Paying for a thorough landscape analysis before moving forward with a project often saves money - a breakdown of the topics.
This design of a backyard landscape in San Diego's Mission Hills area was the result of an initial landscape consultation with the homeowners.
What’s the difference between a paid landscape design consultation and a free quote with a little professional advice thrown in? Most of my professional colleagues charge a small fee to initially meet with new clients and assess a site, discuss details of its current condition, and give ideas on how to improve the landscape. Why pay a designer when a contractor’s sales person will visit for free? Basically, it is the difference between getting an honest and thorough, not to mention professional, assessment of your landscape, versus hearing the advice of someone wanting to sell you something. Think of this analogy. Most homeonwers have paid a professional financial adviser for their time, and have also gotten free financial advice. Big difference right? In most cases, the paid financial advice was much more helpful and, in the end, much less expensive that the advice given for free. This at least has been true in my experience. The same can be said for paying a design consultant for their time. You’ll get a much more honest and thorough assessment. My last blog post covered the basics of the landscape consultation, Now for the specifics as to what the consultation will cover. Consider this a cheat sheet of sorts. If you have purchased a newly constructed home, then only some of these topics apply, mostly those subjects dealing with discussing ideas and alternatives for the new landscape. And of course every existing yard is unique, each consultation varies in the subjects discussed.
Review of Existing Landscape: What stays and what goes? What zone are we in. Frost and heat possibilities. Exposure issues: Shade, sun, etc. Plants: Identification, care, pests, diseases, cultural Issues. Improving drought tolerance – lawn, etc.
Design Theme: Determine the current theme. What theme best fits the home? Could more than one theme be used? Mixing styles?
Irrigation Overview (visual only): Current quality and life-expectancy of system? Problems with current system. Discuss new types of new systems – valves, heads, clocks -- advantages and disadvantages.
Established and New Plantings: What’s not doing well, what doing too well. Soil overview – amendments & fertilizers. Good plants for foliage and flowering color. Focal plants, background plants. Types of plant palettes. Vegetable and Fruit Tree Gardens. Special needs: allergies, pets, etc.
Timeframe for project: What’s a realistic start date? How long will the project take? Best or worst time of year to begin?
Family Needs: Are there Children? Ages? How about Pets? Number and type? Family Activities: Barbequing, swimming, sports, etc. Family gatherings – how many typically attend? Space required. Social gatherings – how many and for what? Unique needs – age, disabilities, etc.
Hardscape & Softscape Overall percentage of hardscape to softscape. Current & recommended. Advice on amount and adequate space for patios, walkways Structures: patio covers, fireplaces, outdoor kitchens, etc. Material selections – basic alternatives and costs.
Project Budgets: What can you spend – what to realistically expect. Work toward desires or work toward budget? Affordable alternatives. How to reduce costs.
Maintenance: Assessment of current maintenance condition of landscape. How and what to improve? Are the current maintenance crews doing a good job?
Specialty Gardens: Drought tolerant gardens – overview of types. Fruit and vegetable gardens. Color palettes. Dry versus lush palettes Postage stamp landscapes.
Miscellaneous: Privacy screening vs. views. Home Owner’s Assoc. issues. San Diego city and county permit advice Contractor Issues - what to avoid. Landscaping for fire prevention If moving on to a design – what to expect. What the proposal and design will include.
Note: For those wanting to move on to a design, a landscape design proposal will be emailed within one or two days.
This cheat sheet lists some of the subjects that can be addressed. What is discussed changes with each new consultation. Every landscape is unique and therefore every landscape consultation is different. If there is a subject not addressed here you need resolved and want included, feel free to call my San Diego County office at 619-922-9735 to discuss your project.
This Rancho San Diego homeowner used information from a consultation to incorporate existing avocado trees into a new landscape.
By Steve Harbour
What is a landscape consultation and why do I need one? As a landscape designer working in San Diego, I begin all residential landscape projects with a landscape consultation meeting. It always begins my process forward. Why is this step necessary? Most consultations become the first step in designing and drafting a landscape plan for the project, but in some cases, homeowners simply want advice on improving and maintaining their outdoor landscape and nothing more. Either way, the consultation is the best method to get an affordable , honest, and thorough analysis of your outdoor space, along with many suggestions for improvement. Additionally, it is an excellent way to learn about the landscape construction process, how it works, and how to avoid common problems.
Here are answers to common questions about a landscape consultation.
How long does a landscape consultation last? The meeting typically lasts up to an hour. In fact, after about an hour, we will have covered so much territory that clients have as much information as they can absorb and more time is not fruitful.
What happens during the consultation? First, we decide if we need to sit down and discuss the project before walking the site, or if we start looking at the site right away. Often, and this is very helpful to me if a landscape design will follow, the client has photos of landscapes they like and we review those pictures before walking the yard. When we walk the yard, we’ll discuss what can stay and what can go, problems areas, and of course what, where, and how to add plants and hardscape features to the landscape. We define what it will take to build the beautiful and practical space you want.
How do I prepare beforehand? Some people like to write down a list of prepared questions. As mentioned, those thinking of moving forward with a design have collected photos, or have photos on their computers, to show me what design styles and elements they like. This preparation is very helpful but is not required. We can also improvise without prewritten questions with good results. I can send you a questionnaire beforehand which helps – just let me know if you would it sent.
How much and why charge for a consultation? I currently charge $125 for the first hour of consultation, which includes travel to and from the site, within 30 miles of my office. Further distances are slightly more to cover time and expenses. Why charge? There are many reasons. Basically, I want to arm my clients with the necessary information to successfully complete their projects to their expectations, The fee for this initial service will, by far, be the least anyone spends on their landscape. These consultations ultimately save clients money.
Do you leave a list of suggestions? I leave a suggested plant list for those who would like one. I do not leave notes of other suggestions but encourage my clients to jot down notes if they wish.
Do you price the design during the consultation? If you are interested in moving forward with a design, I send a formal proposal to you within a day or two after the consultation. The proposal has the total price and payments, and describes the design process and scope of work.
What about follow up? If a design is in the works, we will have plenty of interaction and can discuss anything you wish during the steps of creating the landscape plan. Otherwise, I suggest periodic consultations when necessary.
I was recently asked to contribute to an article querying what would be the most important advice I would give new, novice landscape designers. It is a tough question, because there are so, so many tidbits of imformation to succeeded in landscape design. But success won't happen at all unless the designer knows how to work with clients: developing a relationship and finding out what their clients want, then building the design around those ideas. The designer is only as good as his or her clients, and I consider myself truly fortunate to continally work with terrific homeowners. Maybe its the San Diego sunshine, but my clients are simply the best. See the full posting below:
A 3-D image of the entrance to a zen garden in La Mesa, CA
Steve Harbour, Owner at Steve Harbour Landscapes“The unique advice I give to budding designers does not pertain to learning the nuts and bolts of actual design concepts and drafting at all. This should be more than apparent; anyone learning this profession needs as much education and experience they can obtain to become proficient at landscape design. I believe one essential aspect that turns a good designer into a great designer – not taught in classrooms — is the art of working with each client, not assuming to know what they want, or worse, deciding what they need without their input. The designer needs to take the proper time to really get to know clients, listening to them, and work jointly together throughout the design process.”
“Each design is a collaborative effort. The process begins with lots of questions: welcoming questions the clients have (and they will have plenty) as well as asking a slew of questions to draw them out and learn what they really want to accomplish. I was originally trained as a newspaper journalist, so the ability to ask questions has become second nature, yet I still like to work from a list of set questions and then ask any other questions specific to the project that may seem pertinent. I also welcome any pictures or sketches they have saved that show landscapes they like, and then ask what it is they like about them. Lastly, it is helpful to get to know each other on a personal level, which brings a comfort level to each unique job. I have gone to dinner, to concerts, and to parties at my clients’ houses, staying in touch for years after the project is completed which, as a bonus, allows me to see my design work as the landscape matures. There is no such thing, in journalism or in design work, as gaining too much information.”
The full color design of complete landscape renovation in the North Park communtity of San Diego, CA.
Working the San Diego area as a landscape consultant and designer, I find many prospective clients confused when considering the different types of design professionals available. In my last post, I discussed the low end of the professional design spectrum, the so-called “free” design services that attract the eye but often have a catch. Once homeowners discover the drawbacks and limitations of these so-called “free services”, they may be forced to begin their search for a designer again, this time attempting to sort through the lists of independent professionals who charge for their design and consultation services. The goal: finding a designer without any motive other than producing a plan for a beautiful and practical outdoor living space. So who is a legitimate landscape designer? Like any other profession, independent design pros often have a wide range of education, experience, and accolades. In California, landscape designers specialize in residential landscapes. Landscape architects draft plans for both commercial and residential projects, from landscapes for skyscrapers and business parks, to commercial projects, to single-family homes. California state law limits landscape designers, as well as some related professionals, in the amount of detail they can provide on their plans to detailed planting and irrigation plans, as well as hardscape plans where features are adequately shown and described, but not fully detailed. Landscape designers are required to work with appropriately licensed pros to add comprehensive grading, drainage, and fully detailed hardscape plans to their services. The Association of Professional Landscape Designers, an international organization with a thriving chapter in San Diego, has attempted to categorize the levels of design expertise homeowners can expect from a landscape designer. The APLD divides its membership into three basic categories (not including student): Emerging Professional (less than 3 years experience), Professional (more than three years experience without documentation), and Qualified Professional (more than 3 years of verified experience). Additionally, a separate, higher status exists for Qualified Professionals who can pass a rigorous certification program and be listed as Certified Design Professionals. In essence, the APLD feels it necessary for a designer to have at least three years of full-time experience to successfully develop landscape plans as a professional. Throw in all the complexities and caveats of each particular area within San Diego County, and homeowners are wise to pick amongst the most experienced of designers.
Most importantly, pick someone you feel comfortable with in carrying out your vision.
This before and after landscape design in La Mesa by Steve Harbour was featured on HGTV's Yard Crashers television series.
Who is a landscape designer? Better yet, who is not? It seems every nursery, landscape contractor, and even a few public agencies spout their services for landscape design, making it difficult to sort through the imposters to find a landscape designer who is legit; that is, experienced and knowledgeable, with the ability to create a true landscape plan that is beautiful and meets the homeowners’ specific needs. So first let’s weed out the pretenders. There is no such thing as free design. Bold headlines in the newspaper and elsewhere proclaim “free design”, most often supplied by certain plant nurseries but also by a few landscape contractors as well. These “designers” are typically either salesmen or new and inexperienced in the trade, with the ultimate goal of selling you products rather than producing the best design possible for you and your property. I witnessed the installation of one of these “free” designs recently: amounting to a large tree surrounded by large bed of garish color of lantana. That was it, an entire front yard with two species of plants. A well-thought out landscape design for a property, even a small-space, takes days if not weeks of work and effort on the part of skilled landscape designers. So the idea of getting a comprehensive, thorough landscape plan for free, one that installers can read and successfully implement, is not reality. Landscape Contractor as Designer. Again, a free design from a landscape contractor should set off some of the same red flags. In other words, the client receives a plan without originality that is not well thought out. This type of plan can often leave out pertinent information, including detailed plant choices and description, and types of materials used. As mentioned, if the contractor is actually offering these plans for free, they are not spending the time necessary to create a well thought out plan. On the positive side, some landscape contractors hire landscape designers or even landscape architects to work in-house or independently, and charge their clients a reasonable fee for the design work. This can be a good way to get a decent design if you like and feel comfortable with the contractor and designer. I have worked with contractors this way in the past, and it works well as long as the contractor allows the designer the freedom to create his or her own plan independently. Government Agencies, Books, Classes. There are some possibilities here for do-it-yourselfers. Still all these options have certain limitations. The water districts are currently offering landscape design services to a limited number of customers. This could be a viable option for those who don’t mind installing what the Water Company considers a desirable landscape. Landscape design books are a good source of information, including my own book on design, in helping direct the do-it-yourself designer that has a good design sense. Likewise local community college classes are a good choice for those homeowners willing to invest the time. Any of these options may have merit, still an on-site consultation from an independent landscape designer would be extremely beneficial for anyone attempting to go it on their own with any of these last options.
Now that the less desirable options for landscape design have been discussed, check back next week for the pros and cons of working with different types of design pros.
Gardening for Wildlife- Part Three in a Series on adding Personal Touches to your Landscape Design.
A custom wooden bird feeder adds a whimsical touch to an small garden arbor in San Diego, CA.
For some homeowners, the landscape design is for the birds. Literally. San Diego County hosts the most bird species of any other county in the United States, with both land and shore birds adding to our county’s overall number of species. In some gardens, including my own, homeowners add lots of perks to attract birds, sometimes unwittingly (we’ll get to that later). Enjoying the sights and sounds of the winged ones is only one benefit of encouraging wildlife into the garden, these added decorative elements -- especially bird baths and bird feeders -- enhance the look of the landscape, and can add just the right touch to long plant beds. For this reason, we can add gardening for wildlife as a way to add personality to our outdoor spaces. Here are some basic categories of decorative items that will attract birds and add whimsy to the landscape:
Bird Baths – This is likely the first and largest item on the list. Colored concrete, carved rock, or ceramic are the most popular materials used to create birdbaths. The bird bath add an attractive center piece in an herb garden or bed of flowers. I find those raised on a pedestal of some sort the most striking and functional, although hanging small bird baths with chains, situated to hang from tree branches or the eves of the home, can add a touch of whimsy as well. Fountains also serve as bird baths, sometimes unwittingly, and should be maintained chemically free if your feathered friends use them.
Bird Feeders –Bird feeders add the element of decoration as well, often hanging but sometimes sitting atop stands or even a decaying tree stump. The bird feeder is likely the easiest of the bird items to find, not only sold in nurseries but in many chain department stores and home improvement centers as well. Feeders are made of glass, plastic, ceramic, and metal or resin, with the most popular being the plastic and glass beaked hummingbird feeders. Remember to buy seed that local birds actually eat; some of the low cost seed mixes contain fillers that drop to the ground, sometimes sprouting to later become weed problems.
Bird Houses – Ah yes, the bird house is the mark of the true avian devotee. Made most often of wood, and sometimes hand-crafted, these decorative items must be chosen to not only match the theme of your landscape but to also house birds (whether or not the birds will use your house should be studied before making a purchase). In regards to design, the frilly bird house with Victorian leanings or rustic bird house will not mix into the modern landscape. So choose wisely. As a side note: bird houses for owls are among the most popular nesting boxes used by San Diego gardeners, not necessarily the most attractive of bird houses for decoration but a great way to naturally control rodents and other garden pests.
I have designed my own landscape to attract birds, and it is now a certified backyard wildlife habitat by the National Wildlife Federation. I am continually amazed and delighted at the variety of birds, both year-round and seasonal residents, my gardens attract. Providing fresh sources of water is essential, and it is also important the birds with food and shelter. While few of us have natural water sources on or near our properties, we can plant trees, shrubs, and perennials that will help in feeding and sheltering the birds. Once everything is in place, the backyard habitat garden is a great way to both decorate the landscape and enjoy the birds.
Fountains & Birdbaths - Part Two in a Series on adding Personal Touches to your Landscape Design.
A pre-cast concrete fountain acts as a centerpiece in this backyard landscape in San Diego, CA
It’s summertime in San Diego. As temperatures continue to soar, the cooling sights and sounds of water seem as satisfying as an ice cold drink. Fountains become particularly appealing this time of year, dripping, gurgling, splashing, or in some cases, spilling to put us under the mesmerizing spell of water. It’s the perfect time to dream about adding water features to our gardens: fountains and birdbaths. Precast concrete fountains offer the most affordable options to set into our landscapes. This type of fountain is cast from concrete molds, then stained or painted to then be sold at retail outlets. For an upgrade to a more elegant look, check out Haddonstone’s products, made similarly but formed out of limestone to mimic the classic sculptural pieces of Europe. Homeowners that want a natural, higher-end look will be interested in fountains with one or more boulders as centerpieces – granite or basalt – that can be cored with a high-speed drill and set up to weep and spill water into a basin that is set unseen below grade. These fountain pieces are extremely heavy, and set up can be tricky, requiring a crew of professionals for installation. But since each rock centerpiece is unique, no two rock fountains are ever the same. Elaborate fountains are designed and built from scratch, undoubtedly at a far greater expense. These custom fountains are typically created from block and mortar, and then faced in stone. For a more modern look, structural concrete fountains are formed and poured onsite to a designer’s specs. Custom fountains, because they are much more labor intensive, requiring days of work to piece together as well as the need for more elaborate pumps and equipment, are likely to jump the cost, typically costing $5000 and up. Birdbaths are easily within every budget, costing much less than fountains. These landscape additions are most often purchased from retailers as cast and stained concrete bird baths, although they are sometimes available when made from fired ceramic or rust-resistant metal materials. Granted, fountains do not create the sounds of cascading water. But they most certainly attract birds to your yard. San Diego has more bird species within its borders than any other county in the United States. It’s the birds, not the water, that add lyrical sounds in the garden.
The first in a series of articles on how-to creatively design personal touches - patio furniture, fountains, area rugs, statutes, bird feeders, bird baths, and other related items into the landscape.
An ambitious homeowner in La Mesa, CA designed and built this ornate fountain into a natural rock retaining wall.
It's the moment you have been waiting for. The hard work of designing and installing the landscape is now complete. The patios and walkways have been laid, the plants have been planted. Now it’s time to add the finishing touches. It’s time to accessorize. What does this mean? Inside the home, adding furniture, throw rugs, pictures, and other touches is known as interior decorating. Accessorizing the outside of the home is nothing more than exterior decorating. In fact, many of these same types of features used to decorate the inside the home - tables and chairs, decorative lights, vases, plant containers, rugs – are used outside as well, albeit these design elements will be chosen to handle the weather. As a landscape designer in the San Diego area, I get my clients personally involved in choosing these personal finishing touches. I often leave space in the landscape plan for the selection of patio furniture, fountains, area rugs, statutes, bird feeders and bird baths, and other related items, then leave it to the client to select these items. Or we select them together. In this way, clients feel a part of creating the landscape. They are personalizing their outdoor space. When choosing accessories, a few rules apply:
First, stick to the intended landscape theme. Certain themes – the Hacienda theme or the Asian theme for instance – can be filled with pieces that reflect personality. And make certain the objects you choose harmonize and don’t clash with the theme. A fountain with cherubs holding an umbrella might be perfect for the cottage garden but would be a curious choice in the modern landscape. Reversely, a stack of angular cubes dripping with water can enhance the modern theme but stick out like a rubic’s cube near the cottage.
Along this line, make certain the colors of your accessories coordinate. Look to the house and outbuilding colors, patio flooring, and the other materials already used to coordinate colors.
Pay attention to size of your selections relative to the dimensions of the space – if it’s too big then your object overwhelms the garden; conversely if it’s too small, it loses the desired impact. If in doubt, measure the item in question – a fountain for instance –then place a cardboard cutout to those exact dimensions in the location you have in mind, and finally step back and to see if it will be the right size. Smaller pieces of garden art and light furniture can be moved around until you find the right place, but larger items – fountains, metal benches, etc. – can be problematic. So choose wisely.
Don’t impulse purchase. Look at the gazillion items on the web and visit several stores first before deciding. Sometimes it takes months to find just the right piece. Be patient.
In regard to decorative containers: let your contractor know the exact placement of where you plan to set planted containers. Do this at the beginning of the project so the crew can lay pipe and the plantings can later be added to the automatic irrigation system. It will be difficult if not impossible to add irrigation after the installation of the patio flooring has commenced.
That’s it – make it fun and your personal space will come alive.
This is the first of a series. Next, we will go more into depth as we break down the various types of garden accessories in upcoming articles.
A Ramona residence with native topsoil created from Coastal Oaks.
When clients ask me whether they need to improve their soil, I let them know the San Diego area has two types of dirt: poor and worse. It’s an attempt at humor of course, but native soils here are high in mineral content and lack organic matter, due to the lack of lush plant communities that can annually drop inches of twigs and leaves that decompose into fertile soil. And if the lack of organic matter is not enough, developers then grade properties to remove the scanty top layer of earth and expose bedrock and clay as the new soil surface. New home sites typically do not have any topsoil at all! The top layer of soil where most plant growth occurs must be recreated before planting begins.
Healthy soil breaks down into of three components:
Rock and mineral elements.
Decomposed or decomposing organic matter.
Living organisms that break down organic matter into soluble nutrients.
An ideal garden soil profile has half its actual volume dedicated to air and water, with the other half is comprised of the three bullet points – the soil components listed. Healthy soil also must register a certain ph factor that is neither too alkaline nor acidic to allow plants to properly grow. Healthy soil has been described as a living and breathing entity that has billions of microscopic organisms and a thriving population of earthworms churning organic matter into nutrient-rich matter. A depleted, compacted site may take years of continual work before the soil can be considered sustainable, which means organisms are reproducing abundantly and organic matter has reached optimal levels. It is a mistake to think that newly planted landscape plantings can grow and prosper into perpetuity once the initial soil amending is complete. Even the best forest compost mixes have been used long before the garden enters its second decade. An ongoing program of replenishing the soil with composted mulches and organic fertilizers is needed for continued optimal plant growth and health. It will an ongoing effort of periodic mulching and possibly nutrient replenishment to create a sustainable environment below the soil line, but plants can then grow and prosper into old age. The evidence will be easily seen in healthy and happy maturing plants!
Join Steve Harbour for a free landscape design workshop at Kniffings Nurseries on Saturday, June 9 at 10 a.m.
Bring your project questions, plans, and photos, and please join us for a free landscape design workshop at one of the best nurseries in San Diego County -- Kniffings Nursery. I will be speaking on a wide range of topics related to landscape planning and design. Anyone attending will get a 10% discount coupon to purchase nursery products. The event is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. Saturday, June 9. I will have copies of my book The New California Landscapesavailable at the end of the workshop as well. See the flyer below for more details.
Join Kniffings Nursery for a free workshop, Saturday, June 9 at 10 a.m.:
The Practical Guide to Designing the Home Landscape With: APLD Certified Landscape Designer Steve Harbour
Homeowners, Students, Do-it-yourselfers Bring your ideas, drawings, photos.
Whether doing it yourself or hiring a professional, Landscape Designer Steve Harbour will be talking us through:
******************* What it takes to transform your landscape into an exciting outdoor space. What to expect, what to avoid. Basic design rules -- styles and types of gardens. Laying down the bones – patios, pathways, etc. The best plants for the inland climate – and a few to avoid. Keys to success – improving the soil, irrigation basics, and best drainage practices. Lastly, that all important factor – what’s it going to cost. *******************
Steve Harbour is an award-winning, APLD Certified Landscape Designer with over 35 years of experience. His designs been featured in print and on television. Steve has lived in East County San Diego for 35 years.
A beautiful and productive sustainable garden in Encinitas, CA
This is the second article of a series on Sustainable Landscape Design in San Diego.
Sustainable landscape design is a multi-headed concept. In the San Diego area and throughout California, the definition of sustainable landscaping – filling garden beds with plants that can be harvested and eaten -- broadens into creating a backyard (or front yard) habitat that is also environmentally sensitive. What does this broader definition really mean? Sustainable landscaping in California, considered the driest of all Mediterranean climates in the world, translates to producing edibles, while at the same time conserving water. These two goals can conflict with each other. It’s a tricky set of tasks, especially in drought years, to produce bounties for the table with plants that require regular irrigation cycles, while adhering to water restrictions. So how do we actually grow food for our table and, at the same time, proscribe to the water-wise ethic? Here are some basics.
Soil: Condition soils to absorb and retain water until roots can utilize it. California’s urban areas typically lack organic materials that must be initially brought into the site. Fully amend the soil with organic material (soil amendments) and organic fertilizers. Then set up on-site composting bins to continue the process.
Mulch: Organic mulch materials – top dresses -- must be laid as a top layer to prevent water from evaporating. As a bonus, a layer of organic mulch will reduce weeds that will be robbing water that is intended to go to desired plants.
Irrigation: Most of the irrigation in San Diego is automatic, set a clock and forget about it. In the era of so called “smart” controllers, computers do the work for us. But the hands-on approach to watering can help save water as well. Try hand-watering the old fashion way in cultivated rows and basins. Water deeply when you irrigate, check the soil moisture regularly.
Water Requirements: Install planter beds with plants that have the same basic water requirements. This should go without saying but sometimes gets overlooked, not only in the edible garden but in all types of landscape. Know your plants – plan garden beds with plants that thrive on the same water cycle.
Plants: There are those that need abundant moisture and there are those plants that survive, even thrive on less. Without sacrificing at the table, minimize those plots that need lots of irrigation, then look into those harvestable plants that grow well with less. For instance, a Bay Tree (Laurus nobilis) grows directly out my window as I write this, which I use for seasonings. It grows well without much, if any supplemental irrigation, yet would gladly drink from garden beds receiving regular irrigation if improperly placed. Select plants that grow in the same microclimate areas, factoring in soil, sun-shade, and water.
These are just a few basics to getting started. There is a lot to think about when designing the sustainable garden. I will be discussing more on the subject in future posts – Steve Harbour.
This narrow side-yard in San Diego was designed with raised beds for vegetables. Citrus and grape vines fill-in this landscape.
Exciting news. Edible Landscape Design, a website devoted to encouraging people around the world to garden sustainably, has written a full page on my business. The harvest garden is a theme near and dear to my heart. Simply stated, sustainability outdoors involves working vegetables, fruiting trees and shrubs, and herbs into the landscape. Some folks that want to devote their entire outdoor space or to edibles, others that wish to allocate a significant portion of their property to the concept, and still others want a low-key approach with fruiting plants sprinkled throughout the landscape. Any of these design approaches is doable; in the San Diego area, most homeowners prefer either or both of the last two options.
I have always had a soft spot for using edibles in the landscape, and have done so in my own home landscape for many years. Years before I began full-time consulting and design, I helped start a specialty nursery and landscape business solely devoted to using herbs, vegetables, and fruiting plants in the landscape. My eyes were opened. Our plant list was extensive, especially when adding traditional herbal garden plants into the mix. We had violas, scented geraniums, society garlic, artemisia, lavender, and even roses in our sales beds. I worked with the late Sherrel Hall in those days, a local legend of sorts who became one of my best friends. Sherrel was instrumental, not only in bringing this type of landscaping to the attention of San Diegans, but also in getting the word out on vermiculture, another of his passions. He was a force of nature, a bit eccentric but a kind and caring person. I do not share his off-the-charts zeal for this type of landscape, but the sustainability theme is one of my personal favorites. When clients mention they wish to use edibles in their landscape, I am more than ready to work their desires into the plan.
In my next few blog post, I will go into more detail about designing edibles into the landscape: what it takes, working it into the overall theme, the plants that can be used, and how much you should take on (as imagined, this is not a type of landscape that will prosper without homeowner sweat equity). Stay tuned.
My landscape Plan for a new home in Rancho Santa Fe, CA.
My website, business card, and stationary include my listing as a San Diego APLD Certified Landscape Designer, and you may be wondering exactly what this designation means. Briefly, anyone with this listing after their name has met all the requirements for design work and experience, as well as submitted their work and had it accepted by an international panel of judges. The certification process is a part of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers (APLD), an international organization of like-minded professionals. This classification is the highest ranking for members of the APLD, and currently there are only a handful of Certified Landscape Designers working in the San Diego area. Certified designers are the only professionals allowed to use the APLD logo after their names for their businesses.
The criteria for gaining certification is as follows
Education: At least one full year of design in the study of landscape design. We designers are an arty bunch, so sometimes art classes can be included.
Experience: Applicants must have at least three years of verified professional experience working as a landscape designer.
Submittal of 3 projects: Each application must include all drawings, plans, and photographs of at least three projects. This is the main thrust of the judging with strict adherence to the criteria. Needless to say, all the judges are certified so the bar is set high - likely the reason there are not more certified landscape designers in our area.
Recertification: Each certified professional must attend enough workshops, seminars, and on-going training to recertify every three years. A total of 30 CEU’s must be earned from these ongoing educational opportunities.
In a nutshell, this describes the Certified level of the APLD - the highest of six categories of members. I believe landscape designers are the top pros when it comes to artistically laying-out gardens, and often have the most plant expertise as well. APLD membership and certification signifies the designer has met and is dedicated to upholding the highest standards in the landscape industry.
Landscape lighting illuminates the fountain as well as screening plants in Del Mar, CA
The how-to’s of outdoor landscape lighting design and installation seem intimidating. Low-voltage and LED intricacies are subjects worthy of college textbooks. Here are some tidbits of info, design tips, and tricks I find helpful in creating and installing outdoor low-voltage lighting.
1. What amount of night landscape lighting is necessary? This depends on a family’s lighting preferences. Some prefer very little light while others want the landscape lighted like Disneyland. It’s an individual choice.
Amateurs can install their own lighting systems. It does take some skill but that doesn’t rule out the do-it-yourselfer.
What should be lit? When casting light up or down, choose the plants or hardscape features have the most structural interest.
Not sure what will look good when lit? Take a flashlight with a broad beam around the yard at night and illuminate potential plants and landscape features for lighting. Aim the flashlight from the ground (or from above) to decide what to illuminate.
Don’t waste your money on the cheap stuff. You’ll be replacing it very soon. There are plenty of quality lighting systems to choose from.
And don’t buy the solar lights. Outdoor solar lights do not provide sufficient light to be effective. It’s a waste of money.
Pay attention to styles of lights. Picking the wrong style of lights, especially pathway lights, can compromise your outdoor theme while the right choices will enhance the setting.
Pathway lights need to be set evenly along a pathway but look best if this placement is alternated to each side. Adhere to the manufacturer’s directions for properly spacing pathway lights.
Place up (accent) lights so that they do not shine onto walkways and patios. Like oncoming headlights, night lighting can be blinding if not directed properly.
After you decide the number of lights, and the type of lights (and bulbs) you will purchase, talk to a pro about sizing the transformer We typically install a transformer that has 20 percent extra capacity than the total number of watts required, simply to be safe.
Transformers can be purchased with a timer and a photocell, a convenience that allows the photocell to automatically turn on your outdoor lights at sunset. The timer will then turn off the system at the time you select.
Wiring is critical. Size it correctly. It can be laid on top of the ground and covered by bark, but it’s better to bury it about 4-inches deep. Make certain all connections are water tight.
Leave a couple feet of extra wire at each lighting fixture. This will allow you the flexibility later to easily move lights as plants grow.
14. Downlighting cast light toward the ground much like moonlight. Mount down-lights in trees and from structure overheads. The effects are often mesmerizing. 15. Silhouettes of plants and garden ornaments are dramatic and can be created by lighting walls behind the element to be silhouetted. 16. Shadowing is the opposite effect of silhouetting, created by casting light directly on plants or ornamental objects to cast shadows on blank walls. 17. Safety lighting is one of the most important functions of outdoor lighting. It goes without saying that it is important to place lights by stairs, steps, and any other area that could otherwise cause injury. 18. Hoods on step, stair, and pathway lights are important for safety lights, so as not to partially blind those using steps and stairs at night. 19. It is easy to include underwater lights in a low-voltage system; lighting ponds, streams, and fountains from beneath the water’s surface. 20. If a body of water, i.e. pool or pond is near, mirror lighting is still another beautiful effect that can be created. By lighting trees on the other side of the body of water from a viewing area, the mirroring effect is cast. These 20 rules are the primary considerations I use when designing low-voltage lighting, including LED systems, into my landscape designs in the San Diego area, but these tips should be useful anywhere outdoor lighting systems are installed.
This backyard patio in La Jolla, CA was designed with ground cover growing in the seams of flagstone, creating a more permeable, softer surface.
This is the last in a three-part series on patio and walkway design in San Diego. We have discussed creating more permeable landscapes through designing with the Watershed Approach. Now here are a few thoughts, somewhat random, in pulling it all together.
The front entry area serves as your calling card: your statement to the world passing by. This makes this access point an excellent place to start a design. The front walkway and area around it may include steps, pillars, a fence and gate, a patio or seating area, walls, and one or more auxiliary pathways that join it on its march to the front door. Front walkways that form a straight, 90-degree line from the street to the door are unimaginative; if space affords, one or more jogs in the paving needs to be added to create a more varied and interesting pattern on the visitor’s approach. The placement of side pathways has become crucial as lawns are replaced. While the lawn tolerated any abuse a family and pets could thrust upon it, few plants tolerate foot traffic. Side pathways of stone, gravel, and concrete and stone paving, or possibly mulch, are used to weave through planted areas, and can also serve as spaces to gather, rest, and view the garden. It is critically important to size landscape surfaces to proper dimensions, in the front yard and throughout the property. Patio spaces that feel cramped and overcrowded are guaranteed not to be used as intended. Neither do we want to tip toe down skinny walkways This is not an area to scrimp in the budget. A list of questions must be answered before beginning to draw these horizontal surfaces. How many people will potentially use the patio at the same time? What will each patio be used for? What types of outdoor furnishings will be necessary? How can permeable materials be incorporated to absorb surface water and prevent runoff? With the elimination or downsizing of the traditional lawn, alternatives to creating useable space include -- at least in part -- increasing the size of patios, adding several distinct patios, or both. These spaces are an increasingly important consideration in designing the new landscapes. Permeable materials of low environmental impact have become an important ethical consideration in the new landscapes. The basic materials that have traditionally been used to form outdoor surfaces – concrete, rock, and wood – have not changed. It’s the way these materials are used and the finished product that has changed. More and more patios, walkways, and even driveways are being designed with permeable concrete, segmented concrete pavers, or gravel, all without a solid mortar underbelly so water can penetrate through to the soil below. By combining the harder patio surfaces of concrete and stone with permeable gravels, the horizontal surface is visually expanded, an important spatial consideration. Like the rooms in a house, patio areas serve as centers for specific outdoor activities and functions, some somewhat unique. One client coined her special hillside steps and small patio as her ‘Stairway to Chardonnay’, a place to unwind in the evening with a glass of a favorite wine.