Eight Winter Bloomers for the California Central Coast

Eight Winter Bloomers for the California Central Coast

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

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.

Arctostaphylos

Drought-tolerant and robust year-round, these Manzanitas shrubs are popular for their handsome, red-toned bark and bunches of round, gentle flowers.

Erica Canaliculata

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.

Agave Attenuata

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.

Viburnum Tinus

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..

Aloe Camperi

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.

Grevillea ‘Moonlight’

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.

The Essential Landscape Design Guide

The Essential Landscape Design Guide

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.

California Central Coast Winter Garden

California Central Coast Winter Garden

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.

Seven Steps to Visualizing Your Dream Landscape

Seven Steps to Visualizing Your Dream Landscape

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!

Five Ways to Light Your Landscape

Five Ways to Light Your Landscape

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.

Pergola Lights

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.

Fertigation: Fertilize and Irrigate All in One

Fertigation: Fertilize and Irrigate All in One

Set it, forget it. Give plants the nutrients without all the hassle.

We’re all familiar with irrigation. It’s been a means of maintaining landscapes and growing crops for thousands of years. Applying controlled amounts of water helps supplement natural rainfall and contribute to soil moisture from groundwater.

Fertigation combines fertilization and irrigation, serving as a nutrient delivery system for landscapes. It can be used via drip irrigation, spray nozzles, and heads.

Madrone Operations Manager Erik Gorham has provided fertigation services for almost a decade. He uses the EZ-FLO products to treat a wide variety of landscape issues. To start the process, our trained Madrone team first installs a dispensing system in the valve box connected to the main line of a pre-existing sprinkler system. The unit then feeds both drip and sprinkler zones by micro-dosing the landscape with every irrigation. “You really can forget about it, because part of our landscape maintenance program includes filling the unit with fertilizer every four to six weeks,” Erik shares.

We use Red Frog Compost Teas as part of our organic fertilizer program. The compost tea improves soil and plant health by improving nutrient availability and retention in the soil. “Biology feeds the plant,” explains Erik. “Typically, what plants need is in the soil. But if your soil is depleted, the worm castings offer an excellent soil amendment that is safe around children and pets.”

Savings on labor and energy costs can quickly offset the initial investment in a fertigation system. A homeowner who lives in an area affected by drought or water restrictions may prefer fertigation because they can better manage the nutrients and water supply going to multiple parts of the growing area as well as increase water efficiency. It also gives them the ability to add nutrients directly into the root zone that may be otherwise difficult to access.

Erik sees it as an affordable investment to every landscape. “You chose your plants carefully. Help them mature more quickly and stay healthy by using this easy fertilizer system all year round.”

Learn more about our maintenance services. For more details, contact us at [email protected] or (805) 466-6263.