Thursday, December 29, 2011

A beautiful New Year to You!

Here at Sage, we want to wish you all a happy New Year!

Here is a little beauty for you care of Dominique Vorillon Photography (whose work we admire very much) to carry you into 2012. If you want to while away a few happy moments on New Year's day and the Rose Parade is already over, spend some time scrolling through one gorgeous garden after another in his garden portfolio.

© Kate Wiseman 2010. In San Diego? Want your own waterwise landscape design? I'd love to help! Please visit for more info.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Okay, I admit it

This is something that will probably get me in trouble for admitting, so don't spread it around too much: I'm getting tired of designing anything Tuscan. Really tired of it. However, the rest of San Diego doesn't seem to be, so instead of swearing off Tuscan entirely, I'm just going to try that much harder to make the Tuscan designs that much more interesting. I'm going to think of it as a design challenge to make your Tuscan home so much more unique, lovely, and inspired than the others.

Because, there really are a lot of gorgeous materials out there, materials that work so well with a Mediterranean style, that are timeless and not the slightest bit trite (unlike dated looking fake stone and tumbled concrete pavers) and this stone is one of those materials. The two pictures here are gorgeous cream limestone from the guys at Salado Quarry. I love it! Don't you think it adds a whole new level of refinement? Can't you practically hear the cicadas chirping on some windswept hill in Tuscany when you look at it? (No, really that's just me?) You can get this beautiful stone through the helpful folks at Thompsons Building Materials in Lemon Grove. I think they have the best and most varied selection of veneer stone in the city, so drop in some time and check out their display areas, or just check out their great website.

 © Kate Wiseman 2010. Want your own waterwise landscape design? Please visit for more info.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Great color for your outdoor room: Fermob

Color: I get a little (okay maybe more than a little) tired of neutral colors. There is a lot of beige and grey to be found in your average patio, and it makes me crave color. Of course, I still want the color to be tasteful, so thank goodness for the French outdoor furniture company, Fermob.

This little bistro chair might look dainty, but it is made of solid stuff and will last a lifetime. It is sitting amongst some gorgeous Aeoniums at the outdoor showroom Chickweed (in the Cedros Design District).

Fermob's metal furniture comes in amazing colors: rich, bright, saturated, bold colors! A bistro set with four chairs and a 30" table will run you somewhere in the range of $700, so not too prohibitively expensive, and they are perfect for cramped spaces (ie think Parisian cafe).

Oh, and if it doesn't look comfortable to you, go down to Cedros and try it out. They are amazingly comfortable! And if you need them to, they fold up (even the tables).

Wanna see the colors? I like the idea of mixing and matching. How about a Fyord Blue Table with Storm Grey and Willow Green chairs?

© Kate Wiseman 2010. Want your own waterwise landscape design? Please visit for more info.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Construction: Made by hand in the USA

Okay, it isn't quite Thanksgiving, but in San Diego this week it is cool and cloudy and it is forcing me to admit something a little early this year: 'tis the season.

This time of year we all get ramped up for a lot of celebrating, and a whole lot of spending money. A lot of people assume that this season is pretty much a dead season for the construction industry, but in San Diego there is almost never a time when the industry stops or even slows down much. For one thing, a lot of people are facing their relatives visiting from far away and they look around at their yards and think, this needs something...

But of course, in the season of spending there isn't a lot of room in people's budgets for construction. It got me thinking about a question that people ask me a lot, "Why is it so expensive to build things here? All I want is a _____ (insert pool, patio, fireplace, whatever) and I had no idea it was going to cost _____ (insert the expected amount and multiply it by two, or three...)!"

I think a lot about why it costs so much and I think the answer is actually simpler than it might seem. Custom building costs a lot because it is all hand made, by Americans. Imagine for a second that you were buying a quilt at Bed Bath and Beyond. You wouldn't expect it to be made here, and you wouldn't expect it to be that expensive. But now imagine buying a hand-made quilt at a little specialty shop in a small town in America. Expensive? You betcha.

Maybe it is a little whimsical to look at it this way, but next time you think about having a ______ (insert pool, patio, fireplace, whatever) built in your house/yard, try thinking of it as an heirloom piece, made by hand, here in the USA. Individual, unique, art.

It is buying local at its best. 

(the photo is from the Venice Art Walk this year, found on Laguna Dirt in May 2011)

© Kate Wiseman 2010. Want your own waterwise landscape design? Please visit for more info.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Fall color in San diego is when.... the aloes bloom?

Ask a landscape designer what it is that makes it fall in San Diego, and you won't get a simple answer like the leaves changing color, because sometimes they do but mostly they don't really. At least not spectacularly. At least that is what folks from the East Coast tell me, and I'm willing to admit they have a point (well, see past articles for my rant on that issue).

What does happen here in the fall is that the Aloes bloom and some of the aloes even change color to a lovely flaming red/orange. Many of them will last into the winter, so you'll have plenty of time to catch them at it!

© Kate Wiseman 2010. Want your own waterwise landscape design? Please visit for more info.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Arty aeriums

These little aeriums are from Flora Grubb gardens in San Francisco. I love how delicate and whimsical they are, like tiny little worlds you could just stare and stare at. For those of us who don't live in SF, you can still have them! They are on their web shop (and yes, they are tiny- the largest one is 2.5" wide by 6" tall).

Flora has her own rendition of the hanging globe terrarium that you have probably seen with succulents (say, at Mixture in Little Italy or Pigment in North park) only hers is a little more whimsical because she uses Tillandsia (aka Air Plants or Air Bromileads) instead of succulents. It comes as a kit and you place the Tillandsia yourself. Yes, I'd like to have one these! While you are on their web shop, take a look around, 'cause it is crammed with fabulous things.

© Kate Wiseman 2010. Want your own waterwise landscape design? Please visit for more info.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Floating deck

I love the clean, modern look of this swimming pool and its floating deck by Three Sixty Design. Especially because of the natural garden that surrounds it, it is reminiscent of one of those floating docks they have for swimming to (and sunning on) in lakes in the mid-west. The perfect spot for letting all your worries float away.

© Kate Wiseman 2010. Want your own waterwise landscape design? Please visit for more info.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Reclaimed and salvaged materials make this garden

The Brooklyn-based Future Green Studio designed this urban garden featuring the creative re-use of salvaged materials like wood from shipping palettes, tin ceiling tiles (see the bottom two images for how these patina over time as their steel backing rusts), mirrors (wrapped in chicken wire so that even if they break they still work in the space), and used cobblestones. The space is a central courtyard in what was once a pillow factory, but is now a hip shopping mall. They call the project "The Loom" and make sure to visit their website and blog to learn more about it and see a few before photos. 

© Kate Wiseman 2010. Want your own waterwise landscape design? Please visit for more info.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Trendy succulent vertical gardens and living pictures

Okay, yes, this is trendy. And I don't usually do trendy, but I'm not exactly immune either, and every once in a while something trendy catches my eye and I just have to share it.

These are called Living Pictures by the guys at Succulent Gardens Plants (who sell a nice user friendly kit), but I have also heard them called living walls or vertical gardens. They can be mounted on a wall once the succulents have got an established root system, and they need minimal watering. They are perfect for that really narrow side yard with a nice big kitchen window looking out onto nothing. Now you can have something, and something pretty darn interesting. And trendy. Yah, that, too.

© Kate Wiseman 2010.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Creative stairs and stairway designs for the garden

Cor-Ten stairs and retaining walls by Andrea Cochran
By their nature, steps and stairs are utilitarian (something around 12" long and 6" tall, give or take) but they don't need to look like it. Here are a few examples of stairs that rise to the level of art:
Elegant stairway and vanishing edge reflecting pool by Joseph Marek

Brick steps with creeping groundcover by Molly Wood

Estate stairs by Mark Rios, photo by Dominique Vorillon

Modern floating steps by Jensen Architects

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Modern Fire Pit designs

You have all heard my rants about how ugly most fire pits are. So this is a continuation in my series about fire pits that break the stereotype: ones that are interesting, different, and beautiful. Since a picture is worth a thousand words, today is going to be a buffet of photos of unique fire pits.

Some of the fire pits I have shown you in the past are custom designed. Instead, today's photos are ones that are made by talented artists and product designers. What that means for you is that all of them are available for purchase online, so if you love one of them, click on the link and get one for yourself!

Ecosmart lantern casts a mysterious glow

Sculptural fire bowl by John T. Unger

EcoSmart bulb fire lantern

Go mid-century modern with ModFire

Precast concrete with a very clean line and smooth finish by Solus Decor

With the Wok Fire Pit by Potted you get affordable minimalism

Mesa series fire pit by Raw Urth Designs

Chiminea series blends the line between fireplace and fire pit

© Kate Wiseman 2010.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A kitchen garden in the driveway

As a firm believer in using the space you have, I was inspired by this kitchen garden that I came across in Burlingame recently. Like all of uptown San Diego, the amount of land these guys had to work with was limited, so they got creative and used the space between their driveway and their neighbor's to fit in their herbs, some vegetables, and even a peach tree!

I'd like to call attention to the fact that this is in their front yard, and it looks great! It doesn't look out of place or odd. So, if you are fretting because you want to grow vegetables but the only sunny part of your property is the front yard... well, stop fretting and grow some veggies!

© Kate Wiseman 2010.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Spanish revival outdoor fireplace

I've been meaning to post this fireplace for some time now. I found it on one of my favorite tile suppliers' website, so I don't know the designer, but the tile is by Tierra y Fuego.  I love the creative shape of this fireplace, and that you can sit on the hearth, and that the tile design manages to bring the scale of the whole thing back down to human proportions.  Whoever the designer is, they are good!

I also like the succulents in the planter pots that flank the fireplace. If you chose to use the orange one, Euphorbia 'Sticks on Fire', just remember that the sap is caustic and wear gloves if you ever trim it.

© Kate Wiseman 2010.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Modern Fire Pit designs part 2

More than any other topic on my blog, the ones that get the most consistent hits from a Google search are the ones with examples of good looking fire pits. Here is one past article on fire pits, and here is another. I'm going to take that to mean that you guys, like me, are fed up with the horribly ugly fire pits that you see out there, and that you are desperately hoping that there is something better.... and there is!

I recently got lost on the website of Jeffrey Gordon Smith Landscape Architecture. And I don't mean lost like I couldn't find my way,  I mean lost like I was too busy stumbling across beautiful things to bother trying to find my way back out again. JGSLA is a small firm out of Los Osas, Ca that seems to share my love of the poured in place concrete fire pit. So I want to share with you some eye candy from their website and a few thoughts on fire pit design, some practical, some not so practical.

On the practical side of things, a few things to think about:
  • leg room. If you are building seating around your fire pit, make sure to think about leg room. People love to put their feet up on the edge of the fire pit, but they also hate to bash their knees against the edge, so the distance between the fire pit and the bench is a narrow window. To get it just right for you, measure yourself! And remember, there is a big difference between the length of women's legs and men's legs, so measure the tallies in your household and the shorties, too. 28" is a good starting point to work from. 
  • colored concrete can discolor at high temperatures, so don't put your gas line too close to the edge of the concrete. The discoloration may not be black- it is caused by a chemical change in the pigments in the concrete so it could be bright pink (yep, speaking from experience here)
  • I know that magazines show fire pits that have beach cobble in them and it looks really cool, but trust me when I say that is just staged for the photo shoot and you don't want to do it. Why not? Because real rocks have tiny air pockets trapped inside them and at high temperatures they expand.... and explode. In a rapid-fire, machine gun kind of way. Really dangerous. Please don't do it. The safe things to use for the inside of your fire pit are: silica sand, tempered glass, lava rock, or crushed hire fired terra cotta tiles.
  • Even if you are going with glass, consider a base of small crushed lava rock underneath it. It is way less expensive, and helps to diffuse the gas with all the air pockets in the lava, so you get a more natural soft flame. 
    On the less practical but equally important aesthetics side of things:
    • If you are using tempered glass and you are tempted to create your own blend of colors, don't blend colors that are drastically different from each other (ie blue and bronze). It looks terrible. Stick to colors that are very similar to each other (ie blue and light blue) or a solid color. Consider using a color that you are already using as an accent in your yard, say in the cushions on your furniture, or notice how the last photo matches the fire glass color to the foliage of a succulent (an Echeveria I think) that is nearby. Nice, huh?
    I could go on and on about Jeffrey's work, but instead, I think I'll just let you get lost in it for a little while. Enjoy!

    © Kate Wiseman 2010.

    Friday, July 15, 2011

    Designer fence in Mission Hills landscape

    In my many travels around town, I try to snap photos of things I think are beautiful, and this is one of them. I love this fence! I'm afraid I can't credit the designer, since I don't know who designed it (but if you know, send me a comment and I'll give credit where it is due!) but can we all just take a minute to admire it? I think it is just lovely and elegant, and it pulls it off without being intrusive or overly showy. Whoever built it is a true craftsman. Bravo.

    Thursday, July 14, 2011

    Why high contrast is bad

    I have two things to say about this photo:

    1) High contrast is bad far more often than it is good. Go for subtle- these folks should have.

    2) Don't make your driveway the most decorative part of your front yard. It is there for a utilitarian purpose. It doesn't add curb appeal or encourage guests to come to your front door. It isn't pretty and your best bet is to play it down, not play it up. This is what happens when you play it up. It is bad.

    All that aside, the concrete for this driveway was poured by my good friend and concrete Guru, Dave Rogers of HCWI concrete. He didn't have anything to do with the terrible aesthetics, but I can say with all confidence, that driveway is well poured 'cause Dave poured it. If you need concrete and you need it done flawlessly, he's your man. Seriously, go take a look at his website.

    Thursday, June 30, 2011

    Easy edible landscape plants (really, really easy)

    Lavendula 'Hidcote'

     I love the idea of having edible plants in the landscape, but only if they are really really easy to grow. I work a lot and when I get home, I want to be able to cook with the plants in my garden every night, but I only want to pay attention to them about once every two weeks for about an hour or so. You'll need some kind of automatic irrigation to pull that off (I use drippers and soaker hoses). With that in mind, here are a few of my favorite edibles and what I like to do with them:

    1) Lavender: Easy to grow, drought tolerant. Ever cooked with it? It makes everything taste more French to me! I chop it very fine and blend it with rosemary and thyme and toss it onto home fries.

    2) Oregano: Easy, low growing, drought tolerant. Add it to homemade spaghetti sauce. Or try it instead of basil in a Caprese salad.
    Origanum (oregano)
    3) Rosemary:  Easy, low growing, drought tolerant (sensing a trend here?) I love rosemary on lamb. Combine it with garlic, olive oil, lots of salt and a little pepper and marinate the lamb for as long as you can and then throw it on the grill.

    4) Salvia (Sage): Easy, low growing, drought tolerant and some of them are so colorful! Salvia tricolor is one of my favorites for its fun foliage color. I love Sage with butternut squash. Add it to brown butter and coat butternut squash or butternut squash ravioli with it.

    5) Strawberries: these make a good groundcover in slightly shady areas. Its tough to beat the bugs and critters to the strawberries, but its worth the effort when you get one! Try tossing the sliced strawberries with a few drops of balsalmic vinegar (just a few drops!) and then stick them in the fridge for 30 minutes. It will bring out the sweet sunny flavor without adding sugar.

    6) Kumquat: these are adorable tiny trees that produce a super tart citrus fruit. They are hard to eat straight but try them cooked instead. I like them with game birds like Game Hens or Duck.

    7) Artichoke: ever seen one growing? They are a lovely, startling plant to look at. A little spikey, very silvery. The artichokes, if left unpicked, become gorgeous purple thistle flowers. But why would you let them do that when they are so yummy? I steam them for 45 minutes and make a dipping sauce from 1/4 cup chicken stock, a half tablespoon of melted butter, juice from half a lemon and a little finely chopped garlic.

    Salvia tricolor
    Fragaria (strawberry)

    Cynara (artichoke)
    Thymus praecox
    8) Thyme: This is one of my favorite favorites. It is a groundcover. It makes joyful tiny pink flowers in the spring. The rest of the year it stays green with very little water. I like it in so many dishes. One of my favorites is with Tilapia. In a big frying pan, combine 2 cups of chicken broth, 1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar, lots of fresh thyme and some garlic. Bring it to a boil. Gently place the Tilapia filets into the boiling liquid. It will help to keep the fish firm but moist and will infuse them with flavor.

    9) Apple 'Anna': did you know that there is an apple that grows really well in San Diego? Anna doesn't require very many chill hours to produce tasty fruit. They make great eating as fresh apples (they are a lot like a Pink Lady), but sadly don't cook well.

    10) Meyer Lemon: to me these are the taste of homeade lemonade. Warm and sweeter than the lemons you'll find in the grocery store, these are easy to grow if you know one trick: you'll need to buy them some Citrus/Avocado fertilizer. I prefer them as semi-dwarfs because the dwarfs don't produce enough fruit and the full sized ones become too big for my urban garden. I use lemon pretty much daily in my cooking! Here is one favorite: marinate chicken thighs overnight in 1 cup soy sauce, 1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce, juice from 1 lemon, 1/4 cu olive oil, 3 cloves finely chopped garlic. Take them out of the marinade and coat in bread crumbs. Bake them for 45 minutes. Make more than you think you'll eat. Seriously- lots more.

    11) Tarragon: This isn't a very common herb but oh it should be! I find it easy to grow, but hard to find in the nurseries. If you find one, buy it! It makes everything taste more elegant with its slightly licorice flavor. Try this recipe for a roast chicken: loosen the skin on the breasts of a whole chicken. Under the skin, place a mixture of tarragon (2 teaspoons finely chopped), 1 tablespoon melted butter, one clove of finely chopped garlic, a dash of salt and pepper. Pour boiling water over the bird to tighten the skin (if you've never done this you really should try it. Its fun to watch the skin tighten and it makes the chicken more crispy). Make sure to get all of the water out of the pan. Bake at 375 for 45 minutes to an hour. I like it so much you get a bonus recipe for pork. Cut a pork tenderloin into thick rounds. Salt and pepper all sides and brown them in a frying pan. Reduce the heat to very low. To the pan, add 2 cups chicken stock, a whole bag of mini carrots, and 2 cloves of finely chopped garlic. Put a lid on the pan and cook until the rounds are just barely firm when you push on them with a spoon. Turn off the heat entirely. Add 1 cup of sour cream. Do this carefully- if the pan is too hot it will curdle. Add 1 tablespoon chopped tarragon. Salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately. The flavors will be so unusual and yummy that a dinner party will scarf all of this down before you can blink.

    Apple 'Anna'
    Lemon 'Meyer'