Written by Daniel Mazawa, General Manager Originally published in Living Lavishly
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. 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.
With Spring officially upon us, many people are ready for planting in their gardens. Time to go outside with some of the pent-up energy we’ve been harboring and take it out on the dirt. The rewards can be beautiful!
While in many parts of California our gardens can have blooming plants virtually year-round, springtime is, of course, always particularly associated with floral displays in our gardens. This holds true with the surrounding wild landscapes too, and at Madrone Landscapes, we routinely sing the praises of our California native flora.
Other regions across the world share similarities with our California climates. They are known as Mediterranean-type ecosystems or “MTEs.” MTEs, with their characteristic climatic regimes of mild wet winters and warm and dry summers, they occur in just five regions of the world: California; Central Chile; the Mediterranean Basin; the Cape Region of South Africa; and Southwestern and South Australia. There are abundant examples of plants suitable for our Central Coast gardens that are native to these other regions. Let’s consider Five of these plants that may not be that well-known but might be great for your garden:
Starting close to home, there is the often-overlooked California Native Cornus sericea (Cornus stolonifèra), or Creek Dogwood. It is a deciduous shrub also known as Redtwig for its distinctive red stems, keeping it interesting through the winter. Creek Dogwoods can grow 8–12’ high and wide, and have clusters of creamy white flowers, spring to summer. The form is open, and leaves are 1.5–2.5 inches long and light green—brilliant red in fall. It is hardy to well below freezing and prefers partial shade. Branches will root if allowed to touch ground, and roots will spread. Redtwigs love moisture, are fire-resistive, and require medium irrigation in the dry months.
Mediterranean Basin, Europe
When one thinks of aromatic leaves, used in cooking, Laurus nobilis, or Sweet Bay, is often the first to come up. Also called Bay Laurel or Grecian Laurel, this small tree is also a versatile evergreen tree for Central Coast landscapes. Growing 20–30 ft. tall to 20 ft. wide, Sweet Bays produce small yellow flowers in Spring, followed by deep purple berries. Best known for their fragrance, they are deer-resistant, fire resistive, and attract birds. Preferring fertile, well-drained soils, they are low water users once established. The variety “Saratoga” is best for use as a tree, but the species can also be used as a background or for screen shrubs.
South Africa Aloe striata, or Coral Aloe, is one of many aloes native to South Africa. This beautiful succulent has found home in many a garden in the milder micro-climates (hardy to 25 degrees Fahrenheit) of North San Luis Obispo County, and throughout the Coastal climates. It grows to be a 2 ft. wide rosette with broad, pale green, nearly toothless, flat leaves. The brilliant coral-pink-to-orange flowers occur in spring on branched clusters up to 3 ft. tall. Plant in full sun in well-drained soil. Coral Aloes are fire- and deer-resistive, require minimal water, and attract hummingbirds.
Known for its graceful, weeping form and light green, evergreen foliage, Maytenus boaria, or Maytens Tree, is a unique and small specimen tree for much of the Central Coast. Hardy to 20 degrees Fahrenheit, the Mayten Tree grows to over 30 ft. and has long, pendulous branchlets hanging down from its branches. The tiny spring flowers are pretty inconspicuous, and the leaves are 1–2 inches long. They are fire- and deer-resistive and want full sun and ample summer water. They tend to branch on the side and may need guidance through pruning. Suckers are discouraged through deep watering, and Maytens Trees can produce beautiful lighting effects in the landscape.
People native to Australia have have made good use of Grevilleas since time immemorial. With over 350 species of Grevilleas—from virtually flat ground covers to soaring trees—their uses range from building furniture to making drinks from the nectar. One favorite landscape plant is Grevillea “Canberra Gem,” also known as Spider Flower. This shrub has a graceful, open form from about 8 ft. tall to 12 ft. wide. The bright green leaves are needlelike and prickly, making for a good barrier plant. Flowers are red clusters from early spring and intermittently at other times. Not only deer-resistive, this and other Grevilleas attract butterflies and birds with their nectar and seeds. Canberra Gem grows in a variety of soils from clay to sandy loam and is quite rough tolerant, preferring occasional deep soakings and good drainage. Hardy to about 20 degrees Fahrenheit.
This article was originally published in Living Lavishly Magazine Volume 10, Spring/Summer 2020.
The Satisfaction of Growing Your Own Food
There are few things more fulfilling than feeding someone. If you can grow the food yourself, it is even more rewarding. I started growing tomatoes and sugar snap peas as a young kid and it pushed me to pursue horticulture, landscape architecture, and landscape construction. For a kid, a bite of a home-grown tomato can be a life changing experience.
Your landscape is a wonderful place to create something beautiful and grow something you can eat at the same time. Some of us grew up with family gardens, and now we want to bring them to our own landscape. Many of us have never grown any food in the garden, but feel it would be a fun thing to do. The great thing about living on the central coast of California is that you can grow so many good things to eat!
When deciding to grow food in your landscape, think about how you will use the garden. How much time can you devote to the gardening a week? What types of fruits and vegetables do you like to eat, and how much of them will you really use? How much do you cook?
If you enjoy spending your weekends working in the yard, love fresh produce and cook a lot, you can really go all out. If you have a busy lifestyle, but enjoy some fresh produce, there is still hope. Just keep it simple.
Tips and Tricks for Everyone:
Put in the work early to make it easier on you later.
Raised garden beds can make it easier on your back to garden without bending over.
Think about critters—provide protection from deer, rabbits, squirrels, gophers and birds.
Install automatic irrigation systems so you don’t have to remember to water.
Make sure you organize your plants based on similar water requirements.
Add rich compost to the garden before you start planting.
Put your garden as close to the kitchen as possible.
Build a compost bin so you can reuse your green waste and kitchen waste as compost.
Grow the right plants.
The central coast is full of micro-climates. If you don’t know what grows well in your area, ask your neighbors or local nursery for advice.
For fruit trees, look at frost tolerance, chill hour requirements, and pollinators.
Plan the spacing and height of your plants to fit the space.
Do it together.
If you get your kids or spouse to help, it will be a fun group project so everyone can enjoy the fruits of their labor.
Having others with a stake in the success will help motivate you to keep up with the work.
Simple Gardening for Beginners
Perennial Herb Garden:
Grow water-wise perennials such as rosemary, oregano, chives, thyme, and mint.
You can tie it into an irrigation system for other Mediterranean landscape plants and you don’t need to designate a separate garden space.
You will never need to buy herbs at the store again, you will always have fresh herbs just outside your kitchen with almost no work.
On the coast you can have avocado or citrus trees as part of landscape trees for year-round fresh fruit.
Inland (and on the coast) you can grow apples, peaches, pears, apricots, plums and more to have seasonal harvests.
Small Vegetable Planters:
Designate an area for some raised planters for a handful of vegetables in a controlled environment.
Get crafty and you can use things like livestock troughs for an instant planter.
Plant easy vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, zucchini, peas or leafy greens.
Advanced Gardening for Enthusiasts
Create a Food Forest:
Use the fruit trees as your backbone and layer perennial and annual crops below.
Organize raised garden boxes with in-ground crops to maximize your vertical space.
Create garden paths and benches to have a place you can get lost in the food forest.
Train your plants:
You can trellis vining plants or prune trees to create arches to walk through or walls of green to contain the garden.
Create structures to grow vining crops such as tomatoes, beans, peas, berries, and grapes.
Train aromatic groundcovers into walkways to step on and enjoy the fragrance.
Use tall plants like blueberries or corn to create a labyrinth.
Prepare for great meals and seasonal activities:
Pumpkins for Halloween.
Apples for pie season.
Tomatoes for canning sauces.
Cucumbers or zucchini (yes, zucchini) for pickles into the winter.
Enjoy the Experience
Incorporating edible plants into your landscape is a great experience. You will impress your family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers with your bounty of food. Whether you go big or keep it simple, you can improve the quality of life for yourself and others with the celebration of home-grown vittles!
It’s that time of year again: Summer! The sun can do a lot of good for your plants in your landscape, but not everything can handle the heatwave blaze. Here are 8 back-bone plants to rely on when the temps are high and the air is dry.
Agave ovatifolia (shown above) is family to the famed Century Plant which is prized for its durability and form. This variety, known as Whale’s Tongue Agave, stays much more compact, and has attractive blue/gray foliage with small teeth along the margins of each succulent leaf. A single, dramatic flower spike blooms at maturity. It is a sun-loving, drought-tolerant succulent that will add sculptural interest to any summer display.
Another California Native and reliable performer is Ceanothus. Known by many as California Lilac, Ceanouthus griseus horizontalis ‘Yankee Point’ is a specific groundcover variety that will tenaciously fill empty space in your landscape. Great for erosion control, this winter bloomer adds year-round interest with its small blue flower clusters. A main attraction for pollinators, this plant will not only tolerate drought and heat, but will help stabilize ecosystems.
Chondropetalumtectorum is a South African native reed grass which not only adds a sleek texture to your landscape but can endure almost any challenge that the Central Coast presents. This plant will take on searing heat, cold down to 20 degrees, and is one of the closest we’ve found to the ‘no maintenance’ dream. This one is bombproof and beautiful.
Kniphofia, also known as Red Hot Poker plant, is a striking option for foreground plantings, containers, and against walls. Its attractive blade-shaped leaves offer a clean texture during winter months, while the spring and summer blooms have a striking ombre color effect. Also native to Mediterranean South Africa, Kniphofia has an exotic look that maintains its beauty even in the blaring summer heat.
Our California native deer grass, Muhlenbergia rigens, is a drought-tolerant champion of the landscape. Attractive seed heads in the Spring give this larger grass an endearing tousled look which works in almost any setting, as a background, accent, or mass. Up to 5’ tall and wide, this grass stands out with its substantial size and will pull through despite the hottest California summer.
Jerusalem Sage, or Phlomisfruticosa, is a unique plant that offers many sought-after characteristics. This plant has the size and form of a sage, but the peach-fuzz foliage is true green in contrast to the silver of our native Sage varieties. Bright yellow flower whorls are non-toxic and stand out in the garden. Jerusalem sage is a sun-loving and solid choice for inland summers in areas such as Atascadero, Paso Robles, and San Luis Obispo.
Salvia x ‘Allen Chickering’ is another stunning California Native which loves arid climates and sunshine. This member of the Sage family showcases characteristic gray/green leaves and attractive, fragrant flower whorls. A top performer in the landscape, Allen Chickering Sage will attract hummingbirds and butterflies while deterring deer, making it a top choice for the warm season.
Creeping thyme is a dainty groundcover that adds charm to patios, walkways, and borders. Thymus serpyllum ‘Pink Chintz’ exhibits a showy bloom during the Spring and Summer months, with bright pink flowers speckled against the ashy green leaves. This Mediterranean herb has a distinctive aroma and can tolerate light foot traffic in addition to cramped conditions and heat.
Wherever you are in San Luis Obispo County, try out this complete palette for a glitch-proof approach to summer scenery.