Being a landscape designer, I wind up driving all over greater Los Angeles, and, believe me, seeing how many miles I put on my car ever week, the operative word is greater. But what I’ve noticed, particularly as I snail along in traffic, is that our city has a great many balconies but so many of those balconies have no color — no life — they are just empty vessels waiting to be filled.
This is so different than what I experience whenever I travel through Europe — particularly through the southern regions along the Mediterranean. There, you can’t go through a village, a town or a city without seeing color dripping from countless window ledges and balconies.
While our weather is certainly similar to Italy, France and Spain, it seems our relationship with nature is not, and I think that’s a shame. A balcony is a great opportunity to introduce a little nature into your life and beauty to your home. So, here are some really interesting and individually expressed balconies that might inspire you to add to some life to that empty vessel outside your window or even turn it into something spectacular. It’s easy to do, it’s inexpensive and you’ll be amazed at how much happier you’ll feel looking out your window.
As you can see from the “Before” picture below, the landscaping of this home’s back yard was, except for the pool, water feature and deck, non-existent!
A blank slate is actually better for me as the designer because I don’t have to deal with a lot of existing and unwanted hardscape and/or plant material. With the removal of the palm trees and few other plants, we were ready to proceed with creating what my clients’ desired.
And what they had requested was an environment that was suitable for a great deal of entertaining as well as a place for them, their dog and their anticipated family to grow up in and enjoy. It also needed to be easy to maintain and be as drought-tolerant as possible.
There were two elements that were essential for the design. The first was an outdoor kitchen with a lot of counter space, a barbecue and stove, a pizza oven, a sink with running water, a counter to sit at and a roof that cantilevered out over the seating area, which was to match the existing, but refinished, wooden deck.
The second required ingredient was a fire pit surrounded by a large seating area.
The Fire Pit
Between the fire pit and the kitchen lay the existing deck. I used it as the axis of these two elements with the pool creating the third aspect of a triangle that visually tied all three elements together.
The Pool and The Deck
By creating a clearly defined entertainment area, it left the remaining yard to be landscaped as a separate entity.
Keeping in mind the desire to create a drought-tolerant landscape, the remaining yard was divided into a small area of grass (for the dog and the children-to-be) with the remaining property covered with pea gravel.
To help define the area, serve as backdrop for the entertainment area and provide a view from inside the house, three full-grown olive trees were craned in and planted.
Illumination and Irrigation
Additional seating was provided at various spots along the graveled area and the trees and property were illuminated with low voltage lamps and spot lights. A drip irrigation system was installed through out.
The Pizza Oven
While the re-designed landscape has received high marks from both friends and neighbors, the one thing the husband loves above all else is his pizza oven, which, I am told, is in continual use!
Ficus Nitida and Ficus Benjamina are not the solution.
Whenever a client asks about installing a hedge they’re usually thinking of planting a row using Ficus Nitida (Retusa) or Benjamina. They have been Southern California’s “go to” trees for privacy hedges for decades, but there are a number of reasons to pass them by. They can be very invasive and their roots grow close to the surface, damaging sidewalks. While they grow fast, they need frequent trimming and are not drought-toelerant. They require a substantial amount of water to establish and a moderate amount once established.
What follows is information on seven excellent hedges provided by the North Park Nursery. If you’re thinking about adding a hedge and are concerned about how it will behave and how much water it will consume, here is valuable information about the best plant material for the job.
Best Screening Trees
What makes the the perfect screening shrub? The answer to this question may vary depending on the individual, but. generally, the desirable characteristics are as follows:
Between 15 and 20 feet tall.
Evergreen and dense.
Tolerant of full sun.
Low maintenance, particularly low water use.
Podocarpus, fern pine, yew pine, yellow wood, Japanese yew
Scientific Name:Podocarpus sp. Height: 50 to 100 ft Sun: Part shade to full sun Water: Low to moderate Description: One of the tallest trees on this list, we love podocarpus because it is an extremely resilient, fast-growing tree that is tolerant of full sun and low water. It can also stand part shade and holds up against windy, salty, coastal conditions. In addition, it responds well to pruning and shearing, meaning it can be managed at any height and made into a formal hedge. Of course, you can always choose to leave these trees in their natural form for a more organic appearance. There are a few varieties to choose from, including P. henkelii, which has long, slender and drooping leaves, P. gracilior, with fern-like foliage and P. gracilior, which has pine-like foliage and can be found in a variety called ‘Icee Blue,’ which has fabulous steel blue coloration.
Pittosporum, kohuhu, ‘Silver Sheen’
Scientific Name:Podocarpus tenuifolium Height: 20 to 30 ft Sun: Part shade to full sun Water: Low Description: Pittosporum tenuifolium is a drought-tolerant New Zealand native that makes an excellent screening shrub here in Southern California. It tolerates full to part sun and can be either sheared into a more dense formal hedge or allowed to assume a natural, upright and wispy form. The most popular cultivar for use in home landscaping is ‘Silver Sheen,’ named for the grey-green tops and white undersides of its small leaves, which appear to flicker when caught in a breeze. The dark stems on this variety make it a striking choice indeed. Other varieties include ‘Gold Star,’ ‘Gold Sheen,’ ‘Marjorie Channon’ and ‘Irene Patterson,’ which come in different shades of green, variegated or otherwise, with bright red to deep black stems.
California Bayberry, California Wax Myrtle, Pacific Wax Myrtle
Scientific Name:Myrica californica Height: 15 to 30 ft Sun: Part shade to full sun Water: Moderate Description: A shrub native to the West Coast from Washington to Southern California, it has slightly fragrant, evergreen leaves. Best used along the coast, it is tolerant of sandy, loamy and clay soils, high winds and salt spray, making it an excellent windbreak along the coast. Needs some protection from sun and supplemental water when used further inland. Beautiful natural form, does not tolerate shearing.
Privet, wax leaf privet
Scientific Name:Ligustrum japonicum ‘Texanum’ Height: 8 to 10 ft Sun: Part shade to full sun Water: Moderate Description: Many gardeners are averse to planting privet because it has a reputation as being invasive and aggressive. However, in spite of these characteristics it makes an almost perfect hedge: fast growing, dense, evergreen foliage, tolerant of shearing with profuse white flowers. We recommend choosing the cultivar ‘Texanum,’ which is a less aggressive variety that only grows to half the size of the species. Will .ppreciate supplemental watering during the warmer months.
Scientific Name:Juniperus chinensis ‘Spartan’ Height: 10 to 15 ft Sun: Full sun Water: Low Description: There are many species of vertical-growing juniper that make excellent wind breaks and privacy screens. ‘Spartan’ is a cultivar we love for its moderate height, vertical form and rich green foliage. It is very responsive to pruning, and tolerant of heat, cold, wind and drought. Requires very little maintenance once established. Other similar choices are Juniper ‘Skyrocket’ and Cupressus sempervirens ‘Tiny Tower.’
Scientific Name:Bambusa sp. Height: 15 to 30 ft Sun: Part shade to full sun Water: Moderate Description: Bamboo is an excellent choice for a fast-growing, tall privacy screen with a tropical look. We recommend choosing clumping varieties that will not invade the rest of your yard – a favorite is the cultivar ‘Alphonse Karr,’ which has beautiful golden yellow stems and can be maintained at whatever height you desire with occasional pruning. Note that bamboo is a messy plant and tends to drop lots of leaves.
Bay laurel, sweet bay
Scientific Name:Laurus nobilis Height: 15 to 25 ft Sun: Part shade to full sun Water: Low Description: Similar in appearance to privet but lacking flowers, bay laurel is a slower-growing, less-aggressive shrub that can be sheared into a formal hedge and is tolerant of full sun and low water. Very low maintenance and can be allowed to assume its natural form for an organic look.
Thanksgiving has always been a very special holiday for me. It combines three things I care deeply about: my family and friends, the wonderful life that I’ve been given and the bounty that nature provides us.
In planning my Thanksgiving I thought it might be fun to select some very special Thanksgiving table decorations that display some of nature’s bounty. Almost everything in these stunning designs can be found in the garden or in the vegetable section of your grocery story. Add a few candles and a little imiganation and you’ve got yourself your own fabulous Thanksgiving table.
Happy Thanksgiving – may it be a loving and delicious one!
One of the advantages of Southern California over the North and the East, is that our mild winters make it possible to plant and grow year-round. Fall is not only a time for garden maintenance and preparation of the soil for spring planting; it is the time to plant for winter and early spring harvests and blooms.
Clients have asked about adding color to their gardens, patios and balconies, so here are a list of 17 winter-blooming plants that offer a range of colors and structure that should do the trick.
Calendula (Calendula officinalis)
Daisy-like calendula provides easy color from late fall through spring in mild-winter climates, and are long lasting in a vase. Choose classic orange and bright yellow, or opt for subtler shades of apricot, cream, and soft yellow.
Branching plants are 1 to 2 feet high and 1 to 1½ feet wide and look great as masses of color or in a container.
Calendula plants take full sun and moderate water. They will tolerate many soils as long as they have good drainage. Remove the spent flowers to prolong bloom.
Candytuft plants grow 8 to 12 inches high and wide; their narrow, shiny dark green leaves look great all year.
Pure white flower clusters are carried on stems long enough to cut for bouquets. Choose ‘Alexander’s White’ (pictured), ‘Autumnale’, or ‘Autumn Snow; they bloom in spring and again in fall.
Plants thrive in full sun or part shade and regular water. Candytuft needs well-drained soil and should be sheared ightly after bloom to stimulate new growth.
I must have been bitten by a Ghoul or perhaps a Goblin because I’ve had Halloween on my mind for the last week. Not that we go trick or treating — my kids are grown and I haven’t carved a pumpkin in years. but there is still something fun and even endearing about this celebration of All Hallows’ Eve.
So, to exorcise this haunting obsession, here are some interesting and even terrifying takes on how one might celebrate this haunted holiday…
There’s nothing more frustrating than spending time, energy and money putting in a garden, particularly a vegetable garden, only to have it disappear down the gullet (or whatever they have) of your friendly garden slug. But slugs are just one of a whole host of pests that can silently and efficiently decimate your garden, because nothing tastes better than a free lunch!
If you’re like me and would prefer not using toxic chemicals on my flowers, or particularly on the vegitables I intend my family to eat, here are three natural remedies that can eliminate these pesky pests.
What You Need
Biodegradable liquid dish soap
Lemon or orange essential oil
Natural Insecticidal Soap Spray
This is by far the spray I reach for most often. It’s easy to make and keep on hand, and should take care of most of those annoying common pests such as aphids, mites, white flies, thrips, and mealy bugs. It kills them by attacking them at the skin, suffocating and therefore eliminating them. I like to add a few drops of orange or lemon essential oil, which is in itself a natural insecticide, especially effective against ants and scale, and it also helps the the spray stick to your plants.
1 1/2 tablespoons of liquid soap
1 quart of water
A couple drops of orange or lemon essential oil
Use a biodegradable, liquid soap (such as Murphy’s oil soap, castile soap or Ivory), to make the mixture. Add water and essential oil to the spray bottle and shake. Spray your plant thoroughly, making sure you cover the underside of the leaves as well.
All-Purpose Garlic Chili Spray
Pepper and garlic are both natural insect repellents and will help to repel Japanese Beetles, borers, leafhoppers and slugs. Garlic also deters larger pest like deer and rabbit.
Natural Insecticidal Soap Spray (from recipe above)
1 tablespoon of chili powder (you could also use fresh or dried hot peppers)
5 cloves of garlic, crushed and cut roughly
Allow garlic and chili powder to steep overnight. Strain and pour into a spray bottle. Add Natural Insecticidal Soap Spray. Should keep for a couple weeks.
Baking Soda Spray
This spray is great for treating plants with fungal diseases. There is nothing quite as frustrating as discovering your plant has an unsightly case of mildew, a type of fungal disease. Suddenly your beautiful green cucumber and squash leaves are replaced by patches of grayish-white blotches.
1 tablespoon of baking soda
1/2 tablespoon of oil
2 quarts of warm water
Add baking soda and oil to a cup of warm water until it dissolves. Mix in the rest of the water. Before attempting to spray and treat your plant, remove the most severely damaged leaves first. Then spray your solution, repeating every few days until it disappears. This mixture is best made and used immediately.
Additional Notes: It’s best to spray your plants in the morning, before the sun is too hot or you run the risk of burning the leaves of your plant. And while these spray are non-toxic and less harmful than commercial pesticides, they will kill beneficial bugs along with the harmful ones. I recommend using these sprays sparingly, only treating the infected plants.
The objective of this landscape design project was to take a small, unattractive 50s backyard and make it more attractive and functional. This included updating it to the 21st century with a living area, dining area and barbecue, but also using scale and imagination to make it appear larger than it actually is.
We began expanding the existing space by altering the shape of the low brick wall to provide more space and to raise it to chair height, providing additional seating. Old trees and unattractive shrubs were removed and replaced with plant material that reflected the color scheme (selected to accent the gray house) of white, green and burgundy.
The water feature was enlarged with more stone to give a more natural look and enhanced with a larger pump to increase its water flow. The plants surrounding it were replaced with ones that helped focus the eye and make it appear natural to the site.
A retaining wall was installed to account for difference in elevation between the neighbors’ property and my client’s and the dilapidated wooden fence was replaced with tongue and grove fencing, painted to match the house.
I have written a number of blogs and newsletters concerning California’s drought, sustainable landscape design and the use of drought tolerant plants, the ways one can save water and save money, as well as how to help protect your property against wildfires.
All of this material has now been collected, including available down-loadable PDFs, on my website page, Sustainable Green Landscape Design, which I encourage you to check out and download. However … I’ve never looked specifically at California Native Plants and what a wonderful natural resource they are, particularly as our current drought looks like it’s becoming a permanent reality.
The Theodore Payne Foundation for Wild Flower and Native Plants, located in Sun Valley, is dedicated to preserving, propagating and promoting California native plants, seeds and wild flowers – native treasures that conserve water and other resources, provide habitat for wildlife, and add color and fragrance to the garden.
The Foundation operates a year-round, retail nursery – should you decided to go native – offering the region’s largest and most interesting selection of California native plants – hundreds of different species and cultivars, many of which are drought tolerant and low maintenance. Their Education Center and Outreach programs offer classes and field trips for adults and children. You can easily spend a day there learning what California natives has to offer.
As California’s drought continues with no end in sight, I have had a substantial increase in client interest in turning front and back yards into drought-tolerant or Xeriscape landscapes.
The reason for this is obvious; it saves an enormous amount of water since grass can easily consume over half a gallon of water per square foot every time you water. To put that into perspective, a 100′ x 100′ lawn uses 6,230 gallons of water every time your sprinkler heads pup up. In addition to saving water and saving the cost of all of that water, it saves substantially on the amount of time and energy needed to maintain the landscape – no grass to cut and most native and drought-tolerant plants require little or no maintenance.
But What Will It Look Like?
This is the question every client asks after they acknowledge the importance of saving water. My answer is to tell them that drought-tolerant, Xeriscape landscaping has been done for centuries all along the Mediterranean, although it wasn’t called that; it was just the way folks created gardens when there was very little available water. And the gardens of the Costa Del Sol, the South of France, the Italian Riviera, and the islands of Corsica, Sardinia, Malta and Greece are filled with some of the most beautiful landscapes in the in the world and with nary a blade of grass in sight.
Add A Stream – Wet or Dry
There are a number of ways to turn a grassy front and/or back yard into a stunning drought-tolerant garden. Any well-designed landscape takes into the consideration the confirmation of the property and the architecture of the structure. It’s not just about ripping out the grass and sticking plants in the ground.
If you have the space and a little elevation, a stream can be created that can turn a boring piece of property into a stunning garden.