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.

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.

On the Boards: Modern Family Retreat

On the Boards: Modern Family Retreat

With a modern design style, this family retreat features patio spaces, a deck, fireplace, water feature, lawn, play area, hot tub, retaining walls, and railing.

The main vision for this Paso Robles landscape design was to create terraced levels to accommodate family and entertain guests. This was naturally achieved using the landscape’s significant slope, which simultaneously introduced challenges and invited the opportunity for both integrated and distinctly separate spaces. With retaining walls in place and a design featuring railings and gates for the safety of children, we prioritized creating a secure design without sacrificing beauty and the natural aesthetics of the landscape.

The entertainment patio is tucked into a transitional space between an upper play area and lower deck. A fireplace and water weir feature frame two of its sides leaving it open on the third side to views of a native oak woodland.

The landscape’s functional and striking modern style was created using clean lines and uniform design elements such as concrete, cable rails, and a simple plant palette.

The Secret to Creating a Beautiful Outdoor Space

The Secret to Creating a Beautiful Outdoor Space

By Jill Bleher, Landscape Designer. Originally published in Living Lavishly VOLUME 14 Spring/Summer 2022.

As humans we seek habitats in which to dwell. This can be seen inside our homes as well as in our gardens. There are probably special things in your house that you cherish and enjoy. Maybe it is the family heirloom china displayed in a cabinet or the flat-screen TV that you use daily. These features help create an inviting space with their beauty, placement, and functionality. The approach is similar for designing an outdoor dwelling space. Have you ever visited a beautiful garden and wondered why it is so inviting? The answer is good design involving landscape features.

Landscape features are generally items that draw the eye, such as colorful pottery, a striking sculpture, or a beautiful tree. Features can also engage other senses, such as the sound of a fountain or the warmth of a firepit. Whether you have a small or a large yard, there are plenty of options for features to enhance your landscape experience. Here is an exploration of how to integrate features into your landscape retreat for the greatest effect.

Art as a Focal Point

One way to personalize and add dimension to a garden is to add artistic features. Artful focal points can be as simple as a beautiful ceramic pot or as complex as a large-scale wind sculpture. Good placement for an art feature is at the divergence of pathways, in a nook to the side of a patio, or in a space viewed from above. Uplight your art feature so you can appreciate it after dark.

When selecting art features, consider the theme of the setting. Pick a modern art piece for a contemporary landscape, place vibrant Talavera pottery in a cactus garden, or choose a stone lantern for your traditional Japanese garden. Additionally, art focal points may have sentimental value, such as a souvenir plaque from a trip or a garden statue that belonged to a family member. Ultimately, the purpose of garden art is to add meaning and beauty to the landscape.

Water and Fire Elements

Ambiance is a fundamental part of the garden setting. A well-designed landscape invites the visitor to linger and appreciate the space. Two elements that are especially good at adding ambiance to any garden are water and fire features. Consider the welcoming glow of a fire or the peaceful sound of water. It’s no wonder that both are common aspects of an inviting landscape sanctuary.

Deciding where to place a fire or water feature in the landscape is significant. Locate a fireplace or fire pit in a space where people can gather. If designing a new space, consider building a fireplace wall to partially enclose and warm a seating area. Moveable fire tables can be added to existing patios for an inviting element. Whether for roasting marshmallows or just adding light and warmth, fire features are ideal for inviting people to gather.

Since water features are sought out mainly for their sound, they can be tucked against walls or into nooks. Alternatively, they can be placed out in the center of a large space as a focal point. With so many options to choose from, it is best to match the style of your landscape. Select a steel water wall for a modern look, choose a core-drilled boulder fountain for a natural setting, or pick a tiered fountain for an Italian garden. Whatever the style, a well-placed water or fire feature will add dimension to the garden space.

Plant Selections that Pop

Perhaps the most obvious garden feature is plants. However, by their very nature plants are dynamic and not as easy to highlight as a static fountain or statue – they grow and change throughout the seasons. For this reason, picking the right plants to showcase can take some thought.

Trees and large shrubs make excellent features due to their size and often interesting forms. Some of the best trees to draw attention to are olives and oaks as they have beautiful branch structures and grow more majestic with age. A favorite large shrub to feature is the Western Redbud which bursts into bright pink blooms in early spring. Large Manzanitas or Arbutus trees are also excellent selections to choose with their red bark and gnarled forms. Accent trees at night with either uplights or hanging moonlights.

If you don’t have space for large trees, consider plants with striking architectural form such as Agaves or grasses to feature against a wall or along a pathway. Perennial blooming plants will delight seasonally. Try interplanting bulbs between other plants to add extra pops of color in spring!

Borrowed Views

One powerful tool for creating a beautiful landscape is to incorporate views. A “borrowed view” is when a distant landscape is included in the garden design. For instance, build an arbor to frame a view of neighboring vineyards or leave space between trees to view the mountains beyond. It might be years before your newly planted oak trees can be considered features, but you can highlight the view of a magnificent oak tree in the field beyond your property.

Ultimately, borrowed views are a great way to make your immediate yard feel larger and grander. It’s similar to adding a mirror on the wall in an interior room. Even a small yard will feel less enclosed if there is a view of the world beyond. Don’t lose sight of the greater landscape!

This exploration of landscape features and their applications applies to every person and every garden setting. Include one or many elements in your yard, but do it purposefully and make it personal! Seek out art features that catch your eye, add a fire or water feature to create ambiance, select plants to delight the senses, and borrow views when possible. In the end, don’t hurry the journey but enjoy the process. In so doing, turn your landscape into a dwelling space that is an expression of yourself.  After all, genuinely superb gardens are dwellings that evolve with the time and ponderous consideration of a magnificent tree.

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Jill Bleher is a landscape designer and Cal Poly Landscape Architecture alumnus. She is passionate about designing unique landscape sanctuaries for others. When not designing yards for other people, she can most often be found in her own garden or inside creating crafts. For more information, visit Madrone Landscapes or call (805) 466-6263.