On the Boards: North County Rustic Modern

On the Boards: North County Rustic Modern

A redesign in Paso Robles at 10,600 SF, this North County backyard landscape creates a rustic modern outdoor sanctuary—befit for its owners and the home it surrounds.

This project redesigns the entire backyard, re-envisioning every space to include custom features like a live wall, firepit, and a new outdoor kitchen and dining area. It blends historic elements and flora native to the California Central Coast with these new modern features to create a comfortable, aesthetic balance.

The design includes points of interest and focal features such as a dry creek, raised garden beds, horizontal fencing, and landscape lighting. Stately oak trees create a canopy with moonlighting over the activity areas.

With all the custom elements in this project, there have been many details and revisions to keep up with. Communication between the install crew and the design team has been increasingly important with each adjustment.

From the design-build teamwork to the inspired design, this North County landscape is a wonderful example of creating an outdoor sanctuary with varied gathering spaces that are both functional and aesthetically beautiful.


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.

On the Boards: Paso Robles Southwestern Residence

On the Boards: Paso Robles Southwestern Residence

At Madrone we thrive on bringing a vision to life for clients who fully embrace a style not usually seen in the Central Coast area. For this project, we began with an existing palette that features warm colors and solid, hard materials that are reminiscent of a Southwestern-Baja aesthetic.

A solid foundation of existing hardscape features, mature trees, deck structures, and a koi pond were a great starting point to designing a new planting plan, hardscape updates, and upgrading the irrigation infrastructure.

We found a variety of ways to re-use materials already found in and around the home. The same type of flagstone originally used in the backyard is now reflected in the side and front yards, and a new deck platform matches the existing backyard deck. While the plant materials vary from the front yard to the back, a similar set of accent plants are carried throughout. Succulents and silver-toned specimens were used as accents amidst a colorful drought tolerant plant palette. Warm-toned, angular gravel was used in place of traditional wood mulch to bring the essence of the Baja heat. 

Healthy, existing trees were kept, and new trees of the same type were added in other areas in the yard to offer moments of shaded relief. These small design details bring the new and old together to create a single, cohesive, overall vision.

Our collaboration with a client who doesn’t shy away from what they like, and is flexible to suggestions, helped us transform this landscape into a true oasis.

On the Boards: Arroyo Grande Countryside Residence

On the Boards: Arroyo Grande Countryside Residence

Located between Arroyo Grande and San Luis Obispo, this new home sits amidst rolling hills and breathtaking views. The hardscape aesthetic plays off the modernized farmhouse architecture, with clean lines and concrete. A soft native and Mediterranean-inspired plant palette flows into the surrounding native meadow environment.

Madrone was hired to do an all-encompassing design for planting, hardscape, and irrigation with lighting placement and specifications, plus some detail features such as fountains.

The scale of the site demanded thoughtful restraint to minimize future maintenance requirements, as well as a smooth transition from “kept” landscape areas to the natural surroundings. With an upper tier designated as the “kept” landscape, the area below it remains a native meadow. We created a seamless transition by staggering slightly fuller specimens to blur the edge of the landscaped slope.

The design utilizes clusters of plantings to form implied pathways. When walking through the landscape, it will feel light and airy. When sitting down, the view will be a full and lush landscape.

Just as the home was constructed to be fire safe, we kept fire safety in mind with the landscape design. Using Cal Fire’s recommendations for defensible space to inform our design, we used gravel as our mulch material closer to the home and populated the plant list with low-risk plant materials.

Building a new home demands time, energy, patience, and confidence. It was a gift to work with a conscientious client who thoughtfully assembled their team of professionals to craft solutions for both the indoor and outdoor environments.

Rainwater Harvesting

Rainwater Harvesting

We are starting to see some rain this year, but as Californians we know that every drop of rain we get is precious.  It seems as though drought years are common, and normal winters are few and far between.  When it comes to the landscape, there are several techniques that can be used to maximize the harvest and use of rain water.

Rainwater Harvesting Techniques

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.  For example, a 3,000 square foot home will collect 1,870 gallons from 1” of rain.  With an average annual rainfall of 21”,  a home in Atascadero, CA has the potential to collect nearly 40,000 gallons in one winter.  Once stored, the rain water can be filtered and pumped into an irrigation system to supplement the water supply during the dry season.

You can also maximize the effect of rainfall with passive techniques to water deep rooted plants like 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.  In addition, keeping water on site reduces runoff and erosion down stream from your property.  Bioswales can be beautiful additions to the landscape if made to look like a natural creek or pond with rock and plants.  You can also achieve this unseen by creating 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, you can make sure your trees get some good deep watering.

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.  In order 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 rain water. 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 does allow 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 $1 and $3 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 for use.  You can use collected water for indoor plants or landscape areas that don’t get direct rainfall.  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 to Plan

With all of the different ways to think about harvesting rain water, planning is key.  Rainwater harvesting systems can be designed alongside the planting and irrigation design to allow an installation to take care of everything at once.  While it is raining now, it may be a little late to collect this winter.  It is important to think about your system during the dry season to get ready for the next year’s rain.  We recommend 3-6 months to allow for design and installation without needing to rush 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!