Thursday, December 19, 2013

Top 10 reasons I do NOT use a gas-powered leaf blower (or any blower for that matter)

10) They burn non-renewable fossil fuel
9) They are noisy
8) They get EVERYTHING dirty
Neighbor's gardener used to blow leaves and dirt well beyond property line (never mind how dirty my windows got before he was fired):

7) They do not provide exercise benefits (as do raking and sweeping)
6) They are unhealthful to the operator
5) They blow away all the benefits of mulch and topsoil in the garden
View through a cloud of dust of a guy blowing leaves off lawn and sidewalk:

On close inspection, this does not seem to be helping the lawn:

4) They are unhealthful to plants (by covering plants in a layer of dust and by transferring to plants soil-borne pathogens)
3) They make neighbors angry
2) They make me crazy
1) Being told "[because you don't] you have the prettiest [garden] on the block"… ahhh

Monday, October 7, 2013

Sustainable Landscaping with Passive Stormwater Management in a Residential Garden: Three Case Studies

Discussed and pictured here are three small residential gardens in dry climates that receive infrequent but sometimes quite heavy rainfall and accumulation of stormwater. Each of these gardens meets multiple needs and receives intensive use, while passively accepting rain and encouraging infiltration, solving problems and creating opportunities within significantly different budgets.

Case Study 1:  This contemporary courtyard garden located in a mid-century development on coastal floodplain in Torrance, CA was designed for dog-loving, active grandparents of teens and a toddler, who are also engaged as artisan/art student and entrepreneur. They desired relief from battling seasonal flooding, a place for dogs to play, equipment storage, view-screening and privacy for relaxation on weekends, and an elegant entertainment space all within a mere 1,200 square feet. Patio and walkway paving consists of pervious concrete pavers bordered by large-scale Narrow Modular Pavers, all manufactured by Stepstone, Inc. a company located in nearby Gardena, CA. This surface is stable under feet or wheels.

Lawn was reduced to little "area rugs", totaling a mere 182 square feet. The lawn material, a hybrid of Seashore Paspalum (Paspalum vaginatum 'Aloha') developed by and trademarked to Environmental Turf Inc., was selected for its lower water use, ability to withstand inundation of water, deep color, trim appearance, and ability to repair itself from pet soiling/spots and active use. Lawn is professionally maintained using dedicated, hand-powered mower kept on site.

Pavers are laid over a base/sub-base of aggregate rock material kept separate from native soil by a layer of geotextile. This system allows stormwater to filter through pore spaces of pavers and aggregate material, gradually infiltrating the soil beneath.

In this case, significant ponding following rain events was eliminated, and the clients now have an outdoor entertainment area they can use year round. As is probably apparent from these images, the type of landscaping in Case Study 1 requires professional installation as well as professional design.

In-progress photo shows within the walkway -- lower center of photograph -- the compacted base layer within mortar-set narrow modular pavers (also by Stepstone) prior to installation of pervious pavers. Mortared pavers also form the mow strip around lawn sections.

Close-up of pervious paver (Stepstone, Inc.) Clients favored this aesthetic for its rugged texture as well as the way it contrasts with the smooth-sandblasted surface of mortared pavers shown alongside. This combination was not only a great solution to a significant functional problem in their garden, it very strongly states their industrial modern preferences.

"King" and "Queen" of the garden, Jasper and Juba, checking out their new digs.

Case Study 2: On the other end of the spectrum in aesthetics and budget is this simple "woodland cottage" garden. Located in Woodland Hills, CA on foothill drainage to north slope of the Santa Monica mountains in a quaint neighborhood of artists, artisans, and professionals this garden features a pathway surfaced in decomposed granite and steps formed with recycled lumber. Soil sculpting on the gradual slope mitigates run-off in both wet and dry (irrigation) weather. The steps and pathway evoke a mountain stream flowing down a gradual course, ending with large scale, round exposed aggregate pavers zig-zagging to form a stylized "alluvial wash" across the parkway.

The type of landscaping in Case Study 2 benefitted from professional installation as well as professional design. However, for homeowners willing and able to do heavy physical work and who are interested to learn aesthetic placement of plants, rocks and other materials, proper plant spacing, and plant selection to fit site conditions, it may well be within reach to "DIY". In this case, and owing to its urban, streetside location, drip irrigation, two stations only, was installed to be operated by automatic low-flow valves of brass construction and a secured and programmed, wired irrigation clock. Alternatively, irrigation system could be connected to hose-end adapters and set to run by battery operated timers. Or, with enough time on one's hands, irrigation could be done by hand only.

Path and parkway detail.

In progress image showing gentle soil sculpting and layout of in-line drip tubing to be disguised under mulch.

Generous layer of shredded mulch spread over drip tubing and after planting acts as wicking material to further improve soil retention and stormwater infiltration.

Case Study 3: This rear garden in an area of cold air drain at the base of north-facing foothills to the Santa Monica Mountains in Woodland Hills, CA utilizes every square foot for growing food, passive rain collection, testing plant material and landscape techniques, propagating plants, designing and creating container gardens, and entertaining. Compacted but un-stabilized decomposed granite over landscape cloth provides a porous surface for pathways and rain garden beyond. This surface is reasonably stable in dry weather. However, foot depressions and ruts from wheels can occur in wet weather.

Flagstone "landings" reduce migration of loose material to concrete patio at right in photo. Raised beds help amended soil within to remain loose and well-draining, while concrete-walled planters increase soil temperature for year round fruit and vegetable gardening.

The garden shown in Case Study 3 was professionally designed. The type of landscaping used benefitted from a combination of professional installation along with much of the work being done by the designer/owner (myself). While essentially complete, as with any "gardener's garden" it will always remain a work-in-progress. Citrus trees (top left) are mature. The balance is recent planting. What is shown here is the culmination of my experimentation, hands-on self-education in sustainable landscape design, and many project phases, spanning a 6-year period. Some of the features may be within reach of an ambitious "DIY" homeowner. However, it would take a fair amount of study and much more than a few weekends of heavy work to install!

Rain garden with planting selected for adaptation to both drought and saturated soil conditions, features volcanic lava rock reclaimed from a neighbor's landscape demolition.

Herb garden in Spring:

Herb garden in early Autumn:

This section of the herb garden with young dwarf citrus borders a patio along the west side of my home. It is mostly out of frame in the overview shot of Case Study 3. Here it is shown in closer view.

Herb garden -- foreground right -- with rain garden from center toward rear. (This photo was shot through a south-facing window.) In the background to right is my work "pavilion" with potting table, garden valve and grounded, covered electric outlet. Lattice above fence boards screen out unwanted neighboring views. The raised bed to the right center is where I am experimenting with a collection of succulent plants resembling coral and other undersea creatures. It will be the subject of a later post. Stay tuned!

Thank you for viewing my work. I welcome your questions and comments. For professional garden design services and consultations, I can be reached via my website:

All designs and photos: Janis Hatlestad, Better Earth Garden Design (

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Gateways to the Communities Exhibition at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden

Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, "California's Native Garden", is undergoing renovations. Today (April 5, 2013*), I treated myself to a day in the gardens, including a docent tour of the "California Plant Communities." Signage in photos tells more about that. It was a lovely day and I felt quite privileged to be on an extended 2-hour tour! Clearly the staff and volunteers are going all out to improve the visitor experience, water-wisdom, and aesthetic appeal of the garden. They've included clay pots with sample plant materials for budding botanists to explore. And, put to very clever use fallen trees, limbs, and unearthed rocks (aka "Claremont potatoes") in creating interpretive sculptures located throughout the newly mapped Plant Communities.

Welcome to Gateways to the Communities Exhibition at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden:

Flannel Bush (Fremontodendron cultivar) like this one needs plenty of room to spread. Best for a very large garden, although there are somewhat smaller selections (e.g. F. 'Ken Taylor'.)
Some horticulturalists will go to great lengths to screen garden patrons from neighbor's barking dog! Sculpture conceived and installed by Joshua Kreutzer, RSABG horticulturalist. Interpretive signage:
Santa Barbara Island Dudleya (Dudleya traskiae) sited on berm sculpted with Rocks and Dead Trees.
Busy Lady Beetle in a sea of petite posies.
Boojum tree (Fouquieria columnaris), a Baja native, is in same family with the more common ocotillo (F. splendens.)
Twig sculpture, by Dago Lopez and Joshua Kreutzer, represents a caterpillar, complete with "innards"... containers of host plant specimens.
"Caterpillar"... ahem... rear view.
Fuschia-flowering gooseberry (Ribes speciosum) has gorgeous, pendulous red flowers, just right for snacking if you are hummingbirds. If you are people, though, you're best advised to watch out for thorns!
I am crazy for the patterns created by sugar bush (Rhus ovata) flower buds just getting ready to pop. (Okay, maybe I am just crazy.)
Closeup of Island Bush Poppy (Dendromecon harfordii) flower.
Island Bush Poppy (Dendromecon harfordii), like many other Channel Islands natives is rare in the wild, owing to human impacts. Rancho, as botanic collection and its Grow Natives, native plants nursery are doing their part to keep this large and lovely shrub available, especially for coastal gardens with well-draining soils.
California Crossosoma or Rockflower (Crossosoma californicus) may not be as popular in gardens as other Channel Islands native plants, perhaps owing to its quite variable size. Frost tender, it struggles a bit in an inland location such as Claremont. If you're on the coast and have room in your garden to experiment, it will reward you with lovely papery white flowers like large apple blossoms.
Small-leaved rose (Rosa minutifolia), one of California's own treasured roses is native along Baja coasts and previously (but now extinct owing to development) in San Diego County. Adapted to a summer-dry climate, it is summer-deciduous (that is, it drops its leaves in summer.) However, it is in full, albeit tiny, foliage during wet winter months.
This yerba santa is tagged Eriodictyon sessilifolium, which appears to be native to lower Baja California. Its flowers caught my eye and its scent touched my nose.
A sea of meadowfoam (Limnanthes douglasii ssp. sulphurea(?)) catches a few cloud-dimmed rays of sunshine and brightens a grassy understory among oaks and other native trees. This annual herb, popular with native gardeners here in the south as well, is native in Northern California. It is found along the coast near Point Reyes if I've correctly identified.
To the left foliage of native iris cultivars await their flowery display, and to the right bloom coral bells (Heuchera 'Wendy', a 1984 Rancho introduction of John Dourley, if I am not mistaken.)
Closer view of same coral bells (Heuchera 'Wendy'?)
Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium bellum, not truly a grass but a diminuative member of the Iris family) is lovely in a native flower garden or a watered meadow. Here it and its companion, our State Flower the California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica), along with their foliage, form an iconic color palette from our native flora.
Busy bee, visiting a California poppy.
Wow, some California natives, like Parry's Beargrass (Nolina parryi) really know how to upstage a wildflower meadow!
Joshua Tree (Yucca brevifolia.)
"Communi-Tree" holding sway amid Fay's Wildflower Meadow, while pathway snakes by.

*Transcribed from post of April 5, 2013 on Facebook, includes correction and additional information.