Posts from the ‘kids play’ category

Succulent Christmas Tree

Rainy Day Fun

Rainy Day Fun

The weather outside is frightful, but we’ve found a way to work with plants. A succulent Christmas tree is a fun indoor DIY project that keeps our hands and minds in the garden.

We started the Christmas tree by forming a cone out of chicken wire. We had big ideas of creating a template to make the cone, but ended up free-handing it. Chicken wire is very easy to manipulate by hand.

freehand cone

The next step is filling the cone with moistened sphagnum moss. Really try to pack it in.

sphagnum cone

We thought it would be fun to string the tree with battery-operated LED lights. So festive!



After you have the base, it’s time to start filling it with your succulents. We had a surplus of Sedum confusum, so decided to create a monochromatic tree – though there is great beauty in using a variety of succulents with lots of different colors. It helps to have a sharp, narrow tool – like a crochet hook or little screwdriver – to create space in the sphagnum moss to insert the succulent stem. Once you get the hang of things, it really goes quickly.

finished tree

After we finished the tree, we decided to decorate it!

This is a really fun DIY project for a rainy day. If you don’t have succulents in your garden, you can typically find groundcover succulent flats at your local nursery.

Bring the Outdoors In on a Rainy Easter Sunday

Blue Bird of HappinesApril showers may bring may flowers, but they can also mess up a perfectly good weekend in the garden! Ok, so technically it’s the last day of March, but let’s not let that trip us up. The weather folks are predicting thunderstorms this Sunday – just when we were planning Easter brunch in the garden. That got me thinking. If we’re going to be driven indoors, why not bring the outdoors in? I came up with a couple of ideas to keep my mind on the garden while my house overflows with guests. I know we’re a landscape design and construction blog, and not a food blog, but these recipes were so fun I thought I’d share!

DSC08042Easter Egg Hunt Cheddar, Chive and Bacon Biscuits

(makes 12)

5 cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ tablespoons baking powder
3 tablespoons of sugar (or to taste)
1 ½ teaspoons of salt
5 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
2 sticks of chilled butter cut into cubes
4 eggs
1 1/3 cup buttermilk
6 tablespoons finely chopped chives
Cayenne to taste
½ pound bacon cut into ¼” lardons and cooked
12 soft-boiled eggs

Heat oven to 400

Spray a muffin tin with cooking spray. Insert baking cups if desired, and spray again.
Place eggs in pot and just cover with water. Bring pot to boil and remove eggs from heat. Let them sit for 3 minutes, then cool them in cold water or an ice bath. Remove shells when they’re cool enough to handle.

Whisk dry ingredients. Cut in cold butter until pea-sized pieces form. Add cheese and toss lightly to integrate the cheese into the dry mixture and coat it with flour.
In a separate bowl, whisk eggs, buttermilk and chives.
Make a well in the dry mixture and pour liquid mixture in. Use a fork to mix it all together. Avoid overmixing.

Press mixture into about 2/3 of the baking cup. Add a soft-boiled egg to the center of the batter (if it’s still damp from cooking, dry it off first) and cover with more batter. Think of the top batter like a blanket and tuck it all around the egg, pressing it into the batter beneath.

Repeat with all 12 eggs. Lightly brush with milk.
Place in oven for approximately 18 minutes – keep an eye on it! Mine have taken as long as 28 minutes to cook to my liking.

Egg hunting has never tasted so good!

You'll find an egg in every biscuit!

You’ll find an egg in every biscuit!

A plate of nestsBird’s Nests w/ Chocolate Almond Eggs
This is the easiest thing – EVER. And delicious. And really freaking cute!!! And you’ll look like the craftiest person anyone knows. These would make really charming name card holders if you’re feeling kind of formal.

My next door neighbor growing up always made us haystacks with these noodles, but I wanted something more garden worthy.

Before you start, spread out wax or parchment paper for nest-building.
Here’s what you’ll need:

1 package Fried chow mein noodles. I got mine in the bulk section at Berkeley bowl and one package did really nicely in:

1 package of butterscotch chips – you can also try peanut butter chips, or good old chocolate chips, however you want your nest to look

In a double boiler, melt your chip of choice. Melting patterns can vary if you’re not using chocolate – I found that my butterscotch chips wanted to seize up a little, so I added a little vegetable oil, and voila! creamy butterscotch.

Once melted, remove from heat and gently fold in the noodles. From there the mixture is cool enough to handle, and you can start building your nest. Try to make a bowl that will hold your eggs.

Let dry. You can make these little nests a few days ahead and store in an airtight container.

Fill with your choice of egg-shaped candy. I looked for malt ball robin’s eggs but couldn’t find them. I really like how the chocolate and yogurt-covered almonds look.Nesting

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!

Fieldtrip! CornerStone, Sonoma

Ready for the GardensOne of our New Year’s resolution as a design team here at Lazar Landscape is to take advantage of the many landscape related daytrip opportunities available to us in the San Francisco Bay area to spend time together as a team, to gain inspiration and insight for our designs, and mostly to have fun. Our first fieldtrip was to CornerStone in Sonoma, California. The weather gods were kind to us as we strolled through the gardens and surrounding shops.

Earth WalkIf you don’t know about CornerStone, it’s a large gallery of display gardens by local and world renowned landscape architects and designers. The landscape installations change often, so there’s always something new and interesting. If you’re a garden lover planning a trip to the Sonoma wine country, it’s worth stopping by. Admission to the gardens at CornerStone is free. On a beautiful day you can spend hours strolling through the widely varied landscape installations that range from high concept spaces like Pamela Burton’s installation ‘Earthwalk,’ to more natural installations by John Greelee and James Van Sweden, to very utilitarian installations like ‘Attention! Potager’ by Scott Daigre, and a children’s garden by MIG that was quite play

IMG_1219Group favorite installations were ‘Rise’ by Planet Horticulture who always delivers with their amazing plant combinations, and ‘In the Air’ by Conway Cheng Chang. When we think about gardens and landscapes enriching and nurturing our senses, we commonly think about what we see, smell and touch. With a simple construction of culms from Bambusa oldhamii (Giant Timber Bamboo) on a metal frame, Chang constructed an organic flute of sorts that uses the wind in the Sonoma Valley to create simple, beautiful organic sounds. It inspired me to find ways to bring sound into my design to complete the sensory stimulation.

Conway Cheng Chang

reflectingWhen you go, make time for the reflecting pond – a permanent element at CornerStone. It’s the point where the landscaped elements end and the rolling hills and agricultural surroundings begin. I love the meditative quality of a good reflecting pond, and I used those few moments to, well reflect, on how fortunate I am to do the work I do with the people I get to work with.

funky faux boistwo bull dozersThere are great shops surrounding the landscapes at CornerStone. I found an amazing faux bois (or funky concrete tree as I like to call it) at Artefact – and get lots of ideas and goodies from PotterGreen, and the sculptures at New Leaf Gallery pull you into the actual landscape installations at CornerStone. There are also Sonoma wineries represented, so you can kick of your wine tasing right at CornerStone.

whimsychildren's garden

Whether you spend an hour or four, CornerStone is a great stop on any trip to Sonoma wine country.

Oakland Sloped Garden

I had the pleasure of working on a job in Oakland where my client’s goal was to salvage as much of the existing landscape as possible. At the same time they really wanted an area for raised beds, a small play area for their little one, and more useable spaces in their sloped garden. It was challenging because the existing landscape had layers of different materials built up over the years with a slick and rickety creosote railroad tie staircase. Each retaining wall was made from pieces of stacked broken concrete, stone, and wood, creating levels that were not useable. One thing was for certain, the railroad tie staircase had to go.

Before: Creosote railroad tie staircase

Before: Creosote railroad tie staircase

After: Timber tie staircase winding up slope

After: Timber tie staircase winding up slope

Rebuilding the staircase allowed us to reroute it to maximize existing spaces and to safely access the sloped garden. The old staircase was unnecessarily wide in some parts, eating into valuable useable flat space. The new staircase starts out wide and welcoming near the house, but then narrows into a utilitarian staircase as it winds up the slope to the various garden ‘rooms’.

After: Timber tie staircase winds down slope

After: Timber tie staircase winds down slope

The first room houses the raised vegetable garden. We kept the existing drystack stone retaining wall because it was in good condition but built out another retaining wall on the downslope to create a flat area for the raised beds. This was the sunniest area in this Oakland garden which was mostly covered in shade from huge Coast Live Oaks and eucalyptus. We used metal ‘L’ brackets called M Brace from Art of the Garden for the raised beds. 2×8 pieces of redwood slip into the metal brackets. The raised beds can be configured into different sizes depending on the space, simply by trimming the wood to the desired length. The frame is then filled with soil and ready to be planted. There’s lots of wildlife in this Oakland backyard so we installed a wire mesh of gopher barrier at the bottom of each of the raised beds before filling with soil. This will prevent any underground gophers and moles from coming up through the bottom of the raised beds and harvesting the veggies for themselves.

The second room was the one-person reading perch. It is nestled under the dappled shade of the Coast Live Oaks and made of two small drystack stone retaining walls. We kept the patio small so as not to disturb the sensitive root systems of the oaks. We were also able to keep all the existing soil on site by not overcutting into slopes and using all the soil fill to create level ‘rooms’.

After: Reading perch under Coast Live Oaks

After: Reading perch under Coast Live Oaks

Walking further up the stairs, the third level room is dedicated to play. There is a small patch of shade loving lawn next to a play area. This level was already established in the existing landscape by the blue rock retaining wall. We were able to enlarge the level area by consolidating two failing shorter stacked concrete retaining walls into one three foot high retaining wall. Above this wall we dedicated to edible plants. We planted a blueberry patch with a mix of different varieties to provide a longer season of harvest with edible thyme to trail over the wall.

After: Play room. Shade tolerant grass and playground fiber overlook the raised veggie boxes with blueberry patch above existing stone wall

After: Play room. Shade tolerant grass and playground fiber overlook the raised veggie boxes with blueberry patch above existing stone wall

Finally, at the very top of the sloped garden, you reach the fire pit. This room existed in a dilapidated unusable state before because the huge eucalyptus tree roots had busted open the stone retaining wall. The stone was mortared together, leaving a huge crack right in the middle of the retaining wall. The existing patio underfoot was uneven and hard to access by a small offshoot of a staircase, only 18 inches wide. We reused the existing stacked concrete debris and created a new drystack concrete retaining wall further away from the eucalyptus root. The drystack nature of the retaining wall will move and shift as the roots grow, hopefully, not for a long time since we gave it more room to expand. The floor of the fire pit patio is decomposed granite which will also be forgiving and easy to repair if the roots decide to make an appearance.

Before: Eucalyptus tree breaking through mortared rock wall

Before: Eucalyptus tree breaking through mortared rock wall

After: Fire pit area reusing existing broken concrete to create drystack wall

After: Fire pit area reusing existing broken concrete to create drystack wall

All throughout this Oakland landscape we inserted fruit trees and edible plants. Rosemary and sage are used in planting beds amongst ornamental perennials. Fragrant lemon verbena and lavender attract hummingbirds. A strawberry patch grows just above the raised vegetable garden area. Kiwi vines grow on the fences. Persimmon, fig, pear, apple, plum, lemon and kumquat trees dot the sloped garden and fight to win the battle against the dense layer of eucalyptus leaves that can easily smother plants.

Towering Eucalyptus create a great amount of leaf litter

Towering Eucalyptus create a great amount of leaf litter

Eucalyptus leaf litter

Eucalyptus leaf litter

Limited sunlight, eucalyptus droppings and a mishmash of materials were all challenges in this Oakland backyard. Thanks to my clients, who were open to trying new things and appreciative of the whimsy and beauty of reusing materials, we were able to create a functional, beautiful and purposeful landscape. The overwhelming slope is safely accessible and provides a daily journey through shadow and light. This sloped garden, full of wildlife continues to evolve as the plants and trees grow in and the raised vegetable garden gets changed through the seasons.

After: View of fire pit room and various new and existing retaining walls. Old stone and concrete are artfully combined with existing broken concrete.

After: View of fire pit room and various new and existing retaining walls. Old stone and concrete are artfully combined with existing broken concrete.

playgrounds rule

When considering a garden design and construction project you must first ask yourself what do you want to change and why.  I think the answer to that question for many parents is they want a place for the kids to go, have fun and be out of the house – sound familiar?

This garden features a patio for the parents and a play area for the kids

These days backyard play sets, swing sets, and sandboxes are all the rage – it’s like having the benefits of park playgrounds in your own backyard.  There are many options when it comes to themes and features of play sets.  We love working with this vendor, Backyard Adventures, they have tons of playgrounds to chose from and have dealers located all over.

We’ve installed lots of garden playgrounds; from custom to prefab I’m sure there is an option for play areas in your garden.  One couple was looking to install a space for the kids which could ultimately grow up as they did.  The basic idea for construction was to start with deck plans and turn it into a playground.  Ultimately the space can be turned back into a deck for the families’ enjoyment once the kids outgrow the play areas.  The space was easily turned into a two level area based on the topography of the garden.

From the top of the deck a playground slide was installed that travels to underneath the main deck platform where a tire swing hangs.  Also, a simple rock climbing wall was installed for older kids of the family up the side of the two level play area.  A simple playground tarp roof created the fort like atmosphere and sun protection many prefab playgrounds offer.  The luxury of this playground equipment is once you don’t want it to be a play area anymore you remove the playground aspects, do a little repair work on the railings and you have a fabulous deck entertaining space overlooking the garden.

Recently, in another garden, we installed a prefab playground unit from Backyard Adventures in the lowest part of the terraced garden.  To add a bit of whimsy for the kids we added a ladder and bridge from the upper terrace that accesses the top level of the play structure.  From the sound of it the kids are really enjoying their kid friendly terrace and all the ways to access their new play sets, which even includes a swing set!

Should you decide to just install play sets in your garden, remember a good playground surface is very important.  Install a thick layer of playground fiber, or colorful playground rubber mulch, with a bend a board edge or research newer products like rubber playground mats to set your new play sets on top of.

Outdoor Games Take the Fun to the Garden

Summer is upon us and with that come a flurry of outdoor games and activities – garden parties, barbecues, fireworks shows – all the fun under the sun! If you are considering a new garden design and installation there are many things to consider, especially how you are going to spend your outdoor time, especially when entertaining.

Outdoor games are the perfect way to entertain both children and adults. Flat spaces definitely allow for a lot of activities to take place. Some games just require space – a nice lush lawn is the perfect set up for a badminton court or a cornhole tournament. Patios offer the perfect level playing field for a ping pong table.

Other games require specific design and installation, but can offer hours of fun. If you have a large flat space you can consider a bocce ball court. Whether regulation built in size and material or more informal blending into the existing landscape, a bocce ball court would be a fun addition to your outdoor entertaining time.

Two other possibilities for outdoor games require specific interest. Have a chess player in your life? What about a life-sized chess playing field to really spark interest in the game. We’ve done it before, not only is it a fun idea, but a life-sized board game in the garden also looks pretty beautiful.

Finally, what better way to improve your golf game than installing your own personal putting green in your garden! Artificial turf for the landscape has really improved in quality and can be a welcome addition to any landscape for putting or play.

Whatever outdoor games occupy your garden this summer remember fun is the number one rule.