Tips for Creating a Lush, Sustainable Landscape
A Guide for Central Coast Homeowners
It’s 2019! If you’re thinking about landscaping this year, keep sustainability in mind. So, what does that mean? Here’s how author and landscape architect Owen Dell describes a sustainable landscape:
“Imagine a garden that rarely needs pruning, watering or fertilizing. One where natural controls usually take care of pest problems before the gardener even becomes aware of them. A peaceful garden where the sound of blowers, power mowers, or chain saws never intrudes. Imagine a garden that also serves as a climate control for the house, keeping it cool in summer and warm in winter; a garden that traps rainwater in an attractive streambed to deeply irrigate the trees and recharge the groundwater; one that provides habitat for wildlife and food for people. Imagine a garden that truly works. This is the sustainable garden—not barren or sacrificial, but as lush and beautiful as any other without all the struggle and waste.”
In considering your landscape project, good planning is vital. Creating a design can save you time and money by coordinating your efforts to make the most of your space, time, and budget. What are the uses you’d like to incorporate? Hardscape areas like patios, play areas and structures, or water features can all make your property work for you. When contemplating how you’ll be using the areas, think about the materials. Are they sustainably produced and sourced? Consider the Embodied Energy impacts, which include everything it takes to have a material available for your use.
Any discussion of California landscaping will include irrigation. Irrigation systems need to be accurate, low-flow and timed appropriately to keep plants healthy and thriving. When thinking about the plants, whether shrubs, trees, veggies or turf, think about conserving resources, especially over time. California Native Plants can often be very good choices to include in your design. Local native plants are often the most climate compatible and lowest maintenance choices.
These are just a few of the sustainable principles you can use as guidelines to maximize your landscape efforts. And in doing so, take advantage of living in the incredible region of California’s Central Coast. Make time to get out and enjoy yourselves in your gardens. They offer unique opportunities to unwind and relieve stress. Reconnect with things natural, beautiful and up close. Even in our own gardens we are connected in a very real way to the larger landscape, and how we have a responsibility to sustain the health and beauty of our beloved Central Coast. Let’s make it work for the long run.
Want more information on Central Coast resource-friendly landscapes? Here’s a short video hosted by our own Rick Mathews.
It’s a beautiful day to Meet the Team! This month, we are highlighting one of our amazing designers: Jules Welch. When she started working at Madrone, Jules dove right in. Her eye for aesthetic is absolutely remarkable, and her positivity and warm personality are sure to make you smile! She’s already helped put some gorgeous projects in the ground, with many more to come. Thanks for sharing your creative visions with us, Jules! See what she said when we asked her some questions about herself and about being part of the team:
How long have you been working at Madrone? Since May of 2018.
What is your favorite thing about working at Madrone? Getting to sit next to Ian, Megan, and Christy every day. I love the design team!
What is your favorite project that you’ve worked on and why? Gampe Residence. He was a really easy going client, and it’s a small space that emphasized quality over quantity!
What is your favorite, or least favorite, plant and why? Favorite plant: Giant sequoia because the species is as old as dinosaurs and the oldest living specimen is 3200 years old- imagine having a conversation with that tree! Least favorite plant: It’s seen a lot… society garlic. It’s smelly and sticky. Bleck.
What’s one of the things on your bucket list? Design/build a prominent public art piece at a large scale for people to take selfies with!
To continue off our “Meet the Team” segment, we would like to introduce a new-ish member of our team: Coner Boaen. Coner started out as our Service Technician, but is currently running his own crew as a Project Manager for our construction team. He hit the ground running and is doing an awesome job with our clients – thanks for all you do, Coner! See what he said when we asked him some questions about himself and the job:
How long have you been working at Madrone? 5 Months!
What is your favorite thing about working at Madrone? Having the freedom to be a Landscaper!
What is your favorite project that you’ve worked on and why? Paso Robles Residence – Got Daniel out of his flip flops and into some boots and helped me get a rock wall started!
What is your favorite, or least favorite, plant and why? Favorite, that’s hard. I am really liking the Silk Trees right now! Least favorite, anything with thorns like agave or barberry.
If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go and who would you bring? I have the aloha spirit in my heart. All I need is my girls and a white sandy beach in Hawaii!
At Madrone Landscapes, our partnerships with the community, our clients, and subcontractors are a priority. One of the partnerships we highly value is with subcontractor Porter Construction, Inc. For the past five years, Lucas Porter and his team have played a critical role in a variety of commercial and residential projects. As a small locally-owned business, they provide full-service general engineering contracting – including grading, excavation, and underground utilities – in addition to being masters of concrete craftsmanship.
To illustrate how the two companies work together Lucas describes, “To begin with, we do the mass grading and basically make the site look like a bomb went off,” he says with a smile. “We then put in curbing and parking lots, followed by soil in the planters and landscape areas. This is when Madrone comes in with their finesse to make the project look pristine and polished.”
Porter Construction shares a common value with Madrone – building partnerships. “We’re a small company and we work on repeat clientele business. Madrone is one of the larger landscape companies in our area, but they hold small company values,” explains Lucas. “A lot of guys in my trade, they don’t really want to have a relationship. They want to get in, get out, and get their work done. But, early on, I realized the value of truly partnering and creating working relationships.”
By having strong working relationships between contractor and subcontractor, Porter Construction and Madrone Landscapes have been successful in bidding and completing several large commercial projects. A few of these projects have been Central Coast winery and tasting rooms; however, when you ask Lucas what his favorite project has been to date, he says it’s the Cold Canyon Landfill. This was an eco-system project, consisting of wetland remediation and drainage channel cleaning. Porter graded it and removed debris, and then Madrone came in to plant. “We did very well on that project, in part due to Madrone’s organization. They were good support, asked me what I needed and didn’t start their work until we were done,” says Lucas. “That was a unique project, pretty fun.”
In addition to the commercial and winery landscaping projects, Porter Construction works with Madrone on residential landscapes. Often, they come in to construct custom concrete elements such as: radius retaining walls, decorative concrete flatwork, colored and stamped driveways and walkways, seat walls, and benches within Madrone-landscaped patios and gardens.
Lucas continues by sharing what he appreciates most about working with Madrone. “From top to bottom, they are good people to work with. Everyone is fair. It’s like a family atmosphere. It’s a team – I want to do my best to make sure they are well represented and they do that for me as well.” Here’s to working together and looking out for one another – a true business partnership. We appreciate Porter Construction and look forward to working together on many more projects in the future!
To wrap up this month, we at Madrone are celebrating our long-standing relationships. As we think back over our time in business, we are grateful for our many San Luis Obispo County and Santa Barbara County business associations with whom we have created strong connections and shared common ideals, principals, and philosophies. One of these is Semmes & Co. Builders, a Central Coast contractor with whom we have had the honor of working with on several projects.
Just over four decades ago, Rick Mathews started hosting jazz programs at the local radio station KCBX; some of you might know him as the host of the weekly show Freedom Jazz Dance. At that time, Turko Semmes was the host of an evening blues program. In our small community, they quickly realized their shared interests extended beyond music, and included their day jobs: the design and build profession. Rick was starting Madrone Landscapes; Turko was founding Semmes & Co. Builders. “I found a kindred spirit in Turko,” says Rick, “With our similar values of quality, integrity, and sustainability, coupled with our similar experiences starting businesses, we became extended family to one another.”
Fast forward a couple of decades, and we have a generational transition taking place. Daniel Mazawa, Madrone’s General Manager, and Jessica Steely, Semmes’ General Manager, joined the companies at roughly the same time, and have formed a great working relationship. “The history is there,” states Rick, “Jessica and Daniel ‘grew up’ together, with many of the same core values.”
Madrone has worked on several projects with Semmes over the years, typically sustainable homes in San Luis Obispo county. The residences include rammed earth elements and zero net energy homes. “When we work with Semmes,” states Daniel, “we know the project will be highly customized; it won’t be like anything else.”
We look forward to our continued working relationship with Semmes & Co. Builders in the years to come!
Recently, as we searched for a dog park in Santa Rosa CA, we could plainly see the surrounding hills- still scorched from last year’s devastating fires.
In Northern California alone, nearly 9,000 buildings were destroyed in 2017 and 44 civilian lives were lost. Not to mention later in the year, we subsequently watched as the southern portion of our state endured fires so severe, that a State of Emergency was declared. It’s a sobering reminder of the threat posed by living close to nature, as record heat and low humidity continues to intensify by the year. Property owners are at risk, to be sure, but what can we do to minimize those risks? Is it possible to improve the defensibility of our properties by landscaping wisely?
The answer is yes.
At Madrone Landscapes, we have dealt with properties in high fire danger areas for decades. There are many ways to enhance the defensibility of a property, whether it is through plant selection and design, or irrigation and water system strategies. Fire-resistant plants selections are available, but it is every bit as important that your plantings be well-spaced, properly pruned, and adequately watered in order for them to perform their fire-resistance function. Also, eliminating plants entirely from around structures may do more harm than good. Properly chosen plants can catch air-born fire embers, letting them die out harmlessly, and plants’ roots are often vital to control erosion in the event of a fire.
For ways to make your home more fire safe inside and out, see the Homeowner’s Checklist of from the SLO County Fire Safe Council.
Defensible Space – Defensive Landscaping
What you plant in your yard, and where you plant it, can be just as important as how your home is built. When in the path of a wildfire, your garden and lawn can become fuel for the flames. But, by learning the different zones around your property, you can create a more fire-safe home.
ZONE 1 Garden Zone: 0-30 feet from the outside walls of the building – This is the most important zone, as fire in this area will present the greatest danger to your house. This area should be kept irrigated and clear of debris at all times.
Top Fire-Resistant Landscaping for Zone 1
- Plants up to 18 inches tall that are low-volume (not thick and bushy)
- Plants with a high moisture content, such as succulents
- Grasses a maximum of 3 inches tall
- Tree branches trimmed 10 feet up
- Area is irrigated and kept clean
ZONE 2 Greenbelt/Fuel Break: 30-50 feet from structure – The goal of this zone is to reduce the available fuel in order to slow a ground fire. Larger shrubs and trees can be introduced here, as long as a distance that is twice their height separates them. This will prevent the ‘fire ladder’ effect, where fires jump from one clump of shrubbery or trees (fuel) to another. Grass in this area should be mowed to 6”. This area should be kept irrigated and maintained.
Top Fire-Resistant Landscaping for Zone 2
- Succulents, small to medium shrubs
- Trees at least 10 feet apart and tree crowns 10 feet off the ground
- Grass a maximum of 6 inches tall
- Shrubs separated by two times their height, so a 6 foot shrub will be at least 12 feet from its neighbor
ZONE 3 Transition Zone: 50-100 feet from structure – The major effort here should be to thin existing vegetation and remove debris. Grass should be kept at 18”.
Top Fire-Resistant Landscaping for Zone 3
- Low to medium height plants
- Plants grouped in “islands” for water efficiency
- Dead branches and leaves removed
ZONE 4 Native or Neutral Zone: 100+ feet, depending on conditions – The primary goal of this area is to reduce fuel buildup by mechanical clearing or occasional prescribed fires.
Top Fire-Resistant Landscaping for Zone 4
- Grass mowed to 12 inches
- Vegetation thinned and ground kept free from litter
Landscaping in fire-prone areas should try to create a fire safe buffer – a defensive space – around your home. The home’s roof and gutters should also be cleared of any plant materials like leaves and pine needles. Taking these measures can make it easier and safer for firefighters to save homes from wildfires.
Fire Safe Demonstration Garden
The San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden has a new Fire Safe Demonstration Garden located at 3450 Dairy Creek Road, San Luis Obispo, CA 93405. They are open daily during daylight hours. The Gift Shop and Office are open 9 am to 5 pm Tuesday through Friday.
Get more tips from the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden’s Fire Safe Landscaping Brochure.
We hope that these installments have inspired your landscape design ideas, and brought color and life to the spaces that needed it most! Here is the fifth and final tip to help build outdoor environments and experiences to positively impact your tasting room; thanks for looking!
#5 Design for Change
Flexible Space: Along with a variety of spaces, it is important to allow some spaces to be flexible to allow for several different types of entertainment. Damian Grindley (Brecon Estate) says their most useful space is the lawn area under a group of mature trees. He can change it to overflow seating or activities, but also downsize. June McIvor (Tolosa Winery) likes the flexibility of setting-up outdoor serving bars in different zones of the landscape. Kendall Carson (Halter Ranch) has planned countless events, and she believes electrical outlets are important to have all around the entertaining areas. Whether it is for lighting, a tasting bar, or a band stage, available electricity is very useful. It is impossible to anticipate exactly how a space will be used or changed over time. So, we recommend to build-in flexibility of use so you can make necessary changes both easily and cost effectively.
(Photo by Daniel Mazawa – Tolosa Winery, Tasting Patio)
Pleasant Surprises: People like to return to their special tasting rooms, but they enjoy the excitement of small surprising changes. This is especially true at Brecon Estate where the furniture, art and layout has changed over time as the winery evolves and gains notoriety. They have done it for expanding entertainment area, but also visitors enjoy discovering something new each time, further investing themselves as part of the exclusive club that notices the transitions. Even seasonal changes in the new or existing plants can draw visitors back. A visitor may come in summer and hear about the fall color or the spring wildflowers. Often art displays are paired with the tasting experience, offering another product for purchase while changing over time. These features get visitors to come back again and again, always looking for something new.
(Photo by Megan Savage – Brecon Estate Wines, Entryway Poppies)
Part 1: Be Unique & Memorable
Part 2: Make it Feel Special
Part 3: Take Advantage of your Site
Part 4: Create a Variety of Spaces
Landscape design plays an important role in the success of your winery. Here is the fourth of five tips to help build outdoor environments and experiences to positively impact your tasting room.
#4 Create a Variety of Spaces
Entertaining Spaces: Most tasting rooms operate best with a variety of different spaces to fit the different preferences of visitors and functions of the winery. If you desire to host large events, a central large patio can be quite useful. However, most tasting room landscapes are a connection of smaller nooks to provide multiple intimate experiences for a large number of visitors. Also, the space becomes a social environment, not feeling empty with small crowds, and feeling comfortable with large crowds. In tip #2 we spoke about visitors liking a special and exclusive experience. A visitor may achieve this by finding their favorite nook in the landscape and returning to that special spot over the years. Everyone is different, so a variety of spaces, furniture, paving patterns, and shrubbery can break a large area into a successful multi-user experience.
(Photo by Valerie Imhof – Halter Ranch, Tasting Room Seating Patio)
User Experience: Preferences of tasting room visitors have interesting trends. Folks that are new to the tasting room experience like to go up to a tasting bar and stand during the tasting. Research shows that experienced tasting room visitors often prefer to sit down in a lounge-type area. They come to relax and unwind, and they don’t feel they are imposing when asking for drinks to be brought to them. These experienced tasters often buy more wine and are more likely to join the wine club. Wineries know this, and design both indoor and outdoor elements to provide ample comfortable seating. Other wineries provide entertainment areas with games or picnicking room. The bottom line is that comfortable seating nooks sell wine.
(Photo by Daniel Mazawa – Brecon Estate Wines, ZinFest 2014)
Tasting Room Logistics: Tasting room landscapes also need to work for the people operating the business. Often the central hub is the main tasting bar, so it is helpful to have visibility of all tasting areas for the attendants to best serve everyone efficiently. Open connection between indoors and outdoors feels good for the visitor, but also makes it easier for servers to navigate while carrying glasses of wine. It is crucial to speak with the tasting room staff to know how to best orchestrate the activities of the business.
(Photo by Megan Savage – Chronic Cellars, Tasting Room Patio)
Miss a beat? We got you covered!
Part 1: Be Unique & Memorable
Part 2: Make it Feel Special
Part 3: Take Advantage of your Site
Who knew stewardship felt so good?
No matter where you live, you make an impact. For communities to function well over time, conscious efforts must be made by many to contribute to the positive impact toward the development of that community, or else who will? That is stewardship. We recognize this at Madrone Landscapes, and try to do our part. http://madronelandscapes.com/about-us/stewardship/.
One recent effort that Madrone participated in was the design and installation of a low-impact landscape at El Camino Homeless Organization(ECHO). ECHO is a non-profit organization with a 50-bed transitional shelter helping families and individuals find permanent housing within three months of entering the facility. The organization is located on the Central Coast of California serving North San Luis Obispo County, and you can read more about their efforts here.
Working with ECHO’s Board of Directors, Madrone came together with community volunteers and students from California State Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo. The Madrone team and volunteers installed shade trees, screening, and a drought tolerant, native plant pallet. A quarter acre of fruit trees including apples, peaches, plums and figs were planted and a raised vegetable garden was also installed to make the most of what the facility has to offer.
Over two weekends of fun and hard work, Madrone’s general manager, Daniel Mazawa, led the charge with the help of Cal Poly professor Christie O’Hara and Rainscape manager, Victor Rocha, as 60 volunteers transformed the space into an aesthetically pleasing and functional landscape. Prior to the planting and mulching, Madrone’s build team graded the area, installed the irrigation and assembled all the needed materials. Local businesses donated irrigation parts, soil amendments and mulches. A little bit of conscious stewardship can make a big difference, and the benefits of this project will “ECHO” for years to come. The smiles say it all!
Here is the third of five tips to help build outdoor environments and experiences to positively impact your tasting room!
#3: Take Advantage of Your Site
Views: Vineyard architecture and vineyard landscapes often take advantage of the natural and agricultural surroundings. Damian Grindley (Brecon Estate) believes there is an intriguing contrast between the native California landscape and the “engineered lines” created by the vines in a vineyard. This look is so iconic that most vineyards will highlight sweeping views of vines and rolling native hills at their tasting room. When you have stunning views on your site, you can “borrow” them by using minimal landscape elements in front of the best vistas, or use trees to “frame” the view. These are great ways to maximize your landscape budget, since views of vines and hills can do much more for you than almost any landscape element.
(Photo by Valerie Imhof – Brecon Estate Wines, Vineyard View)
Shade: Most visitors come to wineries in the summertime, and shade is very important here on the central coast of California. Trees, pergolas, and umbrellas provide cozy, snug areas for people to relax and enjoy the warm weather in a nature’s lounge room. If there are existing large trees, use them to create a natural comfortable area that people will gravitate towards.
(Photo by Megan Savage – Epoch Winery, Tasting Room)
Architecture: Often the vineyard architecture is already defined by the theme, so it is important to blend with the architecture of the building as much as the surroundings. Compliment the style with use of hardscape and planting to make the building more impressive. Some tasting room architecture will try and blend into the California landscape, and the landscape design should also focus on the surroundings. Some tasting rooms will be a monument standing out from nature, so the landscape design must emphasize the awe of the architectural form, while transitioning to the surroundings.
(Photo by Valerie Imhof – Law Estate Wines, Tasting Room)
Missed a section? Here are parts 1 and 2!
Part 1: Be Unique & Memorable
Part 2: Make it Feel Special