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Posts by pamcosce

Outdoor Lighting Adds Value to Your Home

A well-lit gardenIt’s that time of year! The days are getting a longer, and it has me itching to spend more time in the garden. There is no better way to extend your time outside than with outdoor lighting (this includes my real nighttime favorite – fire!). There are many different approaches to outdoor lighting ranging from quick DIY projects to low voltage outdoor lighting fixtures or line voltage installations.

path lit stairsWhen we start thinking about outdoor lighting design – it’s always safety first. How can we design the low voltage garden lighting to efficiently and effectively illuminate areas of transition that will make your garden safely accessible? This is typically best accomplished with path lights, down lights (if you have trees or other high points from which to mount them), stair lights or wall lights where necessary. For security, are there dark areas in your garden or near your home that might benefit from outdoor lighting? In these instances, motion detection lights might be appropriate. Also, is your driveway and house number well lit? This will help visitors (or first responders) find and navigate your home on dark nights. Here at Lazar Landscape, we typically work low voltage lighting into new garden designs and installations – but it’s always possible to add lighting to existing outdoor spaces.

Lighting on stair and fountainOnce you have safe passage through your garden space it’s time to start thinking about creating ambiance and atmosphere. This is frequently done by uplighting key garden features – like specimen trees, boulders, your home’s architecture, or other sculptural elements. Some trees benefit by direct uplighting, whereas other plants are more suited to a wash or silhouette lighting. Low voltage lighting is ideal in all of these situations because it’s relatively easy install if you have a dedicated outlet for the controller. Low voltage lighting wires don’t have to be buried or put in conduit, so it makes getting the right fixture in the right place fairly simple. If you’re an adventurous DIY home hobbyist you might consider tackling a low voltage lighting project by yourself – most people opt to go with a professional installation.

Here at Lazar Landscape, we primarily use FX/Luminaire low-voltage outdoor lighting fixtures because we value the quality of the products. There are certainly other quality outdoor lighting products from which to choose. Low voltage lighting technology is changing by leaps and bounds, with many people opting for LED lights over the once omnipresent incandescent or halogen low voltage lights. The pros of LED are that they’re energy saving and the bulbs should last much longer – which means less maintenance less frequently. You can also get brighter lighting – if you need to down light or up light at greater distances. Also, the market is directing itself toward LED, so this is where we’ll see the most innovation in the future. The cons are that the light emitted from LED lights are colder and starker than halogen, and they cost more. LED lights are continually improving – filters can and should be installed to soften the light.

Solar lighting is another option for homeowners who enjoy DIY projects. I haven’t seen every solar light, but my experience with them is that they light themselves – meaning you see them in the dark, but they don’t really do much to illuminate the garden or make it safer. As with most things, the technology is coming. I’m really impressed with eco-friendly Voltaic’s new USB touchlights, which are LED lights that run through any USB port, including their solar panels.

Other technological improvements include wireless zone remote. A typical transformer installation includes a timer similar to what you might use to control a light in your house. But as technology is improving there are products that allow you to have remote control or wireless wall keypads to control your outdoor lighting. It’s far less invasive than having the transformer switched in your house. You can even utilize a key fob – so you can turn your lights on as you drive up to your house. There are higher tech options that tie into universal remote controls for you house that allow you to control your garden lighting from your computer. It’s probably the wave of the future.

DSC07482If you’re on a lower budget and like taking on your own DIY projects, café lights are an easy solution to garden lighting. Like everything, you can select from a wide range of quality from restaurant grade right down to your typical Christmas string lights or even rope-style LED lights. The Voltaic USB touchlights are also a cost-effective option if you don’t require a lot of lights – or if you want to keep your lights portable. These LED lights are totally waterproof. Candles, be they traditional fire and wax or battery operated or even solar, can be used to create ambiance in a nighttime lights

Weather working with a landscape design/build company or taking on your own DIY projects, outdoor lighting adds so much to your home – security, safety, curb appeal, beauty, and an extension of your outdoor living ability – not to mention increasing the value of your home if you’re thinking about resale. When working on outdoor lighting design the main areas to consider when designing an outdoor lighting plan are: safety and security; curb appeal and added home value; and the functionality of extending the time you can spend in your garden.Weight the pros and cons of halogen, incandescent and LED lights.

5 Tips for a Dog-Friendly Garden

Wingnut is always helpful when testing plants in the garden

Wingnut is always helpful when testing plants in the garden

The first thing I say when a client asks me to design a dog-friendly garden is: “Tell me about your dog.” And “How will Sparky use the garden.” Basically I want to know the same things about the dog as I do about the people I design for. A spastic dog that is prone to jumping and escape is going to require a much different garden design than a more mature dog with hip problems. Some people are interested in creating dogruns, or designated areas for their pups, while others want their furry family members to be part of the entire garden. If the latter is true, my next question is, “Can you live with imperfection?” Even the mellowest canine will invariably cause damage to a garden either with urine, a fondness for laying on your favorite bedding plants, or some other undiscovered behavior. The main goal in designing a dog-friendly garden or dogrun, or a dog kennel is to ensure the happiness and safety of your furry best friend.

If you can’t live with imperfection, and you have the space, designing a comfortable dog run for Fido might be your best bet. I’m currently designing a dogrun, or home dog kennel, for a family with dogs that enjoy the entire dog-friendly garden while their humans are outside, but have a little too much space when left to their own devices. The fenced dogrun will be under a perimeter of oaks, so they’ll be able to enjoy dappled shade and sunny areas for lounging on pet-friendly an artificial turf like SynLawn as well as two gravel areas for doing their business. They’ll also have a “dogport” covering their dog house area for full weather protection against the extremes.

SynLawn play area for dogs in a rooftop garden in San Francisco

SynLawn play area for dogs in a rooftop garden in San Francisco

Dog-friendly gardens are near and dear to my heart. I have two dogs (big dog, little dog) who enjoy my little postage stamp of a garden with me. For the most part, they’re perfect gentlemen; they have a few sturdy agaves on which they like to leave their marks, but the agaves don’t seem to mind; and they’d much rather do their other business on a walk than in their garden so any mess is technically due to my laziness. Neither of the beasts are chewers of things, except their squeaky dog toys, so I don’t worry about toxic plants, but it should be taken into consideration. My big dog has an occasional and unpredictable digging problem, but it’s always in the same place. After years trying to fight his compulsion with physical barriers I finally put a bench in front of his dig site with room for him and his dirty obsession. An abutilon fills out the fence above the digging spot so there are no obvious holes in the planting area. And now I can revel in his cute dirty nose rather than wonder which of my favorite plants he destroyed. I’m also conducting an experiment with real sod lawn and SynLawn, a fancy artificial turf (it’s not your grandma’s astroturf), to see which my dogs prefer. So far it’s about 50/50, with the added bonus with SynLawn that there is no maintenance, and the doggone raccoons aren’t digging it up every night. One challenge to consider with artificial turf is that it can get quite hot if you live in a hot summer climate. So far, my San Francisco dogs aren’t having any trouble.

Zeke after a fight with a raccoon - in my bedroom... the green part in his eye is a cut

Zeke after a fight with a raccoon – in my bedroom… the green part in his eye is a cut

My other major problem is raccoons! I won’t even get into the trouble (or vet bills) we’ve seen from these critters, but my biggest dog-related challenge is that the raccoons clearly have a regular route through my garden, and it’s right through my little tropical oasis – and where those little bandits go, so go my dogs. On a rampage. A herd of raccoons and dogs stampede through my elephant ears on a regular basis. This is living with imperfection. Let the fencing commence!!!
This raccoon is not dog-friendly.

This raccoon is not dog-friendly.

If you’re designing your own dog-friendly garden, here are five things to consider:

dogs will stay on a path - berms can be a deterrentPaths – dogs will oftentimes stay on designated paths. I designed one dog-friendly garden with a series of paths based on the dogs’ existing paths. Once installed, they were literally able to run circles around the garden – and the people had two seating connected by the patios to enjoy the show. Keep in mind that many dogs like to patrol the perimeter of the garden, so if space allows, consider leaving an open space between your planting borders and the fence.

sokolow-branca 020Shelter and water – whether your dog is strictly outdoors, or frequently unattended, make sure you provide adequate covered space (even beyond a dog house) to protect Rover from the elements. If your dog is alone for longer periods of time, consider a faucet waterer so Buffy never goes thirsty. If you can teach Chester to drink from these handy faucet waterers, and you have an extra hose bibb (consider a splitter attachment) it’s a low-cost solution to ensure constant hydration. The if you can get Max to drink out of the self-waterer, it might be safer than filling bowls with a hose. Research suggests that there may be toxins in your garden hose.

Golden Retrievers are an energetic breed that need lots of walks and/or room to run

Golden Retrievers are an energetic breed that need lots of walks and/or room to run

Know your dog’s habits – Many traits are breed-specific. If you have an energetic dog, obviously the more space the better. If you have a Houdini escape artist, you may need to fortify the bottom of the fence to prevent him from digging under, and may need a taller fence, or even a covered dogrun for a jumper. If Milo likes to chew on things, make sure he has plenty of weather-resistant dog toys and avoid toxic plants. For all dogs, never use cocoa mulch as it has proven fatally toxic to some dogs.

ornamental grassesPlant Wisely – When planting, try to plant larger- sized container plants in masses. Use sturdy plants like ornamental grasses and phormiums especially along borders. Large agaves and aeoniums work as convenient barriers in my garden, but spines at the tips of even the smoothest agaves may pose potential danger. Stay away from toxic plants, particularly if you have chewer. This is why it’s important to know your dog. Borders, either temporary or permanent, can be very helpful in keeping Spot out of your beds. Depending on your garden style, this can include low fencing, boulders or other garden ornament – make it work with the paths. If you have specimen plants, or enjoy vegetable gardening, consider raised beds.

Fire hydrant marking posts in a San Mateo dog park combine function, upcycling and whimsy

Fire hydrant marking posts in a San Mateo dog park combine function, upcycling and whimsy

Designate areas for your dog – most dogs and puppies can be trained to use specific areas for their potty needs. I’ve designed several dog-friendly gardens with gravel and and artificial grass like SynLawn spaces for dogs to do their duty. SynLawn is a great lawn alternative if you like the idea of perfection – the artificial turf won’t get yellow and patchy, and you can easily wash it down if it gets soiled. You can install extra drainage – and add an odor-reducer. If you have a male dog fond of marking, consider a marking post. There is a dog park in San Mateo that a large expanse of dirt dotted with fire hydrants. Let your whimsy run wild. If you go for a marking post, it’s helpful to have a water source close by to keep smells from building up. It also helps if you have good drainage underneath If you have a digger – find Lola a space to have at it. In one garden I designed, we inadvertently created a lookout for the pup to maintain his neighborhood vigilance. It’s his favorite spot in the garden.

Zeke in the mist

Zeke in the mist

Use these tips whether you’re planning a specific dogrun or thinking about incorporating these main ideas into your dog-friendly garden. They will ensure many happy days in the garden with your pooch. If you need help designing or installing your dog-friendly garden, or want to share your dog-friendly garden, feel free to drop me a line. And don’t even get me started about my custom dog house and dog washing and dog splash ideas!

Dream Project

Kitchen garden - afterSometimes the fates converge, and you find yourself working on a dream project. Let me start by saying I love, love, love designing gardens around mid-century modern homes. So when I arrived at an appointment to meet my future clients and saw their home, I have to say I got a little excited. Then I met my clients, who are awesome, saw the beautiful work they had done to their open floor plan interior, and listened to their wish lists for their garden, and my heart melted a little. Their outdoor space was begging to be incorporated into their lifestyle! I was beyond happy and excited when I got the call that they had chosen to work with me on their project.

For the most part, the garden designed itself. While old and a bit dilapidated, the site had good bones and a circulation pattern that couldn’t be altered much. In other words, the spaces or garden rooms were identified; I just had to develop them. The main challenge in the front garden was an extremely unsafe entry. A previous owner had installed Saltillo tiles on the existing concrete entry. They were mossy and slippery, unevenly sloped and some of the tiles were popping off. The hand rail was slightly wobbly wood in dire need of sanding. It had disaster written all over it! The home is situated near the top of a steep slope, but there is enough flat space to allow for a quaint seating area for the homeowners to connect with their neighbors.

Entry Gate - Beforeback entry - after The back yard has multiple access points; there were three sets of doors off of the house; a side path from the front garden; and a unique second street entry at the back of the house required sort of a second entry from the street and access from the detached garage from that street. There are three main useable areas in the back garden in which to incorporate my clients’ wish list that included: an outdoor kitchen, a quiet peaceful garden space off of the master bedroom, space for entertaining fairly large groups of friends and family, a fire element (either a gas fireplace or a fire pit) and a water element, a place to grow food, and safety (the Saltillo tiles were continued throughout the garden) that included new fencing with locked gates, lighting and hand rails.

Dangerous Entry Stairs - beforesafe entryThe biggest challenge in making the front entry safe was raised by building codes that came into being after the house was constructed. We had to push the entry staircase toward the house to accommodate setbacks, and that in turn required us to build a wall on the upslope. The stairs followed the natural grade on the original design and did not require a wall. It was a happy accident, though. The wall turned out beautiful and really anchors the front garden and compliments the home. The homeowners elected not to tackle a large portion of their slope that is covered in ivy, and the staircase separates the ivy and landscaped areas nicely.

Garden folly - stone and stairsThese homeowners are not dyed-in-the-wool modernists, but have a fun, almost whimsical eclectic, contemporary approach. Hardscape material selections were made to tie into the house. We used a combination of precut stone, random stone, gravel and aggregate tile details, and a combination of ledge stone and stucco walls. I originally designed a stone fireplace, but the homeowners elected to use a bold stucco color to tie the elements together. I always tell my clients that they get to live in their garden long after I’m gone. I have many ideas and strong opinions, but they are the ultimate voice in how their garden evolves. The plant material is largely composed of a mix of Mediterranean plants and succulents in a color palette that ties all of the other components together. There’s a bit of a woodland feel in two shady areas – and lots of bamboo screening.

Fireplace - before and after

Fireplace – before and after

Some of my favorite elements in the garden are the cantilevered gas fireplace with a succulent garden on top and the barbecue countertop and matching bench. We used a single slab of Brazilian slate (it’s huge) for the countertop, which like granite allows for a mostly seamless countertop. We left the surface natural and used a sealer to prevent staining and honed the edges so they’re smooth and bring out the deep color of the stone. We had a metal frame fabricated and used the leftover stone to create a bench that ties into the gas fireplace. It’s a great place to sit on a chilly night.Fireplace

I always say I have one of the best jobs in the world. I get to work with extraordinary people – both my clients and coworkers to create beautiful useable spaces. This dream project was the epitome of why I so love what I do.


Happy New Year from Lazar Landscape

for collages end of yearAs I sit here in my quiet office, with all of our crews on a well-deserved break, it’s hard to believe another year has come and gone. Looking back on last year, I’d like to take a moment to thank all of our amazing clients who make it possible for us to do the work we love to do: designing, building and maintaining beautiful gardens! We were so fortunate this year to work with really great folks. It’s one of the best parts of the job, meeting great people, understanding their design needs and then fulfilling the vision right there in the landscape. I’m also fortunate to work with a group of people who are not only talented at what they do, they’re really fun to work with. Running a landscape company in tough economic times isn’t always easy, but we manage to get through it with laughter, support and genuine appreciation for each other. How often does that happen? The combination of great clients and talented coworkers led us to win two first place awards at the statewide CLCA trophy awards.

We already have some great projects lined up for the coming year – and we have some really exciting news that I’m not quite ready to spill. You’ll have to stay tuned!

All in all I’d say we’re pretty excited to see what 2013 will bring. I wish you a happy, fun and healthy new year.

Happy Holidays from Lazar Landscape!

Zeke the Elf and Wingnut Claus Wish You a Merry Christmas!!!!

Zeke the Elf and Wingnut Claus Wish You a Merry Christmas!!!!

Confessions of a Delinquent Garden Blogger

It’s been quite some time since I’ve updated my garden confessional. But I have a good reason – I’ve been spending tons of time outside enjoying my little microcosm. It helps that October and November have been absolutely incredible. My thirty day challenge did wonders for my garden and the time I spend in it. That was the goal, of course. My delinquent gardener days are over!

This is as far as we got before Lazar Landscape did it’s magic!

Speaking of goals, I have one major confession left. When I started my thirty day project, my husband and I were committed to doing everything ourselves – like we always have. But as the days ticked away and we were getting closer to a party deadline, we called in the real garden installation professionals – Lazar Landscape! I have to say, it was an amazing experience. I’ve worked here at Lazar Landscape for over ten years. I see the amazing work our crews do for our clients – but I’ve never been on this side of a project. My husband and I had gotten very close to completing our mission, but we had three time consuming challenges that we just ran out of time on. Miguel and his team finished everything on our list in two half days that would have taken us two or three more weekends! It was such a pleasure and relief to come home and have my garden back. I suppose I shouldn’t write a testimonial for my own company – but it was an awesome experience! I feel like the guy in that old Hair Club for Men ad – I’m not just the design manager at Lazar Landscape – I’m a member!

The first project was replacing our old gravel in our firepit area. From the second we installed the California Gold gravel five years ago, I hated it. I actually quite like the gravel in many gardens, but never liked it in ours. We switched to crushed black basalt, which is a pretty gray when it’s not wet. It really makes all of the colors around it pop and anchors the garden. I love it next to the lawn. I don’t know how they did it, but our crew got rid of all the old gravel – so clean. The removal alone would have taken me at least a day, and I probably wouldn’t have gotten it as clean. How do they do it?

Good Dogs Await Their Lawn

Oh, the lawn. After much hemming and hawing, we decided to go with real sod. I’m still not sure if it was the right decision, but our dogs love it! We did artificial turf stepping circles leading up to the real sod – it’s been near impossible to maintain them with real sod. So far, so good. Team Lazar Landscape retrofitted our irrigation and fixed some funky bender board while they were at it.

The last thing on our list was to fix some benches we rescued from a job site. They needed legs and stabilization. It was the first thing that I sat on when I got home – and they’re a great addition to evenings by the firepit.

A nice way to greet the day

At the beginning of September, I would wake up dreading the view out my window. Now it’s the first thing I do. It’s so nice to take my morning coffee into the garden and start my day with the meditative act of weeding and communing with my plants and hummingbirds. And to start thinking of the next project!

Fall Color in Seattle

Just got back from a long weekend in Seattle, and was reminded about why I love this city. Living in San Francisco, I’m constantly surprised and delighted by the many awe-inspiring views of the landscape – built and natural twining together in a fabric of architecture and sky and water and green. It never gets old. I feel the same way about Seattle – except I don’t live there – so the awe-inspiring views inspire that much more awe. October visits are that much more special because of the fall color. Breathtaking! It’s the sort of trip that takes me out of the gardens I create and reminds me to consider THE LANDSCAPE.

When I go, I love to visit Gasworks Park. It was the site of the last operational coal gasification plant in the United States. The city of Seattle purchased the land to create a park in 1962. Though not accessible to visitors, a good portion of the gasworks stands as a monument to its technology. The signs warning swimmers of the toxicity left in Lake Union tell the other side of that story… But I love it when city planners get it right! The views from this park are tremendous – downtown (and the Space Needle) seemingly rises out of Lake Union as sea planes touch down. Charming water craft go to and fro, and houseboats ring the edge of Lake Union. And did I mention fall color? Amazing.

If you’ve never been, the Olympic Sculpture Park is a must. I give another tip of the hat to Seattle in reclaiming this former toxic UNOCAL petroleum transfer and distribution site, and creating a green public space in the downtown area. Olympic Sculpture Park is part of the Seattle Art Museum – and it’s always fulfilling to see sculpture in the landscape, particularly one as amazing as the views of Puget Sound. From its inception, the Seattle Art Museum had a vision for the park to be a connection between the built and pre-built environment. That dedication is evident as you walk through the sculpture garden and experience the native flora. Did I mention the fall color?

I’m always fascinated by the dry stack rock walls in Seattle. They’re everywhere – and they’re HUGE! We could never build anything like these here in California. I was snapping some photos to show folks and had to get my friend in one of them to get a sense of scale. Elena is an average-size woman – not a gnome! Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, we can typically build dry stack walls 3’ high or shorter. Amazing! This wall was along our Fremont shopping trip. I’m also fascinated by what I call “root lava.” The roots of these trees fill up the spaces they’re allotted – and then keep spreading, which is kind of like Platanus racemosa, but more exciting to see on vacation.

Running around to see all of those sites makes a girl hungry! Good thing Seattle is a foodie’s dream city. We enjoyed delicious baked eggs at the Fat Hen, some crazy cheddar bacon biscuits with and egg baked right in at Oddfellows, phenomenal housemade ham and butter sandwiches from Melrose Market, and the much anticipated and highly enjoyed Delancey pizza. But the piece de resistance is the Caribbean Roast sandwich from Paseo. While none of this is particularly landscape related, who doesn’t want to see good food?

As fun as traveling is, it’s always great to come home to our city by the bay. And while our region isn’t necessarily known for fall color, there are fantastic options for bringing that feeling into your garden. Think about trees like Japanese Maples, especially Acer palmatum ‘Sangu Kaku’, Crepe Myrtles, Chinese Pistache, Scarlet Maple, Flowering Dogwood, Liquidambar, Gingko biloba and Persimmons to name just a few.