April 2015

Welcome to our April edition. Spring is definitely here. The first to bloom were the pear trees with their musky smell. Next came our native Western Redbud with its profuse, small, pinkish lavender flowers in mid-March and on goes the spectrum of colors. One of the most interesting are the Purple Robe trees that have snapdragon-like flowers hanging downward in either purple or white. This is this tree’s only claim to fame. The rest of the year it is messy, and has surface roots that are accompanied by many suckers.  If you have one of these trees be sure to appreciate the flowers, which bloom in late April.


Last month we started a new series of reviewing maturing landscapes. The goal is to give a visual of what landscapes look like a couple years or more after their completion. I frequently hear from my clients that their prior landscapes looked nice initially but then grew into “jungles.” That absolutely does not have to be.   It is the result of selecting plants whose maturing heights and width are too large for the yard. Hand and hand with that is improper plant placement and pacing the plants too close to each other, or placing too tall plants in sequence instead of having a smaller grower between them allowing more space. However, in all fairness, I want to underscore that the process of maturing is also dependent upon the care given. Even when the right plants are selected and placed correctly inconsistent maintenance contributes to an overgrown look. To help with this we offer quarterly maintenance to our clients.In addition to proper plant care is the proper programming of the irrigation timer. I routinely find homeowners programming their drip irrigation similar to sprinklers. Aside from the gray hair my daughters have given me this has contributed to the other half.  As a way to help and educate our clients I send out emails regarding this topic.

The front yard we are currently reviewing is one of many slope landscapes we have completed but it is the first one to include a dry stream bed that goes under the walkway; as mentioned in last month’s article. Aside from the artistic value it gives the yard, there was also a functional reason as well (all good landscapes hide the functional reasons behind the artistic design). One of the challenges with slopes is to find a way to slow down runoff during rains. Often in heavy rains, as the one we had in November, the rain can cause the bark to “run” and or end up in the street. There are about three general ways to minimize this. They include shredded bark, boulder outcroppings and/or a dry stream bed. For this particular yard we decided the dry stream bed was the best option.


The next challenge was to design the steps.  They were executed very well by my cement contractor and even though there were problems initially with the tunnels, he was able to remedy the concern. My part as the designer was to determine the color (the homeowner helped here), the route the steps were going to take, the width of the steps and at what points would the stream intersect the walk. With this much cement in the middle of a landscape it would be easy to overwhelm it.  I could not make the steps too wide; however they could not be too narrow either. That would only accentuate their length; like drawing the eye up a narrow path. I definitely did not want that. I wanted the eye to be free to go from side to side as one made their way to the front door appreciating not only the steps, but the landscape as well. The color choice was important, which it always is, but in this specific situation the color chosen complemented the house and it neither caused the steps to stand out or to be hidden. In the end I was happy with the shape, color and direction of the steps. They held their own among many interesting features in the landscape and contributed and complemented the whole project.

From the steps came the boulders, which are always “such fun” to put in place on slopes. Extra hands are always needed, especially for safety.  Once the boulders were in, the next job was to add topsoil blend behind them creating rock planters as is in nature. However, before I could determine the location of the boulders I needed to decide the location of the focal plants that would be planted behind them. Focal plants are meant to lead the eye forward to its destination, which in this case is the front door. Once this was determined I could easily figure out the location of the boulders.


Next are the planting selections, which could be a whole article in itself, however let me just point out a few things.   There are several reasons why plants fail on slopes, but one is due to the lack of consideration for the way water travels within the slope.  For example, where would you consider the wettest part of the slope to be? The base of course, so planting Manzanita or Rock Rose would be a mistake; they would drown (which I often see being done). The slope has three profiles; the base, the center and the top, which represents the driest part of the slope. This is super important to consider when planting a theme.  Within that theme you need to know the plants that do well in those three areas.

There’s much more to talk about in planning slope landscapes, however I am going to change course for a couple months to review some exciting news in drought tolerant lawn substitutes and plantings. I just returned from attending a conference in Long Beach and have so much to share!

Gardeners, this is your time. If you have not planted, do it now. The weather is perfect for establishing the garden before the summer heat. Pay attention to maturing sizes and give adequate space.  Good Gardening.