There was the good news: a lovely house on a sizable corner lot.
Then there was the not-so-good news: a chunk of the real estate sloped steeply down to the street on two sides, while most of the Carmel Valley property’s level spacewas occupied by the house.
The band of land around three sides of the home was relatively narrow and not landscaped for the outdoor living that home owners Jennifer Lafontaine and Vic Desanti desired. Nor was there a play space suitable
for their 5-year-old daughter For Barry Thau, of Eco Minded Solutions, the remedy was to rely largely on creating a sense of visual rather than actual space. His series of outdoor “rooms,”each dedicated to a specific activity, integrate with the interior of the house and flow naturally fromone to another without feeling cramped or cluttered.
“We tried to choose, simple, elegant materials that add some texture, a little color,” Thau said.
One side yard had room for a lap pool and raised spa, bothmade with ledgestone. A small lounge area anchors one end of the space. A loose hedge of non-invasive bamboo(Bambusamultiplex ‘AlphonseKarr’) and giant bird of paradise contribute to the tropical ambiance. Originally, the kitchen and living room at the back of the house looked out on “a little patio with a lot of plants encroaching on the space,”
Landscape architect Barry Thau created a series of compact “rooms” with a sense of space. Seating areas are within conversation range for easy entertaining. Indian laurel fig (Ficus nitida) planted against the back wall will grow to screen the area from the neighboring lot.
Thau said. After clearing out and paving the area, he relegated the plants – succulents, salvia, and other easy-care, low-water-usage species – to a narrow bed at the base of the
“The plants add a little softness, but they don’t encroach on thespace,” Thau said.
A small lounge area provides a place to gather and relax in front of a custom fountain, which is a ledgestone wall, six feet in height and width but shallow in depth. Water
flows into a rectangular basin topped with flagstone caps that can provide extra seating for larger groups. Just a few steps away,Thau added a large barbecue and a granite-topped
bar with comfortable seating for four.
A slightly more formal dining table is within easy conversation range. The transformation of the remaining side yard,which was just a walk-way, into a play area required physically enlarging the existing space. A six-foot-tall wall, which blocked the view, came to within a few feet from the house, Lafontaine said.
Thau expanded the width of the area by eight to 10 feet, bringing in additional soil to level the section. He replaced the old block wall with a lower retaining wall topped with an iron rail to open the area. The project, which took about five months, increased the area to about 700 square feet, approximately three times its former size.
Clean and durable artificial turf tops the revised space. “Initially it’s a little more of a price point, but you end up saving on water and mainte-
The house opens to this inviting lounge area, backed by a ledgestone fountain. The different “outdoor rooms” flow easily into each other. Clean, modern lines and restrained use of plants integrate visually with the house and contribute to an open feeling. BILL WECHTER •
nance,” Thau said. Part of this yard gets full sun while part is always in shade, which makes balancing the irrigation for a grass lawn a challenge.
“It looks like a completely different space,” Lafontaine said, “and it’s usable all year round.We really like it.”
Unlike the landscaping within the walls, the more public exterior is abundantly planted. Near the entry, kangaroo paw, flaxes and bougainvillea thrive along side a large umbrella
tree (Schefflera actinophylla), saved from the previous landscape because it contributes a screen between properties.
“If it has formand function,we try not to waste existing plant material,”
The botanical largess continues on the slopes forming two sides of the corner lot, where a variety of succulents Russian sage, carpet roses and numerous others compose a mosaic
of shapes and textures.
Small trees – ficus, a queen palm, a Swan Hill olive – serve as visual anchor points. “The intention was to have different areas always flowering,”
The foliage itself exhibits a range of colors, from the acid yellow of licorice plants (Helichrysum), to blue senecio, to almost-black Aeonium Schwarzkopf. The design is generally low-maintenance, and watering needs are low.The slope also catches runoff from above.
There can be joy in both abundance and simplicity. “In the front, where we really have the space, we can develop the landscaping palette,” Thau said. “But sometimes less is more. Creating all these ‘rooms’ and not having it feel cluttered was probably the biggest challenge. I’m happy about how we utilized the space, and how it all worked together. ”
Getting together with family and friends are the things that memories are made of. There’s nothing better than gathering everyone together around the dining room table and catching up. The only thing that could make it better is if it were outdoors.
Outdoor living spaces are the new way to go when it comes to outdoor entertaining. We all love our homes. Chances are you spent hours looking for the perfect home in San Diego or the surrounding areas. You spent countless hours decorating with just the right accents to enhance your home. However, many homeowners simply love the outdoors. So entertaining outdoors is something they would naturally do.
Outdoor living spaces are more than a table and a grill. The great thing about outdoor living spaces is that they can be enjoyed anytime of the year. Outdoor entertaining and living spaces are quite comfortable. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to give up comfort when you look to outdoor entertaining. The perfect touches can make your outdoor space shine day or night.
You can go from small touches to large pieces. Some examples can include:
- Adding a wide selection of colorful chairs can accentuate your space. Adirondack chairs are a popular choice and they can come in natural wood or in a variety of colors. Color choices can make for a festive setting.
- Accent lighting can create an intimate touch. You can add colored lights for a fun and festive environment.
- Instead of just adding a grill, try enclosing your grill in bricks to enhance the look and feel of the grill area.
- Adding an outdoor fireplace can create a soothing and relaxing environment. There’s nothing better than a fire at night.
- Outdoor living furniture today is comfortable and stylish. You can create a warm and inviting setting with the right furniture.
Outdoor living spaces offer unique and tranquil settings where friends and family can come together for fun and laughter.
The kitchen in your home is the place where memories and good times are made. Nothing brings family and friends together like food. If you’ve been considering selling your home and want to give it a fresh new look without spending a lot of money, then remodeling or renovating your kitchen is the place to start.
One of the first things a potential homebuyer will look at is the kitchen. You only get one chance to make a first impression. Making a few changes to your kitchen can change the entire dynamics of the room.
Begin with some of these simple yet effective changes:
- Fixtures – Changing things like the light fixtures can enhance the room. Great lighting is important in the kitchen so pick a fixture that will enhance the look of the room while allowing a good deal of light to shine through.
- Walls – Changing the walls will be one of the most dramatic and noticeable changes. You can change the entire look of the kitchen with a new coat of paint, by adding some wallpaper or even tiling sections of the wall.
- Faucets – Changing the faucets on your sink can enhance your kitchens look. Today there are numerous faucets available in a wide variety of styles to choose from.
- New Appliances – If you can afford it, replacing old appliances with newer and more modern appliances will not only increase the home’s value but give the kitchen a more modern look.
- Flooring – The floors are one of the most important factors in a kitchen. The flooring can change the overall look of the room. You can have wood flooring or wood like tile. You can also add a variety of tiles and colors to the floor. When it comes to flooring, the sky is the limit.
Your kitchen could be the one thing that seals the deal for you when it comes to someone buying your home. With a few simple changes you can enhance you’re San Diego home easily.
Within our homes, next to the bedroom, the bathroom is one of the most widely used rooms. Not only do you want this room to look good for yourself but for the guests who come to your home as well.
There isn’t always enough money in the budget to add a new bathroom to your home. Adding a new bathroom can often get quite expensive depending on what you want. For many in San Diego, this is where remodeling or renovating their current bathroom becomes a more viable option. Sometimes all your bathroom needs is a facelift.
Simple changes can make a dramatic difference in the appearance of your bathroom. Here are just some of the changes you can make:
- Walls – In many older homes, the walls have naturally aged. If you currently have wallpaper on your walls, you can either replace the wallpaper with a current pattern or remove the wallpaper and paint the walls. Either one will give your bathroom a more modern look and feel. It can also brighten a dark bathroom.
- Faucets – Replacing the faucets may not seem like a huge change but it can completely change the look of your bathroom. If your home was built in the 1970’s and still has the same faucets from that time, then replacing them with more modern or trendier faucets will change the feel of your bathroom. It’s a small change but it can make a huge difference.
- Decorations – Believe it or not something as simple as changing the décor of your bathroom can really make it look like new. You could easily and inexpensively change the towels, shower curtain, as well as wall art and knick knacks to change the whole look of the room.
In San Diego, most people are concerned with how their home looks. So if your bathroom needs a new look and feel then make some of these simple changes and you can get the look of a new bathroom for less.
Chances are you bought your home with plans of staying in the home for years. However over time your family has grown. Kids have a way of filling up a home fast. The problem is that you love your home. It has the style you were looking for and it’s in a neighborhood that you love. If only it had the room you needed for your growing family. Well the truth is it can!
You don’t have to leave the home you love in order to get the space you need. This is where adding an addition to your home can save the day. Adding a room is easier then you may think and it can not only increase the value of your home but allow you to stay in the home you love.
If your family is growing and you need additional bedrooms, then adding an addition to create the extra room you need is ideal. So whether you want your child to have their own room or you need to add an addition to create a nursery, adding an additional room is simple enough.
With the growth of your family also comes the need for additional entertaining space. If your home has one living room and no other area for entertaining then you may want to consider adding a den to your home. Doing so will allow you to have spare rooms for entertaining on opposite ends of the house. This allows the parents to have one room and the kids to have another room.
Additions are the perfect thing to consider when you need more room but don’t want to give up the home you’ve grown to love over the years. There’s no need to panic about buying a new home because adding an addition in San Diego will solve all your problems easily.
The greatest landscaping concern for homeowners in San Diego is water. We pay the highest prices in the county for water, and those prices are expected to go up another 10% next year. Summertime watering restrictions have also gone into effect, which means you can’t water overhead – with a hose or irrigation sprinklers – between 10 am and 6 pm. Fortunately, we are not in a drought, or additional restrictions would kick in – you can only water 3 days a week depending on whether your house number is odd or even. Keep in mind though – the drought will be back, and San Diego’s water restrictions were made permanent last year.
At Eco Minded Solutions, we promote water-wise landscapes that use drought-tolerant plants and drip irrigation. But, today, I want to focus on what any homeowner can do to make the best use of expensive water regardless of how thirsty your landscape may be.
Whether you have an irrigation system that runs automatically on a programmable timer clock, or you water by hand, many of the same strategies apply. First, watering infrequently and deeply is much more efficient than frequent and shallow watering.
Plants will grow their roots depending on where the water is. Shallow watering means shallow roots, which means plants that are dependent on their next dose of water. Shallow watering also results in losing a lot of water by evaporation from the soil surface, especially if there is no mulch layer to slow that loss. (Hint: if you don’t have mulch, don’t rake the leaf litter out of your planter beds! It is even better than purchased mulch, and will provide nutrients for you plants as it decomposes as well).
Let’s assume that you have been watering shallowly, running your irrigation daily or every other day, or standing outside with the garden hose giving the plants and turf a short drink. You will have to adjust your watering schedule with some care, giving your plants the time to send their roots down to where they will start getting most of their water.
An effective way to get the water down deep while still getting water to your spoiled plants is to water daily for a week, so the water will soak down at least a foot in the soil profile, and hopefully more. (Hint: this is also an effective way to get new plants established quickly.) Check with a narrow shovel or hand spade to see how deep the water is percolating into your soil. If you have typical San Diego clay, it can take several days for the water to get through, but because clay retains water so well, it will stay put. If you have sand (very near the coast) or decomposed granite-based soils, the water fill filter through quickly, and will not be retained as in clay-based soils.
After that treatment, you can start to decrease the frequency of watering gradually – to every other day, every 3 days, and longer intervals. Drought-tolerant plants will not only survive but thrive with infrequent watering. Plants that require regular moisture will also do better, as they will have a good reservoir of water available, and will not suffer as badly when your irrigation system goes haywire or you are out of town and can’t water by hand.
In the end, you will be able to use less water by watering deeply and cut your water bill. You will also have healthier and more drought-resilient plants. This strategy will work whether you have a typical San Diego landscape with fescue grass and tropical palms, or if you have caught the move to landscaping with water-wise plants that will reduce your water bill even more. If your water bill is still high, consider reducing your lawn to only what you use, and saving your thirsty plants in an oasis near entryways and places in your landscape where spend time. But, I’ve talked about this before….
Eco Minded Solutions gets featured in a San Diego Union Tribune article, “Maximum impact in small space.” The story highlights a low water, low maintenance outdoor-living space we created in Del Mar, CA.
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We just experienced the challenge and fun of setting up our first display at the Garden Masters Exposition 2012 at the 27th Annual Spring Home/Garden Show at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. The three in-house designers at Eco Minded Solutions, Barry Thau, Chris Tiffany, and Azlynn Hare, collaborated on a design that reflects many aspects of styles that we offer, from clean, contemporary lines, innovative use of rustic building materials, and the use of low-maintenance and water-wise plant materials that still provide a colorful and lush look that San Diegans have come to expect.
This garden retreat is built around a western red cedar deck that was hand made by our construction manager Tim Hines. Snakeskin boulders are the stepping stones leading into this private outdoor space. The deck is faced on two sides by a free-stacked ram’s horn flagstone retaining wall with a built-in vertical succulent garden and water feature. A built-in mahogany bench provides a place to sit under the shady trees, listen to the soothing sounds of water, and to enjoy the tranquility.
We had some pretty tough competition at the event with companies that had larger and more elaborate displays. But, both the judges and many visitors commented on the elegance and simplicity of our design. To quote one judge, “Beautiful clean lines with a great feeling of enclosure. I like how the deck appears to be floating. Nice use of water. Nice use of materials. Like mix of native and exotic plants.” We won an award for best lighting, which included ambient LED lighting to enhance the feeling of floating deck, path lights to create an enveloping mood, and spot lights to highlight the surrounding trees and further create an ambiance of tranquility.
We also won an award for one of four outstanding specimen plants noted at the show: the redbud in spectacular full flower. We scouted the nurseries the week before to find the best-looking plants. However, by the time we arrived to pick up the selected redbud, the flowers were fading and dropping. Our crew called from the nursery to tell us this and picked out another plant. We’re grateful to our team members for the attention to detail. Thank you, Ever Gutierrez and Marcos Beltran!
We scooped an award for ‘Perfection in Nomenclature’, which was appreciated as our team spent hours scouring our books and the internet for proper scientific names and the commonest of common names.
The judges did ding us on our use of an exotic grass that has recently been placed on the invasive species list by the state of California: Mexican feather grass, (Nasella/Stipa tenuissima). In fact, we have already stopped using this freely-reseeding and spreading grass and are using a variety of other water-wise grasses to provide color and texture. We used the mass of feather grass because it was the only grass we could find available at the last minute for this bit of landscape theatre. We regret unintentionally encouraging its use, as many of the Garden Show visitors come to get ideas for plants, so we need to use only the plants we would use ourselves. We promise not to do it next year!
We also experienced that visitors come away with the notion that our display is the only thing we do in terms of style and materials. One visitor asked “can you do a bridge like the display next door?” “Of course!” I replied, as I directed her to our portfolio that shows the variety of landscapes that we have provided for our customers. We invite you to do the same and browse our online portfolio to see for yourself.
My last blog was about the virtues of minimizing the amount of grass, to make your landscape more eco-friendly. Even the New York Times recently reported on this topic, as the average lawn becomes smaller.
This time, I want to blog about the virtues of trees. My love of trees may make be biased – they are my favorite part of a landscape, and the older and craggier they are, the better I like them. Salon just posted a slide show about some of the world’s great ancient trees.
Fortunately, well-selected and sited trees are a key to designing an eco-friendly landscape that is also beautiful and functional.
(caption: This mastic tree in its prime frames the view of the house, anchors the front yard landscape, and creates a woodland-like setting for the understory plants.)
If you live in an older neighborhood, you may be fortunate to have the blessing of trees planted by someone wise enough to leave behind this legacy for you to enjoy. Full-grown trees, more than any other part of the softscape, announce that the landscape has come into maturity. If you are particularly fortunate, those trees will have been well cared for and properly selected and sited: growing to a desirable size, and providing the right about of shade at the right time of the year.
Often though, you are left to deal with a tree that has grown to overwhelm your landscape, takes too much water to thrive, is messy, hard to garden under, cracks concrete features with greedy surface roots, or invades the water and sewer lines with feeder roots. Reduction pruning and thinning can be done to alleviate some of these problems, and avoids the drastic solution of removing the entire tree and waiting for the replacement to grow and takes its place as a better citizen in your landscape.
(Caption: These pines were “threaded,’” opening up the view, and taking their part in a water-wise landscape.)
Owners of new homes in recently built developments face the challenge of a bare landscape and the time it will take for trees to grow, but also benefit from the opportunity to choose and site trees carefully. Designs must be done to account for the full-size tree: the space it will take up vertically and horizontally, and the shade it will eventually provide. Planting the biggest box size possible can help to achieve an “instant landscape,” but, with the exception of adult-size palms that can cost tens of thousands of dollars, it still takes time for even the fastest-growing tree to come into its full potential.
As the trees grow, your landscape will slowly evolve. Privacy will develop, unpleasant views will become filtered, and pleasant views will begin to be framed by the spreading canopy of branches. That canopy will also provide relief from the relentless sun. The trees will bring shade that will expand the livable areas in your landscape. The shade that develops over planting beds will also provide the opportunity to grow a wider array of shrubs, perennials, bulbs, and groundcovers.
The designers and horticulturalists at Eco Minded Solutions select trees for landscape plans with utmost care. The selected trees must be the right size for the site at maturity. It is tempting to plant that cute little conifer you see at the nursery, unaware that it will eventually grow to perhaps 80 feet tall and 40 feet wide. We avoid these problems by selecting trees for the size of the property and how they relate to the other design elements. Many old favorites and standard selections are simply too big for today’s lot sizes.
(Caption: This pine, planted too close, is already overtaking the house.)
The palette of trees for San Diego is changing, partly because of this issue. There are many small and medium sized trees that we make use of in our designs. A tree in a patio corner may be selected to be only 12-15’ tall, and a tree selected to provide a larger shade canopy may still only grow to 20-30’ tall. A properly selected tree will not require expensive reduction pruning.
(Caption: Crepe myrtle serves as a small-scale focal point for this front yard patio.)
We also keep in mind the amount of shade that a given tree will develop. Some species provide a dense cover and complete shade that may be desirable for effective screening. Others have more naturally open branching and/or smaller leaves that cast a more dappled shade. These lighter-textured trees will not require thinning that is often done on San Diego’s coastal trees, where dense canopies create cold spots and block desirable views.
(Caption: Pepper tree, introduced from Peru during California’s mission period, is delicate-looking, yet tough. )
Any tree must be considered for its strengths and faults, and how it will fit its desired role in a landscape. It must also be attractive to your eyes. All these considerations are important as the range of landscape styles diversifies, from formal and contemporary designs to rustic and cottage designs, from eastern-influenced zen gardens to western-influenced courtyard gardens, from edible landscapes to those that are strictly decorative, and from the tropical-themed landscapes that came to be standard in post WWII San Diego, to more water-wise landscapes that make use of a surprisingly wide array of plants from around the world.
We advocate choosing trees that are water-wise. San Diego’s water restrictions have been made permanent, and water prices are likely to keep going up. One strategy to use water wisely is to design a landscape with a mini-oasis: a spot that features the thirstier plants, including a favorite tree or two that you must have. This oasis should be where you spend the most time in your landscape: a lounging and dining area. Away from this oasis, the plant selections become less water-demanding. Such a landscape will be practical and affordable to maintain as water costs increase and availability becomes more limited. Water-wise trees can cut your water bill, as they shade they provide reduces evaporation from the soil. The protective canopy of trees becomes more important the farther you are from the coast, with its higher temperatures and lack of cloud cover.
With a thoughtful selection of trees and other plants, you can look forward to a shady, restful retreat, and not end up with a parched landscape that requires yet another makeover. Eco Minded Solutions is here to provide you to plan for the future by providing you with a landscape that will be beautiful and sustainable for a lifetime of enjoyment.
When many people envision their ideal home landscape, they picture grass as a wall-to-wall carpet that covers most of their property. Front and backyards that are based on turf are traditional – an idea imported from the eastern United States, where grass is easier to grow with abundant summer rainfalls. The love for turf goes back further, to the estates of the European royalty that presented opulent and highly controlled landscapes as potent symbols of their status and wealth. Versailles, the pleasure palace of Louis XIV, was hugely influential in influencing tastes in landscapes for the middle class, who copied on smaller scales the formal and symmetrical designs with sheared hedges, shrubs and trees, all framed by a perfectly maintained carpet of grass.
This look evolved into the traditional American landscape with its foundation shrubs in front of the house, two shade trees on either side of the sidewalk to the front door, and Kentucky blue grass framing it all. The post World War II suburban housing boom featured this idealized landscape as part of the American Dream of home ownership, domestic bliss, and financial security. American grass seed and fertilizer companies heavily promoted the prospect of a perfect lawn as the status symbol of success. Husbands spent hours every weekend preparing soil, planting seed or laying sod, watering, fertilizing, weeding, and reseeding to cultivate their lawn for their neighbors’ approval and envy.
This aesthetic was as present in San Diego as in Cleveland or any other American city. However, many factors are creating a change in the ideal American landscape, particularly here in southern California. The most important one is that rain is rare to nonexistent for 6-10 months of warm weather, water prices keep going up, and droughts result in water rationing. San Diego recently made permanent its restrictions on water use for landscapes. Lawns that used to be green and lush now turn brown in the summertime.
However, there are many alternatives to either accepting parched grass, bare dirt or gravel, or paying for expensive water (and risking fines for illegal use of that water). One solution is to install underground irrigation, which is not covered by San Diego’s restriction on overhead watering to a 3-day-a-week and morning-only schedule. This updated irrigation can be installed at the same time the high water-use grass species is swapped out for a more water-wise one. Yet another possibility is artificial turf, some of which now look good enough to fool even us at first glance.
The best solution of all for you may be to consider why a landscape dominated by grass is even desirable or necessary. Lawns are useful for homes with kids and pets as areas for play. For those who still need lawns, consider reducing its area to that which is actually used. One study found that the average home only needs around 600 square feet of grass for recreation. Many landscapes that we have designed provide even smaller areas of grass – enough for the pet dog to lounge in the sun, for example. This patch of grass is featured in the back yard.
However, the front yard lawn in particular is rarely used by anyone anymore – it’s just there for show. Fortunately, landscaping aesthetics are evolving away from the requisite carpet of green. There are many different styles to choose from, many of which include more naturalistic designs that reflect the real look of southern California. These designs easily make use of the diversity of plants from California and areas around the world with similar climates. We use plants that are water-wise to reduce your water and maintenance bills, and provide an array of colors and textures to your landscape. Your landscape can be just as leafy and lush, and present you with year-round interest that will make you forget that the grass was ever there, and why you thought you ever needed so much of it in the first place.