riser lights in steps to provide illumination right where you need it.
2. Define the Edges
Lighting the edges of your patio or the adjacent landscape can be for function or ambiance. Sometimes it is nice to look out the window and see orderly lighting on the edge of a patio. It will make you feel comfortable by extending your visible perimeter when you hear a spooky sound outside. In addition, you can light objects in the landscape adjacent to the patio, such as boulders, art, tree trunks, or plants. This periphery lighting makes the space feel safe and defined even if you aren’t lighting the patio itself.
Here are three suggestions for using lights to define edges:
- Place path lights or recessed lights on the edge of the paving.
- Use broad-beamed wash lights to illuminate boulders and low plants for low detail textures and colors.
- Position narrow directional beam-up or spotlights to focus on art pieces, tree trunks, or specimen plants.
3. Create an Outdoor Room
It is remarkable how a patio can feel open and exposed in the day but warm and cozy at night with proper lighting. Walls and ceilings at proportionate heights create comfortable spaces. Ancient Greek architecture used the golden ratio of 1:1.61; create a restful and secure-feeling patio space with a width 1.61 times wider than the perceived ceiling height. As a rule of thumb, you can strategically light things to make the area feel a bit wider than it is tall. Use whatever is around – trees, bushes, walls, pergolas, fences – to emphasize this feel. Lighting a few select features will cause your mind to connect the dots and feel the geometry of a room you have created.
Trees are great for this use because you can uplight the trunk to create a wall and feather the light into the canopy to define the ceiling at the right height. Built structures like pergolas are beneficial because they can be customized and provide opportunities to uplight, downlight, or create wall or ceiling light patterns.
4. Create Ambiance
People often say they want low lighting to create an ambiance in their yard. This is not the light for eating your dinner, but it can be stunning in its simplicity. As mentioned before, lighting edges can really create a cozy feel. You can also extend your visible perimeter to more distant features such as trees, plants, art, or even barriers. Use wide angle wash lights to make secluded shrubs and boulders glow. Use directional narrow angle lights to illuminate focal points. For example, a red barked multi trunk tree can be up lit to create a mesmerizing floating warm glow in the distance. You can arrange a line of lights on an isolated or remote hedge or wall to define a wider perimeter of visual space to feel more secure in a brighter lit patio. Moonlights, or hanging pendant lights, can be set high in trees and create a whimsical moonlit forest feel. These are even more stunning if set over a branch to create a shadow pattern on the ground.
Keep in mind that the color of things you light will permeate into the ambient light in a space. You can focus on greens and cool tones to create a calm space. You can focus on reds and warm colors to create a warmer, cozier light. You can also choose warmer or cooler tone lamps/bulbs by using the kelvin rating (A low rating of 2700k is yellow and warm, and a high rating of 4100k is bright white).
And don’t forget the ever-popular bistro lights. These typically low wattage bulbs dangle from strings stretched overhead to provide full area illumination. Bistro lights can be great for a party area because they light the entire zone with semi-dim light. Like a dim bar experience, you may not be able to see your food perfectly, but it is a very nice ambiance for a dance floor or casual hangout. When arranging string lights, consider the density of bulbs for even lighting. Also keep in mind that you would like these strings to look okay during the day, so create intentional patterns and avoid tangled webs. Use built structures, poles, or trees to secure them at a comfortable height.
5. Display Artistic Patterns
These days there are fixtures suitable for creating patterns on the ground, walls, and ceilings. When creating defined designs for a contemporary look, it is essential to map them out with a measuring tape. You are usually working with fans of light over a flat surface. In some cases, you are illuminating things that were already installed in an orderly fashion, like equally spaced trees or wooden posts.
You can use recessed lights in patio flatwork to shoot low fans of light from a central can fixture. Often these have 2, 3, or 4 radiating fans of light that can create a geometric pattern on a ground plane. You can use sconce lights on walls or wall columns to create equally spaced downward or upward fans of light. Some sconces have both up and down light to create an hourglass light pattern. When lighting existing trees or built structures that are already equally spaced, use directional spotlights to create a uniform rhythm. For example, fences usually have equal spaced posts and panels which can be lit by narrow or wide angle up lights, respectively.
Mix it Up
As you can see, these five techniques are not mutually exclusive. Choose what works best for you and your space, and light it up! By using one, two, or several, you can make your outdoor areas come alive at night.
Ready for a landscape lighting design and want to talk to a professional? Contact our landscape designers at [email protected] or (805) 466-6263.
The Maison Mason Vineyard in West Paso Robles is a native oak grove paradise backdropped by classic sweeping grapevine rows. Madrone was tasked with designing a formal entry and establishing the native oak understory. We achieved the former through a dense planting around a new automatic entry gate, low board-form concrete walls, and select ornamental planting along the main road and entry drive. The latter goal was executed by locating a palette of native species on-site throughout the understory area, balancing long-lived foundation plants in a harsh climate with seasonal interest and lush variety in key areas.
Due to a steep cut slope bordering the entry drive, strategic planting selections targeted aesthetic and erosion concerns with native plant species that would spread and drape across the area. Brightly colored flower species stipple the palette and create the perfect drive up to sweeping vistas and a future development location.
We designed irrigation and low voltage lighting systems throughout the new landscapes to achieve longevity for this beautiful grove and entry, inviting guests to come and enjoy all that the vineyard offers.
Want more information on our vineyard design services? Contact our landscape designers at [email protected] or (805) 466-6263.