There is no greater gift than to truly know God’s love for you. So thank you for coming to Part II where I am able to talk candidly about having a personal relationship with the Lord. To know that you know the Lord, and more importantly to know that He knows you and is with you, is such a great strength and confidence. It has made all the difference in my life. As a husband, father, employer and friend, I am many more times the man than I would have been otherwise.

My life of faith has been a journey for sure, and it is one that I am still on. At times, that journey is hard and trying. So why the effort ? Because faith has present and eternal rewards. And the benefits are not just for me, but also for those whom I love.  I have learned   that thoughtless actions and harsh   words are hard to take back.  When I act and speak according to my faith, I minimize my regrets, and promote healing and understanding. More importantly, I enjoy many more moments when I can reflect back on the events of the day and say, “Thank you Lord that I acted or answered in that way.”  It is awesome to realize that I can not only influence someone for their present good, but also for their eternal well- being. It’s like throwing a stone in a pond: the ripples extend well beyond the point of entry. They just keep going, and I liken faith to that.  You never really know how much of an impact a life of faith will have on your love ones, friends and co -workers.  This thought encourages me, making me press forward in my life of faith.

I realize that these ideas may be hard to grasp right now. It is my hope that this article, which is written in a question-answer format, will help you to understand the life of faith and see how near to us the Lord is.

 

Q. How do I begin to know the Lord?

A. Knowing the Lord is more about the heart, than the head. The Lord says, “Come to Me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). The heart hears this and responds. It says, “I want to come. I want to experience the rest that the Lord has for me–that place where I know I’m home.”

Life can be challenging, and   some of us face extraordinary challenges, but we all know what it means to be weighed down by the cares and stresses of this life. We may be dealing with issues at work, financial difficulties, family troubles, or struggles within ourselves, or all of the above. These trials make us weary and long for rest. The Lord calls us to find rest in Him, rather than to continue to struggle on our own.

 

Q.  How do I find that rest once my heart is willing? Do I need to do anything to save myself?

A. God’s path of salvation is complete; it needs nothing more on our part other than our faith and an understanding of some very important Biblical truths, but it starts with faith. Any attempt to “save ourselves” outside of God’s provision is effort put in the wrong direction. Like driving to an unknown destination without a map or GPS, it is effort and time wasted. .

 

Q.  What is faith?

A. The dictionary defines faith as belief in, devotion to or trust in something or someone, especially without logical proof.  We’ll talk more about logical proof in a moment. For now, I want you to see that, broadly speaking, faith can have any object—whether that object is riches or Santa Claus. This is important to understand because our beliefs shape our thoughts and our actions. Just think about how hard young children try to keep off Santa’s naughty list before Christmas time!

Since faith shapes our thoughts and actions,   God asks us to have faith in Him. Yet He does not ask for blind faith. He provides proof of His existence in Creation. When we look at a painting, we know that there is a painter. When we see a landscape, we know that it was designed by a landscaper. So in like manner, when we see Creation which is vast and great beyond human comprehension, we acknowledge a Creator.

Therefore faith in God is based on what can be known of Him through Creation and His Word, which is the Bible. These tell us that He is all-wise, all-powerful and all-loving.  So when we have difficulties in our life and don’t have all the answers, we can put faith in God’s promises because we already know that He is Great enough to help us.

 

Q. How important is it to have faith?

A.  As already discussed, true faith shapes our thoughts and our actions. So when the heart first says “I believe,” it is the beginning point of a new life.   It can be likened to a key that opens the door to a beautiful and fully- furnished home.  Faith is the “key” to knowing God.

By faith we believe what He says about our sinful nature and that our sins have separated us from him; by faith we believe that He provided the means to have our sins forgiven and to restore fellowship with Him through Jesus Christ. Through the Cross, Jesus’s death redeemed us from the consequences of our own sin. Faith says, “I believe, forgive me for my sins.” This is the importance of faith. Without it, nothing of God’s person or promises can be experienced.

 

Q. Apart from faith is there any attribute that will help my faith to grow?? 

A. Yes, there is one attribute that completes faith. It is humility, without which faith will be compromised.

Humility is a subject that is misunderstood in our society. We think that humility equates to thinking little of oneself.  In actuality, that kind of “humility” is a form of pride.   Whether I think I am God’s gift to man, or an accident waiting to happen, I am still thinking about me, fixating on myself.  True humility thinks more on God than self. Whatever I am or am not, God is bigger still.  My “fixation” is not on me, but on who He is. Humility helps us to trust what He has ordained, to desire obedience to Him and to seek to know Him more.

 

Q. How do I have a relationship with God?

A. God has given us what are called the “means of grace” to help us grow in our relationship with Him. These are reading His Word, prayer and going to church.  The means of grace allows the seedling of our faith to grow and mature in our soul, giving us confidence. Our faith in, and love for God grows as we grow.

 

Q. How important is it that I read the Bible regularly?

A. As mentioned, the Bible is one of the means of grace.  Far from being a slice of stagnant history, it is one of the most significant ways God uses to speak to His people in every generation.  If you read a magazine, your thoughts may be influenced. The Bible influences not only your thoughts, but also your heart and soul. Because the Bible is influential in the life of the believer, it is the book that is most often attacked by non-believers. There are so many statements that misrepresent the Bible, but to a believer these statements only show that the critics have not read the whole Bible, or they have read it absent of faith and humility. As one theologian described the Bible, “It is God’s love letter to His people.” To the unbelieving critics this same theologian simply responded by saying “you should not be surprised, as a stranger, that you do not understand someone else’s mail.”

As a student of the scriptures, I am convinced that the Bible is God’s Word to us. I have studied it for almost forty years and can testify that the Spirit of God uses the Bible to transform lives as he has transformed mine. Gainsayers and mockers of the Bible can say what they will; it does not change what I know by experience to be true.

This experience will be yours, too, if you regularly read the Scriptures.  The Bible is the “active” Word of God, which he says “will not return to Him void.” In other words, it will produce the results of holy living in His people. In the pages of Scripture you will learn who God is, what he has done and continues to do for His people, and His promises that are fulfilled in Christ. Equally significantly, you will learn how God wants us to live in light of those promises.

 

 

Q. How do I learn to trust Him?

A.  Just like any relationship, the more you know a person the more confident you are that you can trust them.  It is no different with the Lord. The more you know Him, the easier it is to trust Him with the concerns of your life. If Sundays are the only day you hear about the Lord or consider Him, it will be very difficult to trust Him. However if you make a commitment to pray and read regularly as discussed, then when the challenges of life come your way, trusting Him will not seem such a “leap of faith.” In time it will become second nature to trust the Lord, the “normal thing” for you to do. With that said, let’s have our first Bible study:

In the Gospel of John, Chapter 3 verses 16-17 we read: ” For God so loved the world [that’s you and me], that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth [trusts] in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.”

Whoever says that God is vindictive has not read this passage. The verses tell us that God not only loves, but LOVES FIRST.  Other key verses are found in John, Chapter 10 verses 9 – 11.  Here we hear Jesus speaking to his disciples.  He says:  “I am the door:  by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy [referring to anything contrary to his truth].  I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.”  This is what Jesus did when He gave His life for us on the cross.  So in these two passages from John, we can see God’s heart towards us and His purpose in sending Christ to us.

I have prepared some more studies in the form of short devotionals that will complete the balance of what needs to be shared. They are in an attachment to this letter and can be accessed by clicking on them. Please read them. They are part of a weekly devotional called Vida4U that I email out (Vida is Spanish for life). I would encourage you to send us your email so we can add you to the distribution.  The three devotionals that are attached explain important truths regarding salvation and each has a suggested prayer to help you in learning to pray.

My purpose for “The Greatest Gift Part II” was to speak with you as though we were sitting together in a coffee shop, answering your questions and helping you to get started on the right path. I want you to understand the importance of a heart response to God. To be confident knowing that your salvation is complete, you do not need to do “good works” to earn your salvation. “Good works” are a response BECAUSE of your salvation, NOT for your salvation. Your salvation has been accomplished and completed by Christ, nothing more than your faith is required. And because of that, faith is critical. When faith is coupled with humility, regular Bible studies, prayer, church attendance and some patience, you will start growing in your new life.  As food feeds the physical body, Bible study feeds the “spirit man/woman” in you. Monday through Friday I read during my lunch break and it’s the first thing I do on the weekends.

If you do not own a Bible, I would recommend the New International Version (NIV). It is a good translation for Bible study.  There are also short devotional books that are broken down in topics, such as depression, anger, finances, forgiveness, God’s love etc. that list verses on what the Bible says about these areas. Turn to the verses that address the concern you have and study them; it will help your faith to grow.

Always pray before you read the Bible, asking for the Lord to teach you. When He speaks to your spirit, or impresses you with a truth, write it down and review it. Don’t be surprised if shortly thereafter some difficulty comes testing your resolve to hold on to that truth. Lastly the verses I picked to study with you, and there’s many more like them, I wanted you to read and know God’s intent towards us. It is for love that God sent his Son to save us, and Jesus willingness was out of love for us to become our sacrifice. Any other understanding outside of this is misaligned and frankly wrong. And again I explain sacrifice, and other important truths in the Vida4U devotionals attached to this letter.

In closing I thank you for your time. Send me emails with questions or comments to arthur@Vida4U.com, and kindly give me a few days to respond.  God be with you, Amen.

CLICK HERE TO GO TO THE SHORT DEVOTIONALS

Welcome to our December edition. During most of the year we talk about landscaping in a physical sense, focusing on the design principles that bring beauty to the outside.

During the holidays, we think about landscaping in an emotional sense as we examine the life principles that foster inner beauty. This has been a yearly series, with this being our fourth edition.

In last year’s article, “The Gift that Heals,” we looked at the importance of forgiveness and how it affects the quality of our life and our relationships. This year we will look at “The Greatest Gift,” which is something that goes beyond forgiveness. If air is a necessary condition for life, meaning that life ceases without it, then this gift is like air for the human soul. This gift is unmatched by anything in this world—be it riches, fame or outward trappings, from the clothes we wear, to the car we drive or the home we live in. All of these together pale by comparison to the power and strength of love.

True love is unequaled. It has many imitators, but no real rivals. When we receive it, it gives us an inner confidence, a kind of peace that tells us that no matter what our circumstances are, we’re okay. Even in sorrow, it is a source of strength. For as submarines reach the depth of the ocean, love can reach the depths of our souls. Love tells us we matter—that we have worth. That’s something we all need to know about ourselves, isn’t it? That we have worth.

Yet self-worth is a funny thing because we can “fake it.” We masquerade with over- confidence or love of self, the “I must take care of me first” attitude, but these are often masks that hide deep insecurity. True self-worth is quiet, it is deep, having been placed and nurtured in our souls by our parents and others who have loved, taught, encouraged and disciplined us. Even when their discipline seemed stern, we understood that the seriousness of their measures spoke to the depth of their love for us. Sink or swim our parents (or other individuals), would not abandon ship. They would stand with us even through our worst screw-ups.

This kind of “stick with it” love is the greatest gift we can give to one another. It is also the greatest gift we can receive, profoundly affecting and influencing the course of our life. From how we respond to the challenges we face to the relationships we develop, love enables us to have confidence in the storms and discern wisely those who will have a say in our lives. For those of you who have been loved in this way, be ever so grateful. You’re like a tree in the garden that has been properly nurtured, growing straight and tall.

So what happens when love is absent? As I was thinking about this question, the TV series “The Walking Dead” came to mind. I confess that I don’t actually watch the show, but I know that it’s about an apocalyptic world in which the dead are somehow alive. That concept seems like a perfect description of what we are like when love is missing. We can be alive outwardly, performing our functions and duties, but inside we feel lost. There is no life or sense of worth. Instead there is an emptiness—a void—that we don’t know how to fill, although we try ever so hard. That sense of isolation and disconnectedness seems to always reappear, as if the main piece of the puzzle is missing.

I realize that the pictures I have drawn are extreme, as though some people are surrounded by love and others are completely bereft. And we certainly all know someone who seems to live in one of those two camps. Yet, the truth is that most of us live in-between. We have experienced love and we have experienced its absence. We also know what it’s like to be hurt by someone we love or to have hurt someone who loves us. Even at our very best, human love is imperfect and

can be messy. It’s just what it means to be human. Nonetheless, there still abides a longing in us to be perfectly loved—if we’re honest with ourselves, which at times is hard to be.

That desire for perfect love is what makes us feel like a piece of the puzzle is missing. But is it a desire that can be met? We already know that human love is imperfect, so that cannot be the answer. What is?

The answer lies in the love of God, which is perfect. His love never changes. It never fails. And it meets our needs on the deepest of levels, filling all the voids and cracks in our not so perfect lives. How do I know this? Because I know the difference that God’s love has made in my life and in the lives of others, and have been mindful of the ongoing changes His love has made in me. Ongoing is an important word to grasp. Just like maturing from child to teenager to adult, so spiritual maturity comes with time, patience and His presence in our lives. But the piece that is missing will be found in a personal relationship with God.

In ending, I thank you so much for spending this time with me.
I know you’re busy. It is my hope that I have encouraged you to give the gift of love, as well as to seek the perfect love of God. If I have touched your heart, I would like to point you to Part II of this article on our website. We talk about how to have a personal relationship with God and answer some of the most commonly asked questions. I’d also like to tell you about our weekly devotional called Vida4U. The word Vida is Spanish for life. If you would like to be included in our distribution, please email me at arthur@Vida4U.com.

Merry Christmas to you and family. It is my prayer that you will experience the greatest gift, that of God’s Love.

Sincerely,

Arthur Navarrette

CLICK HERE TO GO TO THE GREATEST GIFT PART II

Welcome to our November edition.

Last month we discussed the challenges of this NorCal/ Mediterranean landscape, which included working within the proportions of the yard so that everything looks like it “fits,” and establishing two different themes while maintaining continuity. This month we will examine the specific solutions to those challenges through our choices of hardscape and softscape.

Beginning with the hardscape, I want to call your attention to the flagstone. Flagstone is not the name of a particular stone; it is the name of a style of patio or a type of stone that can be cut into slabs of various sizes. Available in a broad range of colors and textures, flagstone has an organic beauty that blends perfectly with the natural setting of a landscape. For this project, I selected a quartz flagstone called Canadian Walnut because of its beautifully variegated coloration (please refer to last month’s article, or go to our website under publications). This stone was one of the most expensive selections and if we had needed to cover a larger space, I might have suggested something more economical. However for 700 square feet, the quartz would not break the bank, and for this project it provided the biggest bang for the buck. The different hues of tan worked well with both themes, as well as the house, bringing a richer look and feel to the overall experience of the yard. And because the stone is visually dynamic, it makes much out of a relatively small space.

I needed the plants to make much out of a relatively small space, too. One way that designers do this is to use smaller, compact plants, but that can create a busy landscape. Since I believe that landscapes should be peaceful and inviting, I chose to mix the combinations by going with fewer but larger, high impact plants mixed with smaller perennials. The bright red roses (Double Knockout) are a great example of how “less is more,” especially in a smaller space. With this in mind, I also used smaller varieties of Lavender and Chinese fringe flower. For brightness, I used Coleonema Sunset Gold, not Pacific Sunset, which is the larger of the two and hard to tell apart when small. For additional texture and interest, I selected an unusual clumping grass called Carex Bronze.

Along the fence line, I followed the same “less is more” principle. The criteria for plant selection here was very specific, again please refer to last month’s article. The clients
did not want the look of a hedge, a wall of foliage, but they did want the function. They also wanted it to be evergreen to maintain year round privacy, and to prevent adding additional leaves to the heavy leaf fall they receive from neighboring trees. This meant choosing a small tree with a very compact growing habit, but tall enough to create privacy that would look attractive and be low maintenance. With such a specific list of requirements, the selection was quickly narrowed down to Prunus carolinana “Bright ‘N Tight” (a pyramid-shaped variety of Cherry Laurel).

Next is the pool area. This pocket-sized part of the yard is made even smaller by the presence of the pool so space to create something new was at a premium, making it a good example of what can be done with small spaces. In situations such as these I prefer to use larger plants to “capture the effect.” The cost of mature plants for these areas does not significantly impact the budget, but it does make the theme immediately apparent. And in this case, it worked well with the broader setting. The neighboring trees (not shown) are already quite big, so smaller plants would seem out of place.

As we conclude our landscape discussion, I want to call you attention to the QR codes at the base of the page. These are links to YouTube videos about this project and the featured plant in “Let’s Talk Plants.” I encourage you to scan these with your smart phone, or go on YouTube using the address coding. The videos provide more in-depth coverage, showing more of the yard and detailing the process.

Lastly, I conclude with a couple things near and dear to me. Next month’s edition will be an inspirational article. This is our third year and each year we receive great comments, sincere and very much appreciated. Also, I want to express our appreciation for the community’s support. We’ve had a very busy year and will continue to work throughout the winter months. As I have often said, plants greatly prefer to live in the ground than in a plastic container. In hot or cold weather, the ground is a perfect insulator. So whether you need maintenance to get your yard ready for the holidays, or need a “face lift” give us a call or go to our website, click on appointments. Good Gardening!

Welcome to our October edition.

I am grateful for the many positive comments I have received about these articles, especially since it is a joy for me to share the designs I have created with you. Each completed landscape is so unique that I want to take a few days off to just enjoy it. Of course, my schedule doesn’t permit that, but writing these articles gives me the opportunity to reminisce about the challenges and the solutions. As I remember these things, I also think about the relationships and how blessed I am to have clients who become my friends.

Since this series began, we have been looking at landscapes that are at least two years old. We are now turning our attention to a landscape that was completed this spring. Despite its relatively young age, this garden looks more mature because we used larger plant material for the installation. Also, the relative narrowness of the yard causes the plants to appear bigger. Bearing these things in mind, I am very content with the way that this landscape is filling in. I am also pleased to feature it as a “normal sized” yard, having shown larger than average ones over the last few months. It is important to me to show that whatever the size of the yard, or how ordinary it may look today, it can be completely transformed and become an important asset to family life.

As with every Executive Care landscape, this design addresses the needs and desires of the client in a functional and aesthetically pleasing way. In order to make that happen, we have to understand and solve the various design challenges by thinking “outside the box.”The challenges with this yard existed in several areas. First on the list was the limited size of the yard, as compared to all the things that our clients wanted to achieve within the space. For instance, they requested a larger patio where their extended family and friends could visit. The existing patio was far too confining, especially since they were planning a backyard wedding reception for their eldest daughter. Next on the list was a garden. They wanted to teach their pre-teens about the rewards of patience through gardening. Also Jessica, the mother, enjoys reading outdoors, so I wanted to create a private “Jessica place.” But Jessica was not the only one who wanted more privacy. Having recently removed several large trees, the family now could see their back yard neighbor’s two-story home. This made them feel “exposed.” Finally, in the pool area, which is not shown, they wanted more of a lush, tropical feel than the Northern Cal/Mediterranean theme they’d selected for the rest of the yard.

Although I’ve given you quite a list, the individual challenges can be put into two categories. First, we needed to make a smaller yard feel bigger by getting more use from it. Incorporating all of the homeowners’ requests was going to take thought because the distinct features would need to be balanced in accordance with the size of the yard. That way, everything looks proportionately right because it “fits” the space. And second, we needed to establish two different themes. This would require using different plants to create each theme, but also using some transition plants that could be used in both areas to tie the landscape together.

So these were the main challenges, plus my own desire to increase the size of the planter beds to bring more interest to the yard. Since the lawn was by far the largest aspect of the existing yard, it made sense to “buy space” by removing a portion of it. Determining that portion was the trick. I needed to “paint out” the landscape changes first, which literally means that I use spray paint to sketch out the design in the actual space. This work is done after the drawings have been approved but before the actual work begins because it gives the designer and the clients a life-sized picture of what the landscape will look like. It is much wiser to do this than to redo bender board, irrigation etc. because something that was pleasing on paper is problematic in the actual space.

This concludes our discussion for this month. Next month we will focus on the development of the landscape, starting with the hardscape. In the meantime, it is time to remove your summer vegetable garden. And if you are planting a winter garden, October is the perfect time to get it in. With our mostly mild winters, there is a whole selection of vegetables that can be grown. If you have not done it, I would encourage you to give it a try. Until next time, Good Gardening.

Welcome to our September edition. I trust that our August article provided interesting insights as you went with me “behind the scenes” to see the kinds of challenges faced in putting together a good design. Client needs can be similar; but client personalities, the style of their home, the size of their yard, and many other factors are all unique. That’s one of the things I love about my job. Every project gives me the opportunity to meet new clients, and to tackle new and unusual challenges that keep me on my toes.

Last month we discussed the challenges of this Contemporary Asian themed landscape, which included the clients’ preference for non-traditional Asian design, their request for palms, the H.O.A. restrictions on palm height, and the imposing size of the home as compared to the size of the planter beds. Meeting these challenges required some research and some redesigning of the planter beds. In order to make the house and garden appear as though they “fit together,” it was necessary to substantially increase the size of the planter beds. In last month’s Before and After pictures, this difference is clearly seen.

Now let’s discuss the actual design. I want to point first to the four palms in the front planters, one each of two varieties used on either side of the front entrance. They cover the face of the house, so as they mature they will compliment and reduce the vertical starkness of the home. Each will compliment the other. Beyond that, the landscape continues with the north side ending at the street next to the driveway (not shown), but the south side (shown) continues quite a ways. Because of this distance I was challenged in finding a way to unify the yard. I needed to find a design element that would say, “This is the start, and this is the finish.” So I selected two Sabals, a most unusual trunk-less palm that is featured in this month’s “Let’s Talk Plants,” and two fruitless Olives. In combination, they make the perfect “bookends” for the design. The Sabals are so different from anything else, and in contrast to the gray foliage of the Olive tree, they stand out, and together easily define the beginning and end of the landscape. The dry stream bed, which is more visible on YouTube (see note below) adds more visual interest and a sense of depth to the landscape, while also providing for drainage.

I also want to point out the water feature, it is quite unique. During my initial conversations with the clients, we discussed water features at length. Using my portfolio, I was able to show them a variety of types and sizes, pointing out the differences between them. Knowing that my clients liked the relaxing sound of moving water, I was surprised that they were most drawn to a large cobble-filled basin that acted as a “stage” for several rock spire fountains. They loved the look of cobble covered by water. With that input, I suggested we create a Reflection Pond. Each end of the reflection pond would have a grouping of three rock spires, the tallest would be the fountain, and the other two columns would be “splash rocks.” This would allow the water from the fountain to splash onto the medium rock spire and then fall onto the lower rock spire before ultimately splashing into the Reflection Pond. We made it all from “scratch,” as there were no forms we could use. We also added an auto fill at one end so that evaporation would not be a problem.

I’m pleased with how the Reflection Pond turned out—not only because of how it looks, but also because of how it sounds. It is a quiet, gentle, even subtle sound that brings a real sense of tranquility to the landscape. I am equally pleased that it serves as a reminder that every challenge can be seen as a problem or as an opportunity. It all depends on your perspective. This is true in all of landscaping, and in life as well.

There are many other things I want to show you in this landscape, but cannot do within the confines of this article. So we have decided to video the entire project and to provide a more in-depth discussion of it on YouTube. Those of you with smart phones can scan the QR code provided to access the video, or visit the web address noted below “Let’s Talk Plants.” This will give you an opportunity to see the landscape in its entirety.

Before I close, I want to thank everyone who used our services this summer. We have stayed very busy, and are truly grateful for the loyal client base we have through House2Home. Your referrals are also much appreciated. So thank you. And until next month, Good Gardening.

Welcome to our August edition. I trust that your summer is going well and that you are finding fun ways to spend time with your family.

Before we begin, I want to note that when I am choosing landscapes to discuss, I am very conscious of showing a variety of different sized properties. I want you to be able to get a vision of the changes that could occur in your own yard, whether it is larger than average, average, or smaller than average. The chosen theme may not be what you would select, but you can appreciate the transformation. And you can see that all yards, regardless of size or design challenges, have the potential to be beautiful and inviting.

The landscape we looked at in June and July was normal in size. We are now turning our attention to a larger yard with an unusual theme. I call the theme ‘unusual’ because I have only created it once. It was designed for a family whose home was modern in design and décor. In their living room, the cream-colored couches were contemporary, having straight lines and clean accents. The tables, also cream, were rectangular with straight edges.

If you saw this room, you might expect that the family would ask for a contemporary looking landscape. Instead, they expressed a strong desire for an Asian design, while making it clear that they did not want a traditional Asian landscape. Though I was a little surprised by their choice, I understood how I could use the Asian aesthetic, which incorporates lines and angles, to complement the straight lines and angles of their home. . While I was thinking about this, the husband added that he loved palms, but did not want a Mediterranean feel in the garden.

So my challenge was to create a non-traditional Asian themed landscape that included palms. This made plant selection very tricky because I needed to communicate the Asian aesthetic without using traditionally Asian plants such as Japanese Maples, Pine trees or Bamboo. Also, I learned that the H.O.A. did not allow palm trees that grew above 15’.

To make this design work, I needed to do some research, and enlist the help of my favorite nurseries. I also found a new nursery that specializes in unusual Palms, which was perfect for this project. In addition to getting information from my suppliers, I needed to look at the plants I already knew with “new eyes”. The result is what you see here. This is my interpretation of a Contemporary Asian themed landscape.

Normally when we talk about a new landscape, we begin with changes to the hardscape, e.g., extending the patio, or adding walls. With this job, we did not need to change the hardscape. The proportions between hardscape and softscape were good. However the proportions between lawn and planter bed were not. This is often true of older landscapes, but it is also seen in new construction. A large lawn is an easier ‘fix’ for builders than doing a complete landscape. Unfortunately, as with this yard, to decrease the lawn size to increase planter bed space requires work. Besides removing a portion of the lawn, you also must reposition the sprinklers, change to smaller nozzles, put in new bender board, etc.

Since it is a lot of work, you might wonder why I would recommend it. The answer is that the home itself is very bold and large, requiring a sizable border to soften it, making the house look like it ‘fits in,’ and not just there. Without increasing the planter space it would be very easy to overlook the landscape and just see the home. For this reason, we decreased the lawn both in length and width, giving us room to create and to develop our theme. So now when you look at the home, you see the landscape and the house as one entity. As the landscape continues to grow (it is shown here at two years old), the landscape and the home will continue to become more unified, with each complementing the other. This is what a good landscape is supposed to do.

This finishes our article for this month, covering the theme and challenge of this design. Next month we will discuss the details of the landscape, some of the cool palms we used to capture the theme, and a special water feature that I have never discussed in print before.

May you enjoy the last few weeks of summer, even as you get your family ready for a new school year. Remember to keep your watering for your garden consistent. Irregular watering can spilt the tomatoes. For fruit trees, a good soak and then a drying out period is best. Do not overwater, as the fruit will lack sweetness and taste watery. Until next month, Good Gardening.

Welcome to July’s article. I have received many positive comments about our recent expansion to a second page. It allows me to be more informative, and have a little fun with “If Plants Could Talk,” a short column that expresses what plants would say about themselves if they could. For readers, it will be informative. How often do you wonder what plant would work well in a particular spot, be it sun or shade, in wet or dry conditions? And will that plant grow to the size you want, whether that is to stay relatively small, or grow big enough to cover an eyesore? This new column will answer questions like these as we move through our themes. I trust you’ll find value in discovering unusual and eye catching plants, or learning something new about plants you have seen before. Having worked many years at wholesale nurseries in various capacities, the column certainly is fun for me to write.

While we’re on the subject of plants, I am reminded that many people ask whether summer is a good time to plant. They are concerned, of course, about our hottest days. To answer, I ask them to pretend they are a plant. Then I ask where they would rather live, in a hot plastic container or in the ground, which is cooler? I explain that a layer of bark acts like insulation, further protecting the plant from the heat. So as a plant, it is much nicer to be in the ground than in a nursery pot. And with that timely question answered, let’s begin.

In last month’s main article we looked at the hardscape of this Asian theme garden, specifically discussing howthe theme guided the decisions we made about color and types of hardscape. Before we move on to the plant selections, I would like to add another important way that theme guides hardscape selections, and that is with regard to proportion. In other words, how much cement versus flagstone or ornate gravel is appropriate? Sincethe Asian theme is best expressed with natural, not man- made materials, you would rightly conclude that the use of cement should be minimal. In reality, the decision is not so simple.

While theme determines the look and feel of the garden, it cannot neglect functionality or the clients’ wishes. For these reasons, this landscape actually includes a fair amount of cement, much of which does not show in the pictures. The issue then becomes one of union. How do you “tie the knot,” in a sense, between theme and functionality? Here I was able to fool the eye by breaking up the cement patio into three distinct shapes. This way, you really never register its actual size. The flagstone patio, with its color strong accents, actually stands out more, even though it’s proportionally smaller. So theme helps with proportions, and gives ideas on how to deal with aspects of the landscape that are related more to functionality than to theme.

Now let’s talk plants.

When you think about an Asian landscape, what plants come immediately to mind? Japanese Maples would probably be first on your list, then maybe Bamboo and Bonsai. Interestingly, Bonsai is more an art form than a specific plant; it is an ancient craft of growing and shaping miniature, ornamental trees. In addition to these Asian icons, there are others that may be less familiar, such as the Atlas Cedar Serpentine. This hauntingly beautiful tree is bluish grey in color and grows in a weeping, twisting fashion. You can see a picture of it here, left side, and also in last month’s article, at the top corner of the right hand page. (There are other varieties of this plant that grow upright, so be careful to specify Serpentine if this is the look you want.) Other strongly Asian plants are Aucuba Japonica Variegated and Serpentine or weeping cherries. Although neither of these is pictured here, images are easily found on the Internet.

In an Asian themed landscape, these classically Asian plants are expected. However, it is important to understand that you are not limited to them. In fact, there is a wide array of plants that are not specifically Asian, but integrate beautifully. A great example is the Mexican Grass Tree, which was featured in last month’s “If Plants Could Talk.” In the context of this landscape, it has a distinctly Asian look and feel. It can be equally effective in a Mediterranean landscape, such as the one featured in our May article.

Another great example is the Dwarf Pomegranate, two of which can be seen in the main picture here; they are the taller plants with the orange flowers. Again, this plant is not specifically Asian, but works well within the context of an Asian theme. The word I want you to remember is context. The context for any theme is established with the “classics,” both in soft and hardscapes. Once the context is clearly defined, you can begin to incorporate plants (and other materials) that have a similar look or complimentary feel, which brings depth and visual interest to the landscape. This explains why I can, and do use of certain plants for more than one theme, plants that can “take on” the characteristic of that theme. Since availability at the nurseries fluctuates, being creative is a must, and it’s fun.

Thank you for spending your time with me today. Next month we will continue our discussion on theme, as we consider another landscape. Remember as your vegetable garden starts to produce, to fertilize it lightly on a monthly basis. This helps to keep the plants strong and producing. Until next time, Good Gardening!

Welcome to our June edition and to the summer season. Summer is typically the fun season when families go on vacation, be it camping or flying to distant locales. For those of us in landscaping, the warmer days keep us on a “diet plan,” so that by the end of summer we are fit and trim.

Before getting started with this month’s article, let’s do a little review. In last month’s article we discussed the importance of working within the context of a theme. A theme is “a distinct, recurring and unifying quality or idea” that guides our selections, from hardscape shape and color, to the tree and plant selections. Without a clear theme, it is hard to unify the landscape. When doing renovations, the theme facilitates decisions about what will remain in or be removed from the yard, ensuring that money will be spent wisely.

For new landscapes, working with a theme is just as important. As an example, I just received a set of detailed plans from a friend who designs, but does not install. I was grateful for his trust and for the referral. He gave me permission to change the plan where needed, and to determine the theme in conjunction with the preferences of the clients. The plan is very detailed having seat walls, sidewalks, a water feature and a patio. Still, the finished look, which is determined by the theme, was undecided. Without establishing a theme, it would be hard to do an accurate estimate, and the finished landscape would not be a personal creation reflecting the owner’s personality. I believe this is where many jobs go astray, and where client and contractor have a falling out.

In addition to keeping the client and contractor “on the same page,” a theme also helps with making choices that can save money. If, for instance, the drawn plan is outside the budget, knowing the theme allows me to change out more expensive material for less expensive, yet maintain the desired look and feel. So once I explained all this to my new clients, they could see how a theme keeps the design elements cohesive while personalizing the landscape and respecting the budget. With that in mind, let’s discuss the landscape at hand.

The landscape in view has an Asian theme. Because we offer a quarterly maintenance service, I am able to stay in contact with our clients and watch as their gardens mature. I just visited these clients in May, so the pictures are current. The growth between the initial installation in October 2000 and today is quiet striking. The garden has really come into its own. Because we space plants in a way that accommodates their mature size, it takes three years of growth before it fully reflects the original vision.

As we look at this landscape, let’s discuss the hardscape first. Remember, the hardscape selections need to tie to the theme. Asian hardscapes have subdued colors—a lot of grays and blacks, often contrasted with cream colors, such as cream colored gravel against gray or black flagstone or statues. I have found that this look is often too stark for American tastes. So part of my job as a designer is to adapt themes to fit into our culture. Here I have used the classic Asian hardscape colors as accents, as with the rock spire water feature. Elsewhere, I have introduced more color without compromising the overall feel. For instance, the cement patio is a tannish color that compliments the strong contrasting colors of the selected flagstone, which has grays, burnt oranges, and dark browns. It’s a darker, stronger colored stone, yet it has more warmth and visual appeal than a mono colored stone. The cement stepping stones serve as a transition from one patio to the next, breaking up the space.

If you are familiar with Japanese Ikebana (a minimalist form of flower arrangement), you know that the Asian aesthetic is to do much with little. One of the ways this is expressed is to change the shape or usage or the same material. As an example, Bamboo can be used in the landscape as a plant, the canes can be made into a water feature, or can be used to transition from one landscape feature to another as we did here in combination with lilies, grasses, gravel and boulders. The rock spire fountain is a dark, smooth stoned fountain with some defining lines that blend nature and order. The pots (viewed in “If Plants Could Talk”) are a dark matted color (as opposed to glossy). They keep the mood while softening the hardscape. The other features, a waterfall and a dry stream bed, are assets in any landscape, not just in one that is Asian themed.

Next month we will discuss the plants, my favorite part of each and every landscape we do. Lastly remember to get your garden in, and plant aphid prone vegetables, such as squash, next to herbs or green onions. The scent helps ward off the aphid. Until next month – Good Gardening.

Welcome to our March edition and our third and final series on preparing our yards for spring. Based upon the title, I should be talking more about the growth of lawns and plants; however, for healthy lawns and plants, irrigation is a major component. We can apply all the fertilizer we want, prune the plants, aerate our lawns, etc., but if the irrigation is not right, the results at best are fair and at worse, we have dead plants and lawns. So growth has everything to do with irrigation, and proper irrigation has everything to do with the topics we have been covering. Also please note that this is Part III; I would recommend that you read Part I and II. The articles are on my website at www.executivecareinc.com under publications or on Home Improvement & Remodeling Magazine’s website at www.HomeImprovement-Magazine.com. With that covered, let’s start.

Last month, we left two items under lawn sprinklers not covered: seals and “sinking sprinklers.” Seals are a very important part of the sprinkler, and each manufacture has its way of designing them into the sprinklers. For example, Rain Bird’s seal is incorporated into the cap of the sprinkler. If you look at a
Rain Bird sprinkler, the top has a white inner ring. This is the seal, and as the “pop-up” part of the sprinkler rises, this seal prevents water from coming out. When the seal becomes aged via use and sun, it no longer seals, and water can be seen leaking out along the edge of the pop-up and seal. If not changed
out, the leaking will increase to the point of becoming a small stream of water, which not only wastes water, but it prevents the pop-up from fully rising and the nozzle from watering the full distance. Toro sprinklers have their seal as a separate piece, under the cap. The cap must be removed to be
able to exchange the seal. Combined with the seal is a retainer that holds the seal in place, so there are two pieces, but the rubberized one is the seal. Only if the retainer is damaged would you need to replace it; otherwise, it’s fairly permanent. The Toro seal, as the Rain Bird seal, becomes hardened through use, no longer sealing, and water can be seen coming from the base of the pop-up. Checking and exchanging seals is virtually never considered by the homeowner, mostly for a lack of awareness of how important this is
to do. Seals in general last between three to five years before they need to be changed. It is a simple process requiring two channel-lock wenches—one for unscrewing the cap and one for gently holding the sprinkler body. These seals often cost the same price as buying a complete sprinkler, so if you are not close to a sprinkler store where you can buy just the seals, the box stores sell the whole sprinkler that you can dismantle and use the seal or just swap out the sprinkler.

The second item is “sinking sprinklers.” Now we know sprinklers do not literally sink, though visually it appears as such. Year after year, less of the “pop-up” portion is visible, and in some cases, this pop-up portion is only an inch or two above the lawn. At this height, it cannot water without the lawn blades interfering, blocking the spray and causing poor coverage during watering, especially a few days prior to mowing, when the lawn is the tallest. So if the sprinklers can’t “sink,” what is happening? It is called thatch. It is most prevalent in lawns that are overwatered and fed high nitrogen. It is the accumulation of dead lawn that develops below the growing portion of the lawn, causing it to rise up. When a lawn has excessive thatch, it becomes a “high-maintenance” lawn, requiring more fertilizer, more water (which adds to the problem), and more chemicals to treat because it becomes more subject to infestation and diseases. Also it requires the lifting of the sprinklers by adding extension risers and couplers. So what can be done? For the lawn to get to this point, it required several years of overwatering and high nitrogen. Getting back to an acceptable thatch level of one-half inch or less will require several years of purposeful care. Rental yards have what is called a “dethatcher,” which is comprised of tiny little blades (not sharp) that spin at a high speed, “beating up” the lawn, and thereby pulling out the dead lawn matter from the base. If you can imagine a high-powered electrical rake, it is much like that. And because of the violent action that is used, thatch reduction must be done over a period of time, allowing the lawn to recuperate and heal itself. The best time to do this is early spring and early fall. About two weeks prior to dethatching, apply a moderate amount of 15-15-15 fertilizer (leaves/roots/cell structure is to what each number corresponds). Apply the fertilizer moderately, remembering that overdoing the fertilizer was one of the contributors to this problem. You can expect that each time the lawn is dethatched, between one-fourth inch to one-half inch of dead-lawn matter will be removed. If the thatch is one and one-half inches tall, it will require two to three separate attempts to remove it. If you use pre-emergent to control lawn weeds, apply this after dethatching. Once the thatch has been reduced, you will find the lawn returning to a healthy state and will be easier to mow and to maintain.

This concludes our lawn-care tips. As always, I hope I have helped. If you need assistance in implementing these tips or any of the tips mentioned in the prior articles, please do not hesitate to call. Spring, one of our more busier times, has started early with our warmer temperatures. So if you need help, or are planning to landscape or re-landscape your yard, I would suggest that you call sooner if possible, rather than later for an appointment.

Thank you and Good Gardening!

Welcome to our April edition. From January to the present, we have been covering in detail irrigation-maintenance concerns. I find it worthwhile to review these topics with you, to make it easier for you to find the needed information without a lot of research on your part. I know many of you keep Home Improvement & Remodeling Magazine as a reference and I hope, as a reader, you have also found these articles beneficial and keep them as reference guides. I am writing to everyone with these articles, whether you do it yourself or just like to be well-informed when you meet with your landscape professional. I hope I have been helpful.

As a professional, I have discovered over the years, that in many of the renovation jobs we do, we find the drip system was installed incorrectly. Whether it was done by a home owner or another landscape professional, it is too bad that money was spent on a system that has had, or will continue to have constant problems. In my experience, there is a right way and there is a wrong way to install drip systems and all too often it is done the wrong way. So let’s talk drip and get it right!

Drip systems have seven components, only seven, but they have to be in this exact order for the drip to do its job. Let’s start with the valve. How does a drip valve differ from a lawn valve? It does not, at least not the “workings” of the valve, which we covered last month. What varies are the additional components that are added to the valve that make it serviceable for drip irrigation. To the outgoing side of the valve, a filter and pressure regulator are added. The filter is used as you would imagine, to filter minute debris from the water. The pressure reducer does exactly what it implies, drops the water pressure down.
Without it, normal water pressure is enough to blow off the emitters.

Next is the 1/2″drip line, which is the size you will find at the “box” stores, or the 5/8″ drip line, which is the size you will find at the “specialty irrigation” stores. Each size is specific to the type of store, so if you buy the 1/2” drip line from a box store, and you need to expand or repair your drip line, you must continue to buy the drip line and parts from a box store, not a specialty irrigation store. Continuing from the 1/2” or 5/8″ drip line is a 1/4″ coupler that is barbed. It needs to be inserted into the 1/2″ or 5/8″ line using a punch—a plastic piece with a point, which causes a small hole in the pipe into which to insert the coupler. From the coupler goes the 1/4″ line AND IT GOES NO LONGER THAN 18 INCHES to 3 FEET. I have seen the 1/4″ line travel up to 6′ feet uphill. The plant at the end of such a length will always be “short changed” from lack of water. I have also seen drip emitters in place of the coupler. So that is a great idea—reduce the water flow from the start, and let’s see if it makes it to the plant with any volume? Pardon my attitude, but this stuff just gets to me. So continuing, at the end of the 1/4″ line goes the emitter. Now the emitter is extremely important, so spend the money. The emitters come in different color codings, indicating different gallon-age rates. Depending upon the brand, the color codings will vary. So stay with the same brand and do not mix and match. For new plantings, we use the following procedures:

for 1/gallon, we use not one BUT TWO 1/2 gallon emitters on opposite sides of the plants; for 5/gallons, we use two 1/gallon emitters; and for 15/gallons, we use two 2/gallon emitters. Without giving into attitude here, I cannot tell you how many jobs we have redone with one emitter per plant. Since when does the plant only grow roots and leaves on one side? Finally, we use a drip stake that goes just behind the emitter on the 1/4” drip line, keeping it off the ground and easier to view.

Lastly, and a very important step, is the programming of the timer. With lawn, we can visually see it go brown and add more water. With the plants, it is not that easy. So we need a base—an amount of time that makes sense for landscapes in general. Homeowners will tell me they water 10 to 12 minutes, just like they do the lawn. I used to be shocked at this, but now I expect it. So let’s take the mystery out of programming for drip. Just like lawn irrigation, we can quantify the amount of water we are adding to the plants. All gallon-age rating is done on an hourly basis (gph: gallons per hour). Two 1/2 gallon emitters in one hour will water one gallon of water, so 1/2 hour’s time is equivalent to 1/2 gallon of water, which is sufficient for newly planted 1/gallon plants. For 5/ gallons, the gph is two gallons. In a 1/2 hour’s time, we are applying one gallon of water, which again is sufficient for newly-planted landscape. Fifteen gallon plants figure out the same way. Now for the future, depending upon the plant selection, this setup will work for about two to three years. By the end of the second or third year, an extra 15 minutes of water will need to be added. At times, I also recommend upsizing the emitters during the fourth year. In concluding, there are more comments I can make about layout, valve selections and positioning, and length of runs, but the above tips are the heart and soul of proper drip installations.

So as always, I hope this helps and that it is not too technical. My field is definitely not “rocket science,” but there are steps, as in all fields, that must be followed to achieve the end goal. If you need help with this, do not hesitate to call. Thank you for taking the time to read. Good Gardening….

Welcome to our March issue. It is hard to believe that spring is already here. The trees and shrubs are blooming and the neighbor kids, my little friends, are playing their street games again.

Seeing the children reminded me of when our girls were little. Wherever we were, whatever we were doing, my wife, Lisa, always seemed to be prepared for whatever happened. Somehow, she always knew exactly what the girls would need, and planned for it. This kind of forward thinking is what a good landscape designer does, too. Let me explain what I mean.

A successful landscape—one that grows more beautiful with time—always starts with a clear understanding of what plants need in terms of climate, levels of sun or shade, soil quality, and water . This list may seem pretty basic, but the plant kingdom is vast, and each species has its own unique requirements. A designer who has a strong working knowledge of plants is able to select plants whose needs are compatible with other plants and with the given environment. The designer also uses his knowledge of plants to provide for the future needs of the plants, such as space for proper growth and adequate water.

“Why water?” you ask. “Shouldn’t that be a given, something not to worry about, as opposed to a future need that requires consideration?” That is a good question. If the plants are going to thrive, water is definitely a present need. At the same time, it is also a future consideration. To assume that ample water always will be available is not wise, especially given our regional weather history. As an immediate example, we all know that this last winter was a dry one. Even if we have a wet spring, I expect that there will be water restrictions by summer.

Water restrictions are not uncommon in Northern California. As a landscape designer, it is part of my job to plan for them. This is why I routinely recommend drought-tolerant lawns for new installations, and also suggest plants that are not overly thirsty. This is also what inspired me to write a series of articles on making your landscape “water restriction proof ” during the 2009 dry spell. These articles included one on turf grass hybrids that, once established, only need one good watering a week. I also examined “the next generation” of sprinkler nozzles, called Watermisers. And I discussed the importance of drip irrigation which delivers the desired amount of water directly to each plant, with minimal water waste. I also have some articles from 2012 that cover the same subject. If you are interested in reading any of these, the articles can be found on my website under Publications. For now, it is enough to know that I take planning ahead very seriously. In my mind, it is good stewardship, not only of our natural resources, but also of the faith my clients put in me.

So with the idea of planning ahead well-planted in our minds, let’s take a look at this month’s featured landscape. I like to rotate between bigger and smaller properties, so that everyone has a chance to see design concepts that will work well in their own yard. The property we are looking at now is a smaller one. I will be focusing on the front garden with this edition. We’ll look at the back yard next month.

As the before picture shows, my clients started with a standard builder’s landscape. They wanted something more personal and visually exciting. They specifically requested that the design be lawn-free because they’re

allergic to grass and to the maintenance of it. Although this decision was made for personal reasons, going lawn- free, or using a drought- tolerant lawn, is a great way to “water restriction proof ” a garden without sacrificing beauty or personality.

The personality of this design comes from its blended Northern California/Asian theme. It was a perfect choice for this couple. The husband grew up in Washington State and enjoys the “look” of Northern California with mixed ornamentals and conifers. His wife, who is Asian by descent, enjoys the influences of that theme. By bringing the two themes together in one design, I was able to express the couple’s individuality as well as their unity.

The theme here is what I would call a perfect fit, but not all of my clients have such an obvious choice. So, like water, finding the right fit is on my list of immediate and future needs. The goal is always

to create a design that will please today as well as tomorrow. For this reason, proportion in a smaller
yard is very important. The design elements and plant selections need to fit, without overwhelming the space. This includes everything from boulder selections to

Welcome to our March issue. It is hard to believe that Spring is already here. I want to start off a little differently with this article by asking a question. The question is, what are the key ingredients for business success? An initial answer would be that it would depend upon the business and the end goal. However, there are general statements or goals that would benefit any business. Being unique or original, satisfying and/or surpassing expectations, great quality at a fair price etc., are all parts of a successful business model. But the one that I want to address in our March edition is being Proactive. How does this fit into the context of landscaping?

Landscaping, whether in Arizona, where the landscape is serene and the plant combinations consist of drought tolerant plants or in a tropical area such as Hawaii, where the landscape is full, lush and very green, must be done with the knowledge of the climate zone and its plant types. There are plants that are indigenous to those areas, as well as plants that have the “qualifications,” or better said, the adaptability to grow in those zones. No region, with maybe the exception of the Sahara Desert, is without its native plants. We can go anywhere and enjoy good landscapes, that invite you out or calms you down, and causes you –almost subconsciously–to be in a good mood. High end resorts, regardless of their location, invest a lot of money and time in their landscapes for this reason, and they are very good examples of the diversity, beauty and adaptability of the plant kingdom.

Apart from knowing the correct plant species and how to use them, it is also part of my job to pay attention to our weather and be ‘proactive’ in regards to those changes. Permanent climate changes I am not qualified to determine, for much of our weather is cyclic. However seasonal changes that affect us I am qualified to deal with. It is no secret that our rainfall has been limited this year, and though I have not heard of any water restrictions (as of 2/23) I do expect them. So , is it being proactive to install large areas of lawn? A case in point: I was just at a local nursery yesterday, and someone had bought approximately 2,200 square feet of sod. That is an area of 50 feet by 45 feet, and represents a fair amount of labor and materials when you consider the grading, drainage, irrigation, topsoil and lawn, to risk losing. I was quite upset, especially when there are so many good alternatives to installing a lawn like this.

Two years ago we had water restrictions, and I wrote a series on making your landscape “water restriction proof” which involved hybrids of lawns that, once established, only need one good watering a week. I also discussed next generation sprinkler nozzles that have the trade name of “water miser nozzles.” I also discussed the correct way to install a drip irrigation system, which, when done correctly, is the best system for the plants. The water goes right to the plant, we are able to quantify that amount, and nothing is wasted. So what is my point? Being proactive involves adapting to what nature gives us. Living within our “natural means” is only good stewardship. The good news is that we have the tools and the plants to do so without sacrificing the beauty and the pleasure of the outdoors.

So with the idea of being proactive, let’s start with this month’s landscape. I like to rotate between larger yards and smaller yards, giving everyone a chance to see concepts and designs that can potentially fit into their yards. Having just concluded a three part series on a larger yard, I am excited to share with you the concepts and designs that went into this smaller yard. We will start with the front this month, and review the back next month. The front, as the before picture shows, was the standard builder’s landscape. Which, while everything else gets settled with new home ownership, works. Our clients had been in the home for about six months, and were now ready for a change. Not wanting any lawn due to allergies as well as because of the maintenance they requested a lawn free landscape design with a Northern California/Asian blended theme. Often people ask how a theme is determined. With these clients it was a matter of preference. The husband grew up in Washington state and enjoys our Northern California look, with mixed ornamentals and conifers. His wife, Asian by decent, enjoys the influences of that theme. So a mixed theme is easy to understand. In this case it was more a matter of personal preferences; in other cases it depends on trying to match the surrounding area, or trees that will remain, or the outside architecture or interior decor of the house.

In designing a smaller yard, the challenge is making the different design elements and plant selections fit into the proportions of the yard. Everything from boulder selections, to stream width and length, to the maturing heights and width of plants and the amount of night lights comes into greater focus with a smaller yard. It is fun because of this challenge, but not easy. It is very easy to overcrowd a smaller yard in later years if all of these elements are not taken into account. Initially “over planting” looks nice, filling out the smaller yard and making it appear a little bigger than it really is. However, as the landscape matures, and the plants grow, just the opposite begins to happen. The plants crowd themselves and the area begins to appear smaller. The challenge is to resist the temptation to give a “bigger” look to the yard, and design for the future, which, for me, is the third year of growth. By then the plants are at the size that I want to maintain them. The trees of course will continue to grow, but by the third year, they have come into their own beauty. And if cared for properly, will only become more of a focal point in the landscape.

Next month we will discuss the back yard. Please however read the new column as we expand into two full pages. For next month the new column will be titled ” If Plants Could Talk ” which is going to be a fun column for you plant enthusiasts. However for this month, I feel it very important to give a review on drip irrigation—not as exciting, but it is the life line of your plants. Also this January and February I covered in detail lawn irrigation tips in the articles on my website under ‘Publications.’ Call if we can help, and please let us know if the request is for a family activity soon to happen, or if you have time. We are needing to rank our response according to client need.

OK, that’s it for now, have a great month, and Good Gardening!

Welcome to our March edition and our third and final series on preparing our yards for spring. Based upon the title, I should be talking more about the growth of lawns and plants; however, for healthy lawns and plants, irrigation is a major component. We can apply all the fertilizer we want, prune the plants, aerate our lawns, etc., but if the irrigation is not right, the results at best are fair and at worse, we have dead plants and lawns. So growth has everything to do with irrigation, and proper irrigation has everything to do with the topics we have been covering. Also please note that this is Part III; I would recommend that you read Part I and II. The articles are on my website at www.executivecareinc.com under publications or on Home Improvement & Remodeling Magazine’s website at www.HomeImprovement-Magazine.com. With that covered, let’s start.

Last month, we left two items under lawn sprinklers not covered: seals and “sinking sprinklers.” Seals are a very important part of the sprinkler, and each manufacture has its way of designing them into the sprinklers. For example, Rain Bird’s seal is incorporated into the cap of the sprinkler. If you look at a Rain Bird sprinkler, the top has a white inner ring. This is the seal, and as the “pop-up” part of the sprinkler rises, this seal prevents water from coming out. When the seal becomes aged via use and sun, it no longer seals, and water can be seen leaking out along the edge of the pop-up and seal. If not changed out, the leaking will increase to the point of becoming a small stream of water, which not only wastes water, but it prevents the pop-up from fully rising and the nozzle from watering the full distance. Toro sprinklers have their seal as a separate piece, under the cap. The cap must be removed to be able to exchange the seal. Combined with the seal is a retainer that holds the seal in place, so there are two pieces, but the rubberized one is the seal. Only if the retainer is damaged would you need to replace it; otherwise, it’s fairly permanent. The Toro seal, as the Rain Bird seal, becomes hardened through use, no longer sealing, and water can be seen coming from the base of the pop-up. Checking and exchanging seals is virtually never considered by the homeowner, mostly for a lack of awareness of how important this is to do. Seals in general last between three to five years before they need to be changed. It is a simple process requiring two channel-lock wenches—one for unscrewing the cap and one for gently holding the sprinkler body. These seals often cost the same price as buying a complete sprinkler, so if you are not close to a sprinkler store where you can buy just the seals, the box stores sell the whole sprinkler that you can dismantle and use the seal or just swap out the sprinkler.

The second item is “sinking sprinklers.” Now we know sprinklers do not literally sink, though visually it appears as such. Year after year, less of the “pop-up” portion is visible, and in some cases, this pop-up portion is only an inch or two above the lawn. At this height, it cannot water without the lawn blades interfering, blocking the spray and causing poor coverage during watering, especially a few days prior to mowing, when the lawn is the tallest. So if the sprinklers can’t “sink,” what is happening? It is called thatch. It is most prevalent in lawns that are overwatered and fed high nitrogen. It is the accumulation of dead lawn that develops below the growing portion of the lawn, causing it to rise up. When a lawn has excessive thatch, it becomes a “high-maintenance” lawn, requiring more fertilizer, more water (which adds to the problem), and more chemicals to treat because it becomes more subject to infestation and diseases. Also it requires the lifting of the sprinklers by adding extension risers and couplers. So what can be done? For the lawn to get to this point, it required several years of overwatering and high nitrogen. Getting back to an acceptable thatch level of one-half inch or less will require several years of purposeful care. Rental yards have what is called a “dethatcher,” which is comprised of tiny little blades (not sharp) that spin at a high speed, “beating up” the lawn, and thereby pulling out the dead lawn matter from the base. If you can imagine a high-powered electrical rake, it is much like that. And because of the violent action that is used, thatch reduction must be done over a period of time, allowing the lawn to recuperate and heal itself. The best time to do this is early spring and early fall. About two weeks prior to dethatching, apply a moderate amount of 15-15-15 fertilizer (leaves/roots/cell structure is to what each number corresponds). Apply the fertilizer moderately, remembering that overdoing the fertilizer was one of the contributors to this problem. You can expect that each time the lawn is dethatched, between one-fourth inch to one-half inch of dead-lawn matter will be removed. If the thatch is one and one-half inches tall, it will require two to three separate attempts to remove it. If you use pre-emergent to control lawn weeds, apply this after dethatching. Once the thatch has been reduced, you will find the lawn returning to a healthy state and will be easier to mow and to maintain.

This concludes our lawn-care tips. As always, I hope I have helped. If you need assistance in implementing these tips or any of the tips mentioned in the prior articles, please do not hesitate to call. We are becoming busy, so call sooner rather than later. Currently, we are about three to four weeks out, but if you can wait, we will fit you in.

Thank you and Good Gardening!

Thank you for coming to Part II for both previous articles, The Giving of Grace and The Gift that Heals.

This article, Heaven’s Hope, Grace Unmeasured, as the other two, are written from the desire to heal wounds and help relationships. Having said that, there is one relationship that is paramount to all relationships and that is the relationship that God wants to have with us. To some this is common knowledge; to others this may be the first time hearing this and, undoubtedly, it raises questions. I will seek to answer those questions throughout the context of writing this. However, I have a question for you. Do you know God, and if you answer yes, by what means? On what truth rests your confidence, or what evidence gives you the assurance that you know the LORD? Now before I am misunderstood, I want to give some clarification. I am not challenging or trying to be confrontational. My goal is that by the end of this writing, there will be a clear Biblical answer to this question, so that there is no doubt that you know the LORD, and if you don’t know Him, that you clearly know the steps to take. That is my direction; that is my goal. Now to achieve that goal, I will step on some toes, lovingly so, but I will. Part of the reason for “stepping on some toes” is the truth of God and how to know Him is so misrepresented in our culture, that what I say may contradict a personal belief. So with that as an introduction, let’s start.

Christianity is viewed by many as divisive. That the “one way” message excludes many people, and if God was truly a God of Love, why would He set up a system of faith that was so narrow-minded? Right, is that not what people think, or maybe you think that? So do you want to know the answer? It depends on your perspective. Let me explain. It is just like looking through binoculars. If you look through them correctly, everything looks closer, more in focus. However, if you turn the binoculars around, everything looks extremely far, but it’s the same instrument being used. So why is that? Well it is a matter of your perspective, or understanding, on how to correctly use the binoculars. There is one way to correctly view through them, and the correct way even supersedes our natural vision’s capabilities. Christianity is identical. The “heart” of Christianity is not about doing good, or following a set of rules, but it is all about a relationship, and to understand that requires a specific “focus” or view. Here’s another example. We all have had, or have young children, or remember when we were one, although it might seem decades ago. When our girls were very young, we lived in a townhome with a very small front yard. The back was always shady, so much of the play occurred out front. However, the front was so small, that it took no time before the girls were out in the street playing. Problem with that is our street was busy. So Lisa or myself, or both, were always pulling the girls back unto the lawn, much to their frustration and the disappointment of their little friends. They had not the maturity or foresight to perceive the danger of playing in the street. To them, we were being “one way” in our determination of where they could play. So these are two simple analogies of a much more complex truth. However, they support my earlier statement: it depends on your perspective.

So clearly, we have two perspectives, or two roads, to introduce another analogy: God’s and ours. The first is the road God invites us to travel. The second is the road we choose for ourselves. Even for the best of us, the most moral of us, the two roads go in opposite directions. God’s road is one that includes Him in your life. He is driving the car of your soul and you are the passenger, verses you driving the car of your soul, making your own decisions, facing your fears alone, etc. The big problem with driving our own car, and I am bypassing a lot of theology to make this point, is that no matter how well we drive and which roads we select, we can never drive or always choose the right roads. We will take wrong turns, speed, get into accidents, cut people off, etc. In other words, spiritually speaking now, we fall short. To drive perfectly is to “live perfectly” and none of us meet that criterion. Yet the LORD is perfect (Holy) and hence our lives can never be in “agreement” with His.

Holiness is a hard concept to grasp; there are no examples, but internally I think we understand. The only word picture I know for Holiness is the red hot coals of a fire. If you have camped, had a fire in the fireplace, or even better yet, had a fire insert, you are able to see the very center of the fire—the fire that comes off the coals, which is pure and extremely hot and has no smoke associated with it. The coals are so hot that the impurities have already been consumed: utterly pure and utterly untouchable. If I were to ask you to pick up a red hot coal with your bare hands and bring it to me, you would say I am crazy! Who would do that? Yet God is like those red hot coals and more so. His Holiness is beyond comprehension. If we will not grab a red hot coal, something of this earth, what makes us think we can stand justified before a Holy God with nothing but our own efforts representing us? We are blinded by our ways, our perspective of God is off because we are unable to comprehend the Holiness of God.

I do not believe I will be challenged if I say that we are not perfect. Even with our limited understanding and definition of the word perfect, none of us would stand and say, “Look at me; I am an example of perfection.” We are not perfect. We all have faults, shortcomings, and regrets for past actions. To be human is to be faulty, but GOD is not. He is without fault, for He is HOLY. Now I know some of you may not believe in GOD, and I am not going to try to prove His existence to you. But I will say this. When you see a painting, you acknowledge a painter; when you see a nice landscape, you acknowledge a landscaper. But what do you acknowledge when you see all of creation, something so vast and much greater than what the hand of man can do, from the beautiful diversity of fish and coral in the oceans, to the mountain tops with beautiful flora so delicate and yet living in such a harsh environment? Creation speaks of a Creator.

The LORD says of Himself in Isaiah 55, verses 8 and 9, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” Just as we have a generational gap between age groups, we have a spiritual gap between us and a Holy God. What is the solution? Is there one? And here begins the main point of Heaven’s Hope, Grace Unmeasured. As mentioned earlier, Christianity is seen as divisive with its “one way” doctrine. Again, it depends from which side of heaven you are looking. In Isaiah 1, verse 18, God says, “Come now, let us reason together says the LORD. Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be like wool.” And in John 3, verses 16 and 17, it says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever would believe in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” So how is it that Christianity has become a religion viewed as divisive, when from God’s perspective He is reaching out through Christ to save us?

So, is Jesus Christ the bridge between a Holy God and sinful man? Is it He who “fills” the spiritual gap of our imperfection so that we can be one with God, granting us a presence before a Holy God? Is it possible? In 2 Corinthians 5, verses 14-21, we find very enlightening scriptures. I will share versus 17-19 but encourage you to go back and read all the scriptures, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And He has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” And in verse 21, “God made Him (Jesus) who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” Did you catch that, “that in him we might become the righteousness of God”? That is amazing! It is not about me, my works, or my faulty life and attempts to be good. I do not have to fear the Holy Fire of Righteousness. I do not stand alone before a Holy and Righteous God. I have an Advocate, a “Holy Buffer.” Because of what He did for me on the Cross and because I came to agreement with Him about my sins, receiving His forgiveness, I have standing before God. It is important to understand that Holiness demands righteousness by the very definition of Holiness. That cannot be changed. But God also is loving and is seeking a relationship with us, so He has provided an atonement, a provision for man to be forgiven. Christ is that provision of righteousness for me. I become a new creation! I am united back to God to live in peace. The Greek definition of peace (the original language of the New Testament) means “to set at one again,” as something broken, or broken off, that has been set back in place. Divisive may be the name that those of us who are seeking our own way would call Christianity, but for those who come under its shelter and are restored back into relationship with a loving Father, sins forgiven and peace within, UNITY would be a far better word.

I would like to end with a poem of sorts, which I wrote the other day as I was contemplating this article. The poem is simply entitled Adoption:

Adoption

We are orphans, raised on the streets
We steal for a living, fight to survive
Adoption became a road, an offering by a King, something I didn’t understand
But it represented food, shelter, and a permanent home
The King paid my debts, made right my wrongs,
He gave me a new name, nice clothes to wear, and freedom from hunger and fear.
One day I was a street orphan, next day I was heir to a Throne
How is that possible? How can such a transformation occur?
It is the King’s doing, nothing of my own
Just my willingness to accept His offer, come to agreement, and acknowledge my need
Inside me, I sense a light, something not of me—a quiet peace and encourager
Yet, I still sense much of me: bad habits, self-willed thoughts, consistent wrong actions
These all still lie present within me. How do I change?
I must spend time with the King, hear His words and allow them to settle inside me
I must read His writings, store them up in me, and watch how He acts
By abiding in Him, slowly change will occur,
By His Grace, Forgiveness, and Kindness, I will change
I have hope of a better me and a better life.

The Hope of Heaven is that we come to know the LORD through Jesus Christ, and in relationship with Him, there is Grace Unmeasured for the journey we will travel. So let’s do it, not by our strength, not by good works, but by learning of our Savior through reading the Bible, praying, and attending a church that teaches the scriptures, worships, and models prayer for us. As I like to say, the Teacher is always teaching; just show up for class with a humble heart and a readied mind, and Truth will enter your soul and change will occur. It is His doing and your willingness to participate. Amen.

If this has touched you, I would like to know. Please send me an email at arthur@executivecareinc.com and let me know of your decision. I will contact you.

Wishing God’s Blessings to all of you.


Welcome to our Christmas Holiday edition.
For those of you who follow our monthly writings, thank you. Your readership means a lot to me. As you know, each month we have been talking about the challenges we face as landscapers in converting our client’s yard into something that is uniquely theirs and uniquely beautiful. It takes time, thought, questions, and creativity, but by not hurrying the process, the end result are the pictures that I have been pleased to show you. Life is like that. It takes time to raise a child, to be a good spouse, and to develop your skills at work. Also, it takes an act of one’s will to keep moving forward in life and not become trapped in negative emotions.

This year’s Christmas article was a personal challenge for me; not in writing it, but whether to write on a new topic, or because of all the responses from last year, to allow The Gift that Heals to run again. The topic of the article deals with the harder side of life, which is an area that is always difficult, and knowing several people who are right now dealing with this, my decision became clearer. So, allow this article to be like a “diagnostic test” for you to check the health of your soul, for this is one area that can cripple us and rob us of any joy or peace or love of life we might have. And I would prefer us to enjoy the holidays to the fullest and not be hindered. Also, I would invite you to read Part II of this article, Heaven’s Hope, Grace Unmeasured, by going to our website and clicking on publications. Scroll to December and click on Part II. I promise you it will be more than worth the read.

Now let’s get started. As a landscaper, it has been my privilege to build relationships with our clients and their families. Over the course of a project, I am blessed to become a friend, at times a counselor or an encourager, and in some cases even “Uncle Arthur” to the children. That is how I come to you today, not as a professional, but as a friend. We will not talk about the gardens we plant but rather the “garden of our soul.” I will be sharing my faith with you—the beliefs that guide my life.

Like a garden, our souls need tending. We can get weeds (attitudes), we need pruning (character development), and we all like water and fertilizer (love and encouragement). Today, I want to talk about a weed that can devastate our relationships, be it spouse-to-spouse, parent-to-child, friend-to-friend, neighbor-to-neighbor, or coworker-tocoworker. In agricultural terms, it would be classified as a “noxious weed,” which means that it is so incredibly invasive and hard to control that it must be eradicated at all cost. It is a weed that if left unchecked could ruin the whole crop. One of the most “noxious soul weeds” is the weed of resentment.

Resentment has one face, but it can be sown into our soul through many means. The “seed” is a personal offense—someone has offended me in speech or action. It could be someone close to me, like a family member or friend or a coworker or neighbor— but in one form or another “my rights” were violated. Something was taken that was not given or injured and not made right. Sometimes people are not even aware that they have offended us. In other cases, the wound is inflicted more purposefully. Either way, we can seek to “pull the weed” or let it spread. In medical terms, we can “treat the wound” or let it fester. A festering wound is the soil in which resentment becomes a noxious weed.

Webster offers several definitions to describe resentment, including, “exhibiting intense animosity” and “rawness.” If these deeply intense feelings were physical weights on one’s shoulders, it would be like trying to carry ten pieces of fullypacked luggage on our backs and under our arms for the whole of our life! How inhibiting and emotionally exhausting that would be, and we definitely would be rubbed raw. At times, we may even wonder how the situation got so out of hand. Well, just like in gardening, to be inactive is to allow the weeds to be active. Unkindness breeds unkindness and resentment breeds resentment; bitterness breeds bitterness and hatred breeds hatred, and there is no end to it. It is a poison that runs deep and contaminates much beyond the borders of two people. It even affects “nontarget relationships” (an agricultural term describing damage done outside the target area). In other words, our resentment hurts others not directly related to the situation, bringing more injury to ourselves and creating barriers to other meaningful relationships. If you are honest with yourself, you know this to be true. Resentment is always there, only a thought away. It makes us snappy, impatient, angry, and in general a pain to be around. We become a burden, instead of a burden lifter; our presence alone becomes a weight to others. Some of us learn to compartmentalize our hurts, and as long as we stay away from that person or from thoughts of them, we do alright. At least that’s what we think. In reality, it’s like running a complex software program while working in another; it weighs down the overall performance of the computer. Our souls are no different; emotional energy is being expended.

As “unworthy” a person may be of forgiveness, to not forgive and contaminate or potentially ruin other relationships that could bring you happiness and enjoyment is not wise. Regardless of whether the offender has asked for forgiveness, forgive for your sake. Let the bitterness and resentment stay in the past. Why bring it into the present? Allow the love of others to come into your soul, diluting the poison that still remains. Resentment and bitterness only keep YOU captive. It is much better to engage in life again, for behind the bars of bitterness, surely what flicker of life is left will soon go out, leaving only a darkened soul.

I know I’ve said a lot, and I can hear some of you say, “If only I could…” Some wounds which we carry are so deep, they seem impossible to release. I understand, so let me share with you a story that might help. It is a parable that Jesus told.

The story involves a ruler and a servant, but it starts with a question from Peter regarding forgiveness (Matthew 18:21-35). Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” (Peter thought he was being generous.) Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven.” In other words, there is no limit.

To illustrate his answer, Jesus told this parable: “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents (millions of dollars) was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had to be sold to repay the debt (this was common practice). The servant fell on his knees before him. Be patient with me, he begged, and I will pay back everything.”

Now, as a side note, the servant’s words are just words in a time of great difficulty. There was no way this servant would ever be able to pay back such an astronomical debt. He was obviously a servant with authority, one of position under the master, but he was a terrible steward with what he was entrusted. Undoubtedly, he was spending the master’s money to his benefit. You might say he was a thief with royal protection until now that his stewardship is brought into question. Yet, “The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.”

If you’ve never heard the story before, I am sure the master’s response came as a surprise. You would also think that the servant who had been forgiven so much would be a changed man. Let’s see: “But when the servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii (a few dollars in comparison). He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’” The servant refused. Instead, he had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt.

The servant’s hard-heartedness and incredible lack of mercy is incomprehensible. He could not find it in his heart to forgive a fellow servant, an equal; the greatness of his own pardon had not been valued. So when the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything. Then the master called the servant in. “You wicked servant,” he said. “I canceled all your debt because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?” In anger the master turned him over the jailers until he should pay back all he owed. The servant’s lack of mercy came back to judge him, and found guilty, he will spend the rest of his days in jail.

So let’s ask some questions. In the story, who is the master? The master is God. And who is the servant with the enormous debt? We are the servant. Finally, who is the other servant? He is our fellow man, whether a spouse, child, coworker or friend. The point that Jesus was teaching was if God, who is Holy and Just can see to forgive a repentant heart, who are we not to forgive one another. If the Greater forgives the lesser, should not the lesser forgive his or her equal? Indeed, which of us has not offended; which of us is so much better than the rest that we can stand as judge? As stated, who are we hurting by not forgiving? We are only hurting ourselves. How much better it is to forgive! How good it feels to forgive, to release the offense, and to seek peace. It’s healing to our inner being and to the fractured relationship—a fresh breath on life. Why would I want to keep all that poison inside? Would it not be to my betterment to “forgive my fellow servant”? For before a Holy God, we all stand guilty. Not one of us is holy, just, and without sin. We are all like the servant who owed much more than he could ever repay. Yet, God is willing to forgive us completely.

The Bible teaches that God is not only willing to forgive, but also that He forgets our sins when we confess them unto Him. He who would have every right to keep record does not. In Isaiah, Chapter 1, Verse 18, God speaks tenderly to His people saying, “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as (white as) wool…” Amazing! The Creator God wants to come to reason with His creation! Yet, as incredible as that is, it is true. The divine mercy He offers is the key to us becoming a more merciful person. For once you experience the graciousness of God and His forgiveness and love for you, you understand how much grace we all need. Giving The Gift that Heals begins with receiving it, and by receiving it and being changed by it, we in turn are able to extend it. So let’s get the weed of resentment out of our souls and begin to live life.

Thank you so much for spending your time with me. What better way to enjoy your landscape creations and one another than to know the Creator of All. Have a wonderful Christmas, and if I can be of help, do not hesitate to email me at arthur@executivecareinc.com or call me.

I will be at the Northern Cal Expo show in January, sharing a booth with Patio Perfections in the Landscapers building. I would love to meet you personally. May God richly bless you, as we journey into 2012. *Part 2 (Heaven’s Hope, Grace Unmeasured) will be posted soon.