Breaking Down the Madrone Mission Statement 

Breaking Down the Madrone Mission Statement 

Our mission is to create inspirational landscapes that cultivate the natural beauty of California’s Central Coast

Create in our mission statement refers to the entire design/build process. Design is often the first phase of Madrone’s services. Our initial consultations begin the process that will produce a plan. We work closely with our clients through give-and-take interactions to refine their original concepts and solidify the scope of work.

Create also refers to our work on site. Whether through planting, irrigation, or construction, all phases can be approached and implemented creatively and with innovation, artistic elements, and inspiration.

Inspiration originates from a personal state of mind and is unique, based on perspectives and influences. As a company of green professionals, we’re grateful for the daily inspiration we find in being able to promote and enhance the beauty and health of the Central Coast—culturally as well as biologically. It is an honor to help cultivate one of the best places on Earth to live.

We prioritize inspired creation in our approach to design/build landscaping. Madrone designers and field crews alike tap into inspiration by asking the following question about every single project we contract: What is the “stoke factor” of this job? Every project and client has them, and it’s our job to find and maximize that “stoke”—or inspirational factor—for and with our clients.

Landscapes enhance the effects of the sites they beautify, inspiring those who visit or inhabit them. One of the most common ways is through memorials to loved ones. Whether it is a tree planted in someone’s name, small, personalized elements, or dedicated gardens, these memorials can keep us in touch with our loved ones in the most beautiful and gratifying ways. Memorials can contribute to a sense of home or place and help create an Outdoor Sanctuary. Now more than ever, it’s important to create a personal sense of safety and comfort. Let your garden give you inspiration.

Cultivate helps emphasize both the physical nature of our work and our goals of promoting, protecting, and enhancing the natural beauty of the Central Coast. Development done incorrectly, whether commercial or residential, can impact and damage the environment. Our approach to landscaping seeks to recognize and understand development impacts and mitigate or avoid negative effects as much as possible.

California’s Central Coast provides one of the best climates for humans to live and thrive. As community members, we include a social component in our cultivation of life here. We strive to give back and have made doing so a practice. From building and dedicating gardens to contributing support for addressing social and cultural concerns, we believe it is incumbent on us to continue to earn our place as positive members of our community. Free enterprise includes the responsibility to give as well as the privilege to take.

It is with gratitude and determination that at Madrone Landscapes, we are continuing our mission into a new year and beyond.

Bunch Grass Cutbacks

Bunch Grass Cutbacks

How, Why, and When to Cut Bunch Grasses: California’s Central Coast

In the Central Coast California Landscape, bunchgrasses are a common landscape element. In some cases, huge swaths of showy grasses can be a bold botanic display of texture, movement, and glowing color. A bunch grass is a perennial grass that forms clumps as it grows. They can be as small as six inches or as large as eight feet tall, usually selected for their foliage and seed head plumage. On the central coast, most species are maintained by a significant yearly haircut to prepare for the next year’s growth.

When to Cut Bunch Grasses

Most bunch grasses are cut back so they look green and fresh for the next growing season, as well as clear out dead foliage and debris for plant health. While some grasses won’t need to be cut back every year, some benefit from being cut back twice or more per year. For yearly cutbacks, the rule of thumb is to cut them back after the last hard frost. Winter foliage can be attractive even if it is brown, and it protects the plant crown from frost damage. If the grass is particularly frost sensitive, the timing should be as late in the winter as possible. In San Luis Obispo County, we tend to be split our grass cut-back timeframes between the beaches (Morro Bay, Pismo Beach, Cambria, Los Osos, etc.), the coastal valleys (San Luis Obispo, Arroyo Grande, Edna, Nipomo, etc.) and North County (Paso Robles, Templeton, Atascadero, Santa Margarita).

Grass cutbacks can start earliest on the beach zones because they have almost no frost and grasses start to grow even in the winter. December-January is good for most grasses along our beach towns. With the lack of frost, many more species of grass can be grown, such as Pennisetum setaceum rubrum, a beautiful Purple Fountain Grass. “Some grasses won’t show as much winter browning, so skipping their yearly cutbacks from time to time is acceptable. Because the growing season is so long, the window to cut back grasses is also more forgiving. Cutting browning grasses as late as March or April is better than not cutting them at all.”
In the coastal valleys, February is a great month to cut back grasses, but it can happen anytime between January and March. There is limited frost, so grasses such as the Purple Fountain Grass may want to wait until March, but most grasses are completely safe for a February cut. This zone is very similar to the beaches, but it may take a little longer for the grasses to green back up, hence the later cut.

North County of San Luis Obispo County is much different than the rest of the county. The Santa Lucia Mountain Range separates it from ocean influence, making it much colder in the winter. For that reason, the cutbacks occur later to wait for the hard frosts to subside. In addition, most grasses in north county don’t start pushing new growth until April. February through April is the window for north county grass cutbacks, with March being an ideal month. While April is okay, cutting back the grasses after the spring flush should be avoided. While grass species are more limited in North County due to the cold, the explosive growth of the hot summer and the seasonal look of brown winter plumage can be stunning.

The bottom line for timing of grass cutbacks is to maximize the aesthetics and health of the plants. Try to minimize the downtime of a cut back bunch grass stump by waiting until the plant is just about to push new growth. Fine-tune the specific timing for your zone and grasses over the years to maximize your enjoyment of these versatile plants.

How to Cut Back Bunch Grasses

  1. Use sharp shears, pruners, hedgers, or bladed weed whackers to cut all blades and chutes as close to the ground as possible without damaging the crown of the plant.
  2. Hand pull any loose debris or dead plant material to prevent crown rot and allow for more air circulation.
  3. Pull back any mulch or debris at least 2” from the crown of the grass.

Recommended Pruning Heights for Various Species

LOW: 2-4” tall dome as final product.
Grass Species: Festuca spp., Carex spp., Sesleria spp., Acoris spp., Juncus spp., Nassella spp., Melica spp., Bouteloua spp., Aristida spp., Calamagrostis spp., Muhlenbergia cappilaris, Ophiopogon spp., Stipa spp., Helictotrichon spp., Anemanthele spp., Pennisetum spp. (smaller varieties).
Non-Grass Species: Achillea spp., Zauschneria (Epilobium) spp., Nepeta spp., Teucrium spp., Coreopsis spp., Thymus spp., Erigeron spp., Salvia spathacea.

MEDIUM: 4-8” tall dome as final product.
Grass Species: Muhlenbergia rigens, Muhlenbergia dubia, Miscanthus spp. (small to medium varieties), Pennisetum spp. (larger varieties), Leymus spp.,
Non-Grass Species: Penstemon spp. (smaller varieties), Artemisia spp., Origanum spp.,

HIGH: 8-12” tall dome as final product.
Grass Species: Miscanthus spp. (larger varieties), Muhlenbergia dumosa, Cortaderia spp., Kniphofia spp.
Non-Grass Species: Penstemon spp. (larger varieties), Salvia spp. (some smaller varieties), Gaura spp., Lavandula (smaller varieties), Ribes spp., Perovskia spp., Eriogonum (smaller varieties).

Carex divulsa (LOW)

Muhlenbergia rigens (MEDIUM)

 

 

Four Winter-hardy Plants for the California Central Coast

Four Winter-hardy Plants for the California Central Coast

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.

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.

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.

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.

Fire Season is here. How can your landscape help?

Fire Season is here. How can your landscape help?

Fire Season is here again.

As we cope with the grave threats to public health from the COVID-19 virus and its surreal, devastating effects on our culture, one could almost forget that we are deep into the wildfire season here in California. People are experiencing a whole new level of home life now, both in- and out-of-doors. But as the wildfire threat increases through the summer months, the question remains: How can your landscape help?

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.

Brilliant Corners: Five Favorite California Native Accent Plants

Brilliant Corners: Five Favorite California Native Accent Plants

Colorful natives to brighten up landscape design for the Central Coast

Madrone began over 40 years ago with the idea that a company dedicated to sustainability and the use of California native plants could be a great combination — beautifying human habitats while serving to “heal the scars” of development. The garden and landscape performance benefits of this approach prove their merit.

Over the decades, the functional benefits of native plants have become universally recognized and honored. They also remind us of our locale’s singular natural beauty and why we need to protect our region from biological decline.

We’ve gathered five of our favorite California native accent plants that don’t require a lot of care, such as water and fertilizer. These colorful beauties can also be incorporated into many different garden settings throughout the Central Coast. They are especially useful in the small, forgotten spaces in the landscape.

Erigeron glaucus, Seaside Daisy

This low, evergreen perennial thrives in borders and nooks, full sun for Coastal gardens and partial shade inland. Native from Santa Barbara north to Oregon. The long bloom season, Spring through summer, can be extended by “deadhead” pruning, which fortunately does not require wearing tie-dye clothes. There are several varieties available, including ‘Wayne Roderick’ (or WR) and ‘Cape Sebastian’. They form thick mats, 6-10 inches high, spreading 2-3 ft., and can take frost and high temperatures well over 100 degrees F.

Iris douglasiana,
Pacific Coast Hybrid Iris

Walking in a redwood grove or a coastal mixed evergreen forest, one can occasionally happen on a Pacific Coast iris popping up through the low understory. Best grown in partial shade unless close to the Coast, these exquisite, delicate-looking, springtime bloomers are frost-hardy and relatively drought tolerant. They make excellent informal borders or accents among other shady perennials or in rock gardens.

Heuchera species, Coral Bells

When rock gardens come to mind, it is hard to beat coral bells. We love the way their bright-colored flower stalks rise above the evergreen foliage! The native species often are found in the nooks and crevices among stone outcroppings from San Luis Obispo County north through Coastal Washington. The flowers range from white through many shades of pinks and reds, making great combinations with other small perennials, shrubs, and grasses.

Dudleya brittonii, Britton Dudleya

A succulent originating on the bluffs of coastal Baja California, Britton dudleya is a beautiful accent plant that forms a single, low, chalky gray-white rosette to 12-14″ diameter, and in well-drained soil, thrives on neglect. Its flower stalks rise 2 feet or more, turning red with pale yellow flowers. It loves full sun on the Coast and some shade and protection from the frost inland. Britton dudleya is very popular and makes a striking complementary statement to many California gardens.

Ceanothus glorious ‘Anchor Bay’ and Ceanothus ‘Centennial’

A garden needing larger plants to act as ground covers might include these two low-spreading shrubs for fast establishment and beautiful blue spring flowers. Centennial is very low, 8-12″ high, spreading to 6 feet or more. ‘Anchor Bay’ is taller, up to 3 feet in height, and spreading 6 feet. ‘Anchor Bay’ is one of the most widely used ground cover species of Ceanothus, performing best in full sun on the coast and in partial shade inland. ‘Centennial’ also prefers some shade inland and both require well-draining soil.

From Santa Maria to San Luis Obispo to Paso Robles and beyond, these drought-tolerant natives will liven up your outdoor sanctuary, with minimal upkeep.
Five Ways to Light an Outdoor Patio

Five Ways to Light an Outdoor Patio

Guidelines for Illuminating Your Outside Spaces

When choosing outdoor landscape lighting for a patio, first think how you will use the patio. 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 to include an open-air dance floor? Do you want to create 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 the patio space for several activities, you may want options. To diversify how your patio is lit, you can arrange the lighting into different switched zones, creating flexibility in how the space feels at night. Here are five different ways to create unique lighting for your patio.

1. Provide Functional Light

In ancient times, sailors preferred dim light to eat their hard tack in ship galleys so they wouldn’t see what their not-so-enticing food. In the 21st century, if you have a dinner table outdoors, you will likely want to see your entire spread, as well as your guests! Downlights, or directional spot lights with bright light, can be mounted on pergolas, walls, or trees to specifically light a table. For these zones, it is important to provide more lumens with higher wattage lamps.

If you want to provide illumination for safe walking, you can use path lights elevated on posts to cast broad light over walking surfaces. Stairs and precarious edges of patios are especially important to provide clear, direct lighting. If you are building a new patio, 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 for feel. 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 makes the patio feel safe and defined even if you aren’t lighting the patio itself.

    Use path lights or recessed lights to light the edge of paving. Use broad beamed wash lights to illuminate boulders and low plants for low detail textures and colors. Use directional narrow beam up lights or spot lights to focus on art pieces, tree trunks, or specimen plants.

    3. Create an Outdoor Room

    It is amazing how a patio can feel open and exposed in the day, but warm and cozy at night with proper lighting. Rooms are intended to be comfortable with walls and ceilings at proportionate heights. Ancient Greek architecture used the golden ratio of 1:1.61; create a comfortable 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 space 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 up light 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 nice because they can be customized and can provide opportunities to up light, down light, 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 incredible fixtures you can use to create patterns on the ground, walls, and ceilings. When you are creating defined patterns for a contemporary look, it is important 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 downward or upward fans of light, equally spaced. 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 spot lights 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. By using one, two, or several, you can really make your outdoor areas come alive at night. Choose what works best for you and your space, and light it up!