Posts from the ‘outdoor living’ Category
It’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.
When 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.
Once 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.
If 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 garden.
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.
When considering design inspiration for a space or a large remodel it used to be that magazines were the go to source for inspiration. I used to take all my mom’s old magazines and cut out images of things I loved and that inspired me. I would then stick them in a notebook I appropriately would refer to as my cool things book. If you think about it there are plenty of magazines to find design inspiration for any style – Country Living, Southern Living, Coastal Living, Home Beautiful, Sunset Magazine, Garden Design etc. – there are even magazines that inspire a whole way of living, like my favorite, Martha Stewart Living.
These days design inspiration is more often coming from online resources. As designers we find ourselves clicking on the internet icon first and foremost to find inspiration for our clients’ projects and we’re noticing more and more clients are sharing their inspiration with us that they’ve gathered online from websites. It seems like even magazines are going online – with every subscription you get a virtual one as well for your device. I don’t find myself creating my cool things books that often anymore. However, I do constantly find my self pinning images to my Pinterest boards. I’ve got one for everything – garden design, for the home, DIY, recipes – you name it I’m sure I’ve pinned it.
A lot of my inspiration has come from an online resource gallery called Houzz. It’s a really amazing resource for all types of projects – landscapes, living rooms, kitchens, bathrooms etc. Houzz allows you to create idea boards for whatever projects you are gathering your inspiration for. It even allows you to ask questions about the image for guidance, directly from the designer. You see, professionals create profiles and upload images of their work onto the online resource. This also allows you to find professionals in your area to design and/or build the work if needed.
As a company we created a profile on Houzz awhile ago and have added a multitude of images that people have in turn added to their idea books. We have even had a few articles published with our work in them for their online newsletter – also a great resource. We’ve had a fun time answering questions asked about plants and materials in our photos. For our clients who have not yet discovered the online resource, we’ve turned them on to it and encouraged them to gather their own design inspirations for our meetings. Even some of our clients have offered their reviews of working with us and allowed us to showcase photos of their projects on our Houzz profile. And because we love what we do and we have awesome clients we were just awarded a Best of Houzz 2013 award in customer satisfaction. Check out our Houzz profile here and get started creating your own Houzz account and idea boards of design inspiration. The clutter of the magazines and cool things books are a thing of the past, when looking for design inspiration – online inspiration is plenty, easily accessible and easily organized.
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.
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’.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We have all been in outdoor spaces where we have felt cramped and uncomfortable or in a very large open space where we have felt vulnerable and could not relax. Both of these situations may have been due to the lack of proper proportion and scale of the space. We all dream about having the perfect outdoor space that is both comfortable and visually exciting. Harmonious, outdoor areas where we can entertain a group of close friends or spend time alone reading a book. Part of getting this dream space to work is making sure that the proportion and scale is correct.
Proportion and scale are two important principles to consider when designing an outdoor space. Proportion is the size of an object in relation to other objects in the garden. Scale, on the other hand, is the relationship of an object to a fixed object, usually the human body. Getting the ideal proportion and scale can be the most challenging concept to pull off correctly in the garden.
One of the first things to remember is that each feature or element in the garden is part of the whole. Each element needs to match in relation to the surrounding pieces. In addition, for the sake of comfort, the garden elements must relate to the human body. This is true when selecting plants, furniture, structures and hardscape elements.
Garden elements such as benches, tables and arbors are most functional when they fit the human body. Physical comfort in the garden can not be overstated. A person will feel more comfortable, function better and feel more secure in a garden when size is compatible to the human scale. Sitting back in a comfortable garden chair or dining outdoors under an ideally proportioned arbor are experiences we all appreciate. It is always a designer’s goal to create a space that is both visually exciting and physically comfortable.
A designer will consider proportion when selecting plant material. In the ideal situation, the plants are relative to people, existing plants and the house. A small café table next to a 60 foot Italian Cypress is not a recipe for a cozy corner. Even the balance between the space planted and open unplanted space is worth considering. When people, plants and the house are in proportion the compositions feels balanced and harmonious.
When it comes to hardscape, such as patios and walkways, they should not only be proportional to people but also to the house. A deck or patio should be large enough for entertaining but not so large that it is out of scale to the house. You want to be able to maneuver around a table of seated guest, yet the table should not feel like it is floating in a sea of hardscape. Just the same, an entry pathway should be wide enough for two people to walk side by side but not so wide that it loses the intimacy a home garden should have.
Proportion and scale are also important when selecting garden artwork, sculpture and fountains. The piece should be substantial enough so that it does not get lost in the garden yet it should relate to the garden around it. For example, you don’t want to place a large fountain in the middle of a small garden. This would cause the fountain to become a distraction instead of a focal point. On the opposite end, a small boulder placed in a large lawn would probably go unnoticed.
These are only a few examples of how to use proportion and scale when designing a garden. Proportion and scale are just one of several garden principles worth considering. When you are in a garden where the proportion and scale are correct the space will not only be exciting but also give a feeling of balance and harmony.
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.
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.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!!!
If you’re designing your own dog-friendly garden, here are five things to consider:
Paths – 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.
Shelter 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.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.
Plant 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.
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.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!
Winter in the Bay Area can be a forgetful time in the garden. Since we aren’t necessarily spending our days and evenings outside it’s easy to forget about your garden. However, there are chores that are necessary during the winter months to keep your garden thriving. There are also plenty of fun gardening and enhancement opportunities this time of year too – consider them a bonus! You can ensure a stellar spring garden if you follow these winter gardening tips.
January Maintenance Tips:
Trees and Shrubs: Most shrubs and deciduous shade trees can be pruned now (flowering trees shouldn’t be pruned until after they’ve bloomed) to promote healthy structure and growth during spring time months.
Bonus: Now is a great time to plant fruit trees – bare root trees are now available at many nurseries are typically less expensive than those potted in soil. Dormant fruit trees, like apple, cherry, plum and pear, require a certain amount of hours below 45 degrees to break winter dormancy and produce a healthy crop. Make sure you find the right tree for your microclimate.
Roses: For your existing roses, prune no more than half of the new growth from the last growing season. Pinching and pruning encourages vigorous new growth.
Bonus: January and February are the best months to plant new roses, and bare root stock is now showing up in Bay Area nurseries. This time of year the stock should be full with desirable varieties.
Raking: Stay on top of it. Fallen leaves can damage lawns and choke perennials if allowed to sit for too long.
Bonus: Got kids? Consider it a fun day raking the leaves into piles and playing in them. Got (pre -) teenagers? Make them earn their allowance and assign them the weekend chore.
A Healthy Lawn: This is a great time of year to aerate and fertilize your lawn. Aeration is a simple process that improves drainage and opens the thatch so water and oxygen can reach the roots. This helps microorganisms thrive and break down accumulated thatch build up. It also helps to reduce compaction which occurs naturally over time. All of this combined improves water absorption, produces deep root growth, and encourages a healthier grass that chokes out weeds. Once aerating is complete, fertilize your lawn to ensure a speedy and healthy recovery.
Bonus: A healthy, well-tended lawn improves the value of your property and the aesthetics of your neighborhood, not to mention the enjoyment a lawn can provide for your family.
Bonus! Veggies! Lots of vegetables want to be planted in fall and winter for spring harvest- it’s not too late! Some of the best to plant now: asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, kale, onions, peas, spinach and turnips. Year round vegetables like carrots, beets and radishes can be planted now too. Maybe this is your year to create the kitchen garden you always wanted – stick to the resolution to eat more locally and garden more frequently!
Rather not get your hands dirty? Call our maintenance department at (510) 444 -5195 to set up an annual maintenance visit. We can get your garden all spruced up for a spectacular spring.
Bonus! Considering design changes in your garden?! Now is the perfect time to have our designers complete your landscape design plans. Depending on the size and scope of your project a design could take 4 – 6 weeks, giving you plenty of time to design and build your garden for enjoyment this year, as soon as this spring!
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.
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.
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.
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!