On the Boards: Maison Mason Vineyard

On the Boards: Maison Mason Vineyard

The Maison Mason Vineyard in West Paso Robles is a native oak grove paradise backdropped by classic sweeping grapevine rows. Madrone was tasked with designing a formal entry and establishing the native oak understory. We achieved the former through a dense planting around a new automatic entry gate, low board-form concrete walls, and select ornamental planting along the main road and entry drive. The latter goal was executed by locating a palette of native species on-site throughout the understory area, balancing long-lived foundation plants in a harsh climate with seasonal interest and lush variety in key areas.

Due to a steep cut slope bordering the entry drive, strategic planting selections targeted aesthetic and erosion concerns with native plant species that would spread and drape across the area. Brightly colored flower species stipple the palette and create the perfect drive up to sweeping vistas and a future development location.

We designed irrigation and low voltage lighting systems throughout the new landscapes to achieve longevity for this beautiful grove and entry, inviting guests to come and enjoy all that the vineyard offers.

Want more information on our vineyard design services? Contact our landscape designers at [email protected] or (805) 466-6263.

5 Trees and Shrubs to Avoid in Central Coast Landscape Planting

5 Trees and Shrubs to Avoid in Central Coast Landscape Planting

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.

Euphorbia (Spurge)

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.

The Essential Guide to Defensible Landscapes

The Essential Guide to Defensible Landscapes

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.

On the Boards: Multilevel Modern Hangout

On the Boards: Multilevel Modern Hangout

This project maximizes a picturesque 6,000 SF backyard in the Los Osos hills with stately oaks and across-the-valley views. The design entirely re-envisions the patchwork and dated existing landscape, revitalizing it as a family-friendly hangout suitable for kids and adults.

The redwood fencing and gate delineate the overall space, while large format pavers provide an elegant walkway. A sand play pit and trampoline location provide entertainment areas for younger folks, while a hot tub and fire pit evoke warmth for cool Los Osos evenings. Water trough garden beds, citrus trees, and an outdoor shower provide for daytime activity.

With a significant elevation across the site, multiple elevation changes help to define rather than divide the space, increasing the area of usable landscape adjacent to the kitchen and front entry, and opening to the natural hillside beyond.

Taking inspiration from the elegant architecture of the residence, a series of 90-degree and 45-degree angles define paths of travel within the landscape, including the approach to the front door. Multi-level seating, lawn space, and retaining walls lend to the modern feel of the design.

Madrone designers made use of new Sketchup modeling and Lumion rendering abilities to assist the owners in visualizing the site elevations and general character.

Want more information on our landscape design services? Contact our landscape designers at [email protected] or (805) 466-6263.

Tips for Creating a Lush, Sustainable Landscape

Tips for Creating a Lush, Sustainable Landscape

A Guide for Central Coast Homeowners

“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.” – Author and landscape architect Owen Dell

If Dell’s description fills your heart with delight and your mind’s eye with images of your ideal oasis, a sustainable landscape is probably for you. Here are three vital components in creating a lush, sustainable landscape:

Central Coast ranch site plan

Good Planning

In considering your sustainable landscape, good planning is vital. Creating a design can save you time and money by sourcing an expert to help make the most of your space, time, and budget.

Your designer will ask, “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.

Irrigation Systems

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. A well-designed system ensures your plants receive an appropriate amount of water.

California fuchsia

Plants

When thinking about the plants—whether shrubs, trees, veggies or turf—think about conserving resources, especially over time. California Native Plants is an excellent resource for finding plants that will fit your goals and 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. Contact our landscape designers at [email protected] or (805) 466-6263.