Posts from the ‘water’ category

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.

Let’s talk drought tolerant plants.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Yosemite Surreal



For the past four years, we’ve taken off after Christmas to enjoy the winter beauty in Yosemite. This year was different. I am usually awestruck at the beauty of the snow blanketing the valley floor, and the white puffy marshmallow caps on every granite boulder. This year, I was awestruck by the charred trees and glowing hue of red and brown surrounding us as we drove through the mountains. The snow was missing this year. It couldn’t mask the devastation of the Rim Fire last fall. For a moment I had to remember that these trees were supposed to be evergreen. As we drove the windy road the trees changed from green, to brown, then to black. The pines and redwoods on the edges of the char zones had brown needles, but the trunks still looked alive. These, we heard from the ranger, would probably make it. Then, as we proceeded further, I could see the graceful branching structure of the native Manzanita bushes. They are known for their oil-filled, smooth, mahogany branches, which were still identifiably graceful, but now black charcoal. It felt like we were walking through the aftermath of a volcanic eruption. Noisy logging trucks pulling long beds of black tree trunks would pass us now and again as we made our way to the valley floor. Along the road, fresh straw-filled netted worms were laid on slopes to prevent erosion due to lack of vegetation. The shiny new metal towers connecting power lines stood out like sore thumbs.




As we passed through the dark granite tunnels which opened up to views of the valley, it was surreal to see that nothing had changed. The view of Half Dome looming over the Merced River, framed by Seqouoias and Redwoods was just as breathtaking as the years before. The missing blanket of snow revealed the grass in the valley was brown but lush. For the first time, I started appreciating the lack of snow. We would not have been able to see the power of the Rim Fire, nor appreciate the immense beauty of the valley floor it spared.






Here’s some more information about the Rim Fire in Yosemite


Ornamental Grasses

Today’s garden differs from gardens of the past.  This is partially due to the fact that in today’s garden so many varieties of plants are available to the designer.  One category that has risen in popularity is Ornamental Grasses.  The fact that ornamental grasses offer so much and ask for so little may be the reason. Ornamental grasses have a way of bringing motion, beauty and softness to garden beds and borders.  Ornamental grasses can play a supportive role to other plants or be the star of the garden and provide the focal point.








There are many ways to use grasses in the garden.  Here are a few suggestions.


Grasses can be used in containers and planters.  Grasses mix well with annuals, perennials and succulents adding texture and movement to the arrangement.  Used alone, in a large container, grasses will create a dramatic effect.










As a ground cover grasses provide neat little tufts.  Mixing low grasses, such as Pennisetum, Carex and Festuca, with natural looking “umbilifers’ such as Yarrow (Achillea Sp.), Chelsea Cow Parsley (Cenolophium denudatum) and Queen Anne’s Lace ‘Ravenswing’ (Anthriscus sylvestris ‘Ravenswing’) creates an interesting meadow effect.










Use grasses as hedges and screens.  Tall grasses such as Calamagrostis ‘Karl Forester’ or Miscanthus sin. ‘Morning Light’ create wonderful seasonal screens that catch the light and move gracefully in the wind.









Ornamental grasses can be companions to perennials.  Medium height grasses, such as Mexican Feather Grass (Stipa tenuissima) or Blue Oat Grass (Helictotricon sempervirens) mix well with perennials such as Euphorbias, Lavenders, Salvias and Sedums.  Grasses will give the perennial flower border greater depth and color.











Now that we are officially in the midst of a drought, grasses are the perfect choice.  Weekly irrigation is sufficient for most established grasses.  Another benefit is that grasses don’t require fertilizer and look better left on their own.  In fact, pest and diseases rarely affect grasses.

What grasses do require to look their best is cutting back once a year in the late winter or early spring.  Cut the clumps back to just a few inches when new growth appears at the base.  You should also divide grasses when they outgrow their area or develop bare centers.

Finding grasses in the nursery was difficult to do 25 years ago.  Today most nurseries carry a wide variety of grasses.  The popularity of grasses has risen because they require low maintenance, have a long flowering season and are rarely bothered by disease and pest.  Today you can find a dramatic array of grasses for many landscape uses.

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



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.



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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.




Variegated plants add interest in the garden defines variegated as:  1. Exhibiting different colors, esp. as irregular patches of streaks 2. (of a plant or foliage) Having or consisting of leaves that are edged or patterned in a second color, esp. white as well as green.

In garden design, variegated plants add interest, texture and structure in the garden.  They especially add interest in shady areas.  By adding variegated plants to a plant pallet for a shade garden they can brighten up dark spaces, and allow garden visitors’ eyes to travel to areas they might not have noticed.

Variegated Plants draw your attention in the shade!

Variegated Plants draw your attention in the shade!

This garden has multiple entrance paths.  When coming up this path you are greeted by giant redwoods and a dominate concrete wall.  The variegated New Zealand Flax (Phormium ‘Tom Thumb’) drives your eye further in the garden to draw your attention to the water feature that travels along the slope of the other entrance path.  Allowing you to discover all the garden has to offer, even from a secondary entrance.

When added to your plant pallet variegated plants also provide texture in the garden.  The white or cream edges attract the light and add visual texture against other elements in the garden.

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This Phormium ‘Cream Delight’ is showcased against the natural stone and blue urn water feature.  With the interesting cream and green color this plant calls attention to the water feature all day long.

Variegated plants can also add structure to the garden by being placed with intention.  Typically all plants are placed with intention in the garden, but by using lighter colored plants and interesting foliage there is definte purpose. It can be especially effective when placed by elements such as water features and sculptures.

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These variegated Carex morrowii ‘Aurea-variegata’ grass formalizes this statue and water feature element in the garden.  As these plants grow in, the ferns will provide a solid green background and the variegated grass will provide a nice mat for the foreground to draw attention to the structural garden elements behind it.

Whatever your plant pallet style, modern, cottage, traditional etc. or elements in your garden, water features, bird baths and sculptures, variegated plants can play an important role in your garden by adding additional interest.  Don’t forget to include them in your plant pallet or else you may be sorry you missed out!

Variegated plants add interest in the garden!

Variegated plants add interest in the garden!

Some of our favorite variegated plants:

Cornus alba ‘Elegantissima’ – Variegated Red Twig Dogwood

Daphne odora ‘Aureo-marginata’ – Variegated Winter Daphne

Dianella tasmanica ‘Variegata’ – Variegated Flax Lily

Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Variegata’ – Variegated Hydrangea

Liriope muscari ‘Silvery Sunproof’ – Silvery Sunproof Lilyturf

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’ – Morning Light Maiden Grass

Public Planting in Seattle

Hosta planted outside Seattle's Link lightrail system

Hosta planted outside Seattle’s Link lightrail system


Climbing hydrangea crawling up fence outside Seattle’s lightrail system

On a recent trip to Seattle I was amazed at the health and vigor of the landscape around every corner. Most shocking were plants being used in public spaces. Who would ever expect to see hostas or climbing hydrangea planted outside our BART stations? I know it rains a lot in Seattle, but I saw the benefit of all this water on my latest trip as the plants were about to explode into Spring. Everyday was refreshed with a sprinkling of rain that cleaned off the buildings and sidewalks and plumped up all the plants to create a lush and verdant landscape, even in the crack of a sidewalk. Plants I am used to seeing around the Bay Area, like Heuchera and Iberis were triple and quadruple the size! Red and yellow tulips were in every front yard and being used in container planting at the nearby shopping center. The container plants didn’t seem to be suffering from container syndrome…scraggly plants that struggle to find enough water and nutrients in their confined prisons.



Hanging gardens adorned even simple metal rails dividing pedestrian and vehicular traffic that looked so indulgent. It was apparent that a lot of care goes into the public planting spaces in Seattle. But the plant selection and vigor come from the heavy doses of water Seattle is known for. I won’t change my watering times or start inserting Hostas frivolously into Bay Area gardens, but I will try to visit Seattle more when I need a dosage of guilt-free planting indulgence.


Pedestrian and vehicular traffic are separated by a metal rail dripping with plants


Iberis (Candytuft) smothering a stone wall


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!