Archive for the ‘landscape tips’ Category

Confessions of a Landscape Architect

Sunday, August 26th, 2012

I’m a terrible gardener. Only the toughest plants survive under my care. (I swear this usually serves as a selling point for my clients, because I can identify the most bulletproof of plants for their garden.)

Contrary to popular opinion, landscape architects are not trained in gardening. Apart from design and engineering classes, my plant-specific education was limited to botany, soil science, a few plant identification classes and one class that I do actually reference on a daily basis; California Native Plants with Dave Fross. So, after years of drafting, computer screens, reviewing industry-standard specifications, and basically just lines and words on paper, I’ve decided that its time to take a more active role in the garden.

While browsing the garden center at the Morro Bay Miner’s I noticed a dusty collection of “Central Coast Gardening Essentials” books by Joe Seals.  At first glance, the use of papyrus font on the cover and the lack of glossy plant photos in the body turned me off.  But then I flipped through the “Top Myths and Bad Practices of Gardening” section… I was sold at “DON’T put kitchen waste in the compost pile,” (put them in a worm box instead!)

Seals had me hooked immediately with his accessible, common-sense approach to gardening. Not only does he break down 10-weeks of soil science instruction into a few pages of clear, to-the-point, useful tips, but he continues to address all the factors affecting plant health, including water, wind, light, temperature and more, into simple, quick-to-grasp guides. When plants are failing in the landscape, it is important to address all factors. Matching the right Sunset zone or picking whatever is in your local nursery, does not equal success. The best part about Seals’ handbook is its focus on the Central Coast climate specifically. While key parts of the book can be applied  to gardens nationwide, there’s nothing more helpful than a comprehensive, on-the-ground knowledge of our specific region.

I had grand plans this weekend, to clear out my dilapidated garden and get started on some fresh plantings, but now I’m holding off until I finish this book! I’m half way through and want to make sure I read the chapter on “Weed Management”  first, because do you “ever wonder why people who pull weeds are always pulling weeds?”

Seals will also break down popular conceptions of soil amendments, landscape fabric (causes more weeds), and drip irrigation (does not help build drought-tolerant plants)! I’ve enjoyed finding validation for some of my personal opinions and greatly appreciate his straightforward and intuitive approach to successful gardening on the Central Coast.

If you disagree or have differing experiences from what Seals prescribes, I would love to hear your comments below.


Small Garden, Big Fun

Saturday, May 21st, 2011

Play lawn, kitchen garden, cutting garden, built-in bar and bar-be-que, fire pit, green walls, lounge and dining area… yes! You can have it all in 600 square feet.

The secret here was to first relocate the rear gate in order to minimize circulation paths and keep larger function areas from getting chopped up by pathways. The same way you might want to minimize hallways in a house– by aligning pathways with compatible functions, we were able to maximize our available square footage. By using concrete steppers through the lawn, we were able to make the lawn feel larger but still have an all-weather pathway. Near the rear gate, bar stools are allowed to encroach into the pathway, but can easily be pushed aside for intermittent access.

A small space can also be maximized with multi-use and built-in furniture. A built-in bench seat means you don’t need room to pull out chairs or walk around them and results in a smaller space requirement for the dining area. The built-in bench seat can also quickly transform to a second lounge area by sliding the table away and replacing it with a portable fire pit. Instead of having a full chaise lounge, use a chair and ottoman combo so you’re ready for sunbathing with a friend or a fire side chat for two couples.

When finding the perfect spot for all your favorite amenities, don’t forget to save that sunny spot for your raised kitchen and cutting garden. Vertical plant and architectural accents complete the privacy requirements and this backyard is ready to host a party!

My Aunties’ Kitchen Garden

Monday, February 28th, 2011

I grew up maintaining rental properties, so I know a thing or two about durability and low maintenance. If you feel the need for a kitchen garden, but can’t be bothered to keep up with the seasons… or regular watering… or what to cook up with 20 pounds worth of produce, then keep it simple and start with just Rosemary and Chives. I prefer Rosemary ‘Tuscan Blue,” for the long, straight stems. Perfect as spears for seasoning meats, or chop the leaves fine for limitless uses on a variety of potato and poultry dishes. (Thanks Auntie Zina for that simple rosemary garlic potato recipe I use nearly every week!) Chives are another tough staple. They’ll do fine in any small pot and still be green weeks after I remember that they’re in the backyard and might need some water. Just grab a handful and dice up those babies to add to meals during any time of day. That touch of fresh green makes you look like a pro in the kitchen and adds a welcome bit of deliciousness to egg and pasta dishes. (Thanks Auntie Eva for revealing your secret go-to herb… even though I know I have a lot more to learn before I cook up quick, gourmet meals like you can!)