Skip to content

Archive for

5 tips for Healthy Lawns

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

1. Water your lawns properly. Always follow your local area recommendations for water amounts and delivery schedule for the weather conditions of your area and the season. Monitor and keep track of your lawn’s condition before it gets out of hand. Notice if there are any brown spots or excess water run off. Check for any misdirected spray heads and correct them. Always check your irrigation controller and adjust if needed. New lawns should have their irrigation set at a higher frequency until their root system is established.
2. Mow lawns properly. For best results mow your lawn on a regular and frequent basis. Don’t let it get too tall and never cut off more than a 1/3 of the grass height (new lawns should be cut high until they are established). Keep mower blades well sharpened for the best cut and a great looking lawn. Mowing height in the summer should be raised to reduce added stress to the lawn. It will drive your root system deeper therefore improving drought tolerance. Grass clippings should be mulched completely back into the lawn. A mulching mower will help return some of the nutrients back into the soil so you can use less fertilizers. It’s also best to mow more often for faster clipping decomposition. Mow when the grass is dry to prevent clumping. Recommended mowing height: 90% Tall Fescue / 10% Bluegrass blend: High of 3 inches and low of two inches. New lawns should not be cut lower than three inches until established.
3. Fertilize your lawns at least twice a year. Once in the Fall and then again in the Spring (Summer feeding is an option only if needed). Too much fertilizer can encourage water-thirsty new growth and pollute the environment. Use natural fertilizers or the newer fertilizers that contain coated or slow-release nitrogen. These fertilizers release nutrients over a longer period of time and to maintain a steady growth rate. Although the natural fertilizers can be more expensive, they are usually non-burning and cause less stress to your summer turf. They also do not produce “growth flushes” like the traditional fertilizers that contain quick release forms of nitrogen.
4. Control weeds in your lawns. Well maintained lawns are thick and lush to help minimize the invasion of crab grass and other weeds. Apply a pre-emergent with weed control in early February. This will control almost all seed germination of crab grass and weeds for a period of ninety days. If you are reseeding the lawn do not apply a pre-emergent as it will inhibit grass seed from germinating. Many pre-emergent products are combined with fertilizers. When used, these will serve as your first fertilizer application of the year.
5. Aerate and dethatch your lawns. Aeration opens up the soil beneath the lawn and to stimulate root growth, especially when followed by a balanced fertilization. Core aeration also relieves soil compaction in older lawns and high traffic areas. Multiple aerations (2-3 times or more per year) can greatly benefit high-use lawns by helping to ease soil compaction and improve drainage. Dethatching, or deep raking to remove dead matted grass, once a year will allow water and air to reach the roots system more easily.

Boxwoods in the Garden

As a garden designer I have a list of “go to plants” in my head whenever I sit down and begin a planting plan.  The plant list varies from garden to garden.  One list may be suitable for a formal garden, another for a cottage garden and yet another for a modern garden.   Each plant on the list encompasses the style and feeling I want the garden to have.  However, there is one plant that is common to many garden styles and that is the Boxwood (Buxus sp.)

Over the years, boxwood has fallen in and out of favor, but with increased deer browsing and concerns over water use, Boxwood are once again gaining popularity.  They are evergreen, deer resistant and drought tolerant.  Boxwoods are easy to maintain, most require little pruning, will grow in sun or shade and are long lived.  In addition, Boxwoods are versatile and come in many sizes, shapes and growth rate.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Boxwoods are indispensable in a formal garden.  They add a timeless feel of elegance to the garden.  Picture a pair of columnar Green Tower Boxwoods (Buxus sempervirens ‘Monrue’) flanking a garden gate or set in a row along the garden border.

In designing a cottage garden, Boxwood can be used to create a low border surrounding perennials.  They will add order to the beds during the peak summer flowering season and interest during the quite winter season.  Nothing reads cottage garden like foxgloves, roses and lavender towering and spilling over a Boxwood border.   One wonderful Boxwood for the cottage garden is Green Beauty Boxwood (Buxus microphylla var. joponica ‘Green Beauty’).

One of the best uses of Boxwood is in the modern garden.  Here the Boxwood can be the star of the minimally planted modern garden.  Shearing the Boxwood into geometric spheres or cubes both in the ground or in pots will give the clean lined garden a modern sculptural feel.   True Dwarf Boxwood (Buxus sempervirens ‘Suffruticosa’) is a great candidate for shearing into modern geometric shapes.

There are many varieties and cultivars of Boxwood available today and many garden designers are rediscovering Boxwood, the backbone of formal gardens for centuries.

Water Features in Garden Design

Trickle, trickle, trickle. Splash, splash, splash. You’re sitting in your garden and suddenly you are transported to a romantic courtyard in Barcelona or a gushing waterfall in Kauai. A water element can add a dream-like experience to your garden as well as be functional.

Water features in garden design:
• help to mask noisy streets or noisy neighbors
• help to cool a stone patio on a blistering summer day
• make use of a blank wall or hide an ugly eyesore
• create a destination point in any sized garden
• provide a water source for birds and other wildlife

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A water element creates visual and acoustic beauty in the garden. It can be in the form of a simple overflowing urn or boulder or a sheet of water trickling over textured pebbles or colored tiles. Built into a hillside with boulders and smooth river-washed stone, a water element can echo nature’s ponds and streams, creating a new habitat for aquatic ecosystems. A reflecting pond creates a place for contemplation and helps small spaces appear larger. A ground level water runnel bisecting patios, paths, or planting areas adds geometry and movement. A water element can even be in the form of an Endless Pool which provides exercise, play, and relaxation all in one.

If water moves you, our designers can work with you to consider what type of water element makes the most sense for your lifestyle and how it may be incorporated into your garden design.

Home Improvement: Gravel vs. Hardscape in Your Bay Area Garden

When we want to create useable space in our Northern California gardens, we often think of flat hardscape.  This usually refers to level patios paved with stone, or brick, or concrete; or perhaps flat lawns for physical activity and play.  The term ‘outdoor room’ has been used more and more often in the last several years when describing useable space in the garden.  And it really is a good description.  Creating a defined space outdoors that is accessible, attractive and can be used for one or many purposes equals home improvement.   And it helps you to take advantage of living in the San Francisco Bay Area, where we can spend so much time outdoors.  Hardscape patios and soft green lawns will likely always be part of the garden.  But we’d like to make a case for gravel as a paving option with a lot of upsides.

One is environmental.  Permeability is the rate at which water can flow through a material.  While mortared stone, brick or concrete are impermeable, gravel, properly installed and maintained, can collect 50% of rainwater or more- so it is sinking into your land, not running off into storm drains or sewers. As Northern California is often in a state of drought, more permeability which allows water to soak back into the ground and prevent runoff is crucial.  This is a small change you can make that positively affects our environment- and not every home improvement can make that claim.

Another is cost.  Per square foot, other types of hardscape can cost 4 to 5 times as much as gravel.  When we install gravel for a patio or path, we’re excavating down several inches, installing an edging to retain the gravel (a resin-based bendable board, metal, wood, or stone), installing a layer of base rock which is compacted for sturdiness, and finishing with 2-3” of gravel.   Even with all these steps, gravel is significantly less expensive than a reinforced concrete slab, brick or stone patio.  This logic also applies with driveways.  Long expanses of hardscape for driveways can mean low permeability on your property, and with paving materials like a concrete slab or asphalt, significant cost.  

The aesthetics, however, are often the main reason our clients choose gravel.  There are many gravel options. You have choices in the color of materials, size of stones, and whether it is rounded or crushed.  And perhaps the best attribute is the sound gravel makes when we walk across it.  That crunch underfoot can define an edge or alert the user that they are entering a new space.   It can even bring up nostalgic feelings of childhood trips to a lakeshore, a walk on one of our awesome California hiking trails, or a summer at camp.  For those of you interested in container gardening or building a raised bed garden, surrounding your vegetables with gravel creates a permeable, low maintenance environment that is rustic and beautiful.  It may not be hardscape in a traditional sense, but you can still push a wheelbarrow over it.

There are maintenance requirements with gravel that should be considered – gravel can move over time and may need to be replenished a few years after installation, and permeability is reduced over time as the material packs down.  But it’s certainly worth considering for the Bay Area home; as a replacement of asphalt driveways, hardscape or lawns, or as a paving material for new paths or patios. Maybe you can’t hose it off like other types of hardscape . . . but ask any Japanese Tea Garden expert- raking a gravel pad, path or driveway is a physical activity that can be a calming in itself!  

Illegal Vegetable Gardening?

We really do live in a topsy-turvy world. Check out this story about a Canadian couple who is going to be fined for – wait for it – vegetable gardening in their front yard! The law in their district mandates that they must have 30 percent of their space covered by lawn. It should be an inspiring story because the couple the city is after has lost a combined 100 pounds since starting their garden!
Read the story – sign the petition! Let us know if you find out if they had to tear up their veggies.

Outdoor Firepits and Fireplaces

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As a San Francisco girl, I sometimes miss hot summer nights. My family and friends love spending time in our garden, but we’re often chased out by the fog rolling in around 2 or 3 in the afternoon. We started having “brunch-b-ques” because we’ll frequently have a warm morning and early afternoon that turns cold by traditional barbeque time.

Then we installed a firepit. It absolutely changes the garden experience even in the chilliest garden retreat. Firepits and outdoor fireplaces can be fueled by wood, propane or a natural gas connection from your home. There are pros and cons to each of the alternatives.

If you’re considering wood burning, you may need to make sure it’s allowed in your city and county due to environmental codes. Wood burning firepits can be very affordable – but remember that you have to move a lot of wood. Also be ready for a smoky experience – and the sparks that go with it. Make sure you locate your firepit or fireplace away from structures and low-hanging branches. If you’re considering an outdoor wood-burning fireplace, careful attention must be paid during the design process to ensure proper draw from the chimney and adequate chimney height. While a wood-burning fire is rustic and evocative of campfire getaways, you need to mindful of the time it takes for it to burn. You should also have an ash bin handy.
Check out the wide variety of styles of firepit styles here.

Propane firepits, like many wood burning firepits are handy because they are portable. They’re also easy to turn on and off. Propane is relatively inexpensive, but you do need to make sure to have a spare tank handy. It’s a real bummer when the fire dies before the party! I’ve also found that the heat from a propane firepit never seems as inviting as a natural gas or wood-burning firepit. Designs are improving, but some prefab models aren’t the most aesthetically pleasing.
Natural gas firepits and fireplaces are generally more expensive at the onset than the other options because you have to install a gas line and build a structure to support it. This typically requires a permit for the gas and sometimes the structure if you’re building a fireplace. Once installed, they’re the most convenient and affordable. Because they are stationary, natural gas firepits also provide an opportunity to create a beautiful “outdoor room” in your garden that enriches the space and ties in with the architecture of your home. There is also the constant ease and convenience of being able to turn the fire on and off at will.

Whichever fire element you choose, firepit or fireplace; wood-burning, propane or natural gas, you can be sure that it will add much more time and enjoyment to your outdoor experience.

Outdoor Games Take the Fun to the Garden

Summer is upon us and with that come a flurry of outdoor games and activities – garden parties, barbecues, fireworks shows – all the fun under the sun! If you are considering a new garden design and installation there are many things to consider, especially how you are going to spend your outdoor time, especially when entertaining.

Outdoor games are the perfect way to entertain both children and adults. Flat spaces definitely allow for a lot of activities to take place. Some games just require space – a nice lush lawn is the perfect set up for a badminton court or a cornhole tournament. Patios offer the perfect level playing field for a ping pong table.

Other games require specific design and installation, but can offer hours of fun. If you have a large flat space you can consider a bocce ball court. Whether regulation built in size and material or more informal blending into the existing landscape, a bocce ball court would be a fun addition to your outdoor entertaining time.

Two other possibilities for outdoor games require specific interest. Have a chess player in your life? What about a life-sized chess playing field to really spark interest in the game. We’ve done it before, not only is it a fun idea, but a life-sized board game in the garden also looks pretty beautiful.

Finally, what better way to improve your golf game than installing your own personal putting green in your garden! Artificial turf for the landscape has really improved in quality and can be a welcome addition to any landscape for putting or play.

Whatever outdoor games occupy your garden this summer remember fun is the number one rule.