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.
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.
by Jules Welch
It’s easy to be overwhelmed when looking at an empty plot of land or a back yard in disrepair. Luckily for homeowners, HOA’s, and commercial property owners, landscape designers see your space as a blank canvas—a unique opportunity to meld function with artistic expression. Design style plays a huge part in every built environment, and often incorporates a colorful mix of the owner’s personality, designer’s aesthetic, and greater climatic and cultural context. Some design styles that are popular for our coastal California area include:
-Mediterranean and Spanish
There is a lot of overlap when it comes to style, but
certain core characteristics define each aesthetic. Read more about these
traits to find out what speaks to you:
Colloquially described as “modern” design, contemporary landscapes are influenced by mid-century modern art and architecture but are defined by their cutting-edge qualities for the present day (which, technically, could be any style). However, when someone refers to a contemporary landscape, they are likely describing a geometric style which features minimalism, clean lines, and grid layouts. Contemporary design is often used in commercial projects such as campuses, plazas, and office buildings; it may also be used to complement custom homes. These landscapes generally favor green foliage over colorful flowers, with intentional spacing and simple hardscapes like concrete or pea gravel.
Gain Inspiration: Andrea
Cochran is a renowned Bay Area designer known for her spacious designs with
an emphasis on form.
English Cottage Gardens came into their own during the
industrial revolution, when families fled city life for remote holiday cottages
in the country. This mix of ideologies brought a unique design sense which mixes
the formal with the chaotic. English cottage gardens can be identified by their
overgrown, lush look, usually incorporating lawn and border plantings among
tightly-grouped flowering perennials.
Gain Inspiration: Gertrude
Jekyll (1843-1932) was known for her craftsman inspired cottage gardens,
using color “rooms” to achieve dynamic and natural mass plantings.
Xeriscape is a style of landscape design which requires minimal
irrigation and maintenance, focusing on efficient use of water. Often using native
and native-adjacent plants, these water-wise gardens tend to evoke an arid,
desert feel. Gravel, cactus, and decomposed granite are the keystone elements
of a xeriscape. Designers also incorporate sustainable water-harvesting
elements such as planted swales and rain gardens into their xeriscapes. Native
California gardens can still look lush, colorful, and attractive, while still
retaining their drought-tolerant, low maintenance qualities.
Spanish Colonial Revival:
Most coastal regions in California have a Mediterranean climate, meaning that numerous plant species from Southern France, Italy, and Spain thrive here! Mediterranean design styles bring lavender, olive trees, and Italian cypress into California’s landscape. It is also the origin of our incredible wine culture. Often using plaza-style patios, pavers, vines, and potted plants, Mediterranean design makes the most of sun/shade, views, and crops. Sometimes used to describe Spanish Colonial Revival style, these gardens often incorporate stucco walls, tile, and cooling water features. Symmetry and striking, sculptural plants with colorful foliage often come into play.
What’s your Design
Design style can be subtle or overt, but it is responsible
for the feeling we get in an outdoor environment, whether familiar or obscure,
nostalgic or innovative, cozy or vast. Most importantly, though, it’s what
makes home feel like home.
Tips for Creating a Lush, Sustainable Landscape
A Guide for Central Coast Homeowners
It’s 2019! If you’re thinking about landscaping this year, keep sustainability in mind. So, what does that mean? Here’s how author and landscape architect Owen Dell describes a sustainable landscape:
“Imagine a garden that rarely needs pruning, watering or fertilizing. One where natural controls usually take care of pest problems before the gardener even becomes aware of them. A peaceful garden where the sound of blowers, power mowers, or chain saws never intrudes. Imagine a garden that also serves as a climate control for the house, keeping it cool in summer and warm in winter; a garden that traps rainwater in an attractive streambed to deeply irrigate the trees and recharge the groundwater; one that provides habitat for wildlife and food for people. Imagine a garden that truly works. This is the sustainable garden—not barren or sacrificial, but as lush and beautiful as any other without all the struggle and waste.”
In considering your landscape project, good planning is vital. Creating a design can save you time and money by coordinating your efforts to make the most of your space, time, and budget. What are the uses you’d like to incorporate? Hardscape areas like patios, play areas and structures, or water features can all make your property work for you. When contemplating how you’ll be using the areas, think about the materials. Are they sustainably produced and sourced? Consider the Embodied Energy impacts, which include everything it takes to have a material available for your use.
Any discussion of California landscaping will include irrigation. Irrigation systems need to be accurate, low-flow and timed appropriately to keep plants healthy and thriving. When thinking about the plants, whether shrubs, trees, veggies or turf, think about conserving resources, especially over time. California Native Plants can often be very good choices to include in your design. Local native plants are often the most climate compatible and lowest maintenance choices.
These are just a few of the sustainable principles you can use as guidelines to maximize your landscape efforts. And in doing so, take advantage of living in the incredible region of California’s Central Coast. Make time to get out and enjoy yourselves in your gardens. They offer unique opportunities to unwind and relieve stress. Reconnect with things natural, beautiful and up close. Even in our own gardens we are connected in a very real way to the larger landscape, and how we have a responsibility to sustain the health and beauty of our beloved Central Coast. Let’s make it work for the long run.
Want more information on Central Coast resource-friendly landscapes? Here’s a short video hosted by our own Rick Mathews.