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Posts from the ‘Travel’ Category

Yosemite Valley: Winter Wonderland


In the landscape profession we manipulate nature to create our own little havens, but nothing is more breathtaking than wild nature.  I just returned from a winter wonderland in Yosemite Valley and I am always amazed at the beauty that is around each turn. In wintertime, after the New Year, Yosemite Valley is quiet and peaceful. The fallen tree branches and yellow meadow are cloaked in a crisp white icing of snow. You begin to appreciate the shapes and forms of boulders, delicate tree branches, and the lacy patchwork of snowflakes sealed onto car windows. The waterfalls were flowing, creating a cobweb of frozen doilies framing the base of each fall. The show-stopping dogwoods(Cornus nuttallii) that are in full bloom in spring were mere skeletons, asleep for the winter. Instead, the boulders dotting each side of the Merced River, covered with a cap of pure white snow stole the show as the water flowed around the base of each one, revealing the dark granite beneath.


Lower Yosemite Falls



Delicate tree icicles


I am always inspired by the beauty here. It reminds me of the importance of established trees, the grand affect large canopies create for the scale of what is beneath and above. It takes years for them to grow large enough to create impact in a garden and provide a sense of scale to the house and the rest of the landscape. This trip also reminded me of the beauty of a simple element. It is easy to add too much. If there is a beautiful water element in your garden, let it have space. Create continuity with plant material in large swaths throughout the garden to highlight a focal point and add a sense of calm. Mother Nature has lessons to teach us all as we think about our own landscapes.



The Ahwahnee Hotel dining room is at a grand scale, mimicking the feeling you have standing in Yosemite Valley amidst the towering mountains


Ice skating under Half Dome at sunset

Kauai: A Tropical Garden Inspiration

The stormy weather hitting the bay area this past weekend and week makes me want to just snuggle up on the couch and watch the rain, from the comfort of my living room, not bothering to venture out in it. For me the weather seems like a very drastic change because I was just in Kauai on my honeymoon, enjoying the 80 degree sunshine-y weather by the pool (with a little rain for cooling). To warm up your week I figured I could share my experience on the “garden island” and some tropical garden inspiration. You just cannot go to Hawaii and not be inspired by the tropical plant pallet, even the plants just along the highway!

tropical plants

I love seeing all the Torch Ginger blooms, Plumeria flowers and Dendrobium Orchids planted in the ground as we explored the island. You also can’t help but fall (back) in love with Palm trees while in Hawaii. The tropical ferns add texture and interest to planting beds and create a very lush look. While on a day trip to Waimea Canyon State Park I discovered Kauai’s own vertical gardening techniques – ferns just growing on the dirt “walls” along the road – at least 12 feet tall. A very beautiful and natural sight.

One plant I saw everywhere that we are familiar with here in the Bay Area is Bougainvillea. The Bougainvillea can be a tricky plant to grow in our climate, particularly in the East Bay where we get frost, but in Kauai I saw it everywhere – including along the highway, growing as a shrub! Made me laugh to see a plant I have heard so many people try to grow without success and in Kauai it’s a highway plant! In the bay area we are fortunate enough to be able to grow some varieties of tropical and sub tropical plants, but they are not as lush as I found them in the tropical island region.

tropical plants1

We stayed on the south side of the island near the town of Poipou, our resort, the Grand Hyatt, had beautiful, lush grounds with many different tropical plant varieties. I noticed this particular planting on our last day at the front entrance. It could be recreated at home in the bay area if you did desire a tropical look in your garden and lived in a sunset zone that has coastal influence.


Of course some of the plant varieties would have to be switched, like the orchids for a plant with a similar effect, like a daylily (Hemerocallis spp.). A sub tropical garden look can happen in areas of the Bay Area, you just have to use hardier varieties that will survive outside of tropical areas like Kauai. We have installed quite a few successful gardens filled with beautiful Torch Ginger plants, Bougainvillea, Birds of Paradise and ferns in the San Francisco and Oakland neighborhoods. If you are interested in a tropical plant pallet be sure to do your plant research to pick the best varieties for your location. If you need help and advise feel free to contact us, we’re here to help and especially love creating plant pallets, contact us today! Hope the thought of a tropical paradise warmed your stormy day up, even just a little!

Here are a few more photos to day dream about, If you haven’t been to Kauai, I strongly recommend a trip:
tropical plants2

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.