I am delighted to report that HGTV selected a project I did several years ago to feature on their blog, Design Happens. It’s title, with an attached link, is An Outdoor Living and Entertainment Oasis. It describes the landscape I designed and built for the international film producer, Deepak Nayar and his wife Mary.
What a wonderful experience it was working with a man who had worked with directors like David Lynch, Wim Wenders, Paul Schrader and Gurinder Chadha, earned Golden Globe, Bafta and Oscar nominations and been involved as a producer for such films as Slumdog Millionaire, Bend it Like Beckham and Buena Vista Social Club.
When I asked them what they were looking to accomplish, he and Mary told me they wanted an indoor-outdoor expansion of their Sunset Plaza home in the Hollywood Hills that would be conducive to their family (two children and two dogs), and also a comfortable environment for entertaining frequent guests. Deepak suggested that I think of their house as a movie set with focal points when people first walk in and I did just that!
Here is an excellent article that came from Valley Crest Water Management that ties in perfectly with my recent newsletter/blog No-Mow Grass – A Lawn Saver. If you’re considering replacing your grass, this is invaluable information.
We’ve all seen it—the brown, scraggly patches that were once lush, green grass. With the drought now almost four years into its fury, that sight is becoming all too common and if current projections are correct, there isn’t much relief in sight for much of the western United States.
So, it’s time to bid drought-battered turf good-bye and ideally, replace it with drought-tolerant plantings (xeriscaping and/or hardscaping) with water management in mind. Below we’ve rounded up seven alternatives, listed in order of worst to best in terms of water conservation.
Take a look and see if there’s an alternative that fits your needs. Also, before you begin your turf rehab, consider your entire landscape. Choose an alternative that meshes with your environment and matches your budget. Keep in mind the savings that will result from water-wise planting and hardscape, and factor that into your decision-making process.
Here, from worst to best, are seven turf conversion alternatives to consider:
1. More of the Same – Re-Sodding
Undoubtedly, this is the quickest fix to that brown patch but it’s also the most costly in terms of dollars and the environment. In fact, with continued drought conditions, this option may also be the costliest in terms of labor and water, as you may well have to re-sod again before too long. On a more positive note, sod and seed suppliers are offering more and more low-water-use varieties, so if you must re-sod, use one of the xeriscape-friendly turf options.
2. Slightly Better but Water Intensive – Re-Seeding
Re-seeding is definitely less expensive than re-sodding but again, it’s just a band-aid solution when it comes to long-term sustainability. Recently re-seeded turf requires constant moisture, which, depending on the season and temperature, doesn’t help when it comes to smart water management. And like the option above, with predicted continued drought, if the re-seeded turf suffers more due to ongoing drought, you may end up right back where you started.
One note: if you choose to go the route of either of the two options above, choose this opportunity to update your irrigation system. Check your sprinkler coverage and improve as needed with upgrades such as matched precipitation-rate nozzles and/or high-efficiency nozzles.
Both of the above options are not ideal for properties in areas where water restrictions are in effect. For those areas the options 3 – 7 are better suited.
3. Most Affordable, Least Aesthetic – Mulching
The cheapest way to cover up drought-ravaged turf is to mulch—or sheet mulch—the impacted areas. In terms of water management, this is the most desirable of the first three alternatives we’ve presented, but just like the others above, it’s probably just a short-term solution since the aesthetics of the mulched areas will most likely detract rather than add to your landscape visuals.
4. The All New Approach – Planting Xeriscape-Friendly Shrubs
Another option is to remove the turf completely and replace it with clusters of low-water-use shrubs like Abelia, Phormium, Coleonema, Nandina’s and Oleanders. Of course, when choosing drought-tolerant plants, consider how they’ll blend in with existing landscaping.
You might also consider removing overhead spray or rotor sprinklers and replacing them with drip irrigation at the same time. Depending on the area you’re renovating and the existing configuration for your landscape and irrigation system, this might be challenging. Going with all new plantings to replace dead or dying turf makes sense if it works aesthetically or if it jibes with your long-term plans for the entire landscape. If not, this patch job could just end up looking like an ill-planned patch.
5. More of the Same – Extending Existing Shrubs
If it works with your landscaping, you could simply extend surrounding or adjacent shrub beds, filling in the drought-challenged turf with similar plantings. Again, if possible, you’ll want to replace any old or high-water-use irrigation with a drip system designed for good water management.
In terms of the options we’ve presented, this may just be the best value as it could just look like part of your original design. On the downside, if your original plantings are not low water use, it won’t help you long term in the way of sustainable xeriscaping.
6. Mix it Up –Blending Xeriscape-Friendly Shrubs with Existing Shrubbery
A smart transitional approach involves extending surrounding or adjacent shrub beds into the drought-challenged areas and throwing some low-water-use shrubs into the mix. At the same time, replace old irrigation with drip for better water management throughout existing and new shrubbery. This is by far the most appealing alternative presented thus far as it updates tired, worn out shrubbery that’s grown woody and scores points for smart water management.
7. Make it Architectural – Adding Hardscaping to the Mix
Finally, perhaps one of the smartest moves is to think long-term and incorporate decomposed granite, cobblestone or some kind of decorative paver or stone as well as drought-tolerant plantings into the areas you’re rehabbing. Obviously you’ll want to consider the surroundings, traffic patterns and your overall landscape before doing this but if it is an option, this is by far the most water-efficient and aesthetic choice. It’s also the costliest but money spent on this project could be savings gained in terms of water use and increased property value.
A Few Final Words
When undertaking turf conversion, be sure to check in with your local water authority to see if your project qualifies for any of the cash-for-grass rebate programs. Typically these programs require that you replace existing turf with qualified low-water-use plants and xeriscaping. Every water authority differs in terms of their requirements and rebates so check in with yours before undertaking any extensive turf conversion work.
Also, don’t wait. As drought conditions continue, the more you do to conserve water and think ahead, the greater the likelihood that your landscape and budget won’t suffer in the months and possibly even years to come. The drought outlook is not a pretty picture, but the more we practice smart water management, the better off all of us—and the environment—will be.
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!
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.
With summer now in full force, I thought this might be the ideal time to bring up the subject of swimming pools. Of course, this being Southern California a majority of my clients already have pools, but for those of you who don’t and are considering putting in an in-ground pool (above-ground pools I’ll leave to the vendors), here are some things to consider.
Make A Plan
Adding an in-ground pool is not only a major expenditure, it’s time consuming and will disrupt you, your yard and your life. It is a permanent feature of your home and will be an important consideration should you ever decide to sell. So if you’re serious about taking it on, the first step is to review the following and make a plan:
Choosing The Site: take into consideration it’s orientation to your home – exits – decks – windows, the view, the sun, the trees, existing hardscape, accessibility for construction equipment, the type of soil and the slope of the land
Create A Budget: create a realistic budget detailing all of your desired features and what you think they might cost
Review Building Codes: while the details of your community’s building codes should be left to your contractor, it would be wise to get a general understanding of what the codes cover and how they might impact the construction and cost
There is nothing quite as relaxing as sipping a gin and tonic (or your favorite beverage) with friends, sitting in the shade of a vine-covered pergola, on a late summer’s afternoon. I have just completed the construction of two pergolas that are designed for this very purpose, although it may take several years before their vines provide the requisite shade.
During their construction, one of my clients asked me where the term “pergola” came from. I wasn’t sure; I said, “I believe it’s Italian but I’ll check and let you know.” I did and found a lot of very interesting information not only about the derivation of the name “pergola” but where the design was first used and how it has evolved over time.
I was right with my guess as to pergola’s derivation; it comes from the Late Latin word “Pergula,” which refers to a projecting eave; and the English term was borrowed from the Italian “pergola,” which means “a close walk of boughs.”.
According to Wikipedia, a pergola, arbor, or arbour is a garden feature forming a shaded walkway, passageway, or sitting area of vertical posts or pillars that usually support crossbeams and a sturdy open lattice. As a type of gazebo, it may also be an extension of a building or serve as protection for an open terrace.
Over the last two months, in Parts I and II of this series, we have looked at how nature, and in particular “Green Cities” impact not only our health and well-being but how they can positively contribute to a whole range of intellectual, emotional and developmental issues.
Part I focused on how interaction with nature can help alleviate mental fatigue and relax and restore the mind. It also presented compelling documentation on the importance of nature in child development.
Part II demonstrated how the out of doors and bringing nature into the work environment can positively affect workers’ performance. It also describes how nature can positively impact children with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and individuals suffering from Alzheimers and Dementia.
Part III, and the last of the series, looks at how we can go about achieving what has been described in Parts I and II and what roles technology, parks and landscape design play in making this happen. As an example of my own work in this area, I have included information, photographs and links to the Weingart Center Garden here in Los Angeles, which I designed and believe incorporates and exemplifies the underlying premise of this series: we all have a deep, significant and perhaps even a genetic need to to be a part of and interact with nature.
Published by the College of the Environment, University of Washington, the project’s support was provided by the national Urban and Community Forestry program of the USDA Forest Service, State and Private Forestry. Summary prepared by Kathleen Wolf, Ph.D. and Katrina Flora, December 26, 2010. You can read it in its entirety at http://depts.washington.edu/hhwb/Thm_Mental.html.
Can Technological Nature Be Effective
The question has been asked, “Couldn’t we simply substitute aspects of the natural world with technological depictions of nature?” Can technology provide an adequate substitute in places where the natural world is some distance away?
When comparing subjects’ reactions in windowless offices with and without plasma TV “windows” showing natural scenes, participants preferred the offices with plasma-display windows and noted increased psychological well-being and cognitive functioning as a result of this connection to the natural world. In another study comparing viewing formats, outdoor views through glass windows were more restorative than blank walls, but plasma windows were no more restorative than blank walls to the subjects’ sense of well-being. Subjects’ heart rates were lower in offices with the glass windows than in those with plasma windows and blank walls.
It seems that artificially represented nature is not an effective substitute for directly perceived nature as it does not provide equivalent benefits and positive experiences. Such technological representations could be useful to some degree in situations where it is difficult to incorporate “real” nature, as in space shuttles, submarines, or other extreme environments where there is an unavoidable disconnect from the natural world.
Nature in the Community
Green Space for Physical Activity
Play and exercise are an important part of children’s and adults’ development and brain function. As children, play can help develop cognitive thinking and reasoning abilities. Later in life, exercise likewise helps increase and maintain the brain’s cognitive capacity.
Researchers have found that exercise boosts the growth of new nerve cells and improves learning and memory in adult mice: newly formed nerve cells were concentrated in the hippocampus, the part of the brain that is key in memory formation, spatial learning, and conscious recall of facts, episodes, and unique events.
Urban green spaces encourage exercise and are a more restorative environment than indoor settings, with a greater positive effect on mental health. Additionally, urban green spaces offer a free, accessible, public environment in which to exercise and play to those who cannot afford a private gym membership.
A neighborhood than incorporates easily accessible green spaces into its design may also improve social cohesion and interaction. As a result, the mental health of individuals may also remain positive due to a decreased chance of depression and feelings of isolation and increased self-esteem. Effective social support networks have been found to restore feelings of personal control and self-esteem by buffering the effects of stress and poor health.
Green spaces, such as community gardens or even the shade of a large tree, encourage social contact by serving as informal meeting places and sites for group and shared activities. Green spaces can serve as a sort of ecotherapy, as marginalized people can find empowerment, respite from stresses, and personal involvement in environmental stewardship. Green spaces in close proximity to homes encourage exercise, which can improve mental health. As described earlier, studies indicate that having views of nearby nature and living within green spaces can improve worker productivity, reduce stress, improve school performance, and lessen the symptoms of ADD.
Specifically concerning the elderly, social interaction is important as less loneliness is correlated with lower mortality rates, depression, and cognitive impairment. Additionally, in a study of elderly populations that prefer natural over built environments, there is a positive correlation between familiarity of the environment and restorativeness. To promote this, the elderly require easily accessible spaces due to their more limited mobility, so having parks and green spaces in close proximity to their neighborhoods or care centers is especially important.
Landscape Design for Mental Health and Function
Parks are often scattered about cities, and many cities have too few parks. Based on decades of research findings, parks should be managed as systems, not just for the usual purposes of beauty and recreation, but also to help citizens function at their best. The National Parks and Recreation Association recommends that there be park space within 2 miles of every residence (with ¼- to ½-mile distances optimal for walkability) and that a city’s park system provide 5 to 8 acres of park space for every 1,000 residents.
Planting design within a park is also important. The “savannah hypothesis” argues that people prefer open landscapes with scattered trees, similar to African landscapes in which humans evolved. However, this theory has been recently challenged by evidence showing that the psychological benefits of green space are positively correlated with the diversity of its plant life. People who spent time in a park with greater plant species richness scored higher on various measures of psychological well-being than those subjects in less biodiverse parks.
Planters, gardens, green roofs, and other features can be incorporated into building design to address mental health and cognitive function. For example, the soft rhythmic movements of a trees or grass in a light breeze or the light and shade created by cumulus clouds, called Heraclitean motion, are movement patterns that are associated with safety and tranquility, aiding the development of a calm, stable mental state; lighting or space design that mimics Heraclitean motion could be incorporated into building design to create calm, peaceful areas that aid patients’ recovery or improve workers’ or students’ productivity. Bright daylight supports circadian rhythms, enhances mood, promotes neurological health, and affects alertness; increasing the use of natural light and reducing dependence on electric lighting can also significantly improve mental health and function.
Design can also encourage learning and exploration by creating spaces that are not immediately interpreted but allow discovery through sensory exploration. Effective architectural design is not easy to achieve: built objects and spaces that are too complex at first glance can become daunting, overwhelming, and too difficult to understand, while those that are easily scanned do not encourage interaction. If the built environment simulates the layered complexity of ecosystems, a person’s sensory systems will be engaged to explore and learn about the built object or space, which encourages cognitive function through a high level of visual fascination and mystery.
Weingart Center Garden
A Little Bit Of Country On Skid Row
In May of 2010 I began designing and eventually building the Weingart Center Garden. The Garden is adjacent to the Weingart Center, in the heart of the skid-row section of downtown Los Angeles. I wrote about this experience in one of my first newsletters entitled, “A Little Bit of Country on Skid Row.” That newsletter detailed my experiences and became the basis for an article I wrote for Worldscape, a Chinese publication, in both English and Chinese, that focuses on global landscape design.
The Worldscape editors requested an article describing one of my projects and I thought the design and construction of the Center’s garden was ideal. It demonstrated how a public/private partnership (the Weingart Center, AmeriCorps and me) can make a major contribution to one of the worst neighborhoods in Los Angeles. Here is a link to a PDF of that article: Worldscape-Weingart and a video documenting the Garden’s construction is available here: Weingart-Construction.
The Weingart Center Garden – A Testimonial
The Garden that Garden of Eva designed and constructed for the Weingart Center, with the assistance of AmeriCorps, is a beautiful, comfortable and extremely functional outdoor living space for our clients, guests and community. Eva provided both the technical understanding of our needs and the vision to make the best use of the space. It provides a much-needed extension to our facility and it is continually used for meetings, training and fund-raising events, as well as barbecues for our staff, clients, guests and the community.
This small park provides refuge, relief and is a pleasant contrast to Skid Row and the city’s streets, sidewalks, large business complexes and housing developments. When you enter, the feeling you get is like walking into a country garden filled with beautiful flowers, trees, plants and a water fountain. We couldn’t be happier with the outcome and Eva’s continuing maintenance of our Garden.
Maurice Ochoa, Vice President – Facilities Services
Weingart Center for the Homeless
I have a client that has a beautiful mid-century modern home with a rather small terrace off the living room. The terrace has as it surface, tiles custom designed by the architect. My clients want to substantially expand the terrace but keep the tiles since they are part of the architect’s design and are in remarkably good condition. However, there is no way that I can match the tiles and the cost of having them replicated is not within their budget.
As I am both a landscape designer and a contractor, I suggested the way to resolve the aesthetic problem of having multiple floor surfaces is to think of that section of the new terrace as the foyer to what is going to become a substantial outdoor living area. As a foyer serves as a transitional area from the out doors into the home, this new foyer will serve in a comparable manner, but in reverse, from the house to the out of doors.
By building a pergola over the old terrace that compliments the architecture of the house, adding a step around its perimeter and lowering the ground level of the expanded terrace, the result will look as though this new addition was what the architect had always intended.
In order to tie the rest of the terrace to the original, I will use concrete tinted to pick up a dominant color in the tiles. And to integrate the grass of the yard into this new terrace, plant material will be used to band the poured concrete pavers. The pergola of the foyer will be replicated over the dining area and wherever possible, the finishing details of the terrace will compliment but not try to duplicate the mid-century aesthetic of the house.
I want this new addition to feel fresh and have it’s own identity while respecting the beautifully designed home that it abuts.
As the saying goes, when you’re handed lemons, think lemonade.
In May of 2010 I began designing and building the Weingart Center Garden. The Garden is adjacent to the Weingart Center, in the heart of the skid-row section of downtown Los Angeles. I wrote about this experience in one of my first newsletters entitled, “A Little Bit of Country on Skid Row.” That newsletter detailed my experiences and it has become the basis for an article I wrote for an up-coming issue of Worldscape.
Worldscape is a Chinese publication, in both English and Chinese, that focuses on global landscape design. The editors requested an article describing one of my projects and I thought the design and construction of the Center’s garden was ideal. It demonstrates how a public/private partnership (the Weingart Center, AmeriCorps and me) can make a major contribution to one of the worst neighborhoods in Los Angeles.
The article is to appear in Worldscape’s September publication – I’ll update you when it comes out. In the meantime, these photographs were shot for the publication and show how the Garden has grown in three years. If you want to see what it looked like in 2010, here is a link to a video showing the Garden’s construction: Video.
I’m grateful to have been given the opportunity to tell the Weingart Garden’s story. I hope it inspires other public/private partnerships and will help introduce “a little bit of country” to desolate pieces of property all around the world.
With summer upon us and families hitting the beaches, barbequing and hanging out by the pool, spending hours trimming the hedges, pruning the roses or digging in the garden, you don’t have to live on a beach to appreciate an open-air shower. The out of doors is a great place to be and a great place to shower: lathering up in the cool morning air, stripping down after a couple of sweaty hours playing tennis or feeling the refreshing cascade of water running over your body following an early morning tee off and 18 holes.
Regardless of your motivation, there is an outdoor shower that will meet your needs and your pocket book. From a foot sprayer connected to a hose and a cold-water spigot to an architecturally designed changing room with a multi-head shower and hot and cold running water, the choices are virtually unlimited.
Location, location, location, as they say, is paramount in purchasing a property and equally true in determining the best location for an outdoor shower. Here are a few things to consider in selecting a site:
the location of the plumbing lines,
who will be using it after what activity, and
does it take advantage of the beauty of it’s surrounding?
While you might like to commune with nature while you shower in the “all together,” this might not be true for your daughter or your mother when she comes to visit. So, I would suggest designing your shower for the most modest among you. There are an infinite number of ways to maintain privacy while still enjoying the glories of nature. Here are just a few thoughts: shower curtains, folding screens, painted shutters, old doors, bamboo roll-ups, potted plants, privet hedges and, of course, a whole range of custom designed enclosures constructed out of almost anything that will withstand water over a prolonged period of time.
Where the water comes from and where it goes is something I believe is best left to a professional unless this a temporary, “let’s try this out to see if anyone uses it.” If this is the case, then you’re on your own.
These photographs will give you some idea of the range of outdoor showers. They come in all sizes and descriptions: home made, pre made and custom made. And, of course, I would be happy to help you make an informed decision if you’re looking to commune with nature and want the advice and assistance of a professional.