Mar 1, 2023
The Perfect Outdoor Party Space
Written by Tyler Ellison, Designer
Originally published in Living Lavishly
We know how much the venue sets the vibe. On the California Central Coast, the outdoors are a vibe. Mild evenings allow for gatherings almost year-round, so outdoor spaces become parts of the home—extensions of the kitchen, the dining room, the living room, the party. Properly envisioned outdoor spaces transform a bland lot into vibrant, flexible, and personal additions to the interior living areas. Here are some considerations for creating the perfect outdoor party space:
Embrace a Particular Design Character
A grove of trees, a feature wall, a boulder outcrop, or interior architectural styling might all imbue landscape character—conversely, a mishmash of incoherent features and materials is the easiest way to disjoint a garden. Attention to character results in the inclusion of similar materials, complementary colors, and pleasing combinations of texture. Perhaps a tile accent inside the house is repeated in a kitchen backsplash, or a modern architectural design mirrored with segmented concrete or clean large-format pavers. A thoughtful geometry of layout, attention to edges, and repetition of plant selections also work together to establish a cohesive character. During design it is helpful to collect imagery of specific materials and arrange them in palettes to ensure that selections are complementary and attractive.
Determine Key Amenities for Your Type of Party
A patio dining space often provides the foundational element. Food and drink are the fuel for good times, so having dedicated locations for sitting while eating, standing while munching, even lounging while browsing gives opportunities for a diversity of guests and party sizes. Additionally, a buffet location adjacent to cooking zones allows for flexibility during food preparation and service. In the planning stage, it is helpful to create a list of desired uses and features. Some of amenities worth considering on the Central Coast include:
- Cooking – Gas BBQ, Griddle, Stove, Smoker, Wood Burning Oven, Ceramic Charcoal Grill
- Kitchen Elements – Sink, Counterspace, Trash Receptacle, Island, Refrigerator, Cooler, Warming Drawer, Cabinet, Water Heater, Ice Maker, Beverage Tap, Storage Drawer, Shelving
- Seating & Eating – Table & Chairs, Bistro Set, Bench, Bar Seating, Lounger, Seat Wall, Boulder Slab, Swing, Hammock, Patio, Deck, Nook, Overlook
- Activity & Play – Pool, Hot Tub, Plunge Pool, Play Structure, Hard Court, Turf, Bocce Court, Open Game Space, Sand Box, Ping Pong Table, Horseshoe Pit
- Comfort & Protection – Pergola, Gazebo, Heater, Fireplace, Wind Screen, Shade Sail, Umbrella, Shade Tree
- Warmth & Atmosphere – Firepit, Fire Feature, Fountain, Waterfall, Pond, Boulder Outcrop, Sculpture, Dry Creek, Wall, Gate, Arch, Pillars, Trees & Planting
Explore the Best Location for Your Party Spot
In many instances, existing features will guide the answer to this question. A sweeping view of the Paso Robles hills or a mature Atascadero oak tree might perfectly frame a central party space. Flow between doors, gates, and seating areas should be considered, as well as proximity to the kitchen. A broad primary access path with secondary collectors prevents chokepoints during a busy party. Sun and shade patterns, as well as wind and other climatic features will suggest ideal zones for human enjoyment; a blustery wind in Morro Bay suggests a more sheltered party pad. Cloudy Los Osos might suggest a comfortable boulder-studded fire circle. Finally, planting often provides the smooth transition from hardscape into the larger landscape, playing a vital role in defining and elevating a space.
Design for Personalized Flexibility
You want to ensure that your landscape investment allows for all the various parties that you might throw. How can the space morph for different guest lists, different activities, even different seasons? A lawn can offer play for kids, cornhole for adults, or a dining extension for the big celebration. On a sloping site, a low perimeter seat wall might maximize the potential of a patio nook. A central elevated tree planter could provide fast shade, definition of space, and a place to sit. One furnishing can also provide multiple uses on different days: fire pits with hard covers can double as coffee tables or benches when the flame is off.
Furnish With Durable and Functional Pieces
Remember, you aren’t setting up your space just for the Instagram photos (although that may be a factor). Get tables, chairs, stools, and barbecues that will stand up in our environment—lots of sun, maybe fog or frost and the occasional rain. Near the beach? Consider the effect of salt spray. Up in scorching North County? Plan for some sort of shade. Certain materials and finishes offer greater protection than others. Concrete, stone, and metal are often the most rugged outside in the elements. Pots, pillows, and plant material can provide easy splashes of color in combination with other earthier features.
Install Lighting for Function and Safety
Lighting is the hidden gem of an outdoor party space. Since most parties happen later in the day, a beautifully illuminated garden turns a spooky yard into a welcoming room. There are many ways to light a space, and a well-designed lighting plan makes use of multiple types of fixtures. Up lights pointed along the trunks of trees can help define the boundary of a space. Integrated hardscape lights increase safety in stairways and definition along walls and fences. Overhead lights can provide an even glow across patio spaces. String “bistro” lights can provide low but consistent illumination over a large dining space.
Outdoor spaces are designed, so an exploratory process ensures that any outdoor space is cohesive and fully resolved. Some homeowners begin with a full vision, and that’s great! If you don’t quite know what you’re looking for, that’s no problem at all. It simply means taking the time to consider what locations, features, character, furnishings, and elements will work best for the party space you want to have. For complex projects, a professional landscape designer will guide the transformation of inspired ideas into buildable plans on paper. At the same time, parties are all about people, so gather food and friends, make some space outside, and you’ll have a great party!
For more information and help with your landscape project, please visit madronelandscape.com.
Jan 19, 2023
Eight Winter Bloomers for the California Central Coast
During the colder months on the California Central Coast, many of our plants fall back and go dormant. Throughout the region, from inland San Luis Obispo to coastal Morro Bay and north county’s Paso Robles, central coasters love year-long landscapes. With so many beautiful bloomers that thrive in our area, we can count on flourishing flowers to take the stage during any given season.
Here are eight of our winter favorites.
Aloe striata, or Coral Aloe, is memorable for its tall floral stalks the color range of a citrus sunset, but its leaves take the cake. Elegant and pale, their reddened edges lend a delicate blush year-round, even as it blooms in the winter.
Drought-tolerant and robust year-round, these Manzanitas shrubs are popular for their handsome, red-toned bark and bunches of round, gentle flowers.
This showering splash of flowers is commonly known as channeled heath or hairy gray heather. Its bell-shaped flowers bloom in a cloud of pink to purple, lending waves of colorful body to every landscape it flourishes in.
While the Foxtail Agave is typically known for its year-round architectural form and drought-tolerance, mature specimens will put out massive flower spikes once in their lifetime. Vibrant green, cool blue, and beautiful variegated cultivars are available, and will spread from basal shoots, eventually filling in a sizeable area.
Another shrub bursting with fragrant and elegant blooms, the Viburnum tinus not only blossoms in the winter but provides a burst of metallic blue from its berries as well. It is well beloved by butterflies, bees, and clients alike..
One of the few aloes with verdant green leaves, Aloe camperi or Popcorn Aloe, is a mid-rise plant with beautiful apricot flowers and a spindly, dramatic shape.
Large, fast-growing, and with lovely flowers reminiscent of loose embroidery, Grevillea ‘Moonlight’ is a bushy evergreen that brings its luminous ivory to your winter landscape.
Ribes ‘Spring Showers’
The pendulous pink flowers of this dainty plant come alive in winter, a vibrant display that can almost cover the foliage.
Looking for a landscape with plants that bloom in the winter? Talk to our landscape designers for a design tailored to your specific climate. Some of the species in this list are better suited for milder coastal climates, while others are bullet-proof even in frosty north county. Contact our landscape designers at [email protected] or (805) 466-6263.
Dec 1, 2022
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.
Maximize Your Residential Landscape
Written by Daniel Mazawa, General Manager
Originally published in Living Lavishly
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.
Ready for a landscape design and not sure where to start? Contact our landscape designers at [email protected] or (805) 466-6263.
Nov 2, 2022
Plants make for a dynamic and vibrant landscape. Showy flowers bloom in windows during spring or summer. Deciduous trees will sport vibrant new growth in spring, yet revert to bare branches for winter. Successful landscapes plan for this seasonal interest and evolution of space.
Other elements of the designed landscape are more stable: hardscape such as concrete and stone, tables and chairs, pergolas and fire pits, gravel mulch and water features. Combined with thoughtful plantings, they take on a special character throughout the seasons of the year.
What if a landscape has none of these things? What if a landscape boasts a massive lawn bordered by shabby plantings and cracked flatwork? How does one get from current run-down reality to the final vision for a space? Where does one start?
The steps below move in sequence, with simplest and easiest first. Halfway through, technical & design expertise begins to play a greater role. But don’t be discouraged, coming to a landscape designer with ideas and inspiration, will make their job easier! More importantly, time spent exploring, collecting, and considering preferred landscape styles will direct design exploration toward a clearly defined vision.
Explore The Neighborhood
One of the best ways to kick off a design effort is to take a walk around the neighborhood! Take a friend or family member along and critique the landscape types and styles. Better yet, discuss the desirable and undesirable elements: the plants, materials, and the edges and joints that stand out. Bring a notebook to make lists and a phone to take photos. Take a short video or two, recording the landscape areas while talking.
“Neighborhood” is a relative term; consider expanding the search to neighborhoods in the vicinity. Most towns have multiple pockets of unique or inspiring architectural styles and landscape designs. Newer developments might have the hot new low-water planting palettes; historic districts might have a variety of styles incorporating local materials and time-tested layouts. Consider the orientation of structures in the landscape and pay attention to how similar spaces are utilized within them.
Collect Inspirational Imagery
Once oriented to real landscape projects in your local context, move to the digital universe. In addition to print publications, the internet and even social media are a wealth landscape inspiration. Several platforms are built around curating image content—these include Pinterest, Houzz, The Spruce, HGTV, Instagram and more. Even a simple Google search will turn up a trove of landscape images across all types of styles and climates. For inspiration appropriate to the various drier regions of the Central Coast, adding keywords such as California, Native, Mediterranean, Drought Tolerant, and Desert will help, especially with plant species.
The digital exploration phase is a great opportunity to familiarize with a network of frequently used terms—modern versus rustic, drought-tolerant vs xeric, low-maintenance vs lush & colorful, or turfgrass vs ornamental grass. Some are self-explanatory, others are less-so. An understanding of these terms can give clarity when communicating with others, especially designers, architects, and contractors.
Assemble a Palette of Materials
After collecting images and notes for inspiration, it’s time to organize. Begin by saving all the noteworthy or important photos; web links to specific materials or products will save time later too. Now is the time to start narrowing down style and identity; lay the photos out, either on a table, in a word processor, or in another photo management tool. Identify the imagery that best captures your ideal feeling or vibe and begin culling the least cohesive images. There are various ways to organize a material palette, but one simple approach involves a breakdown into three categories:
Character: Character photos contain a mix of elements, including furniture, architecture, vegetation, and landscape. These images are often broad angles and represent a particular style or sense of place.
Hardscape: Hardscape is the structure and backbone of a site—walls, flatwork, fountains, walkways, boulders, rock mulch—anything that is installed once and stays put. Hardscape elements are typically the biggest-ticket items, consistent throughout all seasons, and relate closely to building layout and materials.
Plant Palette: Plants breathe life into a space—yet come with a unique set of opportunities and strengths; not the least of which is need for the proper combination of sun, soil, and water. Taking plant inspiration from the neighborhood is often one of the best ways to find climate-appropriate plant selections. Even so, the microclimates within your property (particularly sun and wind exposure) may differ and affect plant viability. A palette based on the desired look can be combined with some horticultural know-how to develop a specific plant list.
Develop a Concept Plan
After all this preparation, it’s finally time to begin design. Be advised, here’s where the little details about your site begin to matter. Developing a concept starts with a properly scaled base map. That includes measuring locations of utilities—electrical, water, gas—as well as existing plants and trees, buildings and hardscape edges, changes in elevation, and more. A good plan starts with an accurate base map: if in doubt, hire a professional surveyor or designer to get it right.
Every concept plan is unique. For most landscape designers, the concept plan is an initial and approximate plan view drawing of all the proposed elements. At this state, it’s important to locate key features such as shade trees and shrub areas, but an exact quantity and size is less important. Concept plans are easiest developed on paper with pen and paper. Start with a pencil, work through a few options, and then get a thicker pen out to trace final shapes. Make notes for each unique piece to assist in communicating the design intent.
Sketch Landscape Vignettes
Perhaps a concept plan would help a bird visualize your landscape, but a plan drawing doesn’t really show you what the landscape feels like from ground-level. A sketch or “vignette” of a view can be a powerful visualization tool. In fact, this can be helpful before, during, or after development of the concept plan. The plan drawing helps to organize and orient in the horizontal plane, but “perspective” views orient both horizontally and vertically.
One powerful shortcut to developing vignettes is drawing over a photo. A professional-level program such as Adobe Photoshop can help produce high-quality vignettes, but a hand drawn sketch on paper or a tablet is great too. It can be helpful to lighten the background image, or adjust it to black and white, to help your drawing overlay pop. Use thick dark lines if necessary, and bright colors or markers to differentiate new elements from the existing.
Experiment with 3D Modeling
While some have natural creative impulses, others may need to take a more technical or mathematical approach. In recent years, free and low-cost 3D modeling software has emerged as a powerful tool for visualization. Google Sketchup is a commonly used and user-friendly platform for 3D design of all sorts, landscape included. Many other companies have developed a variety of digital tools across a range of price points and user-friendliness.
At this point, an accurate base map is critical. Property lines, building footprints (including doors and windows), trees, walls, and edges of existing hardscape elements will be important to note and include on the digital base map. It may not take much to model the basic elements of a flat space with simple elements; curves and slopes can add significant difficulty. Even if your landscape area isn’t perfectly straight, it may still be helpful to model the basic layout and shapes of all the pieces.
Render in Photorealistic Detail
Digital rendering technology provides opportunities for realistic 3D images to capture the elements and even the feeling of a landscape. Combining simple 3D models with extensive libraries of textures, plants, environments, and more produce incredible results. Lumion is a program that has emerged as a very user-friendly yet powerful tool for landscape visualization.
Most homeowners can very realistically explore their neighborhood, collect inspirational imagery, and assemble a palette of materials. If the rest of the sequence sounds like a bit much, that’s no problem at all; landscape designers will be familiar with what it takes to get further and all the way to installation. Developing plan drawings are the bread and butter of landscape design practices, but these additional visualization methods are the helpful and fun tools on the journey toward creating the perfect landscape!
Jul 29, 2022
Top tips for a better investment and landscape, from design through construction
What is Design-Build Landscaping?
Design-Build landscaping is exactly how it sounds: one team provides both the design and installation of the landscape, rather than splitting those services between companies. Design-build landscaping is quite common and provides multiple benefits. Unfortunately, a homeowner or building owner will often hire a landscape contractor to install plants and irrigation without design. This is not the ideal scenario. As with any type of building, it is always best to begin with a design.
When the same company performs both design and installation, their professionals work together often and can provide a more seamless delivery The teamwork involved in the design-build process for landscape construction can add a lot of value to your finished landscape. Often an integration of architects, designers, engineers, and builders, the design-build process takes advantage of professional, licensed experts working together from concept to finished construction. The goal of this integrated process is to fulfill your priorities of landscape design and budget. At Madrone Landscapes we believe strongly in the design-build process because the benefits are twofold: it allows us to do incredible work with and build great relationships with both our peers and our clients.
Design-Bid-Build vs. Design-Build: What are the Differences?
Design-Bid-Build: The design-bid-build process is common in the construction industry for clients who want separate design and construction firms. A landscape designer will provide plans for you, and then you will ask contractors to bid the plans. The design can go quickly if there are no cost limitations discussed. Once the contractors provide their costs to install the project, you may be shocked to see how much it will cost to build. This is when you or the contractor decides how to change the design to fit within the construction budget (this process is called value engineering, where items are removed from a plan or less expensive options are chosen to reduce overall cost). You may also go back to the landscape designer to re-design (typically for an extra fee). In design-bid-build, you select a contractor based on the bid price. It then becomes your responsibility to orchestrate all of the design and construction activities – including introducing the contractor to the designer.
Design-Build: At Madrone Landscapes, we specialize in the design-build process. Our landscape designers not only help you with the initial design, they also help navigate any obstacles encountered during construction. We provide construction cost estimates during the design process (for more information, see https://madronelandscapes.com/services/design/). This usually adds time to the overall design time, for good reason. Knowing construction costs during the design process allows you to make decisions on where to spend money and keeps the plan within the desired budget. A cost-informed design means the value engineering is done well before the project starts. The entire team will be working together with the landscape designer to make sure that there are few unforeseen lapses between designs or construction activities. For new construction, this will include your engineers, architects, and builders. For custom residential updates, your design-build team becomes your expert advocate through design and construction and we handle scheduling and coordination with all parties involved.
Five Tips When Choosing Design-Build Landscaping
1. Know what you need/want before you start.
Often, a client will come to us with a list of items they want designed into their landscape, such as a patio, wall, fountain, or pergola. What they may actually mean is that they need a shady place to entertain guests with pretty things to look at. While your spouse may want a fountain, he or she may appreciate boulders and flowers just as much. When you prioritize your goals before starting design, you can prevent being caught off guard during the design process. Design is almost always a team decision. If you and your family can align your wants and needs before the design starts, the design will turn out better and go more quickly.
2. Establish a construction budget.
Before starting the design process, establish a budget or range for what you intend to spend on construction, and share that information with your designer. This will help them design within range. Typically, the construction cost of landscapes is between 10 to 25 times the design fee, although this may vary.
3. Take your time with budget decisions.
During the beginning of the design process decisions are easy; we refer to this as the honeymoon period. You may find yourself saying, “I love that stone veneer, it looks just like the picture I saw on Houzz!” After construction costs are introduced, major design elements may be on the chopping block. Do you keep the outdoor kitchen, or the stone paving? Allow yourself time, so you don’t rush these decisions.
4. Trust your gut – and your landscape team.
Taking on a big project and the resulting investment of your funds will greatly affect your daily life. You need experts you can trust to help you achieve your goals. If you don’t have a level of trust with your landscape team, the relationship and project will not work. You need to feel comfortable giving them both positive and negative feedback, and they need to feel comfortable giving you good and bad news. Your designer will not only be helping you with the initial design, but also will be helping to navigate any obstacles encountered during construction.
5. Communicate often and clearly.
During design and construction, changes happen. To best facilitate these changes, we will ask a lot of questions to make sure we are designing efficiently. Whether you would like to give us artistic license on decisions, or you have particular opinions that need to be known, it is important you communicate your preferences clearly.
A Better Investment and Landscape
It’s our experience that the design-build process produces a better product with stronger teamwork and a healthy working relationship. The process takes time to do well. Expect two to six months of design before construction for custom residential updates, and often longer for new home or new commercial construction. Being well prepared can shorten this time frame. If you have new construction, you should consider hiring your landscape designer at the same time that you hire an architect. We strongly believe that the design-build relationship you foster with us will make you feel good about the investment and the landscape you create.
Do you have additional questions about the design-build process and its benefits? Email us at [email protected] or give us a call at 805-466-6263.