Archive for General

Giving your Yard a Natural Feel

Whether your yard is hardscaped or grassy, is on a hillside or an irregular lot, creating a balance between nature and man-made is important.  Here are some ideas for keeping your yard feeling natural – no matter the soil or lot type.

  • Plant flowers and other pretty plants among “useful” plantsMeeting Place

Adding flowers into your vegetable bed attracts more bees and good insects.  Even if your yard is all trees, you can solve a “bare ground” problem by planting flowers along the drip line of your trees.  Additionally, if there is heavy shade that doesn’t let up, plants like ferns can thrive.

  • Use bright pots to decorate bare spaces

If you have a lot of hardscaping, or even just unworkable soil, try planting up colorful pots of flowers and herbs and placing them around your yard.  This softens up the landscape.

Another idea is to add a water feature to the area.  A fountain or pond cools down a hot yard, and can soften the most extreme hardscaping.

  • Plant a “green wall”

One of the “next big things” in the world of landscaping is a green wall.  This is a wall with plants installed within it so they grow off of it.  This is a beautiful statement – and a great sound barrier.

  • Utilize bordersGarden with stone landscaping

Planting up a small border garden with flowers, herbs, fruiting bushes or vegetables make a plain lawn look lush and gorgeous.  These border areas can also attract birds, butterflies and bumble bees to your yard.

  • Hang pots

Hanging pots full of fragrant herbs and flowers can make a stuffy back porch feel cool and beautiful.

Here’s to a great spring and summer, filled with bright blossoms and cool greenery!

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Landscaping Gift Ideas

It’s that time of year again.  The time when we all rush around like chickens with our heads cut off trying to find that last-minute gift for that one special person.  Here are some gift ideas for those people in your life who love their landscaping:

– The gift of a water feature.  It’s not impossible or even too late to get that water feature they’ve been eyeing.  If the gift is for a spouse or a parent, you might be inclined to go all-out and actually get the feature installed before the end of the year.

– Buy a live plant.  I love live plants, because I can then keep them and, eventually, plant them.  This time of year rosemary in the shape of a pine tree is popular – or even forced bulbs.  Daffodils in December give a fun feel, and make for a unique gift.

– Give them an “IOU”.  Promise to mow the lawn, install a pond or garden with them in their yearly replanting or some such activity.mowing lawn

– Help them with a project.  Almost every home owner – and even some renters – has their own yard project or yard work.  Find out what your friend or family member is most suffering from in their yard and rectify it.   This gift ideas range from giving window boxes to a cousin who lives in an apartment building, to installing planters in your parent’s yard, to getting that fire-pit installed for your significant other.

– Decorate their entrance for them.  If you know someone with a drab or dark entrance, help them out.  Replace their light bulbs in their walk-way lights, or add festive cheer with a wreath or garlands.  This is a thoughtful gesture for a close friend who is about to have a party or lots of family over, and is tearing their hair out with the strain of it all.  Helping someone with their holiday burden is a great gift and helps restore holiday cheer.

– Finally, give a gift to yourself.  Have you been wanted a new entry way, or to install a native garden – but just haven’t had the excuse, ability or time?  The holidays are a great time to get yourself and those you may live with a little gift – and make next year that much more fun.

Happy Holidays every one!

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Quality products and installation

My kitchen flooded this week due to a chain of factors, one of which was a jerry-rigged gutter system which broke down and ended up funnelling rain water into my kitchen.  So, since I’ve now learned my lesson, and gotten to mop my floor on a Wednesday morning, I’ve decided to share some ideas with you.

When you decide on a product for landscape make sure to:

a) Get the product as soon as it’s needed.  Don’t wait until rain comes pouring into your kitchen to decide you really should install a proper gutter system – and don’t wait until you realize you can’t use your back porch because it’s way too hot to install a patio cover.  You get the idea.

b) Read reviews on that product.  Don’t make decisions only based on price.

c) Make sure it’s installed properly.  If you aren’t sure how to do it, spring for a professional to do it for you.

d) Check the product to find out how long it is rated to last.  Then make a note of this somewhere.  I have a cork board I use for random reminders like this – but I also use Outlook and my phone to remind me.

e) Don’t allow yourself to make a “for now” situation last.  Fix landscaping problems as soon as possible.  It’ll save you a lot in clean up bills and damages later.  Point in fact – the issue with the gutter was a “for now” situation which flooded my kitchen and destroyed part of my vegatable garden.

Here’s hoping you always manage to have the best.

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Landscaping and Health

I’ve been sick the past week, which is no fun at all.  But, since I have both a dog and a garden, I am out doors more often than I would be if I lived in an apartment or something with no pet.

While being ill, however, I have come to the conclusion that going outdoors regularly – even when all I want to do is mope around the house – has helped me get healthy much faster than when I lived in an apartment.   Not only that, I have lots to do outdoors as I have some plants I seeded in the wintertime like onions, garlic and tulips that I have to keep an eye on (my tulips are coming up – yay!).  So, in my mind, I have little baby plants depending on my vigilance for their survival.  

Putting my mind on the outdoors, walking my dog and getting some fresh air under my covered back patio has helped me recover and doesn’t allow me to wallow in my misery.

So, this got me thinking – what are the statistics of recovery for wintertime colds and flus when you compare people who stay indoors more to people who go outdoor periodically while sick? 

While it’s a bit difficult to find such stats, it’s interesting to discover that the rate of illness goes up in wintertime when we are often indoors more and breathing recycled air constantly.  Additionally, in the wintertime our natural source of vitamin D – the sun- is not as available.  We also tend to be around more people – some of whom are not our favorites – which can be upsetting and aggravating. 

I have found a simple walk through my garden, or a jaunt through the neighborhood with my dog helps me get away from all that.  Even when it’s cold and wet out, it’s better to be breathing the clean outdoor air and enjoying the beauty that is Los Angeles in wintertime than sitting indoors, moping.

So, make sure your landscape is something you can enjoy in sickness and in health, and ensure you take the time to go outside and enjoy it.  This is SoCal’s greenest and cleanest time of year – treasure it.

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Landscaping for Hillside Homes

As we all know, Southern California is not Florida or Kansas – there are mountains and hills EVERYWHERE.  So, if you live in one of the many gorgeous hillside homes here in SoCal, how in the world do you both approach landscaping, comply with the safety regulations inherent in living on the side of a hill, and really get to enjoy your land?

1. Think of your neighbors. 

Before embarking upon any project to improve your hillside property, consider your neighbor’s needs as well as your own.  Will you need to ask their permission to create a fenced off area on your property line?  Are you considering any improvements which will block their view?  Will any work you do erode their property?  Check to make sure you won’t be hearing complaints from those you must live near; it will make your life much easier in the long run.

2. Examine how nature beautifies hills.

Natural hillsides can be a source of inspiration for your own hillside property.  Mother Nature uses deep-rooted plants, like our native California Oaks, along with well-placed rocks, various native grasses and sensible grading to create lovely, sustainable hillsides.  Your home, however, may be on the side of a hill which mankind has already graded in a sharper, less sustainable fashion, so terracing can help make it look more pleasing to the eye and help prevent landslides.  It’s best to consult a professional landscaper on these points, as they will have some idea of the safety measures which need to occur to make your hillside land both beautiful and safe.

3. Try for low-maintenance.

Unless you love hiking, try to make sure your hillside is as low maintenance as possible.  Add steps to easily access any decks, terraced gardens, etc, so you can access the parts of your property you may want to visit or give special attention.  On the portions of your property you’d rather keep “hands off”, plant indigenous plants which will thrive without much care.  Make sure to install a variety of plants – like shrubs, trees and ground cover.  This will help your hillside retain more soil during the rainy season.

You can also install a dry creek bed in the “hands off” portions, to help prevent erosion.  Also, if you have a rock outcropping with little to no soil, check with a landscaper.  It may not be plantable and may actually be aiding the stability of your land.

4. Enjoy the view.

Install easy-to-access look out points around your property.  Think about installing a bench alongside your steps, or a deck with a particularly pleasing view of the sunset to sit and get away from it all – besides, what’s the point of a hillside home if you don’t have a chance to enjoy the view?

5. Add hardscaping.

As mentioned above, easy to traverse steps to portions of your landscape which you want to access are a great idea, but why stop there?  Install a deck with a barbecue for friends and/or family to gather and enjoy.  Add a fire pit where you can roast marshmallows or enjoy fine company.  Install a terrace with a traditional zen garden, or a vegetable or flower garden.  Add a wooden patio under a sprawling oak.  Get the most out of your land. 

If you are a more adventurous sort, add rope ladder access to your deck or terrace, to give your home a tree house feel. 🙂  Just make sure a) it’s installed by a pro and b) there’s a soft spot below to land, in case of any missteps.

6. Consult a professional.

Hillside landscaping is not a “DIY” project.  Always consult a professional landscaper knowledgable in Southern California hillsides and the appropriate regulations before embarking on your project.  Hillsides are a very special beast and you do not want to start out terracing, adding decks and steps, building a retaining wall, etc, without professional assistance.

Here’s hoping you always get the most out of your landscape!

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Covering up for winter

This wintertime, it’s a good idea to cover any bare soil up.  I know we all think about mud slides for hillside homes, but imagine what those flash floods do to your soil quality, no matter the type of slope.  Every year soil gets swept away by flash floods, and the remaining soil gets compacted and weighed down by water, then it dries – usually very quickly – and creates hard, compact dirt.

While we aren’t getting flash floods yet here in Southern California and the weather forecast for winter is something like below to average rainfall, rain in places like Thousand Oaks, La Canada, Simi Valley, etc, tend to come in torrents.  So, how to protect that soil from compacting?

1. Plant a variety of species.  It can be nice to have a pretty, even lawn, and, while this isn’t a bad idea as it does slow soil compaction, it also means you have loose soil to a certain point, then it begins to compact.  This is because you’ll have a farely even root system.  So, if you don’t want hard pan when you do decide to shake it up and landscape, plant a variety of species.  Try different kinds of grasses, some wild flowers  and some shrubs or even a tree.  You can go entirely native too, planting only Southern California plants.  One of my neighbors does this and her front yard always smells amazing and attracts the most honey bees, birds, butterflies, etc. every year.

2. Plant a cover crop.  If you have bare ground because you haven’t decided what to do with it yet or you’re trying to let your soil rest, try planting a cover crop.  Cover crops like alfalfa, buckwheat, barley, mustard, etc, are great for rejuvenating and protecting your soil.  Just make sure to keep it mowed so it doesn’t get out of control and to turn it in spring before it reseeds. 

3. Mulch, mulch, mulch.  If you don’t want to plant a cover crop, or you’ve got a really small patch of bare soil you don’t want to have to mow, cover it up with a nice mulch.  You can research what your soil may be deficient in by examining your micro-climate, what you’ve been growing in it, or discussing it with your local landscaper or nursery.

Here’s to healthy, happy soil!

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Fire Prevention

It’s about that time of the year again, when the hot Santa Ana winds sweep down, some kid throws a careless cigarette into a pile of dried out weeds and fire interrupts our lives .  I explained to a friend from Oregon once that in Southern California we have three seasons, Flash Flood, Summer and Fire.  Last year demonstrated my point perfectly, with part of the Los Angeles National Forest decimated by wildfire.  The year before, fire swept through Malibu and a year before that, San Diego was hard hit with fire.  Already this year, there was a fire in Griffith Park – an area recovering from a fire set just a couple of years ago.

So, enough said about the ravages fire can cause in our Southern California dry season.  What steps can you take to protect your landscape and home from fire?

1. Make sure all plants are pruned back and dead ones are pulled out.  Don’t let those dead, dried up husks just lay around.  Get out there and yank out any plants which were under watered or are annuals and are just dead due to their regular life cycle.  Same goes for plants with dried, dead leaves or branches.  Prune those back.

2. Keep up regular watering.  I’m sure you have a watering system in place.  If so, keep that up.  If you’ve been letting your lawn do a rolling brown out, try reseeding – either dyi style or by hiring a landscaper.  You can get insta-green lawns by buying sod, but that’s a much bigger project for which you will definitely need professional landscaping help.

3. Turn your compost regularly.  It hasn’t been too hot, but that sun is still glaring down at us and heats the ground and your compost.   The inside of those piles get extremely hot from both the heat and from the bacteria breaking down the vegetation in your mulch pile.  Make sure to turn that pile so the heat doesn’t build up too bad and so the wet, rotting stuff in the middle gets to dry out on the outside – and your dry stuff gets wet and rotting.

4. Keep your outdoor fire pit well maintained. Debris lying around your fire pit could catch fire and go out of control.  Even if it doesn’t go out of control, fire damages things quickly.  Unless you really really want to replace your back patio, you don’t want to have scorch marks all over the place.

5. Make sure your water features are clean and well-maintained.  Water features aren’t a fail safe for fire prevention, but they don’t help much if you need water quickly and they are weed choked.

6. If you have trees which drop leaves, rake those up consistently.  Same principle as cleaning out dead plants or pruning plants – you don’t want anything dry or dead lying around. 

7. Have an evacuation plan.  If the worst happens and your home is at risk, realize that your life and the life of those you love (your spouse, your children, your dog or cat) are more important than the things you own.  Make sure you have an evacuation plan in place – including a friend or relative in a completely different location who you can move in with temporarily.  Evacuation staging points are fine, but it’s nicer to be around those you love when the things you own are threatened.

So, here’s hoping you have a fire-free fall!

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Landscaping and Microclimates

You will encounter different climates depending on where you live.  Some climates differ wildly within a 20 mile radius, while others only vary slightly for long stretches. 

Just for fun, I took a look at the weather in various cities on Los Angeles County, and was surprised to see how some places varied by several degrees, while others were pretty much the same..  Here’s what I found:

At 2pm today (8/21/10):

Glendale – 87 degrees Fahrenheit

Thousand Oaks – 87 degrees Fahrenheit

Simi Valley – 94 degrees Fahrenheit

Lancaster – 99 degrees Fahrenheit

La Canada – 89.3 degrees Fahrenheit

La Crescenta – 97 degrees Fahrenheit

Sunland – 99 degrees Fahrenheit

Los Angeles (city) – 87 degrees Fahrenheit

Malibu – 91 degrees Fahrenheit

So, if you were landscaping in Thousand Oaks, you might have similar weather to Glendale or Los Angeles City, which are 40 or so miles away from Thousand Oaks.  Whereas La Canada landscaping would be geared toward cooler weather than La Crescenta landscaping, even those these cities are only a few miles away from each other.

Beyond temperature, you have precipitation and soil type to consider.  For example, the weather in Thousand Oaks may be similar to the weather in Glendale, but the soil in Thousand Oaks generally has more clay while the soil in Glendale tends to be more loose.  So, you might have to think with raised beds or some such to prevent the roots of your plants compacting due to too much clay when doing Thousand Oaks landscaping, as opposed to landscaping in Glendale where the soil won’t compact roots.

So, if you move or decide to landscape your yard, make sure to talk to your landscaper about a) the microclimate of your new neighborhood and b) what works best with this localized climate.  There may be very little change from place to place, but it’s best to ask a professional who knows the area.

Here’s hoping your climate is agreeable to your landscaping dreams!

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Beat the Heat

It’s summertime and it is HOT – especially in the Greater Los Angeles area.  So, how can we beat the heat without cranking the AC too much?  Or, how do you beat the heat when you are experiencing one of SoCal’s famous rolling blackouts?

The answer: Go outside and enjoy your yard.

“What??” You may say, “That’s complete madness!”

Let me explain: since summertime in Southern California tends to last most of the year, we take staying cool while outdoors seriously.  There are several things you can do with landscaping which will make your yard more enjoyable during those long summer days.

  • Install a cover over your patio area. If you don’t have a patio area, installing one and including a shade with electrical for a fan and a fridge will make it a wonderful hang out – not only does the temperature go down in the shade, but with a cold drink and the fan going… well, who could ask for more?
  • Plant shade trees.  Summertime is when most trees are bursting with greenery.  Use this natural phenomena to your advantage and add shade trees to your yard.  A professional landscaper can let you know the best places to plant, both aesthetically and for water conservation.
  • Install a sprinkler system.  Do you remember running through sprinklers as a kid?  Or water balloon fights? Or playing with squirt guns?  Why not relive those days with friends and/or family?  Get your sprinklers going and start an impromptu cool down party with squirt guns and water balloons.  Those moments of fun can be as refreshing as the cool water.
  • Install a pool or get a blow up pool.  We talked about this in an earlier article.  A pool is a big step – lots of landscaping decisions are involved.  But, if you live in a place with long summers, it may be a great investment for you.

Here’s hoping you stay cool and comfy all summer long!

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Why Hire a Landscaper?

Many people feel it’s smarter and cheaper to do as many things themselves as possible, especially when it’s a “honey-do” task like fixing a squeaky door or repainting a room.  This “do it yourself” attitude is often taken toward landscaping projects.

So why hire a professional landscaper?

1. Do you know how outdoor plumbing and drainage systems work?
Usually, sprinkler systems of some sort are needed when installing a landscape. Even if everything was pre-installed, the landscaper needs a good understanding of water drainage and what kind of plants will best benefit from the slope or grade of your land. If you don’t have an understanding of how water works with your land, it’s important to get a professional out to help you. Otherwise, some plants end up drowning while still others die due to lack of water, or harmful mold grows in your yard.

2. Do you understand plants, what kind of sun they need, how much water works for them, if they are natural to your area, etc?
Some landscaping is hardscaping , which does not require much, if anything, in the way of plant knowledge. But, if you are putting any greenery or flowers down, it’s important to know where they should go in relation to the sun, how much water they require, what kind of soil they should go in, etc.  If you do not have that knowledge, it’s important to consult a professional who does.  That way, things that are supposed to bloom will actually do so.  Also, an understanding of plants helps when some plants overcrowd others – like bamboo.  Your landscaper will have tips and suggestions on how to position these plants to best benefit your land. 

3. Does your vision seem too ambitious or overwhelming?
Your project might seem to you like you’re trying to rival the Gardens of Babylon, when in all likelihood you’re just trying to make your yard pretty.  A professional landscaper’s job is to make the crazy dream of yours a reality, even if it involves installing a koi pond and an English vegetable garden. 

4. How much work do you want to put in on your yard?
Obviously, if you’ve chosen a large landscaping project, it’s going to take a lot of time and effort.  Do you want to plan and install every aspect of this project?  Do you have the skills to do so?  If not, do you have the resources and understanding to hire a skilled worker who just does the specific thing you need and does it well?  Often, professional landscapers and landscaping companies do have these resources at their fingertips while the average homeowner does not.

5. Finally, do you understand how to maintain your gorgeous dream yard for years to come?
A real professional will answer all your aftercare maintainance questions so that you or your gardener can keep your peaceful patio, stunning swimming pool or glorious garden pristine and perfect for many years.  They can also help you out if something is not quite as you envisioned it and give it that final polish of professionalism.  This is their job, so you’re allowed to make sure it’s perfect.

I hope this helps you on your pursuit for the perfect yard.

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