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Posts from the ‘landscape lighting’ 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.

Charming Winter Gardens

Welcome Winter!

Although the weather outside is frightful, the garden can still be delightful! Although this cold snap here in the San Francisco Bay Area is causing us to complain and stay inside, there is still a lot to appreciate in your garden this time of year.

Including berries! Berries brighten up any garden in winter. Cotoneaster dammmeri, a groundcover, native Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia), a large growing shrub, and Hawthorn (Crataegus ‘Washington Hawthorn’), a small scale tree, are always reliable berry producers. Holly (Ilex aquifolium) is a classic holiday shrub with its dark green, glossy foliage and bright red flowers. Mahonia varieties produce smoky blue berries, but like Holly, need a male counterpart nearby as a pollinator in order to get results.

The bark of the Coral Bark Maple really stand out in a winter garden, this one is newly planted in a great location!

The bark of the Coral Bark Maple really stand out in a winter garden, this one is newly planted in a great location!

Don’t forget to appreciate beautiful bark. Even after these plants drop their leaves, there is a show to behold. Ninebark (Physocarpus) shrubs have rough, peely bark that is a unique garden element. Coral Bark Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum ‘Sango-kaku’), a small to medium sized tree, and the Redtwig Dogwood shrub (Cornus alba ‘Elegantissima’) have coral and red twigs that really stand out, especially against a darker foliaged evergreen shrub or tree.

The beautiful hellebore flowers - charming in any garden!

The beautiful hellebore flowers – charming in any garden!

And of course every garden should have some winter bloomers, they do exist! Camellias come with bloom colors ranging from pure white to dark red, there are even variegated and ruffled ‘peony form’ blossoms, and different varietals bloom at different times from September to March. But that’s not the only option. The Purple Coral Pea (Hardenbergia violacea) is a fast growing but non-aggressive vine that is perfect on a fence or arbor with it’s pendulous clusters of lilac and deep purple blooms. Heaths (Erica carnea or E. darleyensis) are hardy shrubs with masses of small pink, white or rosy purple flowers, and look right at home in a variety of garden styles, particularly with California natives and Mediterranean gardens. Finally, evergreen perennial hellebores (Helleborus argutifolius) love part shade and come in a range of bloom colors from chartreuse to mauve to burgundy.

How could you not want to spend time out here even when it's late and cold!

How could you not want to spend time out here even when it’s late and cold!

Finally, having lighting in your garden will enhance your winter garden, even from the indoors. Using uplights in your lighting scheme can help showcase the structures of the trees, even deciduous ones. Lighting also provides safety during the winter time by highlighting entrances, paths and stairs. It can also be used to showcase garden sculptures, or water features like the photo above, which are focal points all year round. Lighting could also help coax the party outdoors – to the fire pit area or outdoor fireplace for roasting marshmallows, I mean we do live in the San Francisco Bay Area, compared to other parts of the country it’s not that cold!

Enjoy your winter!

Courtyards and Garden Design

The quintessential mission style courtyard was first introduced to California by the Spanish Catholics of the Franciscan order in 1769. California, like the Andulusia region of Spain, has a climate suitable for indoor/outdoor courtyard living. These early courtyards traditionally were walled gardens with a central fountain.

The courtyards served as work places for making bricks, tanning hides and keeping livestock.
The early California Mission architecture was the template for many of California’s civic buildings and residential houses in the 1920’s. The courtyard was part of this traditional architecture and served as the link connecting the home to the garden.

The important physical elements of garden design in a residential courtyard have always been water, walls and sky. Equally important in the garden design are the qualities of intimacy, security and quiet the space provides.

I recently have had the opportunity to restore a neglected courtyard for a 1929 Mission style home in Oakland. The house has the traditional Mission design elements – arches, stucco walls, barrel tile roof and wrought iron gates. Unfortunately, the courtyard’s garden design had none of the fine details that read “Mission courtyard”.

The existing courtyard was filled with struggling plants, uneven sod-lawn, poorly placed flagstone stepping stones and uninviting entry steps. Creating a new garden design for the courtyard required demolishing the existing hardscape and plants.

The Courtyard Before

The Courtyard After

The “make over” of the new but traditional courtyard garden design now incorporates curved vanilla limestone entry steps, vanilla limestone flagstone patio, drystack retaining walls and a traditional fountain.

The new garden designs plant material includes Mediterranean style plants such as Choisya, New Zealand Flax, Kangaroo Paws, Agonis, Agapanthus, Sea Lavender, Carex, Blue Oat Grass and ‘Hidcote’ Lavender. In between the flagstone you will find Blue Star Creeper, Campanula, Sea Thrift, Ground Morning Glory and several varieties of Thyme. To complete the look the large pots have been filled with ‘San Diego Red’ Bougainvillea and white Sweet Alyssum.

Another Before shot of the Courtyard

Another After Shot of the Courtyard

Low voltage lighting enhances the nighttime courtyard experience. Path lights allow you to safely navigate the steps. Up-lights, placed between plants and wall, accent the stucco walls. Down-lights, attached to the eaves, softly illuminate the curved entry steps. Underwater lights, in the fountain, highlight the rustic centerpiece of the garden.

Before shot of the courtyard

After shot of the Courtyard

All of the elements in the remodeled courtyard enhance and support the architecture of the home and the needs of the clients. The courtyard is filled with color, fragrance and the pleasant sound of trickling water. The homeowner enjoys all of these elements both day and night.