Posts from the ‘construction’ category

Forever Ginkgo

mature ginkgo

It is a well-known fact that mature trees create a sense of scale and space. Tree-lined streets are charming and grand, so much so that people pay extra to live on them. Granted, it must be the right tree, in the right place, and have good form.

One of my most favorite trees is the Ginkgo. Ginkgo biloba, commonly known as Maidenhair Tree is the oldest tree on earth. It dates back to the age of the dinosaurs and remains unchanged to this day. It has survived over 200 million years because it is strong and tough. One might assume that the ginkgo, with its delicate fan shaped leaves and elegant tiered branching structure would not be so resilient. Its’ leaves and hard wood lure very few pests. If ginkgoes get sick or injured, they can sprout aerial roots under mature branches that eventually grow into a whole new colony of ginkgoes upon contact with soil. Because of their resilience, tame roots, and low water needs, the ginkgo makes an excellent street tree.

ginkgo st tree tp    ginkgo st tree

Ginkgoes are show-stoppers every autumn, with rich golden leaves that create the most beautiful leaf litter I have ever seen (besides Japanese maples, another favorite). If you examine a ginkgo leaf you will see that it is unlike any other, with veins travelling from the stem to the tip of the leaf like an elegant fan. They are grassy green in the spring and summer, and then turn a rich, solid yellow in fall before creating a gold carpet on the ground. Because of the thickness of the leaves they don’t create a slippery mess.

ginkgo leaf litter on rocks gingko koi ginkgo leaf litter
Ginkgoes do have, what some may consider, ‘drawbacks’. The nuts borne on the female ginkgo trees reek of vomit. Then again, the nuts are extremely prized in many Asian cuisines and are difficult to harvest, much like pine nuts. I agree it may not be pleasant if a female ginkgo is planted outside a restaurant or as a street tree in a dense urban area. But there are several very striking and widely available fruitless varieties for this purpose, such as ‘Autumn Gold, and ‘Princeton Sentry’. For this reason, male trees are solely used as street trees these days.

Another ‘drawback’ to the ginkgo is that it is slow-growing. Even if purchased in a larger container size, like a 24” box, it doesn’t have a particularly spectacular form or canopy, arriving only 7’ tall and 2’ wide. Its’ awkward adolescent years last much longer for ginkgoes than for humans, but then again, they can live a lot longer than us. The oldest surviving specimen is 2,500 years!

young street ginkgoes still trying to find their form against a fence

Young street ginkgoes still trying to find their form against a fence

Challenging times for an adolescent ginkgo

Challenging times for an adolescent ginkgo


Young ginkgoes being swallowed up by fast-growing loropetalum

Young ginkgoes being swallowed up by fast-growing loropetalum

A cluster of golden ginkgoes peaking above an evergreen hedge

A cluster of golden ginkgoes peaking above an evergreen hedge













So if you are not in the business of flipping houses or are a terribly impatient sort, I strongly urge you to consider a ginkgo. Their beauty, elegance, and longevity will be unmatched in your forever home. Even better, if you are lucky enough to have an established ginkgo, treat it with the reverence and respect it deserves. Consider its’ past and very long future.

gingko leaves floating


mature ginkgo canopy over pond

Landscaping in Times of Drought

I remember when I was a kid in the 70s. There was an oil embargo that I don’t really remember. Then there was a second oil crisis in the late 70’s that had cars lining up for gas for miles. My dad hated Jimmy Carter. And California was in an extreme drought. The drought of the century. There was water rationing – and lawns were on the chopping block. It’s funny how history repeats itself. Today, we’re fighting wars for oil. My dad hates Obama. And California is in the drought of the century.

Back then our neighbor, Mr. Heron, was the first to take charge of the drought situation. He tore out the front lawn and put in that quintessentially 70s granite pebble. The front path dissected the front yard perfectly, and he planted a brick encircled mulberry tree in the center of each of the squares that were once lawn. When he was done, all of the neighbors gathered in front of his house to admire his handywork and water-wise efforts. But maybe not the overall aesthetic of his creation. As we walked back to our house, my dad shook his head. Forget simply keeping up with the Joneses – or Herons in this case. He new he could do better than that.

My dad was a firefighter, and there are two things you should know about firefighters. They are heroes, it’s true, but they also have a lot of freaking time off! One of his fellow firefighters designed gardens on the side. So he and my dad got together and designed our front yard. They put in walls and a courtyard with an arbor, that in my now professional opinion, should have been much bigger to make use of much needed shade, as well as further reducing the area dedicated to lawn. They widened the entry path in a very 1970s staggered aggregate and regular concrete pattern, and created deeper planting beds to reduce the size of the lawn. Even as a little kid, I was fascinated by the process, and in love with the transformation the landscape made to an otherwise plain ranch house. I think this is where I first got my love for landscape design that would lead me to where I am now.

Our front yard was the talk of the suburb. People would drive by – even stop – to admire the beautifully landscaped garden. They’d ask questions about the raphiolepis and agapanthus that bloomed beautifully but required very little water.  Of course these plants were destined to become parking lot plants because of their reliability. My dad’s alternative to lawn was a revolutionary groundcover called Dichondra! It promised to be dark green, low water and no maintenance. What it also meant for us was that we could no longer play in the front yard. Every step on the cushiony clovery mat of dichondra left a footprint – evidence for my dad to know exactly who walked on his low-water alternative to that hideous granite cobble in Mr. Heron’s yard. It also didn’t fare as well as promised in our hot valley sun. He converted the area back to lawn when the drought crisis ended…

While history has a habit of repeating itself, it behooves us to build on what we’ve learned, and not return to our old ways. We Californians live in a drought-prone land. Our population is growing. Water is our most precious resource – and there will be times when its more scarce than others. We believe our job here at Lazar Landscape is to take the “I can do better than that” approach to designing and building outdoor living spaces – gardens and landscapes – and make them water wise. Stay tuned for future posts from us where we explore residential landscapes without lawns, lawn alternatives, beautiful drought-tolerant plants, implementing smarter irrigation systems, and even ideas for responsible sod lawns.


One of the most important principles in achieving balance in a garden is symmetry.   Balance through symmetry can be divided into two schools of thought – Asymmetrical Balance and Symmetrical Balance.

Asymmetrical balance is actually being unbalanced, abstract, or free while still creating unity and balance through the repetition of some garden elements.  Asymmetrical balance is more difficult to perceive and that is the point, it is more natural and relaxed.

Symmetrical balance is where all of the elements of the garden design are equally divided.  Both sides share the same shape, form, plant height, color or planting bed shape.  Symmetrical balance was very popular during the Renaissance period where entire gardens were mirror images from one side to the other.  Formal gardens are almost always symmetrical and give the feeling of stability and order.

Last week I spent a long weekend in New Orleans to attend the California Landscape Contractors Association’s annual convention.  While there, I spent an afternoon enjoying a walk through the famed Garden District.  The Garden District was originally developed between 1832 and 1900 and is considered to be one the best preserved collections of historic southern mansions in the United States.

While taking a stroll along the tree shaded streets I could not help but notice the strong use of architectural symmetry for most of the homes.  Many of the front yard gardens reflected the symmetry of the house.  Most of the homes had nearly perfect symmetry also referred to as “bilateral symmetry” in which both sides are essentially the same but reversed.

Here are two clear examples where the symmetrical house façade is allowed to shine by keeping the landscape to a minimum.  Architecturally strong containers and plant material compliment the design.











These two homes are also symmetrical but rely on the plantings to continue the symmetrical theme yet soften the façade by using a variety of planting textures and leaf color.









In this scenario the landscape planting is not only symmetrical but also an extremely formal feeling with its clipped hard edge.










Finally, as these photos show, the use of symmetry can even be seen in New Orleans’ most famous landmark, the St. Louis Cathedral.   The symmetry is carried into Jackson Square by the plantings and utility fixtures.








Symmetry is a powerful tool in the designers list of design principles.  If you are looking for a formal setting, one that contains a sense of order and balance, symmetry is the way to go.

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

Big Changes at Lazar Landscape!


We were elated to receive the much needed rain here at Lazar Landscape. Not only does it put a minor dent in our drought conditions, and calm (at least my frazzled nerves) at the lack of rain, we took the opportunity to keep some of our crews working and start a long overdue office makeover! It was the start of some big changes at Lazar Landscape that we’re excited to share with you in the coming months.


Step one of the office makeover was tearing down a partition wall for an office that was no longer in use. The objective is to create an open seating area as well as improve circulation from our big roll up door. Our office is housed in a warehouse with no insulation. Our design team bakes all summer long in the upstairs loft, and we can’t wait the invite more air and light into our space and winter turns to spring and summer.

DSC09050It turns out that it’s very fun to do “DIY” projects when you have talented craftsmen with you to help you achieve your goals. I’ve been collecting interesting, unwanted wood from our construction projects when I can find it. My vision was to use it as wall cladding in our new seating area. All we needed was a couple of rainy days to get the party started. After months of collecting – and funny looks from my coworkers – it was finally time to start our office makeover. Our clients frequently comment on the speed with which Lazar Landscape crews complete their projects, and our little office project is a fine example. The demolition and cleanup was completed before lunch time. After the first day of rain we had the beginning of our vision completed!


Waiting patiently for a couch

While our main objective at Lazar Landscape will always be on designing and building beautiful gardens, we’re excited about creating a work environment that engenders our creativity. Still on the office makeover docket is a fresh coat of paint, new concrete stain on our ground level. More rain would really be We also have some fun ideas for a reclaimed redwood table for our conference room and a batu wood coffee table for our new seating area. Big changes at Lazar Landscape indeed! Now we have one more reason to pray for rain.

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

Charming Bungalow Garden

just planted!

just planted!

One of my favorite gardens of the year is the little front garden of a charming bungalow in Albany. It wasn’t a complicated or large project – in fact it’s mostly planting. But it combined three elements that make me love my job so much: though the project was small in scope, the budget was realistic for the vision; my clients are fantastic people who were extremely fun to work with; and the house is just as cute as a button.

When I first met with my clients, they had already cleared the weeds from their otherwise barren front garden, and covered it in thick black plastic. This is a non-toxic method called solarization that basically increases soil temperature to levels that kill simultaneously kills weed seeds (any kind of seed, really), plants and pathogens. Another benefit is that heating the soil helps organic material break down faster and release nutrients that are valuable to new garden plants. Another benefit is that the demo was done – which made way for more exciting budget choices.

napa basalt wall with succulents

napa basalt wall with succulents

The design consisted of drystack rock garden walls to address the gentle slope from the house to the sidewalk, simple gravel path (mostly for the letter carrier) that we jazzed up with tumbled beach glass, and plants that played with the color pallet of that charming bungalow. An iron rail is soon to follow.

My client had a lot of input about the general direction she wanted the garden to take, but trusted me to understand her vision and create the planting plan. I selected plants that can take the relatively harsh conditions of sun and wind, while still providing color and order. A forest pansy was a must-have in the garden. The beautiful stained-glass quality of the heart-shaped burgundy leaves combined with the colors of the house and painted concrete walkway drove the colors in the garden to pinks and yellows and chartreuse. Succulents and Mediterranean shrubs and perennials are massed throughout.

a short 90-days later!

a short 90-days later!

I have to say the solarization was a tremendous success – particularly in plant growth. It’s hard to believe the rapid growth rate of the plants in a short period of time. Though weeds are attempting a comeback, I have rarely seen such weed-pulling diligence as what the homeowners exhibit. The little postage-stamp garden is a stunner.

I don’t want to only credit the solarization in the success of the garden. I firmly believe that lovely, generous people generate abundance and life all around them – so it goes that it would evidence itself in my clients’ bungalow garden.

Ok – there is a fourth and very important reason I loved this job. One of my awesome clients is a professional baker. Two words: almond torte. Not just any almond torte – a perfectly chewy, light where it should be, dense where it should be, almondy all the way almond torte. They were gifts to my crew and I for working on the project, and I will remember it always.







One of my favorite garden spaces are courtyards. They are romantic and practical at the same time! They are contained and enveloped by the house, oftentimes creating amazing places to use and view nature up close. Due to their proximity to the house, courtyards often contain a patio that can be used as an extension of the livable space inside the house. Courtyards become places to enjoy a cup of tea on a comfy lounge chair, while surrounded by the lushness of plants and nature. They are easy to access because of their close integration with the architecture, either at the same level as the house or just a few steps down from the house. I would love to have a house with a courtyard.  Being two stories above, I have learned from experience that easy access to the outdoor space is tremendously important if you ever want to use it.



11.19.12 014

11.19.12 012


Oftentimes, courtyards are contained by walls on all fours sides. This provides a sheltered, intimate experience away from cold winds. Courtyards are small enough to tackle and create great opportunities for detail.


The details can be in the form of focal points such as water features or tiles inlaid in the steps or walls. Wall treatments can be in the form of playful paint colors or scented vines and shrubs softening the walls. Courtyards provide an opportunity for aromatic plants to warm and waft into the house. Natural stone paving can pull together the house color and flooring to create a cohesive, complementary surface to view and use. Gravel paving can also create a sensory experience, and offers a more rustic transition to the rest of a rambling garden.




It’s grilling season – time for an outdoor kitchen!

When considering a garden project one common question we ask new clients is: what about an outdoor kitchen?  This time of year is the reason why Californians cook outside – we take advantage of the warm weather and longer days.  Plus it doesn’t feel like such a chore grilling outside – clean-up is minimal and a glass of wine in the garden is always appreciated and enjoyed after a long day inside the office.

There are a lot of possibilities when considering a built in BBQ and outdoor kitchen, personal preference is definitely the controlling factor.  How much grilling will you be doing? What about additional bar seating and countertop space?  Do you need a sink for clean up?  Do you want a refrigerator for prepped food or drinks for the party?   What about keeping food warm? What about a side burner for your beans? Are you answering yes to all of the above? It’s all possible in your outdoor kitchen.  I’ve even recently heard about a blender that can be sunk and built into a countertop for margaritas!

We’ve built many custom built in BBQs for our clients.  Every one is different from accessories to counter tops to wall materials.  Right now we are starting construction on an outdoor kitchen that is going to include building in a big green egg!  Here are some custom built in BBQS we’ve constructed for our clients:

This stucco BBQ has a custom Brazilian slate slab countertop.  The client included an outlet for additional appliances.

This stucco BBQ has a custom Brazilian slate slab countertop. The client included an outlet for additional appliances.

This fully loaded BBQ includes a light for the late night BBQ session.

This fully loaded BBQ includes a light for the late night BBQ session.

This outdoor kitchen includes an arbor for added shade during the day and down lights for the evening.

This outdoor kitchen includes an arbor for added shade during the day and down lights for the evening.

This fully loaded outdoor kitchen includes a circular bar with additional storage underneath.

This fully loaded outdoor kitchen includes a circular bar with additional storage underneath.

This simple BBQ matches the landscape with brick walls and a granite countertop to compliment the bluestone patio.

This simple BBQ matches the landscape with brick walls and a granite countertop to compliment the bluestone patio.

Now that's some great bar seating - gotta keep company with the cook!

Now that’s some great bar seating – gotta keep company with the cook!

No outdoor kitchen is complete without a place to sit!  This homeowner went bold with blue tile countertops.

No outdoor kitchen is complete without a place to sit! This homeowner went bold with blue tile countertops.

Many people order new BBQs when planning their outdoor kitchen, however if you love your current grill there are many options to build the countertops around your existing grill and simply slide it in to a permanent structure.  Or maybe instead of a building a custom unit, you just want your design to include a specific spot for your grill like in these projects:

This grill found its permanent home in this structure - even had a large warming drawer on the side - no one likes cold food here!

This grill found its permanent home in this structure – even had a large warming drawer on the side – no one likes cold food here!

This garden has the perfect cut out for their BBQ - now it has a permanent place, but is still a moveable fixture!

This garden has the perfect cut out for their BBQ – now it has a permanent place, but is still a moveable fixture!

This homeowner already had this great prefab unit in their garden, with a coat of paint on the stucco and a spot in the garden (including a permanent gas line) it looks like it was built in!

This homeowner already had this great prefab unit in their garden, with a coat of paint on the stucco and a spot in the garden (including a permanent gas line) it looks like it was built in!

As I’ve mentioned there are many options when considering adding an outdoor kitchen and Built in BBQ to your garden.  It’s important to decide what you want in your kitchen if you’re ready to make it a permanent fixture in your garden.  Whether you’re ready for your own custom Built in BBQ or you’re just ready to grill, be sure to check out our previous blog – 5 tips for cleaning your gas grill – it will for sure come in handy this season – Enjoy your time outside and Happy grilling!

Finally, A Welcoming Entry Garden to Match Its House


The first time I saw this beautiful California Mission style inspired home, there was definitely a disconnect between the entry and the architecture. My clients and I worked to make the garden entry just as detailed and as welcoming as the house. The front was a hodgepodge of materials built up over time. Pink slate was flaking off and encrusted with dirt, while there were at least three different level changes from the front door to the driveway and entry steps, creating tripping hazards and chopping up the space.

While we couldn’t alter the size of the entry steps that much due to the constraints of the existing cedar tree and driveway location, changing the material of the entry helped dramatically to create a cohesive and welcoming entry. The sandstone we chose was lighter than the former pink slate, with warm shades of yellow and brown running through. The paving stone, as well as warm Kennesaw ledgestone walls replaced the dark moss rock that was there before and immediately brightened up the ground plane beneath the dense shade of the cedar trees. We were able to increase the treads of the stairs, and reduce the riser heights for a more comfortable journey down to the front door, rather than having to focus on the precarious steep stairs that funneled visitors to the front door. A short three foot high retaining wall was built just in front of the arched entry window, creating a resting place for visitors and a safe transition spot to travel down the new side stairs.




2Estates10Replacing the cracked concrete driveway that was flanked by a structurally questionable deck helped tremendously to finish off the front of the house. The colored concrete driveway is a nice tan that complements the warm brown in the stone and rests peacefully in the background. This allows the architecture of the house and the stone to shine, while the driveway remains subdued.


Short ledgestone columns with an ornamental pot above calls attention to the entry stairs and a third accentuates the middle of the grand arched window. Wrought iron handrails and gate pick up details from the original ironwork inside the house and complement the black iron details in the exterior lighting fixtures.

Fragrant blooming white plants help to brighten the shade beneath the cedars. A sarcococcoa hedge creates an informal barrier along the road, while silver astelia and limelight hydrangea complement existing pink camelias. Variegated foliage such as dianella and winter blooming daphne also help to lighten the shade all year long. Burgundy cordylines planted above the columns create accents of bold color in key areas that contrast with the light stone.

Before, the entry was disjointed and distracting.  While the layout of this front garden entry did not change drastically, the change of materials from dark to light and the details in the finish work really make the architecture of the house pop.