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January 31, 2006

Great Gardening Advice from Across the Atlantic

Who better to get some good sound gardening tips than from the UK's Royal Horticulture Society (most famous for the Chelsea Flower Show). The RHS has a great website that gives tips on common gardening activities from lawn mowing to pruning. While these can be specific to Britain, there is a good store of general information as well.

Useful sections include:
Top Pests
Top Diseases
The Plant Selector
Popular Plants
General Advice Section

For more specific information from societies closer to home check:
American Horticulture Society
National Garden Clubs
All America Rose Selections
The Garden Conservancy
National Gardening Association

Posted by Michael O'Connell at 12:09 PM | Comments (0)

January 30, 2006

Design Review Tyrany?

San Francisco Chronicle architecture critic Arrol Gellner has a couple of very interesting takes of the state of design review and its increasing restrictiveness and emphasis on conformity. In Marin there are certainly some of the municipalities that are quite restrictive. There seems to be a correlation between the size of the municipality and the level restrictions placed on design. This is something that typically affects landscape projects less than building projects; but design review can get pretty restrictive even for landscapes. This is even more the case if the residence is in a PUD (Planned Urban Development) or HOA (Home Owners Association).

Read the first two parts of Gellner's Architext column: Design Review Boards Seem to Do More Harm than Good & Playing it Safe at the Cost of Originality

Art or Eyesore- Would this Rotterdam, Holland Cubic Condo Pass Design Review in the U.S.?

Posted by Michael O'Connell at 11:08 AM | Comments (0)

January 28, 2006

Free Viewer for Microsoft Project Files

There are times on large projects where a subcontractor, owner, or other interested party needs to view a Microsoft Project generated schedule, but with no viewer available from Microsoft this can be a problem. While there are 3rd party software applications available, these still cost money after a fixed demo period.

Fortunately, Project Viewer Central, has a free online viewer, that can allow people to view Project files anywhere (as long as they are smaller than 400kb). This is a good tool to view Project files on computers where project is not installed, or for owners or clients who need to view the information.

Posted by Michael O'Connell at 01:08 PM | Comments (1)

January 27, 2006

A Good Deer Repellant

We got a recommendation for an organic deer repellent for plants from a client recently. Plantskydd, developed in Sweden, is a non-toxic blend of blood meal and vegetable oils. Supposedly the material last 4-6 months after application, although we have not tried it on a project yet. The spray deters deer, rabbits, and elk from eating garden plants or vegetables.

Yet another weapon in the fight to protect plants against deer.

Posted by Michael O'Connell at 10:24 AM | Comments (0)

January 26, 2006

Progress Images- San Rafael Project II

Here is a follow up to the first round of images I posted from a current job in San Rafael, as we progress into the planting phase of work. These images show plantings laid out waiting client approval. We have this review step so that any changes that need to be made to the plan can be done before the plants go in the ground.




Posted by Michael O'Connell at 10:09 AM | Comments (0)

January 24, 2006


Greatplantpicks.org is an excellent resource for some plants that are good performers for residential landscapes. Based in Washington, their recommendations are geared for the Pacific Northwest, but most of the plants would do well in California too.

The website's mission is: "Designed to help home gardeners identify unbeatable plants for their Pacific Northwest gardens, you will find well over 300 Great Plant Picks with helpful information and pictures.

The program is targeted at gardeners in the maritime Pacific Northwest. This includes gardens north of Eugene, Oregon; south of Vancouver, British Columbia; and west of the Cascade and Coast mountains."

The .pdf sheets offer a great and easy rundown of their selections.

Sample of a plant sheet for one our favorites Carex 'Ice Dance'

Posted by Michael O'Connell at 12:47 PM | Comments (0)

January 23, 2006

Current Project- San Rafael

Here are some photographs from a project currently under construction in San Rafael. It features a large serpentine Sonoma Fieldstone retaining wall that will create a lawn terrace with plantings and trees to be installed along the street frontage.

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Posted by Michael O'Connell at 09:44 AM | Comments (0)

January 19, 2006

Alternatives to Lawns

The lawn is archetypal to the American landscape, it is one of the elements central to the planning of most residential gardens and commercial landscapes. According to the Sierra Club, Americans spend 8.4 billion a year on their lawns. This reflects how the lawn is one of the most maintenance intensive portions of any landscape- with mowing, watering, fertilization, weed control, aeration and dethatching required to keep a lawn looking its best.

Yet, despite all the maintenance and cost we still love our lawns. Typically lawns are desired for two reasons. Principally, lawns create a wonderful aesthetic. The lush green manicured appearance fits well with a number of design styles. The lawn's low uniform appearance also creates an illusion of space. And, despite the maintenance requirements, lawn maintenance is a sector of gardening much catered to, with mowers, fertilizers and training (kids mowing lawns on Saturdays growing up). The lawn if properly cared for is often easier to keep look pristine than some lawn alternatives.

Some designers and environmentalists espouse removing the lawn from landscapes, replacing it either with groundcovers that grow in a similar habit to a lawn, general groundcover plants, or with a meadow of taller grasses.

There are a couple of ways of considering alternative lawns. From an environmental standpoint, while using lawn alternatives on a residential scale would have some beneficial effect on water use and fertilizer and pesticide runoff, especially if aggregated on a large scale. However, a residential project here and there is not going to have a large effect. The commercial sector is where lawn alternatives make the most sense. Typically large tracts of lawn in apartment complexes, office parks and other commercial settings serve little functional purpose other than providing a familiar aesthetic. These landscapes also typically incorporate thousands of square feet of lawn, compared to the typical residential lawn of 500-1500 square feet.

So should a homeowner consider lawn alternatives for their residential project? It depends on what the lawn is used for and its place in the design and the environment where the lawn is installed. If the kids play football in the backyard a lawn is hard to beat. But if the lawn is just filling space of a traditional design aesthetic, there are alternatives worth considering. In arid areas, alternatives start to make more sense. The new Wynn Casino in Las Vegas for example, installed synthetic turf instead of traditional lawn.

For more on these alternatives visit the following sites that outline other types of plantings that can take the place of the lawn:

Sierra Club- Alternative Lawns
Clover Alternatives to Lawn Grass
Eartheasy Lawn Alternatives- Includes many groundcovers
Lesslawn.com- The name says it
Organic Lawn Management- From Wikipedia
Alternatives from Oregon State University
Wildflower Alternatives
SynLawn- Synthetic Lawn Alternatives

Posted by Michael O'Connell at 01:19 PM | Comments (0)

January 16, 2006

Fertilizing Lawns

A proper fertilization schedule is important for a thriving green lawn. Fortunately, the good folks at Scotts have good products and information available to guide gardeners through the best types, timing, and techniques for lawn fertilization.

In addition to the articles and product information, they also provide an Annual Fertilization Program Builder, best suited geographically by region. This guide recommends products and the best times to apply them for your particular type of lawn grass.

Also see Scotts general gardening information


Posted by Michael O'Connell at 08:49 PM | Comments (0)

January 12, 2006

Great Spanish Language Resource

Working in an industry with a large number of Hispanic workers, good Spanish language resources are important tools to communicate effectively. For example, the newer versions of Microsoft Word include a translation feature, which will translate items directly in word into Spanish.

Another great resource is the online dictionary WordReference.com. Often it is difficult to find compound forms of words in standard dictionaries. Word Reference provides translations based on differences in Spanish dialect and compound word forms.

An example would be that a car is coche, but a cable car is teleférico

Posted by Michael O'Connell at 12:41 PM | Comments (0)

January 10, 2006

Shrub Roses Equal Easier Roses

Sunset had a good article in this months edition on floribunda roses, otherwise referred to as shrub or bush roses.

The article underscored an important point, traditional hybrid tea roses (those with the large long canes and traditional flowers) can be a challenge to grow if afflicted with a number of ailments (aphids, black spot, mildew, rust, deer and others). Shrub roses give the same quality of roses without the work of traditional roses. One of our favorites is Coral Seas, which seems to bloom all year with beautiful and dense blooms.

For more on Rose care visit Ehow.com's informative articles.
Black Spot

This is a great time for bare root planting, visit Petaluma Rose Company for a great selection of roses

Posted by Michael O'Connell at 01:16 PM | Comments (0)

January 05, 2006

It's Photography- Art League of Northern California Exposition

Opening this weekend on Saturday evening is the Art League of Northern California's open photography exposition, "It's Photography." This expo was open to entries and one of my photographs will be in the show. From what I have seen so far, there are some very beautiful pieces, so it is definitely worth a visit.

Visit the show to see the piece entered. This related piece from Barcelona comes from the same set of photographs

Posted by Michael O'Connell at 07:01 AM | Comments (0)

January 03, 2006

Drainage for Residential Properties

This recent round of storms hammering Northern California underscores the importance of having a good drainage system to remove water from your property and keep your yard and house dry. Here are a few important points when considering a residential drainage system.

1- Connect house downspouts to drainage system
The water from your roof can cause the most problems if not properly drained away from the house foundation. Often the need for sump pumps can be eliminated simply by connecting all the downspouts and draining them away from the house.

2- Determine the best type of drain for each application
Surface drains work well in hardscape installations where water can be graded to collect in a point, or in softscape areas where there are fixed points of standing water. French drains work best in areas where there is sheeting or subsurface water, or where there is not a easy location to collect water in a surface drain. A french drain is a burried line of perforated pipe in a gravel field, which collects and transports water.

3- Use the right pipe
Flexible black corrugated pipe is best used in situations with French drains when it is surrounded by gravel drainage field, and when it is covered by protective drainage fabric, or a fabric mesh sock that is placed over the pipe. Corrugated pipe does not work as well for transporting water underground over distances. The corrugations trap silt, sediment and debris which can clog up over time. PVC Drain pipe is a better choice. Its smooth interior helps water flow without backups.

4- Where does the water go?
Drainage usually flows down hill, with common outlets being either day lit through to a curb and gutter, out into a back hillside, or in a gravel dispersion field underground, where it can percolate into the soil. The objective is to get water out of sensitive areas where it will damage the house or accumulate in the landscape.

Posted by Michael O'Connell at 04:41 AM | Comments (0)