Masters of Landscape Architecture- Lawrence Halprin


From time to time I will expound on some influential landscape designers in our “Masters” Series:

Lawrence Halprin is one of the most distinguished modern landscape architects. His scope of work and ability to capture the public imagination with his parks and projects made him as close to a household name as a landscape architect could attain. He is known for may great projects, including his groundbreaking integration of development and nature at Sea Ranch, and for the FDR Memorial in Washington D.C.

At 88 he continues to be active, recently consulting on George Lucas’ the new Letterman Digital Art complex. (Also read his recent opinion piece on the Golden Gate Bridge in the SF Chronicle) His San Francisco resume alone is impressive, with works along the Embarcadero including Levi Plaza, involvement in selecting and developing Justin Herman Plaza, and a redevelopment of Ghirardelli Square.

A most captivating signature element to many of these projects is Halprin’s fountains. Many of these are inspired by natural streams and water flow from areas such as the High Sierra. As Halprin writes, “I believe not only does form equal process in nature, but also think that we derive our sense of aesthetic from nature… I view the earth and its life processes as a model for the creative process.” (1)

Three standouts of Halprin’s fountains that I have visited, Levi Plaza in San Francisco, Freeway Park in Seattle, and the Ira Keller Fountain in Portland, clearly show these natural influences. Each Halprin fountain seems to be related, variations on a theme. Large slabs of concrete, that gray over time to look like stone. Man made geometric pieces that use the magic of water to transcend into something natural.

Like most aging public projects, especially fountains, many of Halprin’s works are being threatened with removal or redevelopment (Portland, Washington State Campus, Denver, Virginia). Should you get a chance to visit one of these features, with the water turned on and running, you can appreciate some of Halprin’s genius for creating a bold statement.


More Information on Halprin:
ASLA Michelangelo Award

Lovejoy Fountain, Portland
Ira Keller Fountain, Portland

(1) From: The Landscape of Man, Jeffery and Susan Jellicoe, p.333

Newly Expanded Great Gardens and Parks Portfolios

After much work and web toiling, we are happy to present our newly expanded
Great Gardens and Parks portfolios. Here you will find
gardens from California and the West, and Western Europe.

In the California and the West Galleries there are 15 galleries from gardens,
parks and city spaces from British Colombia to Southern California. In the
Western Europe Galleries there are over 20 galleries from 7 countries.

We hope that these galleries can serve as an information resource, and that
they will be enjoyable to browse through. As with any web based project there is
more on the way from Western Europe, and eventually from our travels in Kyoto
Japan and surrounding areas.

Prado Museum Botanical Gardens, Madrid

The Prado Museum hosts one of Europe’s great art
collections. It is renoun, for its collection of Spanish Masters Goya, El
and Velasquez. In addition to the museum there is also an
interesting botanical garden on the grounds. The Prado was originally
comissioned in the 18th century to be natural science museum, which accounts for
the botanical gardens, but by the time of its opening, it was used as a showcase
of art from the Spanish empire.

The garden itself has a characteristic Spanish quality of being relaxed and a
bit wild and overgrown. This is true of many of the other parks of Madrid that I
visited. Below are some photographs-







prado 7.JPG


Tales of a Wireless World

I have been fighting long hours with our company’s wireless network for a new office space, and finally I gave up on the prospect. After about $1,000 in hardware, and too many hours on the phone with technical support, we are going back to a wired network. Hopefully with the new wireless standard that is being developed, the remaining kinks will be worked out of wireless hardware.

It is amazing how the technology is advancing and becoming commonplace, which reminds me of an amazing story a colleague recently told me-

She was in a downtown area with her laptop, trying to catch up on some projects for work, and feeling like getting out of the house. She was working, undisturbed, when an itinerant gentleman passed by. His appearance was disheveled; he was dirty and verbally rambling, scabs covering his face. She focused on her work and ignored him, minding her own business as she inclined the laptop towards her a bit more. For a time the man stopped his monologue and all was silent. It was at this moment when clearly and concisely the man pointed out,

“I bet you could get wireless access from those apartments up there,” as he gestured to the surrounding buildings.

My colleague, a bit surprised, clicked on her wireless network on the laptop. Within seconds, she was connected with broadband speed to a surrounding network. Amazement and a bit of incredulity set in as she contemplated the man.

It was at this moment that the reality of our new wireless, technologically inclined culture hit. The man asked if he could check his email! My colleague, a young woman, prudently told the man that the connection had not been successful and he eventually went on his way.

With this, I contemplate whether I should have, instead of calling technical support, gone downtown in search of such a man. Maybe the dot-com recovery for the Bay Area has not been as good as imagined.

An Empowered Employee at SBC

We received a notice in the mail today confirming the new DSL service for our
office. For only $44.99 a month, we would be connected to the “Pro” speed DSL
service. There was only one problem, we had signed up for service at $36.99.

Our DSL activation with SBC
has been a circus. We called before our move in, stating that we would be
assuming occupancy at the first of the month, and that the existing tenants of
the space should not be disturbed. The next day we receive a call from the
existing tenants, the SBC tech was there to hook up phone service- as if it was
even remotely possible to have service hooked up the day following one’s call.

When we were ready to move into the space, our original appointment did not
show up in the system, and the activation for our phone and internet service had
been pushed back. This required several calls to SBC, which did not result in
the usual greeting and promise of, “how can I provide you with excellent service

There were some bright spots in our dealings with SBC however. The tech that
was eventually dispatched was excellent. He hooked up all of our jacks and
configured our phones, and without charging us the standard per jack fee that
would have amounted to hundreds of dollars.

This brings me back to today’s notice. When I called SBC to inquire about the
bill, the representative, Steve, checked the account. Despite the fact that the
account was still pending, and he could not make changes today, he said he would
make a note and take the appropriate steps to fix the problem.

Wrapping up the call, we got to talking about the process of DSL activation.
That’s when Steve offered to credit me for a month because of the difficulty we
had with the process. That was a great gesture, and I appreciated it given all
the problems we had. When I compare this experience with the sequence of
indifference and denials I faced speaking
with Nextel representatives
, it is clear the value of empowered employees,
especially in large organizations.

It’s not that we never receive complaints concerning customer service. We
recently received a complaint from a customer with a concern about his bill. The
customer was a valued client, and rather than argue over billing, we just told
him to pay what he thought was a fair price for the work we completed. Again, to
do this, employees need to be empowered to think and make decisions, rather than
just blindly follow policies or procedures.

Cedarworks- Cedar Play Structure Design

I have had the fun task on a recent project to design a play structure for a client’s young daughter. They selected a Cedarworks play structure, and as we design and outfit the set I am very impressed with the options and design tools the manufacturer provides.

There are several modules to choose from, ranging from basic swings and climbing rigs to the “Cedarsaurus,” mega playcenter. From a design perspective one very helpful tool was the 3-D set designer. There was limited space available for the set and I was able to custom design the elements to fit the space available.

Now we will have to wait and see what the finished product will look like. Below is a rendering and plan outputted by the web design application-



Wireless Networking

We are in the process of hooking up a wireless network for our new office space and it has been quite an adventure. We are generally tech savvy, but there have been quite a few conflicts with hardware/software and details to configure on our Linksys hardware.

I have spent good chunks of the last few days talking with Linksys tech representatives in India and the Philippines. It is amazing to think of the global reach of technology and telecommunications. The Linksys support has been good as far as these things go. No wait times and knowledgeable support staff; the products, however, have not been plug-n-play.

Digital Tools Used in Landscape Design

I get asked frequently what software we use to create and render of landscape plans. Typically there are several software applications that we use in the design process-

Drafting: We use Vectorworks, a popular alternative to Autocad (which is the industry standard). Typically detail drafting is done in Vectorworks, which is well suited for residential landscape planning.

Image Processing and Plan Presentation Drawings and Graphics: We use Adobe products Photoshop and Illustrator for image processing. We will draft a plan in Vectorworks and then color and manipulate it using Illustrator. Photoshop is used for digital mock-ups and image improvements.

Plant Selection: We use a couple of plant databases to help with plant selection. PlantMaster is a regional California database that we use to select plants based on cultural requirements; soil type, water use, aspect, characteristics etc.

We also use Horticopia, a National database, with an excellent image library, so that clients get a good idea for the plants to be installed.

Other Software: Some other useful software applications we use in the design process.

Adobe Acrobat Professional- for client communication
MindManager– for planning and organization
Microsoft Office– for a variety of standard uses
Dreamweaver– for web publication
Plan Drafted with Vectorworks and Rendered with Adobe Illustrator

Digital Mock up of Pool Wall using Adobe Photoshop and El Dorado Manufactured Stone Textures
Planting Picture Contact Sheet Created with Plant Databases

Keukenhof Gardens

In the process of moving to our new office, I was reviewing some of my
photographs of gardens in Europe from 2003. One of the most striking of all the
gardens I visited there was the famous Keukenhof Gardens in Lisse, Holland. Of course, the
Dutch are famous for their flowers, especially their tulips, and the gardens did
not disappoint. There are acres of beautiful gardens that should be a must on
any Netherlands visit.

As far as floral displays, from my travels these gardens may only be rivaled
by the Butchart Gardens in Victoria, British Colombia.

Below are some of my favorite photos from the gardens:

kuken1.jpg kuken3.jpg

kuken4.jpg kuken6.jpg




Outstanding Service

After some frustrating experiences recently with SBC connecting phone service
to our office, I reminisced on when the last time I received truly excellent
customer service. In the case of SBC, I made 10 separate calls to get the
automated DSL phone service to connect to a representative and had another 45
minute hold inquiring about our order (I have great luck with phone

The last truly distinct service experience with a large company was with
Microsoft. We had just updated our computers to Windows 2000 and there was a
problem with a conflict that was causing Windows not to operate properly. I
called the 24 hour support line at about 10:00pm and I think we did not wrap up
until 2 or 3 in the morning. The tech was great; he walked me through every
contingency until we found the problem.

The fact that the technical support representative was competent and able to
solve this complicated and difficult problem was impressive enough. For those
readers familiar troubleshooting computers, especially Windows, there can be
many set of variables involved. However, the crowning and memorable service
moment happened about a week later. I received in the mail a gift tower from
Harry & David and a thank you note from customer support.

Now I don’t know if this is standard operating procedure in this case. I
would assume not. Maybe the follow-up gift was because of the duration of the
call; maybe it was because Windows 2000 at the time was newly released and
several large companies were switching over at the same time- whatever the
reason, Microsoft
Support got a gold star in my book for great service and great follow

Deer Resistant vs. Deer Proof

One of the major challenges we face in planting in Marin and Sonoma Counties is deer. The wooded slopes and open space are beautiful amenities to the local community, but also serve as great habitat for deer. In most areas any unfenced plantings need to be deer resistant. Notice that I say resistant and not deer proof. This is a major distinction. Just because a plant is on a deer resistant list does not mean it is deer proof. If the conditions are right deer can and will eat almost anything. This is not to say that there are not some plants that deer will rarely eat, but there is no such thing as a deer proof plant.

One product that we use on newly planted material (deer love juvenile foliage on plants they are not supposed to eat) is Liquid Fence. It is a deer repellant designed to be applied frequently at first, and then periodically once deer have been “trained” to stay away from your plants. We have found this product to be a moderately effective solution to deer “proofing” plantings if applications are made regularly.


Good Garden Quotations

In the process of our move to our new office, as I was filtering through some books I stumbled up Maria Polushkin Robbins’ book A Gardener’s Bouquet of Quotations, and I wanted to share a few of my favorites.

A Garden is a thing of beauty and a job forever.

Nothing is more completely the child of art than a garden.
-Sir Walter Scott

I don’t know whether nice people tend to grow roses or growing roses
makes people nice.

-Rowland A. Browne

The great challenge for the garden designer is not to make the garden
look natural, but to make the garden so that the people in it will feel

-Lawrence Halprin

But a weed is simply a plant that wants to grow where people want
something else. In blaming nature, people mistake the culprit. Weeds are
people’s idea, not nature’s.


Again rejoicing Nature sees
Her robe assume its vernal hues
leafy locks wave in the breeze,
All freshly steeped in morning

-Robert Burns

As is the garden such is the gardener.
A man’s nature runs either to
herbs or weeds.

-Francis Bacon

The nation that destroys its soil destroys itself.

-Franklin D. Roosevelt

Unless you take care, the sun will pin you down. Put a hat on that
foolish head of yours when you go out into the fields.

-Farmers Almanac

He who plants a garden, plants happiness.

There is nothing pleasanter than spading when the ground is soft and

-John Steinbeck

What I enjoy is not the fruits alone, but I also enjoy the soil itself,
its nature and its power.


We collect great garden quotes, let us know some of your favorites.

If you are looking for more good quotes try:
Quote Garden




Pressure Washing

As we work to finish a project, we are doing some pressure washing of some existing wood railings, siding, and decking. It is amazing how the luster of wood can be brought back with some Wood Cleaner and a pressure washer.

Pressure washing is a good alternative to replacing old concrete, brick or wood in situations were the material is still sound, but has years of built up dirt, grime and wear. It is often amazing how good a material can look after some cleaning and pressure washing.

We often recommend this on flagstone installations, especially with softer stones, such as Arizona Flagstone, or in shady areas where moss, mildew and dirt may accumulate.


Arizona Flagstone

Arizona flagstone is one of the most common and readily available stone materials (in California and the West at least). It is frequently used for patios and wall veneers. The stone comes in a variety of colors, mostly beige, pinks, reds, and oranges.

Arizona has the advantage of being one of the lowest cost stone materials, however if it is properly installed in irregular sheets it can often cost more than alternative stones materials that are installed in precut pieces. The material looks best when it is broken into inter-fitting pieces, which has an installation process much like a giant jig saw puzzle. Grout lines should be consistent, with small pieces avoided whenever possible to fill the intersections between stones.

Arizona flagstone is easy to work with, because it is quite soft. Dropping the material is often sufficient to break it. This makes cutting and chipping the stone easy, but exposes it to flaking and breaking. The material does respond well to pressure washing, which, depending on the area and exposure of the installation, can help bring the material back to full luster. It will slowly fade and lose color intensity over time.

The material is best used for patio and wall veneers, especially Arizona ledgestone, which makes a very handsome stone wall.

Visit our Stonework Portfolio for more image examples

Lyngso Materials Arizona Page


Rosa Arizona Flagstone Patio & Steps


Sedona Red Arizona Flagstone Walkway & Steps


Classic Oak Arizona Flagstone Patio


Peach Arizona Ledgestone Wall

Scheduling your Irrigation in Hot Weather

As summer’s heat hits throughout the nation, here are a few tips for making sure your plants endure the heat.

If you are watering by hand, especially with plants in pots, make sure to water frequently. Pots will dry out faster than in ground plantings. For sensitive soft stemmed plants, watering twice per day may be required in extreme heat. If you can move potted plants to protected or shaded areas this will help.

When setting your automatic irrigation controller keep in mind a few things:

1- Up the amount of water scheduled during hot periods
This can be done two ways- by either increasing the duration of the watering, or by increasing the frequency of the watering. If you lawn is on for 10 minutes normally, maybe up it to 15 minutes, or alternatively split it into two start times, one in the morning and one in the afternoon or evening for 6-7 minutes. Splitting watering into two cycles can improve water absorption into the soil, resulting in less run off and more effective watering.

2- Remember to check your settings
Observation is the key to watering. Once you make changes, make sure to keep an eye on things. It may need a bit more or less water depending on the circumstances. If you have upped the watering time for a hot period, remember to adjust it back down if cooler temperatures return.

Remember if you make changes to an automatic controller to set it back to Run or Automatic if required; a failure to do so will prevent the new settings from running, compounding the problem.

3- Probe the soil
A good way to check to see if plants are getting enough water is to probe the soil, brushing back any mulch around the plant and feeling a couple inches into the soil around the plant. The soil should be damp but not sopping wet. Remember that in situations with clay soils, that these typically have a greater water holding capacity and require less watering time. Another methodology for checking soil moisture is to buy a soil moisture probe.

Find more information:
Be Water Wise
East Bay MUD Newsletters

Bring Your Wood Back to Full Luster

Nothing can detract from woodwork, even a well constructed woodwork, like the gray tarnished look of weathering. There are several products available that can make an old wood look new.

Cleaner-Brighteners: These are effective one step products that both clean deposits and bring back the wood’s natural color and beauty. There are several products available, one example is Behr’s Cleaner-Brightener.

Oxalic Acid: This product is good to remove rust and other types of staining, wood bleeding from tannins (common with redwood), and nail or galvanized bleeding stains. Oxalic acid is often part of cleaner-brightener compounds as mentioned above. This product is also frequently called wood bleach.

These products can also be useful on new fence constructions. Often wood from the lumber yard may have bled, have marks from shipping straps or from being stacked outdoors.

After the wood has been cleaned, it is often a good idea to stain your newly cleaned fence to preserve its color. There are a wide variety of clear and colored stains available to preserve and protect the new wood look of your fence or wood work. Clear stains often look the best, when selecting a colored stain, make sure that the color is not too strong- this can make the fence stand out.

If you prefer the weathered look of wood, it is a good idea to treat your fence or wood to help prevent warping and aging. A good product is Seasonite.

For More Information:

Wood Care Products
Flood Company
Cabot Stains

Local Dealers:
Rafael Lumber

Nearing Completion

We have been working finishing a project up in Sonoma. One of the satisfying parts of completing projects is seeing all the parts of the project come together in a complete and unified whole.

This is especially true of larger scale projects, where a complete transformation is made over an entire property. As I was looking at the before photos of this particular project, I could not believe the difference. The transformative part of the process is always fun to see.

Pool Wall- Before Construction

Pool Wall- After Construction

Nextel Service Update

We have been wrangling with Nextel customer care for the past week. After doing a bit more research we are getting close to making the jump to Verizon. A good resource for those looking for cellular ratings would be the Consumer Reports Survey: the results are not shocking. Verizon was best in our area, and best nationally- Nextel, on the other hand, was rated worst  nationally, with low levels of customer satisfaction. We can echo
that sentiment.


Problems with Nextel

Nextel has been the long time choice of many in the construction industry. Their walkie talkie feature made the beep-beep of Nextel phones common place on jobsites throughout the country. We have been Nextel customers for several years, our plan growing steadily over time to include more and more phones (we were laughing in the office the other day about how we ever got anything done in the days of pagers).

Our problems with Nextel recently started with one phone, (mine) going over its allotted minutes. We called Nextel to try to change the rate plan or add additional purchased minutes. We were curtly informed that they could make the change but it would not take effect until the next billing period. This, however, did not solve our problems, we needed extra minutes this month. The representatives at Nextel however hid behind their policy of no changes once the billing period has started (they no doubt relish the millions of dollars  in overage charges they receive). After trying via email and on the phone to speak to a supervisor, we were again informed that no exception could be made.

That was fine for Nextel, but did not work well to meet our needs. So now we are looking at other cellular carriers, who will actually help us with our wireless service. Imagine if we had been a huge company with hundreds of phones; Nextel’s policy may make their billing easier but it doesn’t help their customers.

After checking around, both Verizon and Cingular do offer pro-rated plans, as did Nextel a few years ago. It’s not that the policy was the problem, it was the impression that they did not care about our business.

Great People

Sometimes it is easy to take for granted the great people that work for you. We are working hard to complete a project and our crews have been great. They are working in 90+ degree heat all week, and they are really working to get the project done. There is never a complaint, and they work hard all day long.

I was out on the project site doing some site and design administration work and I was tired just watching our guys work, the sweat dripping off my face after briefly walking around the project.

Great people are the starting point, from there it is up to management to turn them into great results.

The Price of Steel

While working on a recent project we needed some custom fabricated stainless steel brackets to reinforce some work we were installing. For a few dozen brackets the cost came to over $1,000 for the materials alone. Our metal fabricator out of Chico, R&D Hydraulics, stated that the price of steel has skyrocketed in the past couple of years, costing almost twice what it would have cost. Pressure from the Chinese and other developing markets has driven the cost up.

Our particular incident is a microcosm of larger pressures on businesses reliant on steel. From our metal fabricator to the auto makers of Detroit, companies are scrambling to deal with the high cost of steel. Here is a good article from the Detriot Free Press detailing the problem.

A Guide to Concrete Finishes

July 12, 2005

Concrete is another material where I get frequent questions from clients asking about the range or choices for concrete finishes. The different types of concrete finishes come from different manipulations to the concrete surface and color. Here is a brief rundown of common finish types:

Exposed or Washed Concrete: The concrete (it can be colored or gray) is finished and typically treated with a surface agent. Once the concrete has had a sufficient chance to dry, the top layer of concrete is washed off to reveal the aggregate (sand & gravel). This finish is commonly used on city sidewalks, and makes for a high traction surface.

Close up of Exposed Concrete Surface

Heavier Exposure Concrete Driveway

Colored Concrete: Color concrete is achieved with a color pigment that is added directly into the concrete mixture (integral mix). There are a wide variety of earth toned concrete colors available. At times colored concrete can have some color variations and can fade and discolor over time. Colored concrete can be used with a surface treatment such as the exposed finish as detailed above.

To see available concrete colors visit:
Davis Colors or Scofield Color

Colored Concrete Driveway

Colored concrete can become blotchy depending on a series of factors involving drying exposure, quality of finishing and amount of available moisture in the ground and added to the mix and the time of pouring.

Broom Finish: This is a standard concrete finish where the concrete is troweled to a smooth surfaced and then broomed to create a higher traction surface for outdoor applications. Smooth finished concrete (like a garage floor) should not be used for outdoor applications as it poses a safety risk when wet. Broom finishes are commonly seen in new developments on sidewalks and as a finish for colored concrete.

Broomed Color Concrete Patio

Salt Finish: This finish is often used around swimming pools, or in conjunction with terra cotta tile (think a Santa Barbara city Sidewalk). The concrete is finished smooth and then rock salt is added to the surface. When the concrete has set the rock salt is washed away leaving small pitholes in the concrete that create an interesting finish.

Seeded Aggregate: Concrete is finished and then small colored stones are packed by hand into the concrete surface. When the concrete has dried the top layer of concrete is washed away to reveal the stones. This is a popular finish for driveways. There are a variety of different pebble types that can be used to give different looks to the aggregate finish.

Aggregate Path with Brick Trim

Aggregate finish adjacent to gray brushed concrete finish

Stamped Concrete: Stamped concrete is typically colored concrete applied by with special color and shape molds that give the concrete a different appearance. Typically the stamps imitate stone or tile patterns. Some can offer the look of stone at reduced cost. Stamped concrete is typically done by stamped concrete contractors who specialize in this type of installation. Bomanite is one company that has authorized dealers that install stamped and colored concrete using their particular stamp and color patterns.

Stained Concrete: Concrete staining is a surface treatment, where stains or dyes are applied to the surface of the concrete to improve or change its appearance. There are a lot more options for colors and patterns and textures with stained concrete. This is also something that can be done to existing concrete. Frequently, surface staining is done on interior floors (often in restaurants)

For more information on Concrete Types and Finishing Processes visit:
Concrete Network
A Quikrete Guide to Finishes

Many Choices in New Zealand Flaxes

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

Automatic Gates

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

An Interesting Japanese Garden

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.



Decomposed Granite Types

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

Are Composite Decks the Best?

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.

Landscape Transformations- Before & After

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.


O'Connell Landscape Blog