Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Many desert palms are ideal for San Diego

Only in San Diego can we actually be talking palm trees at Christmas time!

The palm tree is so iconic in this town that I thought it warranted its own discussion. There are quite a few that are very drought tolerant but can still give you a tropical look, especially when a few different varieties are used. Please note that while all of these can take heat and low water, some of them can not take the cold that many of our inland cities see in the winter. Please refer to my source, the fabulous Phil Bergman of Jungle Music Palms and Cycads for the complete article.

Here is just a "short list" of palms that are fairly readily available in San Diego, but there are many, many, more that will grow here and can be found at specialty growers like Jungle Music. Each Palm has a link to Phil's wonderful local photos- see if you can identify any of these from around town!

Chamaerops humilis, Mediterranean Fan Palm. This medium sized clumping palm is ideal as a focal point. It is fairly slow growing but can reach 25'. It works especially well in raised planters or as an eye-catcher along a driveway.

Phoenix reclinata, Senegal Date Palm. This is another clumping palm that gets much taller, about 40'. The clumps often lean gently outward, so it needs a large space. It works well as a single focal point in the front of a house or as a large focal point near a swimming pool.

Phoenix dactylifera, Date Palm. This is one of my personal favorites. It has a wonderful upright form with a wide sweeping fan on top- very graceful. If you are familiar with the Ikea/Costco mall in Mission Valley, the parking lot is lined with these palms.

Dypsis decaryi, Triangle Palm. This one I put in the category of just for fun. The trunk has a distinct three-sided triangle shape, creating a unique three feathered look to the

Phoenix canariensis, Canary Island Date Palm. This is the big daddy of palm trees. Many of my clients have called this the pineapple palm because the top is often trimmed into that shape. These are elegant and huge, perfect for an estate garden. They are street trees in some parts of Coronado near the hotel Del.

Butia capitata, Pindo Palm. My bias for plants in the green-blue color range is probably fairly obvious by now, and this palm is a wonderful example. It looks incredible with other plants in the same color range, such as Scenecio mandralascae (blue chalksticks, or blue iceplant) or Agaves. It is known for the downward curve of the fronds.

Brahea armata, Mexican Blue Palm. Here is the other stunning blue palm. (Note the Blue Chalksticks as a groundcover in the photo). This palm is slow growing, which makes it more expensive by the trunk foot (palms are typically sold by the number of feet of brown trunk they have) but this palm is intended to be short.

Arecastrum romanzoffianum, Queen Palm. Queen palms are not my favorite of the palm varieties, but they are inexpensive and quick growing, making them ideal for many residential uses.

Washingtonia robusta, Mexican Fan Palm. This is the palm that lines the streets in California and dangles in the foreground of photos of the Hollywood Sign. They act like beacons pointing you to the ocean in Pacific Beach and stand out in silhouette all over town. That said, this is another palm that is not my favorite. They are so well adjusted here that they can easily set seed in our wild canyon areas and choke off small drainage-ways. Consider a different palm if your yard borders a canyon or mesa open space.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Picking boulders 101

One idea that comes to mind for many people looking to save water in their landscape is to incorporate rocks and boulders. They can be a beautiful addition to your landscape if they are designed and installed artfully, but if they aren't done with a careful eye, they can seem out of place and very unnatural on the site.

If you have existing boulders on the site and you are considering adding more, make sure the new boulders are as close of a match as you can find so that they blend in. By far the best selection of boulders nearby is at Southwest Boulder and Stone in Fallbrook. For those of us coming from the city center, it is a long drive, but well worth it. They offer over 20 types/colors of boulders in a huge range of sizes (including quite large anchor boulders in the 4-5 ton range).

When choosing boulders I start by deciding what primary color I am looking for: browns, greys, tans, reds, creams, etc. Greys tend to have a mountain look, creams look very refined, browns work well with Tuscan or Mediterranean designs, reds look good in a desert landscape.

Next I look at the weathering of the stones. Rounded stones with no sharp edges look more like they have been eroded by a river so they work well near a water feature. The more angular edged rocks look like they belong in a desert dry wash. Look carefully for quarry markings (like chisel tracks or white scuffs) that give the boulder away as unnatural. Some boulders have beautiful quartz veins or metamorphic swirls and patterns that I find fascinating.

Some boulders are named Moss Rock. These have natural mosses and lichens growing on them. They are more expensive because they can not be fresh from the quarry. They make excellent water features, though, because of the woodsy look of the lichens so they may be worth the cost on the right project, especially if you want an instantly aged look.

When installing boulders, it is important to try to make them look as natural as possible in the landscape. If you have existing boulders on your property (usually found in areas like Mt. Helix, Poway, or Crest), look carefully at how they lie and try to mimic them. No boulder should ever be laid directly on the surface of the soil. In nature, most of the boulder is typically buried. Since the more boulder you bury, the more you have to buy, think about burying about 1/3 of the boulder. Try to hide any chips or broken sides of the boulder underground so that only the most weathered parts of the rock show above ground.

Boulders make great seats, and also good "diving boards" into a pool. Two well matched boulders make a great informal entryway. They are lovely at the edge of a water feature, but be careful to avoid the very unnatural "pearl necklace" look where the pool is completely surrounded by same-sized rocks.

If you want to take it to the next level, there are a few designers in the world who have made an art out of designing with stone. This photo (left) is a completely man-made stream designed by David Duensing using Moss Rock. It is so astoundingly natural that it makes his work look effortless, but it is done with an artist's eye and vast knowledge of geology and erosion. Also, make sure to take a look at the work of Anthony Archer Wills. It is no less than breathtaking.

Want boulders in a garden of your own? Go to our website www.sageoutdoordesigns.com and fill in the contact us form.