I was at one of our main wholesale nursery suppliers last week leading clients on a tour for a planting design. One of the things that struck me while I was there was the amazing number of flaxes available.
For those not familiar with New Zealand Flax (Phormium sp.), they are a New Zealand native that are part of the Agave family. They grow best in the US along the coasts- throughout the Pacific Coast, Gulf Coast and Atlantic Coast up to Virginia.
New Zealand Flax is a versatile plant for California gardens. It’s grassy strap like leaves help it fit well with a number of styles, especially Mediterranean compositions, and those using ornamental grasses.
Colors range from reds, purples, yellows, oranges and multicolors in sizes 18″ and below to 10′ and larger. Among those we use most are cultivars ‘Dusky Chief,’ ‘Yellow Wave,’ ‘Tom Thumb’ (Dwarf), ‘Jack Spratt’ (Dwarf) and a host of others. Cultivars are from two species Phormium cookianum and Phormium tenax.
Dwarf Tom Thumb Flax mixed with Ornamental Blue Oat Grass
Find good links to images and more information at:
Monterey Bay Nursery Site
San Marcos Growers
Wanted to share another local contractor we use for gate automation and entrance gates. We recently collaborated with Sculptural Gates out of Sonoma, California on a Brazilian Hardwood gate for a residence in Kentfield.
They have a great website with lots of gate related information and resources and a spin-off website for broader area sales- Gate Depot. They are a great resource for people interested in installing or purchasing an entrance gate.
Brazilian Hardwood Entrance Gate- Design and Construction Collaboration with Sculptural Gates, Sonoma CA
There was an interesting article about Japanese gardens today in the San Francisco chronicle. Osmosis, a Japanese Spa retreat in Sonoma County has some beautiful Japanese gardens created by Osmosis founder Michael Stusser after a garden apprenticeship spent in Kyoto.
For good local examples of Japanese gardens this may be a good place to visit. The garden is only open to spa guests, except when they have special events, such as concerts.
Making an authentic looking Japanese garden is not an easy task. I took a trip to Kyoto in 2001 and after seeing the real thing it is easy to spot imitators. Two of the better examples of Japanese Gardens are the Portland Japanese Gardens, and the San Francisco Japanese Tea House in Golden Gate Park.
I received a question today about the types of available decomposed granite (DG). This can be a bit confusing because there are a few different options for DG.
DG is essentially a combination of small granite pieces and granite fines. The fines in the DG make the material well suited for pathways and areas where it can be compacted. Typically we compact our DG installations with a vibrating plate compactor.
DG comes in two basic color ranges, brown and gold. The material is usually installed one of three ways.
1. Decomposed Granite with no additives: The DG is often installed on a compacted base of roadbase gravel and then compacted to make a pathway, seating area, or other application. The DG is typically hard packed but can move and has a sandy consistency (what comes to mind is a French Park with its long sandy alees)
2. DG with stabilizer agent: A stabilizer agent is mixed into the DG which prevents the material from moving around as much and gives it a more hard packed appearance. The material will still form a bit of a sandy layer on the top but it is much better than the untreated DG.
3. DG with Resin or “Poly Pavement”: The DG is mixed with a natural resin which creates a natural asphalt like material. This is the most expensive type of DG installation and we typically use it in high traffic areas, ramps and steps down hillsides, or driveway surfaces. It is frequently used in wineries for access paths and drives. The material will not run, and does not have a sandy consistency like the other types of DG.
While these additives make a great surface, the DG can become eroded if not protected from repeated water erosion. The most frequent culprit here is gutters or downspouts where constant dripping can erode the material.
DG is a great material where the design aesthetics are such where concrete would not work well or where a more rustic and natural look is desired. Both the untreated DG and the stabilizer will get somewhat muddy during rainy periods, so we recommend DG with resin for areas where access is heavy year round.
Below are some examples of the DG types:
Untreated DG Being Compacted
Decomposed Granite with Stabilizer Agent
Decomposed Granite with Resin Additive
Used for Ramp pathway
There was a great article in today’s San Francisco Chronicle about composite decking versus traditional cedar and redwood decks- “All Decked Out”.
Essentially, there are three drawbacks to composite products according to the article. Composite decking products are susceptible to mold, fade over time, and are susceptible to staining as well. The advantage to these materials is less maintenance and a longer useable lifespan.
I would add two other problems with composite decks. First, the composite materials do not have the same structural properties as wood. As a result all the structural framing (and sometimes railings) for the deck will need to be constructed out of regular lumber which will have a shorter lifespan than the decking boards above it. Second, the composite materials, while much improved since their introduction, do not replicate natural wood’s appearance.
One final issue that the article points out: composite decking is not biodegradable. While it is true that composite decking is made of a high percentage of recycled plastic (such as grocery bags) and wood waste (saw dust), once the decking is disposed of after its useful life, it will be sent to the landfill where it will degrade at the same rate as other plastics. Natural wood on the other hand will rot and degrade naturally.
One of the great things about the design-build process of landscape construction is we get to take the projects from start to finish. We get to see some great transformations, and have a lot of fun with clients transforming their old yards into beautiful gardens in the process. It may sound like lip service, but few other segments of this or any industry allow that great client interaction. Each project is different and each has it owns challenges, which leads to interesting design and construction solutions for each project we complete.
Below is a list of websites for Reference and for local suppliers in the Marin and Sonoma County, California area (and beyond) for garden related products and services. (Check our newest updates, we update this list frequently!) We make no endorsement or recommendation of the products and services below, these links are informational purposes only.
Automatic and Wood Gates
Charles Prowell Woodworks
Van Dykes Restorers– Gate and other Restoration Hardware
Horton Brasses– More Gate Hardware
Rocky Mountain Hardware
Barbeque Islands and Outdoor Cooking
Cal Flame- Modular and Prefabricated Barbeque Islands from Cal Spas
OLP– Outdoor Living Products Modular Islands
U-Line– Refrigerators and Outdoor Icemakers
Viking Range– Premium Grills and Refrigerators
Lynx Professional Grills– Premium Grills
Kalamazoo Gourmet Barbeque Islands
DCS- Dynamic Cooking Systems Barbeques
Heat n’ Glo
OLP Modular Fireplaces
CalFire Modular Fireplaces
Golden State Lumber
OSH- Orchard Hardware
Concrete & Mortar Colors
Trex Composite Decking
Evergrain Composite Decking
Mataverde Ipe (Brazilian Hardwood) Decking
Feeney Cable Rail -Architectural tensioned railing systems
Master Halco – Metal Fencing
Fencing Link Guide– From USA Architecture
Greenscreen– Architectural metal trellis and modular fencing material
McNichols– Manufacturer of Wire Fence Products
Decor Cable– Cable Railing Systems
Ameristar Metal Fencing
San Francisco Bay Area Gardens, Landscape Architecture & Design
Gardenvisit.com-Extensive articles and photographs from all over the world
Cornerstone Gardens in Sonoma
San Francisco Botanical Garden at Strybing Arboreum, Golden Gate Park
San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers– Don’t miss the Japanese Gardens, De Young Museum and others in Golden Gate Park
Elizabeth Gamble Garden in Palo Alto
Ruth Bancroft Gardens in Walnut Creek
Filoli Estate in San Carlos
UC Berkeley Botanical Gardens
Quarry Hill Botanical Garden in Glen Ellen
The Gardens at Heather Farm in Walnut Creek
(thanks to Ruth Bancroft Gardens links page)
Vista Professional Lighting
Lamps Plus – Low Voltage and Indoor-Outdoor Lighting Products
Links to Garden Links
Landscape Contractor National Magazine– Product Search
Outdoor Furniture & Sculpture
Gardenside Teak Furniture
Artefact Design and Salvage– at Cornerstone Gardens in Sonoma
McNear Brick and Block
Stepstone Inc. Modern looking precast concrete stepping stones and pavers
Plant Databases and Information Sources
Cal Flora Plant Database
Floridata -Large Florida Base Plant Database
USDA Plant Information
About.com -Gardening and Plant Guides and Information
Plant Ideas-Plant articles and information
Scotts Fertilizer and Lawn Products– Fertilizer and Gardening Information
Plants- Nurseries Informational
Native Sons Nursery– California Native Plant Information and Articles
San Marcos Growers– Plant Database and Useful Information
Monterey Bay Nursery– Large plant Photo Database and information
Monrovia Growers– Plant and Gardening Information
Las Pilitas Nursery– Native Plant Information and Photos
Plants- Retail Nurseries
Sloat Garden Centers
Armstrong Garden Centers
Sprinkler Manufacturers and Information
Bay Area Bluestone– Bluestone Supply Shipped from the East Coast
American Soil Products– Great Selection, Terrible Sevice
Lyngso Garden Materials
Echeguren Slate– San Francisco
El Dorado Stone- Manufactured Stone Veneer
Rox Natural Stone Venners
Synthetic Putting Greens/Lawns– See this post
Versa-Lok Retaining Wall Systems– The most used option
Allan Block Retaining Wall Systems
Keystone Retaining Wall Systems
Water Features & Statuary
Jandy– More Pool and Water Feature Accessories
Magic Planter: Fountains & Art in Sausalito
Florence & Italian Art Company
Al’s Garden Art
Aquascape Designs: Waterfalls and Liner Systems
Nichols Brothers Stoneworks
A. Silvestri & Co. Statuary– Manufacturer- San Francisco, CA
Stone Forest– Manufacturer- Santa Fe, NM
Absolute Statuary and Fountains– Retailer in Sebastopol, CA
East Bay Municipal Water District– Articles and Watering Information
Wood Care Products– See this post for more info
Let us know if you can’t find what you are looking for in this list, or if you have a suggestion for an addition.
We frequently receive questions about what the best material to use for new decking. There are several products out on the market, each with their own benefits and drawbacks:
Redwood, Cedar: These two softwoods are traditionally used for wood decking. They have a nice appearance, but require staining and upkeep to look their best. Because they are softwoods they also weather and eventually rot faster than some alternatives.
Composite Decking: Composite or Plastic Decking is a synthetic product made of a composite of wood particles and plastic. Is requires much less maintenance than traditional softwoods, and is rated for a longer life span. The drawback of the composite decking is its appearance. While new technologies and products are available that are more realistic looking, they still do not fully approach the beauty of natural wood.
Hardwood Decking: Brazilian Walnut (also known as Ipe or Pau Lope) is a tropical hardwood that is several times stronger, denser and heavier than softwoods. It is highly fire resistant and has great structural properties. Unfortunately it is also the most expensive of the three options. The wood has a beautiful appearance stained (like that of a fine interior hardwood floor) but requires continual repeated staining in exposed areas (once per year). If the wood is not stained it can be treated with a wood seasoner (Seasonite) and allowed to turn silvery gray (think weathered teak).
A Decking Article from Bob Villa
-Trex Composite Decking
-Evergrain Composite Decking
-Mataverde Ipe (Brazilian Hardwood) Decking
We recently received a call from one of our newly completed landscape projects. They were calling to express concerns that aphids were eating their newly installed landscape plants. As such, they wanted us to spray to stop the infestation.
This reminded me of an interesting book that I read on permaculture, Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemenway. In the book he explains, “Insects that feed on plants reproduce at staggering rates, quickly surging to astronomical numbers. But the insects that prey on these pests reproduce more slowly and are far fewer in number.” He goes on to say, “that predators always occur in much smaller numbers than their prey and the predator we are looking for is ladybugs [in the case of aphids]”. The problem with ladybugs is that just about the time the ladybugs reach the numbers necessary to control the aphids, the gardener notices the outbreak and sprays insecticide. This kills most of the aphids and the ladybugs. The fast breeding aphids recover within a few weeks, but the ladybugs that have no food until the aphids are in good supply, remain at critically low numbers. Just when the ladybugs feeding on the small population of aphids begin to breed again, a gardener sees that some aphids are still out there. Fearing another plague he sprays again, really hammering the struggling ladybugs. As Hemenway sumises, “A few rounds of the cycle and the ladybugs are all dead, while some aphids are bound to survive.”
This is why we need to practice patience when spraying insecticides. Sometimes we have to let nature take its course and that means having to tolerate aphids on our roses in order to give the predators a chance to kill the infestation. Sometimes spraying is not the answer, patience is.
With oil hitting $60 per barrel, one has to hope that eventually we will push for more sustainable energy sources on the small and large scale. The difficult thing to know is where we stand with our current oil based economy.
I have been following this issue closely for the past few months and the predictions give a wide range of possible scenarios. Some experts say that we reached a peak in oil production and that as the lines of supply and demand cross, with no extra production to fill the gap, that we will see a spike in oil prices. A few months back analysts at Goldman Sachs forecast the possibility of $100+ oil in the near future. That would obviously have severe ramifications for the US and world economies.
Conversely, US agencies such as the USGS and EIA (Energy Information Administration) predict oil supplies that will not peak until sometime between 2020-35. This is truly a different forecast than the pessimistic forecasts of the more conservative energy experts.
Unfortunately, it seems the only way we will know any thing conclusive is after we have gone past peak production. What we do not know is if there will be a prolonged plateau instead of a peak, when the peak will happen, and what other energy sources (Natural Gas, Nuclear, Hydrogen Fuel Cell, Wind or Solar) will be able to pick up some or all of the slack.
We do know that US production has peaked (early 1970’s) from around 10 million barrels of production a day to a current production of 5 million barrels. It is from this peak that many forecasters predict the world oil peak (using a model know as Hubbert’s Peak).
This is a very interesting subject for us. Obviously our fixed business costs and stream of work would be adversely impacted by such scenarios as $100 oil in the near future. It will be fascinating to see how it plays out.
The organization ASPO predicts that oil production will peak around 2007.
Copyright Association for the Study of Peak Oil & Gas Newsletter
Goldman Sachs “Is There Life after $60/bbl?”
Google News Oil Prices
Here is another great resource that has been influential in our office that has helped us increase effectiveness and efficiency. Author and productivity master David Allen’s books Getting Things Done and Ready for Anything give a great system for organizing everything that needs to get done in a system that works. Allen’s basic tenet- get things out of your head (or your ineffective system) and into systematized processes that work consistently and effectively.
One of the things that differentiates Allen is that the books go beyond the theory of “Getting Things Done,” he walks you through the processes with some great tools. The tools are as simple as a basic tickler file to make sure you don’t forget your dentist appointment on Monday, to more advanced gadgets like his firm’s Getting Things Done Plugin for Microsoft Outlook.
As you can tell we are big fans. Find out more at the David Allen Company website or read David Allen’s blog for more information.
I attended the California Landscape Contractor Awards Last night (CLCA) for our region, which includes Marin and Sonoma County. We were fortunate to win an award for a design-build project we completed this last year. There was a lot of tough competition and beautiful projects. See photos of the project below.
Brazilian Hardwood Deck and Cable Railing
Arizona Flagstone Entrance Pathway and Deck
Brazilian Hardwood Entrance Gate and Arizona Stripstone Wall
Well this is a feat of our mobile technology. I am posting this entry from I-5 on my Blackberry. We made the jump from regular Nextel Phones to Blackberries for our management staff. It has made keeping track of emails and meetings a breeze. It beats the days when we used to haul around a laptop and cell phone with data connection to check mobile email.
We have always been early adopters at our firm. We had some of the first digital cameras for consumers on the market and we were one of the first firms with a website in our industry and area.
It sure shows have computers have advanced from unstable and bug ridden machines, to stable and powerful communications tools.
Wanted to share a great woodworker I found in an Internet search, Charles Prowell Woodworks out of Sebastopol in Sonoma County. A great website and beautiful detail and artistry (see gate below). We haven’t used them in one of our projects yet, but the next time we have a client who wants a high quality gate or craftsmen fence we will give them a call.
Image from Prowell Woodworks Website
Sometimes it seems like companies are just trying to beat off their customers with a stick. Take for example one of our large stone suppliers. Every time there is an adventure in itself; changing policies, incorrect billing, incompetent and untrained employees. The list goes on and on. We spend tens of thousands of dollars with this vendor every year. What it does do is make us do it look for other outlets for stone products and use the service oriented companies whose price may be a bit higher.
It’s something that we notice with contractors as well. Working with another contractor on a recent project was a frustrating experience. After unanswered calls and missed meetings it wasn’t a hard act to follow to look great in the eyes of our client.
Not to be overly promotional, but this is something we try to stress as a point of difference. With cell phones and Blackberries quick and seamless response has become even easier. I just wish many of the other companies we deal with had the same emphasis.
Wanted to share a great planning tool that we use in our office for brainstorming, planning and to-do lists. The software is MindManger by MindJet located locally here in Larkspur http://www.mindjet.com/. The software allows you to quickly brainstorm, lay out visually to do lists and planning. It also works well as it integrates directly into Microsoft Office and Outlook. We use it throughout our company for planning purposes and recommend it for anyone looking for a great planning tool. There is a full feature 21 day trial available on the MindJet website.
I am on my way today to Filoli, or Fight Love and Live. It is a renoun garden on the Peninsula founded by gold mining barons. Filoli is a compound version of owner William Bowers Bourn II motto “Fight for a just cause; Love your fellow man; Live a good life.” Find out more about Filoli at their website http://www.filoli.org/. I will post pictures in our Great Parks and Gardens Section of our portfolio upon our return.
Upon returning from Filoli today in Redwood City the trip was well worth the visit. The estate is well cared for especially considering that it is maintained by the State. There was plenty of staff making sure the garden looked its best.
The estate itself is a Georgian Mansion, which to me did not jive with the mixed Oak Woodland of the peninsula where it is located. But I was not there to see the Mansion.
The garden was a great mix of plantings, hardscape and water features and I would recommend them to anyone wanting to visit a great garden in the Bay Area. It is clear why Filoli is considered one of the great estate gardens of California.
Welcome everyone to Turned Earth, O’Connell Landscape’s blog page. Here you will find commentary on landscape related items, brief articles and notes on questions we receive from clients, and other garden oriented materials.
So Please enjoy!