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.

 

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!

Let’s Plant Some Oaks!

Let’s Plant Some Oaks!

When we think of our favorite trees, many Californians will immediately visualize our native oak trees: the same trees found over so much of the Central Coast, in so many different conditions and micro-climates.  Fall is the best time to plant these trees, whether from acorns or containers.  Let the winter rains and cool temperatures help them get established. As has been wisely said, “If you are thinking a year ahead, sow seed.  If you are thinking ten years ahead, plant trees.  If you are thinking one hundred years ahead, educate the people.”

There are three important; one could say dominant, species that greatly define the Central Coast in most people’s eyes.  The Cost Live Oak (Quercus agrifolia), Valley Oak (Quercus lobata) and Blue Oak (Quercus douglasii).

 

While the Coast Live Oak seems to be regenerating in adequate numbers, this is not the case with Valley Oaks and Blue Oaks:  regeneration rates for both species are alarmingly low.  Wildland fires, development, agricultural clearing, grazing and the effects of climate-change are a few of the reasons for these regeneration problems. So more than ever, it is incumbent on us to protect these precious resources, and many of the threats can be corrected through the efforts of an aware community, dedicated to protect their native forests. We all love these mighty oaks, but we cannot continue to take them for granted.  Oak woodlands are disappearing at an alarming rate-more than 10,000 acres a year statewide, according to the California Oak Foundation. Add that to the insufficient regeneration rates of several oak species, and we appear to face the disappearance of these trees before we know it. We want to encourage everyone to join in and PLANT SOME OAKS, so that the next generation of these trees, are here for future generations of Central Coast residents to enjoy.

Let’s take a closer look at these three prominent species, and think how each of us can promote, protect and wisely manage these resources.

Quercus agrifolia – Coast Live Oak

“Coast Live Oak, with its curious and elegant architecture, is as much a part of western California as are the golden hills beneath its shady, dark canopy,” says Bruce Pavlik in the excellent book, Oaks of California. It is the only evergreen oak among the three species discussed in this article.  It is found from foggy Coastal bluffs to inland valleys, canyons and hills up to 5000 ft. elevation.  At home in mixed evergreen forests that include pine, redwood, bay laurel, madrone, toyon, etc. Matt Ritter calls it the “backbone of coastal California woodlands”.  Unlike the Blue and Valley Oaks, it seems to have decent regeneration potential, although it is no match for unmitigated bad management, like clear-cutting!  The worsening conditions, induced by climate change, also threaten Coast Live Oaks with not only cataclysmic fires, but GSOB (Goldspotted Oak Boar) and SOD (Sudden Oak Death), both of which have yet to make much impact in San Luis Obispo County.  So let’s find a good place to plant some oaks!

Quercus lobata – Valley Oak

This is considered the largest or second-largest oak species in the USA.  It is Winter-deciduous, is found growing at 2000-6000 feet elevation, with 25 inches rainfall, and prefers deep bottomland soils.  In Matt Ritter’s book, California Plants, he states that “early Spanish explorers called these majestic oaks robles due to their similarity to the English oak (Quercus robur), a name that became the origin of California place names like Paso Robles. Tragically, over 90% of the Valley Oak population has been lost since the 1880s!  Since Valley Oak regeneration is so endangered, it makes sense to plant them if you have room. 

Quercus douglasii – Blue Oak

These patient, sturdy, enduring oaks grow in shallow soils, on hills, in exposed, hot, windy locations (110 degrees+, 15 inches rain).  They actually prefer dry conditions, and according to Bruce Pavlik, in Oaks of California, they uniquely combine “the mechanisms of opportunism, conservation, tolerance and resiliency” that make them perhaps the most ‘Californian’ of our native oaks.  I have personally seen a 14 inch trunk stump of a 300+ year-old Blue Oak tree on a ranch east of Santa Margarita, Ca.  Patient indeed!  Tragically, like the Valley Oak, Quercus douglasii, as a species is not adequately regenerating.

Respect the Root Zone, the most crucial area being within 6 ft. of the trunk.  Try not to irrigate, plant, or disturb the soil in this area.  The root protection zone is 1.5 times larger than the area from the trunk to the drip line (or edge of canopy). Minimize disturbance, irrigation and planting in this area.  In that crucial root zone, avoid alteration of natural grade, cut and fill, damaging roots, trenching and paving – direct drainage away from the tree.

 

“Caring for Young Trees” is a tree planting video, courtesy of California ReLeaf:

Watch the 3-minute video Caring for Young Trees 

When building or landscaping around existing oak trees, we need to be careful not to cause problems.

More Oak Tree Care information courtesy of the City of Visalia: Care and Maintenance of Oak Trees