lazar landscape

design. build. maintain.

An update on my veggie garden

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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!

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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!

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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!

The Other Drought Tolerant Plants

 

Drought Tolerant in Part Shade

Drought Tolerant in Part Shade

 

Despite some spring downpours, California is facing a dire prognosis for water availability. In our third straight year of drought, residents are bracing themselves for water restrictions that are likely coming. Some of our clients have responded by abandoning sod lawns for synthetic alternatives, or replacing extensive planting beds with gravel or stone patios. I see more and more landscapes reminiscent of San Diego than San Francisco, featuring billowy grasses and untamed, brightly colored perennials. Succulents are there of course, and what are (not always lovingly) referred to as ‘freeway plants’- the toughest plants you can think of, that can survive in difficult conditions, without much attention, and without summer water.
But what if you just don’t like those plants??
I’ve heard this over the years from clients. Perhaps they grew up on the East Coast, in the Midwest, or abroad, in one of those mystical places that actually gets rain in summer. Or they prefer the style of a woodland or formal English garden. They’d like a garden with a more manicured style, or focusing on interesting foliage, and including varied textures and fragrant blooms- but without fearing that the water restrictions that are likely in our future will mean a garden of very sad (or very dead) plants.
From my own Oakland garden, which has heavy clay, areas of significant shade, and in which I intermittently spend all my free time or none of it, I’ve learned a lot about what drought tolerant actually means. I don’t have an irrigation system, so besides when plants are first put in the ground and an occasional watering by hand in summer, I rely on the weather to keep my plants going.
Of course there are the Sedums, the Yarrow, the Rosemary and Pheasant’s Tail Grass, that I’ve planted and ignored, and have thrived. These are expected to perform with little attention or water, and I love them for it. I have difficult conditions- lots of clay, compacted soil, and one bed directly beneath a mature Pittosporum, which are notoriously challenging to grow under. The Pitt not only blocks light, it blocks rainwater far more than my other beds. But over the last three years I’ve collected and inherited, and ended up with a hodgepodge of shade tolerant plants for that bed. And I’ve been amazed, year after year, at the plants that have thrived there, the bed furthest from my door, which gets the least attention.

White Flowering Maple, Camellia Sasanqua

White Flowering Maple, Camellia Sasanqua

Camellia Sasanqua Before moving to California, I thought that Camellias were thirsty plants. But in fact they’re jreally tough- once established, they can handle just about anything. It does take them some time to get acclimated to new surroundings, and they perform MUCH better in acidic soil, so adding prescribed fertilizers in fall and spring will really make them pop. But, once they’ve got a hold, they’re actually hard to discourage. Slow and steady, they can be a cornerstone in many gardens.

Oakleaf Hydrangea HUH? Hydrangeas need water, right? It’s true that they are more often found in gardens in locales with summer rain, or regular irrigation. But my Oakleaf Hydrangeas are powerhouses in my garden. They have plenty of room and live in part shade, in nutrient-depleted clay soil. I’m trying to use my garden water on edibles, so I haven’t watered my beds of shrubs and perennials (besides the new kids on the block) in about 2 years, and my Oakleaf Hydrangeas have thrived beautifully. Will they disappear or suffer if we continue to have drought conditions? We’ll see. It’s certainly possible. But if I’m betting on survival of the fittest for a woodland style garden, these plants are on my list.

Oakleaf Hydrangea & 'Victor Reiter' Flowering Maple

Oakleaf Hydrangea & ‘Victor Reiter’ Flowering Maple

Corsican Hellebore My other Hellebores aren’t as tough- but I like the look of this one better anyway. The blue-green shiny foliage mounds up to 3’, and the chartreuse blooms are a showstopper. I get tons of compliments on this plant, and it works with a lot of different garden styles.

Corsican Hellebore

Corsican Hellebore

Variegated Kirkii Coprosma I have one of these in my shade bed, planted from a gallon container three years ago, and one in full sun planted just last year. The one in sun is bigger, and grows more densely. BUT the one in dry shade brings a welcome brightness to a shady planting bed, and the foliage is a beautiful contrast to the other plantings. It’s a low spreader and has slowly filled a 3’ x 3’ area, and needs absolutely zero attention from me.

Flowering Maple Like the other plants on this list, the Abutilon needs water to get established. In cases like this, I actually think it’s better to start small, with 1 gallon plants. Sure they take longer to reach maturity, but their small root systems transplant more easily from the pots to their chosen new home. Coming in many colors, my white one (in the environmentally challenged bed) is the most vigorous and longest blooming!

Flowering Maple and Geranium 'Georgia Blue'

Flowering Maple and Geranium ‘Georgia Blue’

Bulbs like Daffodils and Hyacinth  Yes, the display is short lived. But they need absolutely no irrigation- I water them well when I dig them in, and then forget about them. And year after year, they alert me that spring is on the way. Also consider perennials with a similar root structure like Astilbe and even Bearded or Pacific Irises, which bloom for a short time but the foliage persists for many months, adding unique interest to any garden.

Some of these plants may grow more slowly than the same plants in other locations, but they are happy, and in my garden (to my surprise) disease and pest free. I water them, by hand, every few weeks in summer- and that’s it. Every year that goes by and I see my Daffodils pop up, the Camellia and Flowering Maple bloom (and in the Flowering Maple’s case, keep blooming and blooming and blooming), I get a boost. So don’t worry if your idea of a perfect garden isn’t Hens & Chicks, Yarrow and Lavender- you’ve got options.

Even More Big Changes at Lazar Landscape

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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

My raised vegetable beds

Are you ready for it? Spring is here and it’s the perfect time to get your veggie garden growing! Whether you just have a few pots to get started with, or raised beds to fill, get your tomatoes in the ground now to enjoy the fruits of your labor sooner rather than later.

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When searching for raised vegetable bed inspiration online a couple years ago we discovered a local company, Art of the Garden, trying to make it easier to install raised beds in your garden. Their product, the M-brace, is a set of four metal braces that hold your stacked redwood boards in place, up to 14” tall, and that’s it – no tools required! They have fun designs, or come in solid pieces and they are made locally from recycled metal. It’s an awesome concept and after installing them in many of our clients’ gardens I always knew I would be using them once I was ready to build my raised beds. Last year I planted some tomatoes and herbs in pots to test my success with vegetables. This year I have bigger goals, so I contacted Art of the Garden to get my project started.

I was pleasantly surprised to hear they are developing a new product line that allows you to build veggie beds up to 24” tall, the only difference being some tools required. I have always wanted to do two foot high raised beds because we have two small dogs that tend to get in whatever they can. This seemed like the perfect solution and I was so happy they would share the Garden HighRiser prototype with me. Very soon they will be launching the product line and I can say I highly recommend using them in your garden. We were able to construct our beds in one weekend, really one day with some extra help and I am so pleased with the results!

The extra help is always a bonus - it's great to have good friends, especially the ones who bring toys.

The extra help is always a bonus – it’s great to have good friends, especially the ones who bring toys.

The tools and supplies required to construct raised beds using the HighRiser is the HighRiser braces, 2” thick redwood boards (you can use different heights of boards, we went with stacked 2 x12s to get our 24” tall), #12 lumber screws, a drill, gopher wire and soil and plants to fill the beds once they are constructed. To make things easier we bought our redwood at Lowes where they will cut the wood for you. I decided I wanted to make two 4’ square veggie beds in my space as opposed to one long one. I just thought it would look cute and be easy to garden in.

In the beginning, setting the first bed up.

In the beginning, setting the first bed up.

The upper boards don't fit debacle photo.

The upper boards don’t fit debacle photo.

We had to start our project first by clearing away the rocks where our beds would go and measuring everything out. It was a lot easier than I thought it would be from the start. Working with the HighRisers was really easy. We were able to assemble the braces to the first round of 2x12s and still move the beds around into position. For extra stabilization we buried the frames a little and checked our levels before committing to their final location. We did run into a little trouble at first because we tightened the braces to the lower 2x12s all the way and we couldn’t fit the next boards on top. Finally, by my friends genius advice, we realized if we loosen the braces on the lower boards a little we could then fit the top boards on, level and secure it all together at once. Thanks Jess, we needed that. Needless to say the second veggie bed we constructed went a little quicker than the first one we built, but I think that is totally normal when doing projects for the first time (think about when you first put something together from Ikea haha). And just like that we had our Raised beds built.

The "hey we got this figured out!" photo

The “hey we got this figured out!” photo

Next we added gopher wire to the bottom of the beds before filling them with soil. Although, knock on wood we don’t seem to have a gopher problem, it would be a bummer to not have put it and then run into a big problem later. We decided to by bags of soil to empty into the beds as opposed to getting yards of soil delivered. We needed 64 cubic feet of soil total (4’ wide beds that are 2‘ tall), 32 cubic feet for each raised bed. Luckily Lowes was having a sale that weekend to kick off spring so it wasn’t as expensive as it could have been, because that is a lot of soil!

On soil patrol.

On soil patrol.

Mustang by the almost all planted veggie beds!

Mustang by the almost all planted veggie beds!

We are going to hand water our raised beds. I watered my tomatoes by hand last year and I feel comfortable I will be able to handle the watering schedule. I figure if you find something you love to do, why wouldn’t you want to do it every day. Plus I hear Zucchinis can happen out of nowhere so you should be diligent.

The final product!

The final product!

I said I had bigger goals this year with my vegetable gardening and I meant it! I’m hoping to share my trials and tribulations in veggie gardening with you all season. Since I had such success last year with growing tomatoes I’m doing more of those this year including – Roma, Grape, Celebrity and an Heirloom variety. I’ve also added Peppers to the mix – I hear they like the heat and it’s hot at my house so I’m attempting to grow Jalapeños, Banana and Red Peppers. I’ve also got a Zucchini plant and various herbs. It’s been about 2 weeks since we built and planted our raised beds and the recent rain has really helped my watering schedule and the plants seem to be happy and growing, so far so good. And I seriously could not be happier with my HighRiser Veggie beds they have completely transformed my yard!

Finally enjoying the sun after all the rain.  Can't you tell the veggies have already grown a lot!?

Finally enjoying the sun after all the rain. Can’t you tell the veggies have already grown a lot!?

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”.

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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.

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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”.

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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.

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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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Big Changes at Lazar Landscape – Part 2!

Major Spring Clean up - Where did all this stuff come from??

Major Spring Clean up – Where did all this stuff come from??

It’s got to get worse before it gets better. This is true in the work we do here at Lazar Landscape. There is a charge of demolition, soil moving, digging and grading that happens on most jobs before we start implementing the beautiful parts of our landscape installations. I have this conversation with my clients before we start any project. So you would think this would be at the forefront of my mind when, on our first rainy day of the season, we had a crew start tearing down walls to start a much-needed office renovation.

As we started our office renovation, we experienced the same excitement that our clients proclaim at the start of demolition. Everything happens so fast! And then the rain stopped – which is bad for two reasons… Ok, it’s only really bad for one reason, we desperately need rain in California. But when the rain stops, our Lazar Landscape work force returns to our real work of building gardens.

Fresh Paint on the walls - Signs of change...

Fresh Paint on the walls – Signs of change…

Tearing down a couple of walls plunged us into a massive spring-cleaning campaign in addition to our office renovation. Like many construction projects, there are cans of worms everywhere! The goal of our office renovation is to transform our dusty warehouse into an inviting workspace that we love to work in – because work is great and we are busy, busy, busy. We’ve given ourselves a deadline to have the office ship-shape by the vernal equinox. Guess who’s working weekends until then? We love deadlines here at Lazar Landscape.

As I’ve hinted before, the spring cleaning and office renovation are parts of the big changes at Lazar Landscape that we’ve been orchestrating over the past several months. We’re excited to burst forth fresh and green come spring. Until then, I’ve got to get to work!

Garden Tours

Spring is around the corner and that means Bay Area gardeners are busy preparing their gardens for another growing season.   Most gardeners will agree that spring is when their gardens are looking their best.  The flush of fresh leaves and flowers, combined with pleasant weather, are the reasons why gardens in the Bay Area are at their peak during the spring.  This is also why many, if not most, garden tours are held during the spring.

We are fortunate that many organizations allow us to tour both private and public places.  Seeing which plants flourish in a local garden is a great way of learning what plants will work in your own garden.  In addition, you will also be exposing yourself to a variety of garden design styles and garden materials.  Some of these ideas you may want to incorporate into your own garden.

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Here is a small list of spring garden tours in the Bay Area-

Magnificent Magnolia Tours – Saturday, March 8, 10:30 AM at the San Francisco Botanical Garden

Ask the Experts: Organic Gardening Tour – Saturday March 15 1:00PM at the Garden for the Environment, 7th Ave, Lawton Street, San Francisco

Tulipmania at PIER 39 – Late February through early March at PIER 39, San Francisco

Bringing Back the Natives Garden Tour – May 4th, Self-guided tours of 40 Alameda and Contra Costa county gardens

Moraga Juniors Garden Tour – Saturday May 9th, 10:00AM to 3:00PM

Danville-Alamo- Walnut Creek Spring Garden Tour – May 9th & May 10th, 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM

Garden Conservancy – Open Days Garden Tours – East Bay May 31st

Garden Conservancy – Open Days Garden Tours – Marin County June 7th

Garden Conservancy – Open Days Garden Tours – San Francisco June 21

Check out your local newspaper and on-line for other local garden tours.

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When visiting any garden remember your basic “Garden Visiting Etiquette”

- Park your car in the designated areas

- Ask permission before taking photographs

- Turn off your cell phone

- Stay on the paths

- Do not take seeds or cuttings without asking permission

- Do not peak in the windows or ask to use the bathroom

- If you bring children, keep an eye on them

- Do not bring your dog

- Thank your host, on leaving

- If you consider the garden not up to par, wait until you leave before making any comments.

Keep an open mind and enjoy the gardens.

 

 

 

Big Changes at Lazar Landscape!

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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.

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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!

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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.