Five Favorite Mediterranean Plants for Springtime Landscapes

Five Favorite Mediterranean Plants for Springtime Landscapes

With Spring officially upon us, many people are ready for planting in their yards and updating their landscapes. It’s time to go outside with some of the pent-up energy we’ve been harboring and take it out on the dirt. The rewards can be beautiful!

While in many parts of California our gardens can have blooming plants virtually year-round, springtime is particularly associated with floral displays in our gardens. This holds true with the surrounding wild landscapes too.

We Central Coast residents certainly love our California native flora. Other regions across the world share similarities with our California climates. They are known as Mediterranean-type ecosystems or “MTEs.” MTEs, with their characteristic mild wet winters and warm dry summers, occur in just five regions of the world: California; Central Chile; the Mediterranean Basin in Europe; the Cape Region of South Africa; and Southwestern and South Australia. There are abundant examples of plants suitable for our Central Coast gardens that are native to these other regions. Let’s consider five of these plants that might be great for your yard:

California Region

Starting close to home, there is the often-overlooked California Native Cornus sericea (Cornus stolonifèra), or Creek Dogwood. It is a deciduous shrub also known as Redtwig for its distinctive red stems, keeping it interesting through the winter. Creek Dogwoods can grow 8–12’ high and wide, and have clusters of creamy white flowers, spring to summer. The form is open, and leaves are 1.5–2.5 inches long and light green to brilliant red in fall. It is hardy to well below freezing and prefers partial shade. Branches will root if allowed to touch ground, and roots will spread. Redtwigs love moisture, are fire-resistive, and require medium irrigation in the dry months.

Mediterranean Basin, Europe Region

When one thinks of aromatic leaves used in cooking, Laurus nobilis, or Sweet Bay, is often the first thought. Also called Bay Laurel or Grecian Laurel, this small tree is a versatile evergreen tree for Central Coast landscapes. Growing 20–30 ft. tall to 20 ft. wide, Sweet Bays produce small yellow flowers in Spring, followed by deep purple berries. Best known for their fragrance, they are deer-resistant, fire resistive, and attract birds. Preferring fertile, well-drained soils, they are low water users once established. The variety “Saratoga” is best for use as a tree, but the species can also be used as a background or for screen shrubs.

South Africa Region

Aloe striata, or Coral Aloe, is one of many aloes native to South Africa. This beautiful succulent has found a home in many a landscape or garden in the milder micro-climates (hardy to 25 degrees Fahrenheit) of North County, and throughout the coastal climates. It grows to be a 2 ft. wide rosette with broad, pale green, nearly toothless, flat leaves. The brilliant coral-pink-to-orange flowers occur in spring on branched clusters up to 3 ft. tall. They thrive in full sun and well-drained soil. Coral Aloes are fire- and deer-resistive, require minimal water, and attract hummingbirds.

Central Chile Region

Known for its graceful, weeping form and light green, evergreen foliage, Maytenus boaria, or Maytens Tree, is a unique and small specimen tree for much of the Central Coast. Hardy to 20 degrees Fahrenheit, the Maytens Tree grows to over 30 ft. and has long, pendulous branchlets hanging down from its branches. The tiny spring flowers are pretty inconspicuous, and the leaves are 1–2 inches long. They are fire- and deer-resistive and want full sun and ample summer water. Maytens Trees can produce beautiful lighting effects in the landscape.

Southwestern Australia Region

People native to Australia have have made good use of Grevilleas since time immemorial. With over 350 species of Grevilleas—from virtually flat ground covers to soaring trees—their uses range from building furniture to making drinks from the nectar. One favorite landscape plant is Grevillea “Canberra Gem,” also known as Spider Flower. This shrub has a graceful, open form from about 8 ft. tall to 12 ft. wide. The bright green leaves are needlelike and prickly, making for a good barrier plant. Flowers are red clusters starting early spring and intermittently at other times. Not only deer-resistive, this and other Grevilleas attract butterflies and birds with their nectar and seeds. Canberra Gem grows in a variety of soils from clay to sandy loam and is quite tolerant, preferring occasional deep soakings and good drainage. It is hardy to about 20 degrees Fahrenheit.

Interested in how these plants will work in your landscape design? Contact us at [email protected] or (805) 466-6263.

Designing a Gathering Space for the Central Coast Landscape

Designing a Gathering Space for the Central Coast Landscape

We enjoy the outdoors year-round on the Central Coast. Sunny winters and mild summer evenings are almost the expectation, so our landscapes aren’t just a beautiful space to look at; they’re a beautiful space in which to live. Whether you’re hosting dinner with friends or looking to enjoy an evening outdoors with the family, you want to get the most out of your outdoor living space. 

Here are a few good points to think about as you begin to envision a new outdoor gathering space.

 

Take note of special existing features. Good designs take cues from context; on the Central Coast, oaks often define landscape features. Or, maybe there’s a slope that can be used to create a sweeping seat wall or a rock outcrop that can play into the form of the hardscape edge. How will the gathering space relate to gates and fences, doors, and perhaps most importantly, the kitchen? Do you already have a special spot in your yard, and will converting it to a gathering space enhance its distinctive character? Outdoor gathering spaces are often situated in a specific context, providing strong clues to answering design questions.

Consider various options. You may already have a vision for how the space will look, and it may be the best solution. Think through all the options before you begin. What if the space were tucked into a different corner, on a raised redwood deck, as a sunken rock-studded fire zone, with a custom pergola integrated, or with a soft, sweeping vegetated edge. 

Consider the potential for built-in features such as fire pits, barbecues, fountains, refrigerators, coolers, sinks, seating variations, screening, and more. Planting, which often provides the smooth transition or soft edge from hardscape (such as concrete or pavers) into the larger landscape, plays a vital role in defining and elevating a space.

Design for your best use of the space. Consider how exactly how you envision the space being used over time. Be realistic, and think long-term. Here are six questions to get you started.

  • Do you need space for a cafe table for two or three, or a dining table for all the kids and grandkids? 
  • How likely are you to need shade over the space? 
  • Will you be using it primarily in the morning or the evening? 
  • How accessible does your gathering space need to be from the kitchen, indoor living spaces, or the primary bedroom? 
  • Who will use it most frequently, and will they be reading a book in the evening shade or soaking in the midafternoon sun? 
  • Does a pool deck or bocce court also fit nearby, and how does the gathering space fit into other long-term landscape goals?

Of course, if all these questions seem a bit overwhelming to tackle, you might consider hiring a landscape designer. Gathering inspiration online definitely helps to lay out a vision. Still, a professional landscape designer will help turn solid ideas into plans on paper, the first step toward an installed landscape. The more complex a project, the more potential for a designer to help streamline the process.

Interested in talking to us about your gathering space? Contact our landscape designers at [email protected] or (805) 466-6263.

On the Boards: Atascadero Oasis

On the Boards: Atascadero Oasis

Designed to succeed in the Atascadero climate, this Mediterranean-style oasis provides ample space for play, multi-functional entertainment features, and the tropical airs of the lush plant selections. The 7,000 SF design-build project is shaping up to be an inviting retreat for family and friends.

Its multi-purpose entertainment spaces include a pool, fire feature, outdoor kitchen, and reduced-footprint lawn that transitions to a patio. The custom kiva fireplace wall is built to warm colder nights and cozy up the recessed seating area just past the pool and mountable movie projector screen. The outdoor kitchen and bar seating make for picture-perfect socializing and party hosting.

Chock-full of fun elements and smooth transitions, this thoughtful and cohesive landscape is sure to be a delightful retreat for both family and guests.

Interested in talking to us about your landscape design? Contact our team at [email protected] or (805) 466-6263.

Rainwater Harvesting for California’s Central Coast

Rainwater Harvesting for California’s Central Coast

Although we’ve seen a bit of rain this year, as Californians we know that every drop we get is precious. It seems as though drought years are becoming more common, and wet winters are few and far between. Capturing and using rainwater has many benefits. Rainwater is very healthy for plants because it is 100% soft, free of salts, minerals, and chemicals, slightly acidic and a natural source of nitrogen. When it comes to the landscape, there are several techniques that can be used to harvest and utilize rainwater.

Bioswales and Detention Basins

You can beautifully maximize the effect of rainfall with passive techniques, using it to water deep-rooted plants such as trees. It is common to direct roof water and stormwater to bioswales or detention basins to allow for deeper infiltration in specific zones of the landscape. Keeping water on site reduces runoff and erosion downstream from your property.

Bioswales can be beautiful additions to the landscape if made to look like a natural creek or pond with rocks and plants. Concealed detention basins can be created by with underground gravel leach fields around tree groves.

For the 3,000 square foot home, you can get almost 500 gallons from downspouts with a light ¼” rainstorm. Even in a drought winter, your trees can get some good deep watering.

Rainwater Cisterns

The most efficient way to harvest rainwater is to collect it from roof surfaces by piping downspouts into a cistern system. With a properly designed rainwater harvesting system, you can essentially transfer 100% of the rainwater that hits your roof into storage.

For every 1” of rainfall, you can capture 0.62 gallons of water per square foot. This means that a home with a 3,000 square foot roof will collect 1,870 gallons from 1” of rain. With an average annual rainfall of 19” in San Luis Obispo and 13” in Paso Robles, that same home has the potential to collect between 24,000 and 37,000 gallons over one winter. Once stored, the rainwater can be filtered and pumped into an irrigation system to supplement the water supply during the dry season.

Options and Costs

One major constraint for rainwater harvesting systems is the cost. In California, most of the rain comes during our short winter season, with little need for irrigation between storms. To maximize the harvest, you need to have a lot of storage for the water. Most commonly, above-ground tanks are used to store collected rainwater. There are a lot of options for above or underground storage tanks, with plastic being the least expensive material. Collected water can also be stored in a holding pond, but this method allows for water loss to evaporation.

To have a system installed with a storage capacity between 5,000 and 40,000 gallons, you can expect to pay between $2 and $5 per gallon for overall cost installed by a qualified contractor. If a full system isn’t in the budget, you can certainly keep costs low and use simple rain barrels to harvest water from downspouts. You can use collected water for indoor plants or landscape areas that don’t get direct rainfall.

When to Plan

With all of the different ways to think about harvesting rainwater, planning is key. It is advantageous to think about your system now, during the wet season. That way, you can have your system designed and installed during the dry season to get ready for the following year’s rain. We recommend 3-8 months to allow for design and installation without rushing decisions. When June comes around, rain may be the last thing on your mind – just remember watching that precious rainwater running down the drain and plan, plan, plan!

At any time of the year, consult with your landscape designer. If you are already working on a landscape plan, be sure to consider your rainwater harvesting system. It can be designed alongside planting and irrigation designs to allow your contractor to take care of everything at once.

Want to learn more about including bioswales or dry creeks in your landscape design? Contact our team at [email protected] or (805) 466-6263.

On the Boards: Elegant Central Coast Retreat 

On the Boards: Elegant Central Coast Retreat 

Set in the rolling Atascadero hills, this 2.5-acre property is undergoing significant architectural renovations and a landscape transformation to achieve a family-oriented space for fun and relaxation. Planned as a family vacation home on the Central Coast, the new guest quarters, pool, and significant landscape improvements maximize the space near the house and infuse an elegant Mediterranean character to enhance the refreshed architectural style.

Using a colorful central planting palette and strong native transitions, Madrone designed a bold and beautiful setting. Features include a fruit orchard, a fire pit nestled into the front slope, redwood veggie beds, all new irrigation, a central pool deck and patio layout, planting throughout, stone walls, two water fountains, various seating areas, a bocce court, and semi-formal pathways through undisturbed zones.

Madrone has coordinated phased landscape improvements with the architectural firm, Isaman design, to transform large portions of the parcel. Phase 1 installation is already underway, where we are installing a dozen fruit trees near the rear of the property and a native plant screen at the front.

Interested in talking to us about your landscape design? Contact our team at [email protected] or (805) 466-6263.

Six Bird-Friendly Natives for San Luis Obispo County

Six Bird-Friendly Natives for San Luis Obispo County

Plants to Help Create a Bird-Friendly Habitat

​We often think of bees and butterflies when we’re landscaping—as well as drought-tolerant and native planting—but what of birds? Native, bird-friendly landscaping brings impactful benefits to more than just a residential landscape, they also support San Luis Obispo County region’s ecosystem and create protection and food.

By visiting California’s Audubon site, you can plug in your email and zip code to receive a long list of plants that are both native and bird friendly. You might also use the California Native Plant Society’s Calscape plant search, where you can put your location and check the boxes on what you’re looking for in order to find just the right plants for you.

Among all the bird-friendly plants in the Central California region, here are six of our favorites:

Eastwood Manzanita

Arctostaphylos glandulosa

We are big fans of manzanita! It also made our list of top plants for the Central Coast winter garden. There are several varieties of manzanita, from shrubs to trees. This species is best planted in sun or part shade, this Manzanita variety is found all along the western coast – from Baja to Oregon. It is drought tolerant, with white to pink flowers and reddish-brown berries. It may attract mockingbirds, jays, vireos, thrushes, and wrens.

Toyon

Heteromeles arbutifolia

No bird-friendly list would be complete without this perennial shrub. Native through the western part of California and the Sierra Foothills, Toyon is well known in the coastal sage scrub plant community. Toyon produces bright red berries and is also known as Christmas Berry and Christmas Holly. It is very attractive to butterflies, birds, and mammals alike. Mockingbirds, robins, and cedar waxwings are particularly drawn to this evergreen.

Cardinal Catchfly

Silene laciniata

A bright, perennial herb that vines through surrounding plants to show off its colors, the Cardinal Catchfly flourishes in partial shade and may attract orioles, waxwings, warblers, and certainly hummingbirds and butterflies. Drought-tolerant and easy to care for, its small splashes of vibrancy are a charming addition to any landscape.

Cream Bush

Holodiscus discolor

Cream bush is a shaggy, deciduous shrub called “ocean spray” for a reason. Bursting with cascading white clusters of flowers from early spring to late summer, its blooms then develop a tan that lasts them through the winter. With a faint, sugary scent and thick growth, cream bush provides cover for birds as well as fruit and nuts, attracting cardinals, chickadees, sparrows, and finches, among others.

Deergrass

Muhlenbergia rigens

The volume and character of deergrass makes it a popular plant for height and charm, with tufted, silver-green to purple foliage that makes it one of the most beautiful bunchgrasses for our region. Its summer seeds attract birds like finches, nuthatches, grosbeaks, and sparrows.

Silver Lupine

Lupinus albifrons

A gorgeous, prominent flowering shrub, Silver Lupine thrives in dry environments and attracts everything from bees to vireos. Silky and evergreen, it flowers in every season save fall. Its nectar is loved by hummingbirds, warblers, mockingbirds, orioles, and others.

Interested in a bird-friendly landscape design? Contact our landscape designers at [email protected] or (805) 466-6263.