Jul 29, 2022
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.
Jul 11, 2022
As a landscaping company that bases our work and design on the native flora palette, we typically make recommendations for plants rather than censures. There are, however, many plants that should be outright avoided in our Central Coast landscapes, or at the very least, used sparingly.
There are “invasive” and “introduced” plants. The latter category acknowledges flora introduced to a region that complements or makes room for native, local plant life without detrimental competition. Invasive plants, on the other hand, choke out native plant life and, subsequently, lead to breakdown of native fauna as well. Overall, invasive plants upset the balance of local ecosystems, reducing local biodiversity and often eventually leading to native endangerment and unhealthy, uncontrollable landscapes.
Conscientious planting has a greater impact than we can express, so we’ve made a small list of plants to avoid in landscape planting overall, but especially in commercial properties and HOA communities.
Nasella tenuisima (Mexican Feather Grass)
While it is known for its delicacy and graceful fronds, Mexican Feather Grass is a highly invasive grass species for the California region. It produces tens of thousands of seeds and can continue to be invasive even five years after removal due to contaminated soils. In windy environments, it seeds readily and therefore “self-sows,” making it very difficult to prevent its spread as it crowds out other native grasses and invades neighboring landscapes. This plant cannot be contained and should not be planted regardless of aesthetic appeal; we highly recommend exploring Central California’s native grasses and the gracefulness that can be found there.
Cortaderia selloana (Pampas Grass)
With its silvery plumes and commanding height, Pampas Grass is lovely but another highly invasive grass species. Quick to grow and dominate, the Pampas Grass is insidiously ubiquitous in Big Sur landscapes and has transformed beautiful coastal areas to drab and ill-fitting prairies. Similar to Mexican Feather Grass, Pampas Grass is nearly impossible to contain and should be discouraged in all landscapes.
A diverse genus of flowering plants, Euphorbia contains several species that are known to be invasive. Confirm before planting to avoid spreading harmful non-natives. Euphorbia terracina, Euphorbia virgata, Euphorbia obloganta, and Euphorbia lathyris are all examples of invasive spurges, but are not an exhaustive list.
Rhomneya coulteri (Matilja Poppy)
Some natives are more dominating than others, and the Matilja Poppy qualifies. With fluffy, white-and-yellow flowers on bushes that can grow to tower, the Matilja Poppy should be planted with awareness and caution. Though it cannot be counted as invasive, this showy California native has a tendency to run in the garden setting, spreading in ways that are difficult to control and choking out other less assertive plants. Provide root containment or make sure it has adequate space within the garden in order to prevent its domineering personality from becoming an issue.
Ailanthus altissima (Tree of Heaven)
Contrary to its angelic name, the Tree of Heaven is a highly aggressive non-native tree. Luckily, it is not quite so popular in planting palettes due to its offensive smell; however, its hardiness and lack of insect or disease problems still makes it a dangerous contender for many properties. A quick reproducer, it is known to stifle or even kill native species, secreting chemicals into the soil that are toxic to surrounding plants. Largely uncontrollable, we urge anyone to consider better-smelling, native trees that are just as hardy.
Jun 8, 2022
Fire Season is here again.
With everything else going on, one might almost forget that we are deep into the wildfire season here in California. As the wildfire threat increases through the summer months, the question always remains: How can your landscape help?
In California, over 3,629 buildings were damaged or destroyed in 2021, with three of the largest fires in history taking place in that singular year. 2.6 million acres burned over the course of 8,619 wildfires, and amazingly enough, this was a vast improvement from 2020, where the season was so severe that a State of Emergency was declared.
While 2021 was, in comparison, an improvement, there is all the more reason to increase preparedness—either in bracing for heightened risk as our summers continue to
break record temperatures and humidity lows, or to increase the downward trend in fire season losses.
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 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.
Immediate Zone: 0–5 feet from the furthest attached exterior point of the structure. 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 the Immediate Zone:
- 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
- Use of rock mulch against the house (instead of bark mulch)
- Removal of all dead, dying, and diseased vegetation from gutters, ground, roof, and exterior attic vents
Intermediate Zone: 5–30 feet from the furthest exterior point of the 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 Intermediate Zone:
- Succulents, small to medium shrubs
- Trees at least 10 feet apart and tree crowns 10 feet off the ground
- Lower tree limbs removed 6–15 feet from the ground
- Grass a maximum of 6 inches tall
- Shrubs separated by two times their height (a 6 foot shrub will be at least 12 feet from its neighbor)
Extended Zone: 30–100 feet, as far as 200 feet, from the furthest exterior point of the structure. The major effort here should be to thin existing vegetation and remove debris to interrupt and reduce potential fires.
Top Fire-Resistant Landscaping for the Extended Zone:
- Low to medium height plants
- Grass mowed to 18–13 inches
- Plants grouped in “islands” for water efficiency
- Dead branches, leaves, and litter removed
Landscaping in fire-prone areas should try to create a fire safe buffer—a defensive space—around your structure. On top of everything else, it is crucial to ensure there is a deliberately clear path to the structure for firefighters, ensuring both their safety and yours. Taking these measures can make it easier and safer for them to save properties from wildfires.
Fire Safe Demonstration Garden
The San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden has a 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 and the University of California’s Home Landscaping for Fire publication.
Make your landscape defensible. We can help! Contact us at [email protected] or (805) 466-6263.