Posts from the ‘plants’ category

Cloud Pruning – Part Two


In April of 2014 I wrote a blog about the history of Cloud Pruning and offered some basic guidelines.  Shortly afterward, I had the good fortune of designing a front yard in which the client ask me to include the English Boxwood, Buxus sempervirens ‘Suffruticosa” , into the design.  The final intent would be to create several boxwood “clouds”.

The first thing I did was to source the various sizes of round shaped Boxwoods available.  I found the following sizes –

5 gallon – 18” wide

7 gallon – 26” wide

15 gallon – 30” wide

The larger the boxwood the more convincing and dramatic the final outcome will be.  By using the three different sizes, I was able to create a “get the look quick” scenario.  I took great care in placing the boxwood so that the groups appeared to be natural or “cloud like”.  The billowy boxwood “clouds” are now the back bone of this garden and take center stage.  Too often boxwoods are relegated to a hedge along the property line or along the edge of a colorful flower bed.









I carried the boxwood theme to the three extra-large Zinc planters purchased from Restoration Hardware.  The boxwoods in the containers and in the front yard planting beds relate to the curved walls of this modern home.  The containers also give a classic and clean look to the unique front door.








The new planting also includes Lavender “Lavandula intermedia “Grosso”, Santolina chamaecyparissus “Nana” and Leptospermum scoparium ‘Snow White”.  These three plants were purposely selected due to their nature of accepting annual pruning.  With time, they will be hand pruned into soft grey-green pillows.  The lavender will maintain a “sphere” shape even when in full bloom as seen in the photo below of another garden three years after installation.









A mix of textures and the play of light on the carefully shaped shrubs will create a peaceful and meditative space.  I will compose a follow up blog later in the year as the garden grows and include growing and pruning advice.

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.

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

A great place to visit and a very Happy Thanksgiving!

A very Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!

The beautiful view of the Bay from the rose garden.

The beautiful view of the Bay from the rose garden.

There’s a lot to be thankful for living in the San Francisco Bay area. Not only the beautiful scenery around every corner – bridges, parks, overlooks- but the weather as well. Right now I’m definitely thankful we’ve been having some pretty consistent rain storms. This Thanksgiving the forecast is projected as picture perfect, which I’m also thankful for. Although, I think by Saturday another storm is predicted to hit us so let’s make the most of Thursday and Friday. If black Friday shopping is not high on your list of to dos with your family and out of town guests – I want to share with you a little gem I discovered recently, even though it’s been located right in my back yard forever. It’s the University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley!


The redwood forest

The redwood forest

I always love seeing water lillies

I always love seeing water lillies












I recently made a trip there with my mom and sister. We met there one afternoon because we all work close by and had all never been. I was completely surprised by the magnitude of the botanical garden, I had always just assumed it was a small university garden and boy was I wrong. There is so much to explore there, we didn’t even make it to all the gardens because it was the end of the day. The Botanical garden features a collection of plants from the Mediterranean, Asia, Southern Africa, South America, Australia, Mexico/Central America, Eastern North America, the New World Desert and California, not to mention several special collections including an arid house and a beautiful rose garden. It really is quite a collection of species.


The flowering Puya

The flowering Puya

I stepped back a little so you can see the whole height.

I stepped back a little so you can see the whole height.












One main reason we finally made it to the UC botanical garden is because they have a very special natural event happening right now, their Puya Raimondii, or Queen of the Andes, is blooming! The Puya raimondii is the largest bromeliad species in the world, classified as a terrestrial bromeliad because it has its roots in the soil. The flower stalk can reach upwards of 30 feet and produce over ten thousand flowers. After flowering and setting seeds, the plant will die. Flowering for these plants “in captivity” is very rare and typically they do not flower until they are about 80 – 100 years old. The Puya at the UC Botanical garden is a young 24 years old, so many are unsure why it is flowering so early, but they all exclaim it is a unique, possibly once in a lifetime experience to see. In fact blooms of a plant this young have never been recorded. It is truly a natural phenomenon occurring right here in our backyard!


So if you’re looking for something fun to do in this gorgeous California weather this Thanksgiving weekend consider a trip to the UC Botanical garden. There is so much to explore and definitely something for everyone to enjoy, especially the Puya Raimondii. The park is closed Thanksgiving day, but is back to regular operating hours Friday, 9 am to 5 pm, click here for some helpful hints in planning your trip!

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.

An update on my veggie garden













Well I am happy to report that my veggie garden is growing quickly! I must say the past rain (wish there was more in our future) really helped my watering schedule and I think was the key to getting our garden established.  We’ve also grown our garden since we last talked – we added a poblano pepper plant and I potted a couple blueberry plants. The blueberries are already producing; in fact I better go out and check tonight! I bought two varieties of blueberries because even though they are self-pollinating – they do better with another variety close by to cross pollinate resulting in a healthier crop, so far they are delicious! I was also just gifted two more tomato plants so it looks like I need to get a few more pots for them – because if you got ‘em grow ‘em and I’ve run out of room in my raised beds!



In the garden right now my tomato plants are full of flowers and have at least quadrupled in size. I just noticed some grape tomatoes are already starting to sprout – It’s so exciting. It’s definitely time for me to get out there and do some pruning on the tomato plants. When you look closely at a tomato plant you see the stem and its’ branches – which hopefully have flower buds popping now- but you will also notice some additional branches sprouting between the stem and branch. These branches only grow leaves and are referred to as suckers. They are not fruit producing and the plant uses a lot of energy to produce them, so my cutting them back you encourage more energy and growth to be directed to the branches that are tomato producing, resulting in a healthier crop. So that’s definitely on my garden to-do list this weekend.


My zucchini plant has grown so much – I think it’s more than quadrupled in size. And this weekend, while watering, I noticed a blossom on the zucchini plant – hopefully a sign of zucchini to come!  Even though watering is considered a chore, it really gives me the opportunity to see what happening in the raised beds and I have totally enjoyed it.  It’s really exciting that not only are the plants growing – they are showing signs of what’s to come. 


Our red pepper plant and the banana pepper plant both have flowering blossoms on their stocks, while the jalapeño shows signs of blossoms to come and the poblano is just a little behind since it’s a more recent transplant.


Finally, I’m also quite impressed that the cilantro seeds I planted.  I couldn’t find any cilantro plants so I decided to start from seed.  I was unsure how it would go because starting from seed seems like daunting task to me, but they are thriving! The person who gifted me the tomato plants grew all hers from seed – and most of them sprouted, which is why she had extra to share.  I’m so impressed, maybe that will be my goal next year – to start everything by seed.  We haven’t used any cilantro yet, but we are already regularly using our basil plant and it is delicious!


If you haven’t planted your veggie garden yet– there’s still time!   Even if all you can do is get out there and plant a few tomato plants in pots to tend to – it will be totally worth it!

Cloud Pruning

After graduating from grad school I completed a fellowship with the Garden Club of Virginia.  The fellowship involved documenting the gardens of Sabine Hall.  Sabine Hall is located in the Northern Neck region of Virginia between the Potomac and Rappahanock Rivers.  The structure is a historical colonial home built in 1737.  The gardens of Sabine Hall were constructed shortly afterward.  The grounds are a series of terraces that follow the contours of the landscape.

On the main terrace, just off to one side, lies an alle’e of English Boxwood (Buxus sempervirens), said to be part of the original planting plan.  The boxwood hedges have been allowed to grow in a free form style and now resemble large billowy clouds.  Walking along the path left an indelible image in my mind.  This was my first encounter with the calculated yet free form style that some call “Cloud Pruning”.


Typical of most classical styles, cloud pruning has become popular again.  However, this time around most people do not want to wait decades for a boxwood hedge to grow large enough to be shaped into soft curves.  In today’s “get the look quick”, there is a trick.  Select different sizes of boxwood plants from the nursery and plant them close together.

One key item is to select the largest size boxwood available to you.  These large boxwoods will be the back bone of the new hedge and give the new planting a sense of age.  Along with the large boxwood, select medium and smaller size boxwoods.  Placing all three sizes together will create a sense of drama.  In addition, you begin to form the outline of the boxwood cloud.

The “cloud” will still take several growing seasons to look mature but you will be ahead of the game.  The goal is to have each individual boxwood grow into it’s neighbor so that it appears to be one plant.


I recently found English Boxwood (Buxus sempervirens “Suffruticosa” in the following sizes –

5 gallon – 18” wide

7 gallon – 26” wide

15 gallon – 30” wide

Using these three sizes together in a calculated and balanced manner is a quick and easy way to get a “cloud”.


The maintenance on a boxwood cloud is seasonal.  Several times a year, hand pruning should be done to maintain and delineate the shape.  Keep in mind, the boxwood cloud may always be a “work in progress”, typical of many plants in the garden.


Let’s talk drought tolerant plants.

IMG_0496slope dry garden

Planting landscapes with drought tolerant plant species is not a new idea. It is, however, a hot topic given the current rainfall totals in California. It’s also been a hot topic recently in our office, not only because of the current rainfall totals, but we’ve also been submitting plans for permits to a couple different cities and their planning guidelines now require that proposed plants in the landscape be comprised of at least 75% California native plants. This, I assume, is to promote the use of drought tolerant plants and to continue to implement the natural landscapes within the cities.

In our office we live by the Sunset Western Garden Book (a must have for any gardener) but also by the EBMUD resource Plants and Landscapes for Summer-Dry Climates of the San Francisco Bay Region. This book is a wonderful resource when planning a beautiful, drought tolerant or water conserving garden. You see it’s a common misconception that all California Native plants are drought tolerant. California has a very diverse climate with many different types of ecosystems. We are home to the Redwood forests and the desert – two very different systems. Many native plants can be found along streams and require a lot of water because that is where they naturally thrive. When planted away from a water source they would not tolerate a drought.

4-30-08 020hillen-90 day 014


Planting California native plants is a good idea, but another similar misconception is that all drought tolerant plants are California natives. Many plants listed in the EBMUD book come from other Mediterranean climates similar to California (summer-dry) and are drought tolerant. They add beauty, variety and interest to the landscape while acknowledging that in California drought is always a possibility. A drought tolerant landscape does not have to be boring and dry. It can be lush and colorful. We love using drought tolerant, Mediterranean plants in our planting plans and although they aren’t classified as California natives, they have naturalized (they reproduce and flourish without assistance from people) and create beautiful gardens.

Rules are rules though and with a mix of California native plants and other drought tolerant plants we will continue to make beautiful gardens that conserve water in these cities. Just remember although they are called drought tolerant plants, they aren’t actually drought tolerant until they establish a good root system. Once they are established, (after an average of one to two years) they will continue to thrive with rainfall and supplemental water from irrigation during the dry months.

5-5-08 0095.26.10 020

5 Reasons Succulents Don’t Suck

Being in the landscape profession I’m commonly asked about all things pertaining to your garden. People want plant advice, pest advice, pruning advice – you name it I’ve probably been asked about it, which I love, because that’s why I’m here. If I don’t have the answer, I want to find it because there really is so much to learn about our gardens, especially ones we are trying to create. One of my favorite conversations I’ve had about plants was with a neighbor of my good family friend. Somehow succulents came into conversation and she went off about her extreme dislike claiming, “of course succulents suck – it says it in their name SUCC-ulents!” HaHa. I can appreciate differing opinions, but because I have a love of succulents I’m here to tell you 5 reasons Succulents don’t suck!


water occasionally

water occasionally

1. They are extremely drought tolerant. Now I say this with caution because around our office we all know they need occasional water, but we all admit they look better when watered regularly. Succulents require little watering because they retain water in their tissue, typically referred to as thick and fleshy. With the drought we are only beginning to deal with here in California, maintaining a garden with plants that can handle little water, also known as drought tolerant plants, will make your life a lot easier, reason one they don’t suck!














2. Reason number two, if you live in California you can probably plant them in your garden. There are hardier varieties than others, I would love to have agave attenuata in my garden, but it needs more of a coastal influence with less frost threat – with the first frost at my house it would for sure die. This winter has been exceptionally cold, multiple days below freezing, so I did lose some succulents and I have been covering some for frost protection when I know the morning temps will dip close or below freezing, but with that being said I now know what to add more of in my garden – Echeverias! Upon further research I’ve learned a lot of echeverias are hardy to 15 – 25 degrees Fahrenheit! A win for my garden come spring when I’ll plant some more and may not have to worry about extra frost protection come winter!


My Green thumb in actions!

My Green thumb in action!

From one plant to many!

From one plant to many!











3. Reason number 3, they naturally make you feel like you have a green thumb. If all their needs are meet, occasional water, good drainage, and full to partial sun they naturally spread, or clump, and multiply. These “babies” can also be divided and spread to continue the massing in other areas. My friends and family have benefitted from my succulents, it’s easy to cut a few rosettes off and send them home with them to just stick right into their dirt. It’s fun to see them spread and grow, plus I feel like once you have success with one, you’re hooked because your green thumb has never felt so good.

A project in construction, with tucked in succulents

A project in construction, with tucked in succulents

My succulent wreath over a year old, could use some new plants!

My succulent wreath over a year old, could use some new plants!








4. The number 4 reason succulents don’t suck is their shallow root system. Unlike other garden plants, the roots of succulents are extensive, but shallow. This allows them to be used in unusual circumstances. Including, planting them in pockets of drystack walls, or tight places. Also, using them for projects, such as living wreaths and walls, or accents tucked into your garden containers.

5 green1 blue



3 gray2 purple



6 red4 fuzzy














5. And finally, reason number 5 Succulents don’t suck – they are interesting, unique, beautiful and colorful. They come in many unique shapes and sizes, and succulents don’t just come in green, there are many varieties of reds, purples, pinks, grays and even blues. Some are varieties are even fuzzy, which can add interest and texture to any garden. I hope these 5 reasons alone have encouraged you to try planting a few in your garden, especially if you’re someone who thought succulents suck, because I’m pretty sure you won’t be saying that any longer!