Monday, December 27, 2010

Fall color in San Diego (Oh... its winter?)

Its the middle of winter in San Diego right now... and the best fall color I have ever seen here. Something about the weather this winter (early cold, lots of rain at just the right time) prompted all of the trees that change color to put on their best show. The Liquidambars were bright red flames, the Mulberrys were gorgeous lemon yellow, the Crape Myrtles were a rich rust and even the Chinese Elms (which I would never never list as a fall color tree) had a lovely yellow cast to them.  All of the photos included are ones I took around town... really!

So a quick list of great fall color to include in your garden if you live in Southern California:

- Liquidambar (Palo Alto is very popular but there are a lot of these to chose from, primarily red and burgundy)
- Pistacia chinensis, Chinese Pistache, bold red
- Ginkgo biloba, light lemon yellow
- Crape Myrtle, rust red
   - Mulberry, lemon yellow
   - Chinese Tallow Tree, red orange and yellow all at once
   - Fruiting peach, orange red
   - Japanese Maple (or Silver Maple if you live inland), bold red
   - Boston Ivy (vine) bright red

Monday, December 20, 2010

Sage featured in Union Tribune

 A Sage project was featured this Sunday in a special section in the Union Tribune (our main newspaper in San Diego) titled Distinguished Digs, by Lou Shook. I have worked with a few magazines before, but this was my first newspaper article. I was surprised by how different the process was. In the magazines, they may photograph a project and not print the story for two or even three years (especially in the national publications). One person photographs the project, another person acts as art director and yet another person writes the copy.

So to me, the process of working with Lou to put this together just flew past, about two weeks from him picking my brain for an article idea to the actual printing. The other thing that surprised me, but shouldn't have, is that the newspapers don't send you the story ahead of time to fact check. The magazines do this religiously to avoid lawsuits but the paper enjoys a level of freedom of the press that makes it unnecessary and way too time consuming. It makes working with the papers much more intimidating, since you don't really know what they'll print.

I'd say the magazines are more of a marathon and the newspapers are more of a sprint.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Syzygy Tile: love it

As any of you who read my blog know, I love love love tile. I'm not sure where the obsession comes from, but if you want to make my day, all you have to do is show me a fabulous tile company that I haven't heard of. So today my day was made. I was lucky enough to get to visit the not-quite-open showroom for BDG Design Group.

There, I found Syzygy Tile, and I just had to share with you. I am not sure images do this tile justice. The glazes have a wonderful Craftsman look to them, mottled and very earthy. The colors are gorgeous! I think it was the mosaics that appealed to me the most, but I had to throw in one of their deco tiles just to show you how fabulously three dimensional they are, like little pieces of architecture.

So visit their website, but more importantly, when BDG opens in January make sure to drop in! While you are there, check out their very own line of concrete oversized tiles. They are very retro-chic, sort of Frank Lloyd Wright meets Mad Men.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Home made garden art

Today's eye candy is a hand made sphere by Mosaic Gardens of Eugene Oregon. It is made of Honey Quartz ledgestones drystacked with some mortar on the inside to add strength. It reminds me a bit of an Andy Goldsworthy rock sculpture. For more fabulous images of their gardens, check out their blog here.

I can't say enough nice things about their work. I adore their use of color in their gardens (foliage color for the most part). In this garden you can see deep burgundy from a Japanese Maple, bold chartreuse from the Ginkgo biloba in the foreground, pale celery green from the Euphorbia 'Tasmanian Tiger' just behind it, all contrasted with the coppery brown of the CorTen steel wall. We don't have the cool wet weather of Oregon, but a lot of these plants will work here.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Re-blogged from Dirt du Jour

This photo was on today's Dirt du Jour post, and I thought it made such a wonderful point that I had to post it here as well. Her point: shrubs are not boring! It is all about how you put them together, like in this gorgeous composition from In the Garden.

I love the subtlety of a flowerless composition! Instead, you notice the form, texture, and foliage color of the plants. With the huge central swathe of lawn, probably not the garden to copy plant for plant in Southern California.... but definitely a great source of inspiration!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Swimming pools by Questar

I promised you more swimming pool eye candy and here it is!

Both of the images here are designed by Skip Phillips of Questar Pools. We are lucky enough to have Skip right here in San Diego (Escondido to be specific), but his pools are famous throughout the country, really the world. Of all of the myriad accolades that Skip's pools have won him over the years, my personal favorite is the Robb Report's "Club 21," the 21 most influential designers of their time. The award that goes to Armani for clothing design goes to Skip for changing the way we look at water features.

These are two of my personal favorites of his. The upper pool is right here in La Jolla, Ca. The lower pool, done in collaboration with Nick Troubetzkoy of Lightstreams tile, in in San Lucia.

So the most obvious thing is the pictures is the mirror effect from the vanishing edge, but there is so much more going on here. Notice how the water feature in the upper pool should be creating waves, but doesn't. By spilling into the spa, the body of water in the main pool keeps its perfect mirror. Also, this pool doesn't just spill over a single vanishing edge- notice that the edge close to the patio is also raised (but where that water falls to is completely hidden!). That brings the mirror effect closer to eye level. And don't miss how wonderful the reflections in the pool are. Think it is by accident that the bamboo creates such a beautiful image in the pool? I don't think so.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Gorgeous spa by Oehme/Van Sweden

I realize that I have been neglecting one of my favorite topics, swimming pools and spas, so it is time to pick up the slack! I think that a lot of people work off of the assumption that swimming pools and spas are functional, and that means that they should be ugly mementos of the public swimming pool from our childhood. I don't know why ugly swimming pools are such a strong element of American culture, but I am determined to be a part of the movement to change that.

I have been lucky enough to get to know a few of the players in the Genesis 3 Design Group, a group dedicated to raising the design standards for the pool industry. If you have never heard of them, take a look at their website, and make sure to click through to the websites of their Platinum members. They are raising swimming pool design to an art form and you'll be amazed by what you see.

The spa I have shown here just blows me away. It was designed by Oehme, van Sweden and Associates (James van Sweden is an occasional lecturer for Genesis 3), who are high on my list of favorite Landscape Architects of all time. If you haven't read their book, Gardening with Nature (or any of their other equally amazing books), please go to Amazon and get it right now. You won't regret it- I'll even give you a link so you can get there easier!

I will try to make up for my sad neglect of swimming pools by showing off some of my favorites in upcoming posts, so keep an eye out!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Modern fountain in Mission Hills

Just in case my love of clean lines isn't entirely obvious at this point, I just have to say that I love this fountain feature! I love the intersection of planes from the tall wall, ground plane, and basin. I like that the moving water, the fountain part of the fountain, is dwarfed by the wall, but the sound still dances around the courtyard. I like the mix of rock sizes in the planters from small gravels to medium sized river cobble. I like the restraint of a single species of plant material (Aeonium 'Zwartzkoff' and please don't quote me on the spelling of that).

This is in a central courtyard of a lovely mixed use building that occupies the entire block of Washington and Goldfinch in Mission Hills. I don't know who the designer is, but if anyone does, please let me know! If you'd like to see it for yourself, you can't see it from the street. You'll have to walk into the courtyard. While you are there, take a look around at the other fabulous plantings!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Fire pits: thinking outside the [fire]box

It is very easy to get sick of seeing the same-old same-old fire pits over and over again. They look like the smaller fire pit photo (left) and they work just fine but they are so dull! Can't we look outside the box a bit more for inspiration?

The fire pit below is a simple indentation filled with rock chips (remember to be careful picking this material- some rocks explode when you expose them to high heat) and the back of it is a panel of CorTen steel with a lazer-etched design of a tree. It would be a great way to reflect the heat into the sitting area. Now, this picture actually isn't real- it is a computer rendering- but as a design concept I like it a lot. What do you think?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Artificial stone: to do or not to do

As the Tuscan craze continues and continues and continues, I get a lot of requests for stone facing on fireplaces, barbecues, walls, and columns. A lot of the time, people wonder whether they should go with an artificial stone. So I thought I would take a minute to go over the benefits and drawbacks of artificial vs. the real deal.

The main thing that is in artificial stone's favor is that it is less expensive, typically 50% to 75% of the cost of real stone. Also, because the pieces have been designed to fit together easily, the installation cost is also less. The other thing that I think draws people to the artificial options on the market is that some of the companies are fabulous at marketing so that it is very easy to tell which ones will give you that iconic Tuscan look that people just seem to drool over (as in the photo here).

So what are the drawbacks? First off, artificial stone is essentially formed concrete that is faux-painted to look like stone. That means two things: 1) that the color does not go the full way through so any chips will show the grey inside color, and 2) the paint colors aren't that natural so they are tough to match with any other natural materials you might pick (like, say, the travertine tiles that people also seem to drool over). But I think the biggest drawback is the "Disneyland effect"- they are good fakes but they are still fakes! And once your eye is trained to see the fakeness, they will never look real to you again.

So, what I like to recommend is to use the real stuff- actual stone!- whenever you can. Use it smarter. Use less of it. Use it where it counts. It will never get dated or look oh-so-2005. If it chips, you'll just see more real stone underneath. And best of all, it will always have that wonderful color and luminescence of real stone.

"But the cost," you say! It isn't as bad as you think. Luckily, a few stone companies took their cue from the artificial stone makers and came out with thin veneers of real stone that are pre-cut to the shape you want (just like the fake stuff) so they weigh less and are easy to install. They are still more expensive than the fake options, but consider this: in ten years I think we will all be pulling the fake stuff off. It will look dated and passe, but the real stuff will still be beautiful to us in the way that gorgeous Craftsman tile from the 1930's is still beautiful to us. The real stuff will be cheaper in the long run because you will still like it.

A few sources:

The fake stuff: El Dorado Stone and Cultured Stone are the two top manufacturers
The real stuff: try Thompsons Building Supply for some great options including NSVI and Montana Rockworks

And of course check out our website, where you can see examples of some of each!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Image of the day: craftsman fence

Just a quick photo for today of a fence I have been admiring for some time. This fence is on one of the really up-and-coming stretches of 30th street in North Park, and this building was one of the first to get made over into something special. Now the neighborhood has taken off and is flourishing, which I guess we can't credit completely to this fence...

but maybe a little?

Friday, August 6, 2010

Small fountains are waterwise

Just a quick bit of eye candy for your Friday viewing pleasure. This little fountain is by Garden Studio (out of Newport Beach). The pot itself is adorable but I think it is the ring of succulents around the base that makes it.

Steal this idea: try it around the base of a fountain, or around the base of a fire pit. Or, try a thin band of succulents pushed up against the riser of a step (but remember to still leave enough room for your foot).

A small fountain like this one is perfectly fine in a waterwise landscape. The amount of evaporation loss is small (less than you'd use flushing the toilet once), but the visual effect of the water is big. And, don't forget the lovely sound!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Lawnless front yard examples

I get a lot of questions about whether or not it is possible to completely eliminate grass from the front yard without sacrificing curb appeal in the process. I think that it is not only possible, it is a great idea! So from time to time, I'll be posting images of lawnless (but very attractive) front yards. Here are two yards I found in the San Diego State area of San Diego.

The first uses mature citrus trees to provide a screen between the home and the street, with a very decorative entry arbor to break this barrier and lead you into the garden. They used very colorful mass plantings to create interest along the street: Acalypha and Russian sage among other things. This scheme would work very well for a corner lot where the front yard covers a lot of square footage.

The second example is a small Spanish home, so it works as a great showpiece for a small scale garden. It centers on a small tiered fountain and has a dry stream bed that snakes through the planted spaces.

Want to go lawnless? We can help! Check out and fill out the contact form.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Netafim for waterwise irrigation DIY

I spent some time this week playing with Netafim and it has me intrigued enough that I am contemplating switching out my front yard irrigation. For those of you who don't know Netafim, it is a company that specializes in low water irrigation systems. Their popular product, Techline CV, is a series of interconnected underground flexible piping with built in valves at every drip whole. The pipes connect with a simple snap together method that is under so much tension it is impossible to pull apart (definitely the lego's of the low water irrigation world).

To install it, you connect it to your existing irrigation valves with a new filter and pressure reducer, then snap together the "net". The whole net goes underground about six inches and emits water very slowly to saturate the root zone of the plants. If you space the net correctly (for shrub areas about 18" from pipe to pipe) you get a very even saturation of water. You cut the loss down from evaporation and don't have to deal with snaking dripper lines all over the garden.

I like the system for quite a few reasons: it is underground, so less likely to get damaged during weeding; it has been around for a long time, so tried and true; it holds the water in the pipes when it is off, so it works for gentle slopes without over-watering the bottom; and it is something a chick like me can put together herself without any of the blue irrigation glue.

So I have to ask: Anyone have any bad experiences with it? If so, leave me a comment so I can look into it!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Modern landscape design in Cardiff

I came across this landscape in the back streets of Cardiff and it is everything I love about an artistic and modern succulent garden:
- It embraces color with large mass plantings that catch your eye.
- It has variety without having too much variety.
- It pairs fascinating colors and textures so that you want to stare at it for hours.
- It is also immaculately cared for.

I do not know who the designer was on this one so if anyone knows, please comment on this post and I'll share it.

Here are some of the plants you can see in these two photos:
(Upper) Red: Leucodendron 'Safari Sunset', Ice Blue groundcover: Scenecio mandralascae, pale green groundcover: Scenecio serpens, background blue cacti: Agave americana
(Lower) Tree: Dracaena draco, grey grass: Festuca ovina glauca, orange: Euphorbia 'Sticks on Fire'

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A succulent Garden San Diego style

This tassely wonderfulness is actually the flower of a very common succulent: Aeonium. Succulents don't get a lot of good press about their flowers, so when I came across this one in Golden Hill, I had to stop and snap a photo of it. Yes, it is green instead of some bright and flashy color, but just for the Doctor Seuss quality of it, it gets my thumbs up!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Craftsman Fence

Just a quick image for today of a lovely little fence I came across in Northpark. I'm just a sucker for cute Craftsman details. Now, if only the fire hydrant was restored to its original brass (one or two of them around town are)!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

When restraint pays off

I adore this front yard in Mission Hills and have been meaning to show it off to y'all for some time now.

There are a lot of things I like about it (whoever trims those Chinese Elms deserves a medal for it) but the one thing I wanted to talk about today is designing a garden using only a single flower color. In this case they used white, arguably the most elegant and understated choice. It contrasts wonderfully with the clean greens and pulls everything together into a single composition.

Most of these are very common plants, like the Lantana 'White Lightning' in the foreground, 'Iceberg' Roses, and 'Tiny Towers' Italian Cypress, but the combination of them is just flawless. If anyone knows who designed this, please leave a comment and let us know!

It takes a lot of restraint to limit yourself to one flower color, but it is a simple way to get a designer look, with or without a designer. This is absolutely a look you can duplicate at home! If you don't like white, how about red?...

Monday, June 21, 2010

You can, too, do an English Garden here....!

I think there is no style that makes it into the magazines more often than the English Garden, especially the national magazines. A lot of people love the style but assume it can't be done in Southern California. I disagree! I think you can get the look with plants that grow well here.

Here are just a few that would be perfect for a formal garden to accompany a Tudor style house: box hedge (Buxus microphylla), Camellia sasanqua 'Yuletide', white Birch, and holly (Ilex wilsonii is often grown as a small tree, very round and compact). I also like adding rose trees, especially the Flower Carpet Scarlet, for a kind of a queen-of-hearts aesthetic.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Flower Carpet roses are the easiest rose to grow

So I can imagine getting some disagreement when I say that Flower Carpet roses are hands-down the easiest roses to grow. By all means, leave me a comment if you have a rose you'd like to nominate instead! But, I'll take some convincing....

Flower Carpet roses have been around for almost 15 years now and are unique from the other major rose categories (ie. floribunda or hybrid tea) because they produce new growth from their roots. A rose that doesn't have to stand as ugly bare canes in the winter- whoever thought of it is a genius! You can literally runs these things down with your lawnmower and they will grow back even more beautifully. They are covered in blossoms throughout the spring and summer, especially the red, pink (apple blossom) and white. The orange (amber) and yellow are a little less vigorous and have a taller, less compact shape where the flowers are mostly born on stalks that stand out a bit above the foliage.

I always find myself wishing for more plants in the 18"-24" height range and these fit that niche perfectly. As you can see from the photos, they look great in mass plantings.

There are a lot of knock-offs now, like "Floral Carpet", and I have less experience with those, although I expect that they are fine and may even be grown from the same stock. I tend to stick with the Monrovia trademarked Flower Carpet, since then I know they will be top quality.

Friday, June 11, 2010

My ode to tile (cont.)

If you know me, you probably already know about my obsessive love of tile. Every once in a while, my love for it gets strong enough to be worth sharing. These are two tile companies that definitely meet that criteria.

Before I wax poetic about them too much, I do want to put forth the warning that both of these companies are expensive. The best tile usually is. The key to using it is to keep two things in mind: 1) search for small spaces where tile will have a big impact since it is a high cost per square foot. For instance, think backsplash instead of the whole kitchen, or waterline instead of the whole pool. 2) Buy tile that will stand the test of time. Classic eras of tile like Malibu and Batchelder are still considered beautiful almost a century later. When you think in those terms, the expense for really good tile starts to sound worth it.

The first photo is Heath tile (distributed by Ann Sacks, or here is a direct link to the Heath website). This tile line was started on the north coast of California in the late 1940's and is hand made with a focus on sustainable manufacturing. I especially love their dimensional tile for its wonderful tactile quality. I can imagine spending my life running my hand along the ridges in the tile as I walked through that doorway, and being pretty darned happy about it.

The second photo is a local company out of Encinitas, Laird Plumleigh. They specialize in Craftsman and Batchelder tile, so if you are working on a restoration project, you might want to start here. I love the fiddleleaf fern design in the outdoor shower, but they also have a lot more than just tile on their website. Spend some time there- the lanterns alone are worth the visit.

Considering tile in your outdoor space? We'd love to help with the design! There are a lot of ways to get in touch with us through our website,

Friday, June 4, 2010

My favorite source for boulders just got closer to home

My long-standing favorite source for rock and boulders, Southwest Boulder and Stone, has just opened a brand new stone yard right here in the center of the city. Here is their new address, just across the Five from Pacific Beach:

4770 Santa Fe St. San Diego CA 92109 (619) 331-3120‎

Here are a few reasons that I love these guys:

1) They have the best selection of boulders in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Most other stoneyards in town have one or two color options. These guys have twenty.
2) They have a wider selection of flagstone, too. Lots of interesting colors and textures; not just the usual stuff you see everywhere (I'm sick of Arizona Buff flagstone, aren't you?)
3) They have better river cobble and pebble, at least twenty different colors to chose from.
4) They are a family owned business with great customer service and a good attitude. Working with them, you will be supporting a local business and you'll get a much more personal experience.
5) With them, I can pull that thing that designers do.... I can call them up and say something like, "I need a ledgestone with some mint green, grey, and olive colors to it... can you get me something like that?" and they can. It's lovely.

So if you haven't been to their yard because it used to take a 40 minute drive to get there, now is your chance! Stop in and take a look. You'll be glad you did.

The photo attached shows their beautiful 'Desert Marble' boulders. Up close, they have wonderful swirls and striations!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Cor-ten, how do I love thee?

This is a project I am working on in Mission Valley, the completely remodeled Discount Technology Building. We just started planting it, and I am so happy with how the new entry came out that I just had to share!

The architect, Phil Reyes, stripped off the horrid 1970's lava rock facing this planter and replaced it with Cor-Ten Steel. I love the effect: both modern and earthy.

I can't say enough good things about the remodel of the building itself- is is almost hard to believe that the structure of the building is identical because it is almost unrecognizable. Just so you can see how much the building has been transformed, I'll give you a "before" photo (yep, I know, it is hard to look at):

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Lawnless in South Park

This garden is hands-down the most gossiped about front yard in my neighborhood. It was designed by Kendra Berger at Revive Landscape Design and was installed about a year ago. I love how much it varies from the expected in almost every way: color, texture, and a complete lack of a front lawn (I especially like this last bit).

I'm sure you all know by now about my obsession with blue-green and blue-grey foliage, and this garden uses them in abundance: two different types of Scenecio, dymondia, Dasilyrion, and Festuca ovina glauca.

And she plays another of my favorite games: she adds splashes of burgundy for contrast: the flowers of kangaroo paws (maybe Anigozanthos 'Big Red'?), New Zealand Flax, and a few things in the Protea family (looks to me like Leucondendron 'Safari Sunset'). Some other plants she uses that I love: Aeoniums (maybe Aeonium 'Cyclops'?), Pittosporum crassifolium nana, and the little weeping tree Leptospermum laevegatum.

I wonder what the back yard looks like.....

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Nice things to add to your outdoor design

I don't think I have ever done a write-up on Kate Presents of an online retailer just because I like them, so here is a first for me. I keep finding nice little things on the Ballard Designs website. I wouldn't call it especially fancy, but whoever does their buying for them just has nice taste, and the prices are very reasonable.

Here are a few of their products that I thought were worth a second look (photos above): a screen that seems like it would be great for hiding things like ugly AC units ($249), mock Toulon planters (the large one is $149 compared to authentic imports for more like $600 a peice), a cute and simple fire feature that runs off propane canisters ($399), and their armillary sphere ($149: not bad at all for a peice of outdoor art that is actually tasteful).

And they have a small but nice selection of outdoor furniture. This set, including all 7 peices, is just a little over $1,000. That isn't easy to find, and it especially is tough to find if you want a more traditional look. So if that is your style, they are a great place to start! (For inexpensive furniture with more of an earthy look, I start with Cost Plus, but they only have outdoor furniture in the spring and summer. Target can also have some good options).