Skip to content

Posts from the ‘construction’ Category

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.

Hakone Gardens

view of pond from above

Last week I was driving along Skyline Boulevard because I love the dramatic changes the road weaves you through. From the moist, musky, shade of the towering redwoods to the exposed rocky meadows, driving along this mountain ridge is powerful. I drove all the way to Saratoga and encountered Hakone Gardens. I had read about this Japanese garden years before and its majestic bamboo collection, but I never made it out because it seemed too far. Over 100 years old, and the oldest Japanese garden in the western hemisphere, this was definitely worth the wait.

Bamboo grove moss

Evergreen bamboo grove

bamboo grove path

Rare Turtle Shell Bamboo

Rare Turtle Shell Bamboo

Even in January, the beauty of Hakone Gardens was breathtaking. The evergreen shrubs, like the camellia plant had a few white blossoms hanging on their branches but for the most part, the show-stopping plants were asleep. The bones of this garden were evident and harmonious. Fusing art with nature is the guiding principle in Japanese garden design. With the patience of time, expert craftspeople, designers, builders, and fine gardeners, Hakone Gardens has created a sense of peace and purpose in the middle of residential Saratoga.

view of waterfall

The heart of Hakone Gardens centers around the waterfall and expansive pond. Mimicking streams flowing into lakes, this water feature feels like it was created by Mother Nature. There aren’t any awkward boulders in straight lines, or exposed tubes showing the innards of how this thing works. Carefully placed boulders of different sizes were carefully carved into the hillside. With time, the evergreen shrubs grew in around the boulders to nestle them in even more. Koi were keeping warm by the viewing pavilion as there was a sheet of ice formed on the surface of the pond. I can only imagine what the viewing pavilion looks and smells like in the spring when the wisteria is in bloom.

deciduous bonsai

The skeletons of the carefully manicured bonsai were living sculptures. Without the leaves to cover up the intricate branch structure, I was able to appreciate the time and effort spent on each offshoot. Evergreen shrubs are the workhorses in Hakone Gardens all year long, while the deciduous plants that change color and lose their leaves in the winter provide seasonal beauty and interest.

Zen Garden - view the raked gravel mimicking water flowing

Zen Garden – view the raked gravel mimicking water flowing

Another guiding principle in Japanese garden design is the importance of creating harmony through materials that are not too loud. Worn, unfinished wood from the Moon House does not compete with the evergreen shrubs and groundcovers that surround it. Bursts of color come throughout the seasons, never all at once. This is so that you can appreciate the cascade of purple blooms on the wisteria vines in spring and the camellia blooms in winter. Evergreen shrubs of osmanthus release the perfume of apricots all year long next to the tea house even though you can barely see the flowers.

Fragrant osmanthus flowers next to the tea house perfume the air

Fragrant osmanthus flowers next to the tea house perfume the air

This surprise encounter with Hakone Gardens was better than if I were to have ever planned it. I can’t wait to go back in the spring!

Deciduous wisteria vines cover this arbor walkway and will erupt in purple blossoms in spring

Deciduous wisteria vines cover this arbor walkway and will erupt in purple blossoms in spring

Oakland Sloped Garden

looking down

I had the pleasure of working on a job in Oakland where my client’s goal was to salvage as much of the existing landscape as possible. At the same time they really wanted an area for raised beds, a small play area for their little one, and more useable spaces in their sloped garden. It was challenging because the existing landscape had layers of different materials built up over the years with a slick and rickety creosote railroad tie staircase.  Each retaining wall was made from pieces of stacked broken concrete, stone, and wood, creating levels that were not useable.  One thing was for certain, the railroad tie staircase had to go.

BEFORE: creosote railroad tie staircase

BEFORE: creosote railroad tie staircase

M Brace raised bed area looking up slope

AFTER: Timber tie staircase winding up slope

Rebuilding the staircase allowed us to reroute it to maximize existing spaces and to safely access the sloped garden. The old staircase was unnecessarily wide in some parts, eating into valuable useable flat space. The new staircase starts out wide and welcoming near the house, but then narrows into a utilitarian staircase as it winds up the slope to the various garden ‘rooms’.

AFTER: timber tie stair case winds down slope

AFTER: timber tie stair case winds down slope

The first room houses the raised vegetable garden. We kept the existing drystack stone retaining wall because it was in good condition but built out another retaining wall on the downslope to create a flat area for the raised beds. This was the sunniest area in this Oakland garden which was mostly covered in shade from huge Coast Live Oaks and eucalyptus. We used metal ‘L’ brackets called M Brace from Art of the Garden for the raised beds. 2×8 pieces of redwood slip into the metal brackets. The raised beds can be configured into different sizes depending on the space, simply by trimming the wood to the desired length. The frame is then filled with soil and ready to be planted. There’s lots of wildlife in this Oakland backyard so we installed a wire mesh of gopher barrier at the bottom of each of the raised beds before filling with soil. This will prevent any underground gophers and moles from coming up through the bottom of the raised beds and harvesting the veggies for themselves.

The second room was the one-person reading perch. It is nestled under the dappled shade of the Coast Live Oaks and made of two small drystack stone retaining walls. We kept the patio small so as not to disturb the sensitive root systems of the oaks. We were also able to keep all the existing soil on site by not overcutting into slopes and using all the soil fill to create level ‘rooms’.

AFTER: Reading perch under Coase Live Oaks

AFTER: Reading perch under Coast Live Oaks

Walking further up the stairs, the third level room is dedicated to play. There is a small patch of shade loving lawn next to a play area. This level was already established in the existing landscape by the blue rock retaining wall. We were able to enlarge the level area by consolidating two failing shorter stacked concrete retaining walls into one three foot high retaining wall. Above this wall we dedicated to edible plants. We planted a blueberry patch with a mix of different varieties to provide a longer season of harvest with edible thyme to trail over the wall.

AFTER: Play room. Shade tolerant grass and playground fiber overlook the raised veggie boxes with blueberry patch above existing stone wall

AFTER: Play room. Shade tolerant grass and playground fiber overlook the raised veggie boxes with blueberry patch above existing stone wall

Finally, at the very top of the sloped garden, you reach the fire pit. This room existed in a dilapidated unusable state before because the huge eucalyptus tree roots had busted open the stone retaining wall. The stone was mortared together, leaving a huge crack right in the middle of the retaining wall. The existing patio underfoot was uneven and hard to access by a small offshoot of a staircase, only 18 inches wide. We reused the existing stacked concrete debris and created a new drystack concrete retaining wall further away from the eucalyptus root. The drystack nature of the retaining wall will move and shift as the roots grow, hopefully, not for a long time since we gave it more room to expand. The floor of the fire pit patio is decomposed granite which will also be forgiving and easy to repair if the roots decide to make an appearance.

BEFORE: Eucalyptus tree breaking through mortared rock wall

BEFORE: Eucalyptus tree breaking through mortared rock wall

AFTER: fire pit area reusing existing broken concrete to create drystack wall

AFTER: fire pit area reusing existing broken concrete to create drystack wall

All throughout this Oakland landscape we inserted fruit trees and edible plants. Rosemary and sage are used in planting beds amongst ornamental perennials. Fragrant lemon verbena and lavender attract hummingbirds. A strawberry patch grows just above the raised vegetable garden area. Kiwi vines grow on the fences. Persimmon, fig, pear, apple, plum, lemon and kumquat trees dot the sloped garden and fight to win the battle against the dense layer of eucalyptus leaves that can easily smother plants.

Towering eucalyptus create a great amount of leaf litter

Towering eucalyptus create a great amount of leaf litter

Eucalyptus leaf litter

Eucalyptus leaf litter

Limited sunlight, eucalyptus droppings and a mishmash of materials were all challenges in this Oakland backyard. Thanks to my clients, who were open to trying new things and appreciative of the whimsy and beauty of reusing materials, we were able to create a functional, beautiful and purposeful landscape. The overwhelming slope is safely accessible and provides a daily journey through shadow and light.  This sloped garden, full of wildlife continues to evolve as the plants and trees grow and the raised vegetable garden gets changed through the seasons.


AFTER: View of fire pit room and various new and existing retaining walls. Old stone and concrete are artfully combined with existing broken concrete.

Borders in the Garden

There are many ways to create borders in your garden, to delineate spaces, create outdoor rooms, give a sense of enclosure, or add privacy. When we think of hemming in an outdoor space, we often think of wood or metal fences. There are many types of fences, using varied materials- we could do several blog posts just about them! In this post we want to talk about fences but also walls and hedges as ways to border your garden.

Curved Wood Fence
Fences are typically made of wood or metals like wrought iron or aluminum. Most cities and counties have a height limit of 6’ for fencing (without a permit variance), which can provide privacy and screening from streets or undesirable views. But fences don’t need to be that high, or be solid, to create a barrier between private and public space. Even a 3’ fence can create a border, or an open style fence like split rails or wire mesh give the sense of entering a space. Fences can also be planted with vines to create a green wall to provide a living fence with seasonal change.

Lattice Fence with Vines
Walls are also a way to border in your garden. Freestanding walls are another form of fence, and can be veneered with stucco or stone to create a more formal and solid barrier. These walls can also be up to 6’ tall, or a combination of wall and fence adds a dynamic twist to your garden edge.

Stucco with Welded Wire Mesh
Of course we can’t forget planting borders, like hedges. The old standby, the Boxwood hedge, is often what people think of when hedges are mentioned- and they are often a great choice for a low maintenance, solid hedge. But many plants can be trimmed into hedges, including shrubs that flower, are fragrant, or have interesting foliage year-round. Borders don’t have to be sheared like Boxwood hedges either- a line of perennial grasses or a uniform row of low shrubs can be left in their natural form and still create a strong border.

Ask us about fences- we have ideas that will work in any garden space.

2012 Statewide CLCA Trophy Award Winners

2012 Statewide CLCA Trophy Award Winners


The California Landscape Contractors Association just launched their website on the Statewide 2012 Trophy Award Winners!  

Click the link above to read about our winning gardens and check out some of the other category winners.  We are so very proud of our Designers, Barry Sacher and Mario Herrada, for their winning gardens!  If you want more information, please read our designers’ blog posts on their projects as well.  

Why hire a landscape designer?

Landscape Design Plan

Landscape Design Plan

In the San Francisco Bay Area a garden is an extension of our home. Our unique weather allows us to spend a lot of time outside during the day and into the night. This is a key element of the social fabric that defines who we are. A landscape designer will assist you in creating a garden that reflects and enhances your unique lifestyle. As one often realizes when attempting to design their garden, this is easier said than done.

What many homeowners lack is a landscape designer’s ability to clearly understand the structure of a garden. Principles such as unity, balance, color, proportion, transition and repetition come into play when designing a garden. Further, designs may include specific features or complicated construction elements that require design experience. Some examples of common issues:

* Choosing the right plants for your growing condition (including soil quality, microclimate, sun pattern, deer resistance, seasonal interest and water needs)
* Decreasing maintenance for you and incorporating sustainability for the environment
* Creating privacy and blocking unwanted views while following local specifications for fire and traffic safety
* Ideally locating design elements including water features, pools, entertaining spaces, lighting and circulation
* Creating gathering spaces or outdoor rooms that reflect the architecture of your home and your personal aesthetic and lifestyle requirements
*A creative flair is also an important factor. The landscape designer must unify the physical opportunities and constraints and create a garden that looks good and works well.

For over 30 years, Lazar Landscape designers have developed gardens that reflect our clients’ lifestyle and are sensitive to the restrictions of our environment. In addition, as part of a Design – Build team, our landscape designers have a strong knowledge of construction techniques and are involved throughout your entire construction project. A very beneficial element to your project when going with a design – build firm.

Our clients include families, couples and individuals with varied needs, wants and budgets. Some are seeking privacy, others want to include their neighbors and increase their connection to the community. Some are avid gardeners, while others would rather not spend time on garden maintenance. It’s our job to come up with solutions to challenging problems in your outdoor space, and make the most of your property so you can take advantage of your unique San Francisco Bay Area lifestyle.

Think Ahead! Considering your next garden project? Construction may slow down in winter, but that’s why this is the best time to get designing! Start planning your project now – so it will be shovel ready in spring – and ready for you to enjoy all summer long. Call Lazar Landscape today to speak with a designer and find out how to move forward. Contact a landscape designer at (510) 444 -5195 to discuss your individual landscape design and construction needs.

playgrounds rule

When considering a garden design and construction project you must first ask yourself what do you want to change and why.  I think the answer to that question for many parents is they want a place for the kids to go, have fun and be out of the house – sound familiar?

This garden features a patio for the parents and a play area for the kids

These days backyard play sets, swing sets, and sandboxes are all the rage – it’s like having the benefits of park playgrounds in your own backyard.  There are many options when it comes to themes and features of play sets.  We love working with this vendor, Backyard Adventures, they have tons of playgrounds to chose from and have dealers located all over.

We’ve installed lots of garden playgrounds; from custom to prefab I’m sure there is an option for play areas in your garden.  One couple was looking to install a space for the kids which could ultimately grow up as they did.  The basic idea for construction was to start with deck plans and turn it into a playground.  Ultimately the space can be turned back into a deck for the families’ enjoyment once the kids outgrow the play areas.  The space was easily turned into a two level area based on the topography of the garden.

From the top of the deck a playground slide was installed that travels to underneath the main deck platform where a tire swing hangs.  Also, a simple rock climbing wall was installed for older kids of the family up the side of the two level play area.  A simple playground tarp roof created the fort like atmosphere and sun protection many prefab playgrounds offer.  The luxury of this playground equipment is once you don’t want it to be a play area anymore you remove the playground aspects, do a little repair work on the railings and you have a fabulous deck entertaining space overlooking the garden.

Recently, in another garden, we installed a prefab playground unit from Backyard Adventures in the lowest part of the terraced garden.  To add a bit of whimsy for the kids we added a ladder and bridge from the upper terrace that accesses the top level of the play structure.  From the sound of it the kids are really enjoying their kid friendly terrace and all the ways to access their new play sets, which even includes a swing set!

Should you decide to just install play sets in your garden, remember a good playground surface is very important.  Install a thick layer of playground fiber, or colorful playground rubber mulch, with a bend a board edge or research newer products like rubber playground mats to set your new play sets on top of.