DIG THIS! Green Musings from GBG inc.

Keeping The Bees

A honey bee at work on a sunflower in Morro Bay

A honey bee at work on a sunflower in Morro Bay

In 2006, conservation biologists at the University of Goettingen in Germany teamed up with scientists at UC Berkeley to test the widely-accepted horticultural maxim that one out of three bites of food we eat depends on a pollinator such as bees (1). Surprisingly, or not, it turned out to be true.

By studying 115 of the most common food crops, researchers calculated that 87 depend to some degree upon animal pollination, accounting for one-third of global crop production. In fact, many crops rely on the hardworking honeybee for more than 90% of their pollination. In other words, we need bees.

As with other aspects of our natural world that we take for granted, bees have gained a lot of attention due to their threatened status. Bee populations have been declining at an alarming rate during these first decades of the 21st century. Scientists coined the term “colony collapse disorder” in 2006 when reports of unprecedented colony losses began piling up from various locations across the US and in Europe. The suspected culprits included habitat degradation, viruses, parasites, pests, air pollution, electromagnetic fields and herbicides and pesticides.

The most puzzling part of this phenomenon was that thriving colonies – tens of thousands of bees – would seemingly disappear overnight. To make matters worse, beekeepers were not finding any dead bees in and around the hive. After many years of sleuthing, scientists believe they have identified the neonicotinoid class of pesticides as the key driver behind colony collapse disorder (2). Unfortunately, these chemicals are widely used to treat crops, which then spread their pesticides with neighboring foliage via runoff (3). Even more unfortunately, it appears that even tiny amounts of neonicotinoids eventually interfere with bees’ ability to orient themselves and navigate away from the hive and back. This may account for the sudden emptying of the hives.

Europe has led global efforts to protect bee colonies and we hope the ideas are catching. As of April of 2018, the E.U. extended their moratorium on some uses of neonicotinoids (4), a boon for environmentalists and bees alike. A bill introduced in the US Congress during 2013, the Saving America’s Pollinators Act, would have directed the EPA to take similar measures. Unfortunately, it never came to a vote. Efforts continue around the country and the globe to save this essential element of our natural world.

 

  1. https://www.berkeley.edu/news/media/releases/2006/10/25_pollinator.shtml
  2. https://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/press/news/180228
  3. https://www.pbs.org/newshour/science/neonicotinoid-pesticides-slowly-killing-bees
  4. http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2018/04/european-union-expands-ban-three-neonicotinoid-pesticides
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Landscape Design In San Luis Obispo County – Why Do We Do This??

Landscaping As Design

It can come as a surprise to clients that cultivated landscapes require a drafted plan. Isn’t a garden just some dirt and plants?? Maybe throw in some landscape rock (that’s a thing, right?). Why the extra time, why the holdup? This is a question I enjoy clarifying because anything that helps you understand our process can ease the anxiety around it.

First And Foremost, The Design Process Is About Your Needs.

My co-designer and I visit your site to understand important elements like microclimate, soil type, slope or grade, and so on. But we also want to know how you’d like to use your future garden and what features you envision. We combine the nitty gritty  with the fanciful to create an initial Concept Plan and we walk you through the placement of patio, pavers, plants, etc. At this point, you take the time to mull over the project for as long as you want before we finalize it. With your feedback we make adjustments and create the Final Plan. A garden design is not a rush job; the goal is to make sure you feel confident about the layout before we move along to install.

A Plan Is Also About Our Needs

A design is as much to clarify things for you as it is a game plan for our install team. We’re often creating an entirely new outdoor environment with walls, fences, patios, and so forth — more than just planting a few plants. A design articulates all the necessary materials and pinpointed locations of a layered installation project. A design keeps everyone on the same page.

A Plan Helps Us Stay On Budget

Our design is scaled so we can accurately budget the cost. We want to know as near to exactly as possible how much mulch, soil, irrigation parts, etc, we need. I don’t like budget surprises during a project, so I want you to know the full costs of everything broken down before we start. If you want to make a change during the design or install process, then we can do that, and we can track changes because we have a plan to reference.
 There are always going to be unknowns and decisions to be made on the fly, but with more preparation than less we can move as seamlessly as possible from site evaluation to design to installation and enjoyment!
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Making The Most Of The Rain

morro bay rain gaugeWe’re happy to say that our rain gauge was overwhelmed by our recent storms! No matter what the amount of rain we get this winter, we don’t want a single drop to go to waste. In order to replenish our precious underground aquifers, the rainwater must percolate through the soil rather than running off the surface. And while we cannot make it rain, we can make a difference in the amount of run-off.

Under natural conditions, soil acts like a sponge, soaking up and absorbing much of the rainfall. Vegetation and leaf litter break the momentum of falling raindrops, allowing the water to filter gently through the air spaces between individual bits of soil. When the earth is exposed, parched, and compacted, it’s as if the soil sponge has been squeezed dry. The pores and pockets shrink and close off, and it is more difficult for water to penetrate.

As much as possible, then, we work to direct rainwater into the ground. Mulching in the fall will protect the soil from eroding during our winter rainy period. The mulch slows the velocity and allows the maximum amount of water to collect and soak into the ground. Landscaping with swales and berms also helps intercept run-off and channel water back into the garden instead of into the street. Lengthening the time that the water remains on the land allows it to slowly seep into the ground, rehydrate the soil, and recharge our depleted groundwater basins.

Making the best use of any rain that does fall turns that water into a resource – one that we sorely need.

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Buggin’ Out

OK, we’ll admit it. Some bugs are hard to love. We’re not talking about butterflies, dragonflies, or even bees. We mean those pesky, annoying mosquitoes that force you inside on balmy summer evenings. Or creepy, repulsive Jerusalem crickets, which are so unnerving. Not to mention flies, maggots, and grubs. We may not be able to convince you that these critters are particularly lovable, but perhaps it is possible to appreciate the value of even the most loathsome insects to a flourishing garden and to the natural ecosystem.

mosquito_insect_schnakeInsects are incredibly adaptable and have inhabited the planet for hundreds of millions of years. Consequently, they have co-evolved with many other animal species and have distinct relationships with them. First up: Mosquitoes. Mosquitoes and mosquito larvae, for instance, are prey for fish, frogs, salamanders, turtles, lizards, bats and birds. The larvae are filter feeders and detritus feeders, helping to recycle energy within aquatic ecosystems. Mosquitoes are incredibly diverse and can be found in just about every region of the globe—including the icy Arctic tundra, the deserts of the Southwest, and the humid tropics of Africa, Asia, and South America.

jerusalem_cricket_02_12_11_tiffanyNext on the list of nasties: Jerusalem crickets. Jerusalem crickets, or potato bugs, are especially common in Los Osos. Although their appearance is alarming, they pose no threat to you or to your garden. In fact, their burrowing helps aerate the soil and recycle nutrients. They often eat smaller insects that damage gardens, like aphids. Solitary, slow moving, and nocturnal, Jerusalem crickets are a food source for owls, bats, foxes, skunks, and coyotes. Public domain image, royalty free stock photo from www.public-domain-image.com

 

 

Flies? Surprise! They are important pollinators as well as scavengers and recyclers.

maggot-therapy-1Maggots? By accelerating natural decomposition processes, they make more nutrients available in the soil.

 

In 2006, a pair of conservation researchers estimated a dollar value for the services insects provide to the US economy. They arrived at the figure of $60 billion. Restricting themselves to those processes for which hard data was available and which can be directly attributable to wild insects, John Losey and Mace Vaughn analyzed four primary activities: disposal of dung; control of crop pests; pollination; and nutrition for wildlife. Their conclusion? If all of the services insects provide were actually taken into account, the value would easily be in the hundreds of billions of dollars. In their words, “Ecosystems and the life they support (including humans) could not function without the services insects provide.” That’s something to think about the next time you swat a fly!

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A Place To Grow

A Place to Grow San Luis ObispoA Place to Grow: A Tale of Serendipity and Sustainability

One definition of serendipity is making desirable discoveries by accident, which is just what happened when we chanced upon the recycled garden structures designed and built by Dana O’Brien of A Place to Grow. The genesis of Dana’s business was serendipitous, as well: It began in 2004 when Dana convinced her brother-in-law to buy a home because she’d fallen in love with the backyard greenhouse built with wood sash windows salvaged during the home’s remodel. A few months later, that same greenhouse ended up in Dana’s backyard as her 40th birthday present–Dana’s husband had cut the greenhouse apart with a skill saw, loaded it on a trailer, and set it up in their yard. This synergistic series of events was the inspiration for A Place to Grow.

In the most literal sense, Dana designs custom places “to grow” in whatever way best matches the client’s wishes and aspirations. Her passion is creating greenhouses, meditation retreats, artist studios, 3-sided structures for outdoor dining rooms, 2-sided structures for hot tub enclosures, as well as arbors and potting tables for the garden. Dana finds it particularly gratifying to be able to incorporate special pieces from her clients, such as stained glass windows or doors.

Using primarily reclaimed and re-purposed materials, A Place to Grow helps keep architectural salvage out of the landfill and turns it into “functional art.” Dana has donated a recycled greenhouse to the Montessori Children’s School of San Luis Obispo and is in the process of designing a greenhouse for Bellevue Santa Fe School in Avila Valley. Donations are very welcome and help fund the charitable component of Dana’s business. She is most in need of reclaimed wood, glass doors, and wood frame windows, but she also appreciates redwood decking material and fence boards (as long as they are in decent shape), corrugated metal, and wine flavor sticks.


Wells At Work: We Love Wells Concrete Works

Maysun Wells dips his hand into a barrel full of what appears to be white sea glass. “Someone just gave this to me!” he says, loosing the semi-translucent pieces back into the bin. “I use clear glass like this if I want to create a different look from the wine bottles.” He gestures to a pile of green-, blue- and ochre-colored bottles collected from local restaurants. Earth-toned or clear, the tumbled fragments will soon become sparkling accents in one of Maysun’s pre-cast concrete fire bowls, benches, or countertops.

Maysun’s concrete studio, Wells Concrete Works, combines an indoor zone for pouring and molding custom concrete forms, with an outdoor zone for grinding, sanding, assembling, and finishing his pieces. After six years of working for local concrete artisan Roy Burch, Maysun bought the business and made it his own. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I got out of school,” he says, “but when I saw what Roy was doing and worked for him, I realized I’d found it.” Fortunately, his degree in Industrial Technology from Cal Poly dovetailed neatly with his newfound passion. A mere two years after buying Burch’s business, Wells’ work is featured at Sage Ecological Nursery in Los Osos, Porch Home Furnishings in Carpenteria, Potter Green & Co in Sonoma, and Niner Wine Estates in Paso Robles, along with shops and homes around California.

Designer concrete projects line the walls and sprout upfrom the gravel floor of Maysun Wells’ studio,
awaiting their next steps or further inspiration.

Decorative concrete is enjoying a renaissance in San Luis Obispo County, and Maysun is excited to be a part of it. “I like the collaborative design aspect,” he says. “Homeowners come to me with different needs and give me a chance to work on some real specialty pieces.” However, even Maysun’s simple concrete fire bowls are truly works of art. Domed or conical in shape, accented with clear or colored glass–or even stones and fossils, alone or paired with benches, each one is hand-crafted with both recycled materials and a sculptor’s eye. We’re finding they make a beautiful, natural addition to a landscape, tying together the elements of earth and fire–and in a recent project involving a fountain bowl, water.

Visit Maysun’s website at www.wellsconcreteworks.com for more information and a selection of photographs of the subtle, clean, and elegant indoor and outdoor accessories that he has perfected.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Radio CCLP!

Central Coast Landscape Products is one of our go-to destinations for soil, stone, mulch, and in general all things landscape prep. They’ve recently begun a radio campaign and invited us to put our spin on their products. Check it out and  CONVERT YOUR DIRT!

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Far Out Flora Is… Well, Far Out

Not to get too colloquial about it, but Megan and Matti are pretty far out. Horticulture hunters, this couple runs the eclectic and engaging faroutflora.com, a blog devoted to the exploration and documentation of all things horticultural and happenin’. Garden designer Kaveh Maguire (featured here in a fabulous green Gardens by Gabriel hoodie) invited this Megan and Matti to visit several garden projects we’ve been involved in, so they graciously agreed to visit our county on their travels.

Their first stop was Kaveh‘s fledgling Los Osos garden.  Next up was Vince and Janet Marino’s Morro Bay landscape (featured in this year’s AAUW Garden Tour). Two more stops in Cayucos completed the tour: One, a landscape (left and below) designed by Grow Nursery owner Nick Wilkinson; and Two, Wilkinson’s parents’ home garden. Succulent gardens and coastal views under our belts, we stole them off to dinner to ply them with food (thanks, Kaveh!) in order to get more plant-speak out of them.

As Megan and Matti await the birth of their first child and head off to explore the wilds of Wisconsin, we look forward to watching their blog expand from plants and puppies to progeny and beyond.

 

And here, a photograph of what it’s like to tour gardens with plant enthusiasts: Synchronized snapping!

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Gabriel’s Tool Box

The right tool can make almost any landscaping task enjoyable. Just as easily, the wrong tool can make gardening uncomfortable, tedious, and seemingly endless. Here are a few of my favorite tools to keep on hand. These guys have performed well for me under a variety of conditions for a variety of needs. 
Silky Saws
These Japanese fine pruning saws are crafted by a high-voltage induction process, leaving them hard and sharp yet flexible. Their unique tooth structure on the blades allows for both a strong and clean cut. Instead of a series of teeth sharpened on simply 2 sides, Silky Saws somehow have sides to sharpen so they easily slide through the toughest branches. The quality of the steel is also very high, which is a difference of quality that day-in-day-out gardeners come to appreciate.
The Silky Pocketboy is my favorite for small, tighter pruning, like addressing a densely-branched tree. As a landscaping outfit, the bulk of the work that we do involves a medium-range pruner, with a blade that ranges from 8-12″. We like Silky’s curved and versatile Zubat, and the Gomtaro Prosentei, whose dual teeth (large at one end and small at the other) are the perfect pairing if you’re only carrying one knife. For the backyard orchard or stand-alone lemon tree, the Hayauchi Pole Saw is perfect for long-distance pruning. Ours have stood the test of time and durability.
Toshibo Pruners 
The second company we have come to admire is Tobisho, whose Secateurs pruners are a gardener’s dream. The Toshibo pruners are hand-forged, durable, and haven’t needed sharpening in over 2 months when normally that’s a weekly task. Their sleek, charcoal-colored handle is continuous with the razor-sharp blade which gives multiple subtle improvements to the way they handle, meaning that overall they feel much easier and lighter in your hand.
Finding the right tool for yourself is important, so don’t be afraid to shop around. Do give these companies a try when next you seek out gardening equipment.
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Plant Propaganda: Interview With A Designer

Gardens by Gabriel asked Kaveh Maguire, a horticulturist and new resident of Los Osos, to elaborate on his techniques and strategies as a garden designer. Kaveh graduated alongside Gabriel from the New York Botanical Garden’s School of Professional Horticulture. 

1. How you know where to begin your projects?

Generally I take whatever input the client gives me (type of garden they want, type of plants they do like or don’t like) and make a list of plants that fit that scheme and that are currently available at the wholesalers we buy from. In terms of design, I like to pick a few high-impact specimen plants from the list I created and place them in the design first.  Then I sketch the drifts of smaller plants around them.
2. What are basic design techniques that you employ when creating a space?
Playing around with color is my favorite thing. Trying to find harmonious, complementary, or contrasting colors is really fun and is great for creating moods in the garden.  Repetition of a plant or a color is a neat way to draw your eye around different areas of the garden.  If you put a grouping of one plant at the entrance to a garden, try putting grouping of the same or a similar plant on the far side. Striking a balance between specimen plants and large drifts of plants is also very important. Too many specimens and it can become a bit of a circus; too many drifts of the same thing can be dull.
A simple trick: In school I was taught “the rule of three.”  i.e. Always use at least three of the same plant and always plant in odd numbers. (I sometimes find myself falling back on this out of habit but over time I’ve actually learned to go without it.) “The rule of three” is most important when the plants are young and small because it’s easy to see how many there are. Since plants don’t grow in a uniform pattern and will generally meld together, after a few months it is almost impossible to tell how many are there. So plant some things in large drifts but don’t be afraid to have ones and twos of larger plants. Also, remember that doing everything in large numbers isn’t very helpful for the person with the small garden.

3. How do you know which plants to put next to one another?
This takes some knowledge about the cultural requirements and origin of the plant.  For example, you might not want to put something that is a water-loving, big-leaved tropical next to a silver-leaved Mediterranean-climate plant. (There are of course exceptions to that rule.) Once you have all that sorted out and have a list of plants you want to work with, color and texture become important.  I have an art background so I am pretty good at mixing colors, but sometimes the unexpected can work really well together even if you think it might be jarring. Some of the most beautiful combinations might just be happy accidents–don’t be afraid to make mistakes.
After color and texture, shape is very important. e.g. Having three upright spiky plants in a row might not be very exciting.  Try replacing one of those with something that has big, round flowers
and the other one with a plant with soft, arching stems that blow in the breeze. Getting all these combinations right on paper is not as simple as it may seem. After I have drawn my initial concept, I like to do an imaginary walk-through of the garden through each path and walkway to observe the views from specific vantage points, or look out windows of the house.
Remember: A well-grown plant in full bloom is always lovely to see in a garden, but the gardens that really make an impact, the ones you remember later, are the ones with thoughtful plant combinations.

 4. Is there a way to reflect your personality in the garden?  
There absolutely is. Many long-time designers have very specific planting styles or specific plants that they use in almost every design.  There are definitely people that disparage this as being lazy and formulaic but I think it is rather clever.  There is something to be said for walking into a space and immediately recognizing the designer.
Myself, I’m still at the stage in my career where I want to try something different in every garden I design, but I do have a few plants that I really like to include when appropriate. Dierama pendula in herbaceous gardens, Euphorbia resinifera in succulent gardens, and I haven’t used it much yet but I am leaning towards Grevillea ‘Long John’ as my go-to shrub. I know Gabriel has some favorites, too, so I like to include those as well so the garden has that “GBG feel” to it.
5. What elements do you consider to be crucial in designing a garden?
I think the most important thing is giving the client a garden that they will love spending time in.  At the initial meeting I really try to get an idea of what they will respond to.  Whether it is a style of garden they want, a specific plant they love, or a color that sets their teeth on edge.  Of course I would love it if they just said “Oh we’ll be happy with whatever you think looks best” but of course this isn’t always going to be the case.  So being a good listener and communicating with the clients is probably the best trait a designer can have.
6. What small steps can someone take to make their garden more ecological?
Here on the Central Coast, the smallest step is a big step: Get rid of your lawn!  Water is a precious resource in California and we generally have complete drought for at least half the year (and more this year!).  A well-maintained lawn is a high-maintenance water hog and requires fertilizers and other chemicals that are bad for the environment and your family’s health.  If you must have that lawn, there are several more ecologically sound “no-mow” alternatives. For your plant choices, keep in mind that even though we can grow almost any plant doesn’t mean we should. At the top of your list should be plants that are from a Mediterranean climate like ours. i.e. Plants that are tolerant of wet winters and dry summers. You aren’t limited to just California native plants (though there are many beautiful ones to choose from); other Mediterranean climates include plants from Mediterranean countries themselves, central Chile, western South Africa, and parts of western and southern Australia. These five areas have some of the most beautiful and diverse plant genera in the world. Of course succulents are another great choice.

If you want to create a native or low-water garden, do consider consulting with a designer for help. Especially if you are living in an area with lots of cookie-cutter green lawns and you don’t want your neighbors getting mad at you for putting in a weedy-looking mess that they think is an eyesore that will bring down the value of their home. (If it looks awful they won’t care that you are saving on your water bill and are attracting wild life.) A designer can help you create something beautiful and more ecological that your neighbors will want to emulate rather than complain about.
7. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
 I’ve already said too much!
Kaveh Maguire is a horticulturist and garden designer who blogs at http://plantpropaganda.wordpress.com/

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