Posts from the ‘carpentry’ category

Even More Big Changes at Lazar Landscape


I’m elated to report that we’ve made it through the most disruptive elements of the Lazar Landscape Office Renovation Project! What started as an idea to reuse materials from our landscape installations to create a better work environment turned into a rainy day project for our Lazar Landscape crews that then catapulted us into a massive spring cleanup and office renovation.


Over the course of the past few months we’ve torn down walls, painted the ones we kept, torn out soiled carpets (turns out carpet and building landscapes don’t really go well together), reorganized and decluttered, all while working through one of our busiest winters and springs on record!


The Lazar Landscape Design Crew still has some fun projects in the works to transform our funky old warehouse of an office into an even more enjoyable place to work. It’s so funny that we spend our days and careers here at Lazar Landscape designing and building beautiful, useable outdoor spaces, and all the while we’ve been plodding along in a tired and rundown workspace. It is so refreshing to come to work in a bright, open space, and we feel the great energy flowing into our real work. We’ve been inspired to get inspired!



All of this is leading to the REAL big changes I’ve been alluding to in these posts. Tune in next time for news that we are very excited about!DSC09384

Cooling Off a Hot Garden


This existing Lafayette garden was dominated by a pool and restricted on all fours sides by existing structures. The ample glass double doors led you out to two small patches of lawn without any real useable space. The harsh, reflective sun off the main house made being outside unbearable.



The design changes the primary space directly outside the double doors. This main patio is paved in cooling grey/blue tones of Connecticut bluestone and an overhead arbor defines and cools the space below. Planting areas against the house and at each arbor post soften the hard lines of the patio. Orange trumpet vine creates shade for the eating area below but also helps to cool the back of the house blasted by afternoon sun. Japanese Maple trees and Crape Myrtles create additional shade for the back of the house and define spaces. Two burgundy spheres nestled in the planting areas overflow with water to draw people into different areas of the garden. Cooling veins of lawn and Dymondia groundcover break up large concrete pads to create informal secondary spaces.



arbor against house

English Cottage Garden Stirs the Senses

backyard garden photo


Who knew a tiny Oakland backyard could contain this secret English Cottage garden? When you walk down the short driveway the garden starts to reveal itself in layers through a whimsical wrought iron gate covered with fragrant roses and lush purple clematis. There are so many new and existing plants covering every square inch of soil. The colors and smells wake up your nose and your eyes as soon as you enter.  A huge Coast Live Oak and established Pittosporum undulatum tree create the backdrop screening and canopy for the rest of the garden. Along the sides, we planted a hedge of Podocarpus to create a clean green and narrow screen. Existing established rhododendrons screen the Tudor style garage. The vast majority of the garden is dedicated to planting beds, rather than patios.




My clients number one priority was to be able to view the garden looking down from their eating nook and they were right. The formal half circle of lawn is anchored by a central bird bath. Pink flowering dogwoods anchor each end and enforce the formal symmetry of the half circle, while the planting beds around the brick-lined lawn are whimsical and packed full with flowering plants. Established rhododendrons on the perimeter and a few existing hydrangea make this new garden installation seem timeless. As with many English Cottage Gardens, there are formal lines and symmetry that relate to the architecture of the building. But the formality is never left exposed to be cold and stark because it is softened by the color and texture of the jam-packed planting beds.





Although, the back yard is small, it is able to house several distinct rooms that make the garden feel larger. The first room is the largest when viewed from above. It contains the formal semi-circle of lawn edged by generous planting beds. Directly across from the lawn, separated by a brick path, is the original brick patio and fireplace nook. We had to do some additional brick work and patching due to safety issues but the new brick blends in seamlessly with the old. Splashing mortar on the surface of the brick really helped to disguise the new brick. On the back of the fireplace is a small herb garden complete with an espaliered lemon tree. Behind the fireplace we refurbished the existing greenhouse by framing out a row of different salvaged windows and replacing the roof. A coat of turquoise stain makes it blend in with the original door and siding. Beyond the wrought iron fence, two metal troughs act as raised beds for growing strawberries, tomatoes, and even more cutting flowers. Hard perimeters are always softened by plants. The rhododendrons screen the wall of the garage while the vining clematis and rose weave in an out of the fence. The existing concrete retaining wall separating properties is disguised by the Podocarpus and soft blue geranium.





The biggest challenge in this garden was dealing with the shade the magnificent existing trees and rhododendrons created. Since the Oak and Pittosporum were already established and have large canopies, the lawn and flowering plants below suffer from the shade and leaf litter in the winter time. Additional seed in the winter and thinning of the trees could help, but this is just a fact in gardens sometimes. The symmetry of the lawn and border of roses can’t be changed to anything else. The changes each season brings help you appreciate the garden in different ways throughout the year. When the roses are dormant and bare branches in the winter, the evergreen Daphne perfumes the air with it’s sweet, soapy scent. The winter brings out the beautiful peony blooms of the Camelia, while spring triggers the Rhododendrons to light up with bright purple and pink clouds. The summer brings jaw-dropping displays of puffy purple and pink Hydrangea and peach Alstromeria, while the climbing roses, David Austin Rose and tea rose perfume the air.





Green Roof on a Chicken Coop Update

It has been about 6 months since I planted the green roof on our backyard chicken coop in San Francisco. The mixture of drought tolerant succulents and ornamental grasses went in at the end of September in the shallow 4″ depth of soil, where they have endured some very cold winter nights and little rain. Considering how neglectful I have been these past 6 months, I am happy with the results and look forward to seeing it grow in. After the first month I rarely tended to the roof, except to look at it from my home on the second story. I lost a few succulents to the cold, and the Sedum ‘Cape Blanco’ has grown leggy from from the drought I’ve put it through, but I couldn’t be more amazed at the ability of these plants to survive.

The Americauna and Rock Island Red hens are in their teens and steadily producing two to four eggs everyday. These four girls produce tan and spotted eggs that are delicious with bright orange yolks. Since I’ve never had chickens before, it has taken some getting used to. First, they love to eat almost everything in the garden. When we let them out of the coop, they have ‘free range’ of the garden. They dig up planting beds to make room for dirt baths, devour the veggie beds, and sample and nibble every plant in the garden, including weeds and succulents. They have humongous poops that I know have amazing fertilizer capabilities for our garden, but the poops are gushy and attract hoards of flies! I can no longer go barefoot in the garden. Despite these drawbacks, they are gentle and friendly girls that provide really yummy eggs. The racoons can’t get to them because they are locked up at night in the fortress of a coop my brother-in-law built. Our first set of chicks got devoured by a raccoon early on because we accidentally left the door open. It was a horrendous sight the next morning which we will never forget and we diligently check to make sure the doors are locked at night.

Here are some pictures from 6 months ago and now. Enjoy!

Landscape Rail Options

powdercoated green rail 2

What makes a good landscape rail?

It has to serve its purpose while complementing its surroundings. When I am designing and realize a rail needs to be installed for code reasons, I am initially disappointed. This disappointment comes from the fact that the rail might obstruct a crucial view or make a space feel too enclosed.  Bulky pickets on a guardrail can look so busy and distract from the house and garden because it is a vertical element that sticks out like a sore thumb.  It is also an added expense that might not fit into a tight budget. But code is code for a reason and if there is danger of falling off a patio or deck, or tumbling down a long stretch of stairs, following code is a must. When the project is finished, I usually love the effect the rail adds to the garden. There are a lot of options out there and the rail can really complement the architecture of the house or add whimsy to the garden. There are also low profile options to help achieve the function of safety while not being obtrusive.

Metal handrail follows the curve of the stone staircase

Metal handrail follows the curve of the stone staircase

Handrail vs. Guardrail

There are two different types of rails. Handrails are simply a top rail to grasp, while held up by posts. They usually line the side of steps. While code can change from city to city, the general rule is if there are more than four steps, you need at least one handrail 34”-38” high from the tread of each step. Guardrails have the top rail along with pickets down below to keep you safe and contained. Guardrails are needed for staircases, patios, and decks that are 30” or more above grade. Guardrails need to be at least 42” tall with pickets that have an opening less than 4” wide.

craftsman style rail


Wood rails are perfect when they blend into the architecture and existing decking. Oftentimes, if a new wooden deck is being built, extending the 4×4 foundation posts up through the decking to create the posts for the guardrail is easy and more cost effective. Wood rails are very appropriate for Craftsman style houses. Because of the bulkiness of wood, rails made of wood definitely don’t go unnoticed. There are opportunities to create whimsical cutouts in wood panels if you want to create a more solid barrier. You could also combine wood posts and wood caps with metal pickets to create a rhythm of solid posts, and more transparent panels. The width of the wood cap is usually a minimum of 3.5”, making it a convenient coaster for drinks.

wood panel craftsmanstyle rail

Copper pickets and wood posts and caps

Copper picket guardrail with wood posts and caps

Metal and Wrought Iron

Metal and wrought iron rails are sturdy, long-lived work-horses in the garden that offer a lot of flexibility. Unlike wood, they can be easily curved to follow a curved staircase. They can be powdercoated different colors and finishes to add an extra level of detail. Metal and wrought iron can also be shaped into very intricate and playful patterns to create an artful statement in the garden. The strength of metal allows it to have skinnier posts and rails, creating a much more see-through effect compared to wood.

upclose metal rail whimsy

nautical white metal rail



black metal handrail


Cable rail finishes off a sleek and modern garden.  It can also be used if you want to achieve the feeling of spaciousness.  The horizontal stainless steel woven cable comes in a variety of diameters which are all very thin and unobtrusive. The cable can be threaded through wooden posts if part of a wooden deck, or through metal posts for a more modern look.

endless pool deck cable rail

Metal and cable rail

Ipe and cable


If you really want to keep the feeling of spaciousness or must capture a view, glass panels are the way to go. The thick, tempered glass panels provide safety and protection from wind while allowing full views.

glass rail and spiral stair

Dream Project

Kitchen garden - after
Sometimes the fates converge, and you find yourself working on a dream project. Let me start by saying I love, love, love designing gardens around mid-century modern homes. So when I arrived at an appointment to meet my future clients and saw their home, I have to say I got a little excited. Then I met my clients, who are awesome, saw the beautiful work they had done to their open floor plan interior, and listened to their wish lists for their garden, and my heart melted a little. Their outdoor space was begging to be incorporated into their lifestyle! I was beyond happy and excited when I got the call that they had chosen to work with me on their project.

For the most part, the garden designed itself. While old and a bit dilapidated, the site had good bones and a circulation pattern that couldn’t be altered much. In other words, the spaces or garden rooms were identified; I just had to develop them. The main challenge in the front garden was an extremely unsafe entry. A previous owner had installed Saltillo tiles on the existing concrete entry. They were mossy and slippery, unevenly sloped and some of the tiles were popping off. The hand rail was slightly wobbly wood in dire need of sanding. It had disaster written all over it! The home is situated near the top of a steep slope, but there is enough flat space to allow for a quaint seating area for the homeowners to connect with their neighbors.

Before: Back entry

Before: Back entry

After: Back entry

After: Back entry

The back yard has multiple access points; there were three sets of doors off of the house; a side path from the front garden; and a unique second street entry at the back of the house required sort of a second entry from the street and access from the detached garage from that street. There are three main useable areas in the back garden in which to incorporate my clients’ wish list that included: an outdoor kitchen, a quiet peaceful garden space off of the master bedroom, space for entertaining fairly large groups of friends and family, a fire element and a water element, a place to grow food, and safety (the Saltillo tiles were continued throughout the garden) that included new fencing with locked gates, lighting and hand rails.

Before: Dangerous front entry stairs

Before: Dangerous front entry stairs

After: Safe front entry stairs

After: Safe front entry stairs

The biggest challenge in making the front entry safe was raised by building codes that came into being after the house was constructed. We had to push the entry staircase toward the house to accommodate setbacks, and that in turn required us to build a wall on the upslope. The stairs followed the natural grade on the original design and did not require a wall. It was a happy accident, though. The wall turned out beautiful and really anchors the front garden and compliments the home. The homeowners elected not to tackle a large portion of their slope that is covered in ivy, and the staircase separates the ivy and landscaped areas nicely.

These homeowners are not dyed-in-the-wool modernists, but have a fun, almost whimsical eclectic, contemporary approach. Hardscape material selections were made to tie into the house. We used a combination of precut stone, random stone, gravel and aggregate tile details, and a combination of ledge stone and stucco walls. I originally designed a stone fireplace, but the homeowners elected to use a bold stucco color to tie the elements together. I always tell my clients that they get to live in their garden long after I’m gone. I have many ideas and strong opinions, but they are the ultimate voice in how their garden evolves.

Before: Stucco wall and tile patio

Before: Stucco wall and tile patio

After: Fireplace and bench

After: Fireplace and bench

Some of my favorite elements in the garden are the cantilevered fireplace with a succulent garden on top and the barbecue countertop and matching bench. We used a single slab of Brazilian slate (it’s huge) for the countertop, which like granite allows for a mostly seamless countertop. We left the surface natural and used a sealer to prevent staining and honed the edges so they’re smooth and bring out the deep color of the stone. We had a metal frame fabricated and used the leftover stone to create a bench that ties into the fireplace. It’s a great place to sit on a chilly night.


I always say I have one of the best jobs in the world. I get to work with extraordinary people – both my clients and coworkers to create beautiful useable spaces. This project was the epitome of why I so love what I do.

Borders in the Garden

There are many ways to create borders in your garden, to delineate spaces, create outdoor rooms, give a sense of enclosure, or add privacy. When we think of hemming in an outdoor space, we often think of wood or metal fences. There are many types of fences, using varied materials- we could do several blog posts just about them! In this post we want to talk about fences but also walls and hedges as ways to border your garden.

Curved Wood Fence
Fences are typically made of wood or metals like wrought iron or aluminum. Most cities and counties have a height limit of 6’ for fencing (without a permit variance), which can provide privacy and screening from streets or undesirable views. But fences don’t need to be that high, or be solid, to create a barrier between private and public space. Even a 3’ fence can create a border, or an open style fence like split rails or wire mesh give the sense of entering a space. Fences can also be planted with vines to create a green wall to provide a living fence with seasonal change.

Lattice Fence with Vines
Walls are also a way to border in your garden. Freestanding walls are another form of fence, and can be veneered with stucco or stone to create a more formal and solid barrier. These walls can also be up to 6’ tall, or a combination of wall and fence adds a dynamic twist to your garden edge.

Stucco with Welded Wire Mesh
Of course we can’t forget planting borders, like hedges. The old standby, the Boxwood hedge, is often what people think of when hedges are mentioned- and they are often a great choice for a low maintenance, solid hedge. But many plants can be trimmed into hedges, including shrubs that flower, are fragrant, or have interesting foliage year-round. Borders don’t have to be sheared like Boxwood hedges either- a line of perennial grasses or a uniform row of low shrubs can be left in their natural form and still create a strong border.

Ask us about fences- we have ideas that will work in any garden space.