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.


Tasting Room Landscapes in the 2020s

Tasting Room Landscapes in the 2020s

Wineries on the California Central Coast have had their share of curveballs dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, but some have been well-suited to adapt to changing times. The tasting room experience could be considered even more valuable today for its ability to give visitors a relaxed, open-air experience as a respite from the headlines. As a follow up to our 2018 article Five Landscape Design Tips for California Central Coast Tasting Rooms we caught up with two notable winery leaders to see how the landscapes were faring in the pandemic.

In spring of 2020, all wineries were forced to halt in-person tastings for 10 weeks. When wineries could reopen, they were limited to providing tastings in outdoor spaces by and with proper social distancing. June McIvor of Tolosa Winery said they had to reduce their outside capacity somewhat to accommodate distancing requirements and they began offering online reservations in addition to the phone and email reservations they had already been encouraging. The winery shifted lounge spaces to tables and spread them out for proper spacings and reduced maximum group size. The variety of patio spaces and strategically located small planters provided the flexibility to adapt their space and fit people.

June reports the winery is welcoming many new guests from population hubs in Northern and Southern California who are traveling by car to vacation on the Central Coast. Locals and visitors alike are “looking for normalcy” and she feels that the relaxed atmosphere of tasting wine in a beautiful garden patio is greatly appreciated. She remarks, “We are grateful we renovated,” and because of thoughtful pre-pandemic design they are well-positioned to adapt to pandemic constraints.

Damian Grindley of Brecon Estate also had to rethink the outdoor table layout for tastings and reservations and has seen similar success. Surprisingly, he had considered moving to reservations-only prior to COVID-19. The requirement forced Brecon Estate into a reservation system early but with little pushback. He correlates reservations with better customer satisfaction because of a more controllable experience with adequate staffing to the reservation load. Satisfied customers will buy more wine.

The “relaxed Central Coast” vibe of Brecon Estate draws in locals and visitors with the goal of making customers feel welcome and comfortable. As far as the winery renovation and landscape built in the last six years, he says, “we almost could not have designed it better.” The comfortable outdoor spaces and detached outdoor restroom building worked out particularly well for COVID-19 restrictions.

With the respite wineries provide, demand for outdoor tasting room space will continue into the winter. Tolosa Winery has extended their outdoor tasting room season using tents for weather protection. Brecon has room for tents but is considering alternative layouts for patio design with tents in mind. A couple of feet one way or the other can make the difference for a great fit.

With outdoor tasting areas at a premium, savvy wineries will put thought into providing comfortable usable spaces for winter weather.

Here are five tips for wineries that are thinking of renovating their tasting room landscapes to accommodate customers looking for a great experience.

Meet the Team: Jill Bleher

Meet the Team: Jill Bleher

For November we are highlighting landscape designer Jill Bleher, who has been with Madrone for nine glorious months. She says one of her favorite things about working at Madrone is the positive team energy. We feel the same way about you, Jill – we’re so glad you joined our team!

What is your favorite thing about working at Madrone?

What I enjoy most about working at Madrone is the positive team energy and the fact that every day I get to work on interesting projects.

I really appreciate being able to bounce ideas off of my teammates. The feedback I receive from my managers and peers helps me to delve deeper into my designs and develop my ideas. Sometimes you just need someone else to look at a design in progress and question you or offer their opinion in order to arrive at the best possible solution for a space. This creative collaboration is my favorite thing about working at Madrone.

What is your favorite project that you’ve worked on and why?

I have enjoyed so many things about so many different projects, but my favorite projects are those that integrate old with new. I like the challenge of tying together existing features – especially those with history – with new aspects of a design, knitting it all together into a cohesive design.

One such project is a backyard in SLO. The property slopes steeply down to a creek and my first view of the site was just a sea of nasturtiums and weeds beneath ancient Sycamore trees. Cleanup of the site revealed several stone and mortar walls that spoke of the history of the place. These walls are featured in the new landscape, along with a new wall built to match the same rustic style. The design also blends in contemporary features such as poured in place concrete pavers of varying sizes and cable railing on the upper wood deck.

Ultimately this project reminded me of the tale of the Secret Garden. Old can be made refreshed and revitalized with love and attention to detail! What sealed this job as a favorite for me was getting to know the owners through the process of design and installation, and seeing their joy as it developed. One vision that sticks with me is of the family’s young daughter sitting on a stepping stone, feeling the plants and looking quite happy.


What is your favorite, or least favorite, plant and why?

As a designer I tend to picture plants in terms of colors and textures. I’m hard pressed to pick a favorite, but these are a few plants which I come back to again and again:  

1. Calylopus (Sundrops) is a plant I love for its bright yellow pop when in bloom. I especially like using it to brighten a rockscape or spill over a wall or container.

2. Euphorbia characias (Mediterranean Spurge) is one of my favorite plant species because of its unique forms and colors. It’s a great year-round background of filler plant that will pop out at you when it blooms. ‘Blackbird’ is an especially neat specimen for interesting foliage!

3. Agave ‘Blue Glow’ is in my top plants list for its beautiful symmetry and year-round interest. This is a great stand-alone feature plant or planted en masse for a striking landscape.

My least favorite plant would be Stipa tenuissima (Mexican Feather Grass), because although it is beautiful it spreads everywhere and is a pain to get rid of! Early in my design career I used it in a few landscapes only to be dismayed by how it took over everything else, so now I fervently steer clear of using it.

What are some of your favorite hobbies outside of work?

I’m an avid vegetable gardener and collector of interesting succulents. I also enjoy hiking and identifying our local native plants. Indoors you can usually find me doing something creative like knitting, baking, drawing or playing cello.

Give us a fun fact about you!

On sunny days you might see me walking around town with a lizard on my shoulder. Her name is Aurora and she’s a bearded dragon. My husband Alec and I have had her for about 5 years and love to take her places with us. It’s a great conversation starter.

Pataye Residence: 2020 Green Landscape Honor Award

Pataye Residence: 2020 Green Landscape Honor Award

Madrone Landscapes has been honored with the Central Coast Green Building Chapter Green Landscape Award for the Pataye residence.

The beautiful Pataye residence is a contemporary, off grid home featuring rammed earth blocks and set in a forest along the northern central coast of California. Madrone Landscapes incorporated the contemporary architecture with the mixed evergreen forest, maximizing usable outdoor space while minimizing maintenance and energy inputs.

The award-winning design includes a simple, low-maintenance plant palette to complement and showcase the modern home design, using native, drought-tolerant plants with dramatic details and striking contrasts. The foliage color and texture to create an impressive effect alongside the modern home.

Madrone Landscapes’ entry courtyard feature has a one-of-a-kind water wall that collects and cascades into a large reflection pool, stimulating all the senses. The diagonally-set pavers, featuring locally-sourced rock mulch, provide a striking accent that helps tie the contemporary with the surrounding landscape. Solar panels were installed to efficiently and automatically power low voltage LED lighting off the grid. Madrone also created a lawn area with a beautiful, native turf substitute. 

A subsurface drip irrigation system was installed to conserve water, reduce environmental impact and maintenance. A ‘smart’ irrigation controller was included which draws satellite weather information and automatically adjusts run times and saves water. Madrone’s design also redirects rainfall to the nearby natural creeks and watershed.

Madrone Landscapes wishes to thank the Pataye family and the Central Coast Green Building Chapter for this honor.

Project Architect: Jade Architecture
Contractor: Semmes and Co. Builders
Qualified Nurseries: West Covina, Boething Treeland, Native Sons and Village Nurseries

Meet the Team: Ian Parker

Meet the Team: Ian Parker

It’s a wonderful day to Meet the Team! For July, we are putting a spotlight on our Sales Manager: Ian Parker. Ian’s strong leadership skills, great sense of humor, and wealth of knowledge of the industry make him a fantastic leader for our Sales and Design Team. This September will be his 8th year with us and we can’t imagine our team without him!

1. How did you get into the landscape industry?

 I had a passion for art and was already pursing a degree in graphic design at a local community college. I liked the idea of being a graphic designer, but found the thought of being trapped indoors in a competitive industry may not be for me. I had always enjoyed being involved with construction work, and had held several summer jobs helping on job sites growing up, so I started to think that this might be something worth pursuing. One day my Mom came across a brochure for Cal State Northridge’s Extended Learning Program, which described their Landscape Design curriculum. It sounded like the perfect blend of creative and hand-on practices, so I enrolled. I started looking for a low-level landscape labor job and was quickly hired on by a landscape contractor in Malibu: I was hooked on the first day. The sunshine, the smell of fresh cut grass… ahh it still gets me excited to this day. Now ~20 years later I’m still excited about my work, and every day seems to be a new adventure! 

2. What other positions have you held within the landscape industry?

After spending a few years working in Malibu, I founded a small landscape company in Los Angeles where I was able to incorporate my own designs into my work. I learned the business of being a Landscape Contractor during this time, and gained some experience doing real-world designs. I made a lot of rookie mistakes and learned a lot through trial and error. This was a lot of fun, but it also showed me how stressful being an independent contractor can be. Around 2008, at the height of the recession, I made the difficult decision to shut down my business and move to the Central Coast. I landed a job as Maintenance Department Manager for a local landscape firm that managed a variety of large maintenance accounts. This exposed me to a whole new level of the landscape industry that I hadn’t seen before. In 2012, I made the move over to Madrone, and spent the next 5-6 years managing landscape construction projects. From there, I’ve gone wherever Madrone has needed me; I jumped in as a Designer for a short period, and ultimately ended up as the Sales Manager in 2018.

3. What does a typical day as Sales Manager look like?

Most of my days are spent providing support for our landscape designers, estimators and construction staff. As my job title says, I manage our Sales Department  which means lots of consultations and site visits. More often than not, I am the first person that people meet when talking with Madrone about a potential project. Between meetings, my days are very reactionary based on where I’m needed. I regularly work with our designers on plan reviews and conceptual analysis ensuring that our ideas are buildable and properly described on plan. I also spend a lot of time bridging the gap between design and construction, and I try to make myself available to both our clients and our project managers. I attend most of our design review meetings, so I get to know our clients pretty well through that process, and enjoy being involved in the construction process as well. Occasionally I still get to go help out with difficult builds in the field!  

4. What about your sales process sets you apart from other firms who offer similar services?

I think that being a design/build firm is really what makes us special within our industry. Last year, over 65% of our construction work came from in-house designs. Through our design process, we are able to really listen to our client’s needs and desires and ensure that their projects are properly planned before ever breaking ground. Our design process includes several rounds of revisions, which are each accompanied by an in-depth budget analysis. This information allows clients to properly prioritize their needs, and ultimately leads to great projects that fit within a client’s desired budget. Some competitors simply send prospective clients construction bids with minimal information, and it’s basically “take it or leave it”. With our process, we really take the time to sort out all the details and create a dialogue that builds a trusting relationship with the client long before breaking ground.   

5. What inspires you when working on landscape designs?

I’ve been a student of landscape design for close to 20 years now. In my daily life, I’m constantly analyzing everything that I see in search of inspiration. What works? What doesn’t What is it about a landscape or natural space that makes me feel a certain way? I draw from this experience to help guide our clients and designers, but ultimately, it’s all about listening to the client. Everyone is different, so our goal is always to take their initial vision for their property and mold it in a way that will be beautiful and sustainable for years to come.  The old saying ‘you don’t know what you don’t know’ is so true in our industry, so I just try to share my experience with my team and our clients to help them make the best decisions possible.     

6. What is your favorite thing about working for Madrone?

There’s a lot to love about Madrone, but my favorite thing is the commitment to our Core Values. It’s so important to me that we stand behind our work and treat all of our employees, clients, and the community at large, with the dignity and respect that they deserve. Some companies out there cut corners to make a buck, both in terms of how they treat their employees and how they treat their clients. But in my 8 years with Madrone, I’ve found that from top to bottom, we consider ourselves members of our community first, and it’s our reputation that matters more than anything else.