DIG THIS! SLO Landscape Strategies

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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500 Visitors!

This year’s AAUW Tour was a smashing success! 500 people toured through one of the five gardens on the tour, that of Vince and Janet Marino, a garden that we created. The euphorbia were blooming, the variegated yuccas and agaves were radient, and the pincushions had held their blooms for a remarkable 8 weeks. Many thanks once again to the Marinos who were gracious enough to invite hundreds of plant enthusiasts into their garden.

 

 

 

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Morro Bay Marinos: The AAUW Garden Tour

Vince and Janet Marino’s Morro Bay garden is making waves! Their Gardens by Gabriel landscape, installed 2 years ago in the spring of 2010, was featured in an article we wrote for the Tolosa Press; highlighted by the SLO Tribune in November of 2011; and is now one of the five gardens in 2012’s AAUW (the American Association of University Women) spring Garden Tour.

“The AAUW is a great organization,” says Vince Marino, “and the proceeds of this tour are going to do a lot of local good.” The Marinos became involved with the garden tour through a number of channels: One of the Marinos’ neighbors is a member of the AAUW; another neighbor’s garden was in a previous year’s tour; and the SLO Tribune’s garden writer, Sharon Crawford, put in her recommendation as well.

Vince and Janet are preparing their garden for an influx of guests. “We’re trying to be as ready as we can!” says Vince. “We’ll have a welcome table set up, and a route for people to follow to best see the space.” The Marinos have enjoyed their garden since its installation, and have equally enjoyed caring it. “This place is a botanical garden,” Vince says, “with plenty of natural flavor and attention to detail. Janet works out here all the time, keeping it healthy and beautiful.” For all her hard work, however, Janet says, “The garden belongs to God and Gabriel; I just work in it!”

As for their motivation for sharing their space with 500 visitors, Vince says, “We’re both so proud of this place. Everyone says ‘Wow!’ when they see it. Since we’ve learned a lot by visiting other gardens and nurseries, we’re looking forward to sharing our creation with other people. We feel that people can enjoy our garden, learn from it, and get a sense of what’s possible.”

This year’s tour begins at 12:00 on April 29th, 2012, and continues until 5:00 p.m. that afternoon. Five gardens in Los Osos and Morro Bay will be displayed, and the price to enjoy them is a mere $10. Tickets are available at Miner’s Hardware stores, Volumes of Pleasure Bookstore in Los Osos, and Coalesce Bookstore in Morro Bay. The tour is self-guided; take the time to enjoy the plants at your own pace. Vince and Janet will be waiting for you, ready to answer questions and show off their incredible views and enchanting landscape.

 

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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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Cambria Nursery’s Secret Garden

Tucked into the pines off of Highway 1, Cambria Nursery is a welcome and unexpected surprise. Rooted on four beautiful coastal acres, Cambria Nursery’s inviting aisles and unexpected nooks encourage visitors to explore the plant selection, attend a class in their outdoor amphitheater, or simply enjoy a picnic amidst the beautiful surroundings. Becki Smith, the nursery’s manager, says, “It’s not your average nursery; it’s more of a destination.”

Becki is a gardener not by accident, but more like by reluctance. “I made it as a nurse up to the point of interning at a hospital, but I couldn’t go through with it. I didn’t have a passion for it.” Passion is an essential ingredient to working with plants, she says, and it’s a love she inherited–grudgingly–from her folks. “My parents used to make us identify plants by their botanical names as we drove around town,” Becki says. Now she puts this knowledge and motivation to good use, maintaining the nursery’s appearance and eclectic selection.

Not only does Cambria Nursery boast an extensive number and variety of plants (plus a handful of charming outbuildings full of products and gifts from local artisans), but they also illustrate how the plants will grow in their naturally elegant demonstration gardens. When you visit, make sure you give yourself enough time to enjoy all the nursery has to offer. Pack a snack and enjoy a visit with the koi, or walk the meandering paths through established native trees and shrubs.  Explore their website at www.cambrianursery.com or chat with them on Facebook at Cambria Nursery & Florist.

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What Is Continuing Cultivation?

Why the switch? What’s different about Continuing Cultivation (and why the capital letters?)? 

Over the past 6 years of Gardens by Gabriel’s leafy existence, the range and depth of our services has grown and improved. While we aimed in the beginning to offer a simple, qualified maintenance service for gardens we have installed and those already in existence, it’s come to our attention that what we now offer is a little different from many maintenance outfits.

What we have developed is a skilled approach to keeping the appearance and health of your landscape at its best, from the inside out. We focus our efforts on plant vitality, fine pruning, and irrigation tuning to keep your garden tidy, healthy, and robust. We are proactive about looking for pests, irrigation problems, and soil health issues that lead to poor plant performance. Our work is focused on meeting your preferences for how you like your garden kept. It is not our intention to compete with everyday maintenance services because we offer a style of garden care that, while it is in its own class, is for landscapes with a strong horticultural flair, or that are in the first two years of their lives. Our goal, as always, is to continue to earn your business with the outstanding work we do.

Our Continuing Cultivation program was launched in March of 2012. Our 4-person crew provides the following services for the landscape:

  • Evaluate irrigation systems
  • Prune and shape perennials, shrubs and grasses
  • Weed and groom beds
  • Control and prevent pests
  • Maintain a general tidiness throughout the garden and walkways
  • Manage water usage throughout the seasons
  • Monitor and support plant health and vigor
  • Fertilize annually with organic fertilizer
  • Monitor mulch layer, soil health, etc to make suggestions for larger annual tune-ups
  • Schedule larger, seasonal pruning projects

As Gardens by Gabriel is growing as a company, we are always looking to improve the quality of our work, our commitment to our customers, and the strength of our team. By differentiating ourselves from mow-blow-and-go maintenance services (services which we respect and rely on!), we hope to hone our skills as cultivators of the finest that gardening has to offer.

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Dirt’s For The Birds

 

...And even they will find it hard to swallow! 

I’m a stickler about using the word “soil” when others may feel content to say “dirt.” Simply put: Dirt gets on your clothes and coats your car. Soil feeds your plants through a complex system of living and dying organic matter. Soil is practically worth its weight in gold. In fact, I call one of the major components of good soil, compost, “black gold.” A new-to-me garden blogger, Greg Seaman, wrote a piece for his blog recently that will help explain the importance of this essential garden nutrient. Read it here.

Remember: Soil is what you use to build your garden, and dirt is what you track through your house when your garden is done.

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Nick Wilkinson: A Little Farther Down The Garden Path

The image of a plant enthusiast is easy to conjure: A kindly bearded gent, ankle-deep in mulch, puttering in the garden from dawn til dusk, trusty trowel in hand. Here to break the mold, however, is Grow Nursery owner and plant fiend Nick Wilkinson. We featured Grow itself in December of ’11, but this time we’ll delve a little deeper into the man behind the rare and unusual succulents.

GBG: Were did you grow up? Why did you decided to move to the Central Coast?
NICK: I grew up down on the border, 100 miles east of San Diego. It was really hot: The town’s motto was “Where the Sun Spends the Winter.” I moved here from San Diego 6+ years ago with my wife to buy a nursery and have been able to make that pay the bills.
GBG: How would you describe yourself?
NICK: Forever full of energy, yet constantly out of money.


GBG
:  What is your favorite plant or flower?

NICK: SO SO SO hard. You know I love them all! I guess the plant I have the most of in my collection is Operculicarya decaryi. I could have 100 of them and be happy, but that is true of so many…

GBG: How did you get in plant business?
NICK: After years of finding myself spending every last bit of money I had on succulents and vintage pottery, I got the idea to buy a nursery.
GBG: Which succulents would survive the apocalypse?
NICK: Sempervivums- With a name that in Latin means “Semper (“always”) and vivus (“living”), there isn’t much else to say.
GBG: How did being an artist influence your career as a plantsman?
NICK: You know, this is what I think makes me different from most plantsmen. Instead of coming at this from a plant-first outlook, I come at this profession from a perspective rooted (no pun intended) in form, shape and design. I’m constantly bending plants over, torturing them and looking for the right planter to make them into a sculpture.
GBG:  When you were growing up what did you want to become?

NICK: Anything but a farmer which is what my father, grandfather, and lots of other family did for a living. Turns out that instead of farming alfalfa, I’m farming succulents.

GBG: Do you like to travel and where have you been?
NICK: YES! I’ve been all over Europe and more recently been traveling a bit in Mexico, especially Baja the past few years. I’d travel more but my family is young and it’s just not in the cards for me to be gone for long stretches. Luckily, I get asked to give lectures several times per year on various topics so to travel and document the trip can pay off… at least that’s what I tell my wife and accountant.
GBG: If you were an animal then what would you be?
NICK: (see below)

 

 

 

 

 

GBG: Would you rather have super strength or super intelligence?
NICK: Luckily, I was blessed with both.

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