Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Why are there no beacon/GPS clips on the ski slopes?

Way off the topic of gardening today, but due to the recent deaths of two local people snow skiing I got to wondering : Why don't ski resorts 'build in' beacons and or GPS devices into the skiers lift ticket ?

In the early 90's I was fortunate to go snow skiing in Switzerland. I started out skiing with new found friends but out paced them and went off on my own. It was a dream of mine to ski Zermatt and the Matterhorn and I wanted to 'really ski'.
When I attained my ski lift ticket I was handed a beacon. It was the size of a Bic lighter and I thought it was a pretty good idea.
How little did I know at that point in the morning how important a beacon could be.
Several hours into my joyous day of skiing on top of the worlds most beautiful glacier I found myself dangling 15 feet off the ground while taking a ground based pulley lift up the glacier. Part of the mountain had slid away. I didn't know if I should jump off the tow bar that was now wedge up my butt crack or hold on for dear life. I ended up jumping off when the the tow bar came closer to the ground. It was a good feeling to feel the ground beneath my skis.

Later on that same day I felt the oddest feeling. I was skiing across the mountain but the snow in front of me was moving. In a blink of an eye I realized I was in an avalanche. Out of shear luck I skied down and across with the slide and ended up on my butt surrounded by a foot of snow that was not moving.

I was totally dazed. My heart was pounding and my nervous system was freaking wacked out.
As I surveyed the site I visually found the ski lift and headed for it, following it down to the small hut that was stationed next to the load up ramp. No one was there. ( WTF ! ) I then took the trail back down to base camp. Along the way I noticed that something was glowing - the beacon.
I got to the base camp and was asked some questions and was accounted for.
I sat down, ordered a hot drink and decided I had enough skiing for awhile.
When leaving I handed over the now silent lifeless beacon, knowing that it may have saved my life if the snow had decided to roll a little differently.

I can't help wondering if the two skiers who recently lost their lives would be alive now if they had a gps beacon that would lead rescuers to them before they had died. The technology is there, why isn't is being used ?
If you ski alone or in sanctioned out of bounds areas, please take your cell phone or investigate getting a beacon.

Photo taken at base camp, Zermatt, Switzerland.
From Untitled Album

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The garden show (marketing) comes back around.

A couple of years ago we did an exhibition garden in San Francisco.
The design installed was a simple spa and meditation garden surrounded by a raised planter of bamboo.
From San Francisco Garden Show 2008

Today I’ll be meeting with a client who is in business negotiations to construct a new
spa , tea garden and retail boutique.
From San Francisco Garden Show 2008

This project sounds incredibly exciting to me and came to our office via the show
garden that we designed and installed a few years ago.

If all goes well this will be the second project that is not specifically residential that will be installed in 2011.
We are looking forward to the design installation of a new large outdoor dining area for an exciting new restaurant and entertainment venue in Marin next year.

My humble garden design roots got its start up on the Mendocino coast where I worked for small resorts and bed and breakfast inns perched on the edge of the powerful pacific ocean, installing, designing and maintaining gardens.
I’m looking forward to this type of design again that is open to the public that is meant to evoke resonant emotional responses and inspire people to spend quality time in these spaces.
Below, St. Orres Inn in Gualala, Mendocino county. photo taken in the early mid 80's.
From Untitled Album

Monday, December 13, 2010

You wear that boa well.

I was recently reminded of a fantastic trip I took with The Hortisexuals a few years back to L.A.
I decided to post a few photos from that trip showing some of the different gardens, landscape architecture, sculpture and horticultural delights.

This first grouping of photos shows some of the horticultural delights that caught my eye.

This bamboo vulgaris Vittata is a favorite. I have it planted in my yard but it enjoys a much more tropical climate than I can supply. Here it is loving the LA warmth.
From Untitled Album

Another plant that I adore but I just don’t have the warmth for it to perform to its potential perfection is the Giant Bird of Paradise , Strelitzia : Exotic !
From Untitled Album

Always a crowd pleaser, Agave attenuatta is another succulent favorite.
Here it is at a private garden and again in the Norton Simon museum garden
It makes a rather nice boa, don’ you think ?
From Untitled Album

From Untitled Album

From Untitled Album

Norton Simon Museum grounds
From Untitled Album

Euphorbias do well in my northern California garden
From Untitled Album

As do Ensete ventricosum Maurelii , red banana
From Untitled Album

And Geramium madrense and tillandsias. The silk floss tree, Chorisia/ Ceiba, doesn’t thrive in my area.
From Untitled Album

I love this bamboo fence and the surrounding mexican weeping bamboo , Otatea acuminata aztectorum
From Untitled Album

We had the opportunity to visit Jay Graham’s garden in Malibu. This is his staircase down to the lower garden and stable.
From Untitled Album

From Untitled Album

From Untitled Album

More photos of LA to come later showing sculpture , art and gardens.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Wholesale, retail, semi wholesale nurseries.

A word about nurseries

Coming from the perspective of a landscape designer who has been in the business for a few years who has worked in commercial, educational and retail nurseries as well as being on the purchasing end.

I patronize both retail, wholesale and semi-wholesale nurseries.
Each has their strengths and weaknesses.

I receive copious advertisements from my favorite garden nursery retailers.
I appreciate their cheerful colorful and very descriptive marketing blurbs.
These ads come in the form of email announcements, snail mail post cards/ newsletters and if I have linked to them via a social media site I also receive their advertisements on Facebook.
It’s nice to know when they are having a sale or just received a new shipment of whatever.
This marketing info comes to me on a weekly or monthly basis.
This marketing blast is reaching out to my 'retail buying' self. Not my wholesale buying self.

On an annual , quarterly and in some cases on a monthly basis I receive marketing information from my wholesale nurseries and or my plant brokers.
Their marketing material is usually in the form of their current availability list .
Most of the time there are few if any lovely photographs but plenty of hard core horticultural info.

Bottom line, a retail nursery markets different than a wholesale nursery because they have completely different customers.

For those who are not familiar with doing business with a large scale professional wholesale nursery the experience is quite different from retail shopping.

Photos : Strictly wholesale Nursery SweetLane Nursery in Santa Rosa CA :
From Untitled Album

First of all you have to be qualified to purchase from a wholesaler. This means having a resale license, a C-27 license , your landscape architectural license or have an established design and or design and build firm.
Bottom line, most wholesale nurseries do not want unqualified unlicensed gardeners in their nursery.

Most times you drive your truck down the lanes to pull your plants. Some smaller wholesale nurseries will have automatic electric carts for you to drive and a few of the smaller nurseries have nursery carts.
Usually I drive my truck or take the electric cart along with a clip board to list the plants that I want loaded and delivered to the job site.
Only occasionally do I Ioad my truck with plants. My Toyota pick up can hold only 80 one gallon plants and that is a pretty small amount of plants to buy when doing a garden installation.

Photo: Sweetlane Wholesale - rows upon rows of mugo pines.
From Untitled Album

Then there are the retail / semi- wholesale nurseries. These are usually small to moderately sized growers that have a retail store and a separate window for semi-wholesale customers. These nurseries offer a volume discount to those who are regular customers who may or may not have their licenses. They generally offer 25 to 50 percent off the retail price.
That can be a great deal of savings, especially to those who do not have the ability to purchase directly from a wholesaler.
This type of nursery often uses the same type of retail advertising that a retail nursery uses because they are sharing and targeting to the same type of patron.

A wholesale nursery does not want a retail customer to come to their wholesale nursery.
They sell their plants to an Independent Garden Center ( IGC) and often the marketing of the plants is left up to the IGC.

The IGC and the Wholesale nursery have to walk a fine line because often times the IGC does not want the public to know who they are buying their plants from and or the Wholesale nursery does not want to get calls from Jane Gardener looking for one or two plants.

That is why a wholesale nursery and a retail nursery market their wares differently.
They have different markets.

This leaves the wholesale marketing up to the retail nursery. In some cases some wholesale nurseries are ‘branding’ themselves, such as Monrovia and Proven Winners.
This is a smart idea but once again, they are walking a fine line because they do not want to have Jane and Joe Home Gardener calling their wholesale facilities looking for one or two plants but they want Joe and Jane to buy their brand plant from the retailer.

This puts advertising and marketing for the wholesale nursery in a unique spot.
They need to get their brand name out there but they have to rely on the retail nursery
to do the actual selling of their product.

It’s not as simple as selling Coca Cola or Colgate toothpaste. Each company makes their own specific brand.
But with nursery stock, if a plant is no longer under patent registration, anyone can sell an agapanthus or agave and to most consumers it doesn’t matter what ‘brand’ or company is hosting that plant, the only thing that matters is the low price.

Comparing a retail nursery business to a wholesale nursery business is like comparing apples to elephants.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Season's Greetings from Kermit

I received a nice phone call today from one of our stone suppliers, Bay Area Bluestone :
They asked if they could use an image from one of our landscape installation projects for their Christmas card this year.
Absolutely !
Seasons greetings to all.

( all that is missing is a red bow on one of the frogs ! )

From Water fountains in the landscape

From Water fountains in the landscape

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Dasylirion longissimum (Mexican Grass Tree)

From Untitled Album

- From the San Marco’s website:

Large plant native to northeastern Mexico with glaucous-green stiff unarmed grass-like 6 foot long leaves. The leaves radiate symmetrically out of a large woody trunk that can slowly but eventually grow 6 -15 feet tall. In the summer, a nine foot tall spike of small white flowers emerge from reddish buds. Plant in full sun to light shade. Drought tolerant and cold hardy to at least 15 ° F. A great container plant or focal point specimen in the garden. The older, bottom leaves can be trimmed off to expose the trunk. Also known at the Longleaf Sotol this plant has long been included in the Agave family (Agavaceae) but is now considered to be in the Nolinaceae family with Nolina and Beaucarnea. The specific epithet for this plant in reference books has gone back and forth between Dasylirion longissimum and D. quadrangulatum. In the most current reference we have available, the Illustrated Handbook of Succulent Plants: Monocotyledons edited by Urs Eggli (2001), the contributor for this section, Dr Colin Walker, lists Dasylirion longissimum Lemaire (1856) as the correct name with Dasylirion quadrangulatum Watson (1859) as a synonym.

We’re in the midst of a project located in an Oak forest in Marin County.
In choosing the plants for this garden we were empathetic to the existing surrounding landscape and keeping the garden low in maintenance and low in water use.

Two 15 gallon specimen Dasylirion longissimum where chosen as sentinel plants for either side of the entry stair way.

Other plants such as cistus salvifolia, arctostaphylos, coleomena, euphorbia , rosemary and lavenders were planted to work in harmony with the site.

From Untitled Album

From Untitled Album

Friday, November 19, 2010

Edible Herbal Landscaping

I’ve shared photos of this edible herbal garden before but haven’t really discussed it much.

This house and garden was designed in unison 11 years ago in Marin County.
The homeowner desired an Mediterranean styled garden reflective of her travels to Italy and France yet empathetic to our long dry California summers.

With this in mind a functional edible and herbal garden was designed.

Four large olive trees laid out in a bosque fashion provides a knitted canopy of shade to sit beneath on a hot summer day. These trees were irrigated for the first year and are now no longer dependent on any irrigation.

From California Gardening

From portfolioMay08.jpg

Herbal infusions of prostrate rosemary and drought tolerant lavender frames the rose gardens.

prostrate rosemary and climbing white iceburg roses. spring flush
From portfolioMay08.jpg

From California Gardening

From California Gardening

From California Gardening

An espaliered brown turkey fig tree drips with swollen fruit in August while the dwarf citrus trees are laden with fruit all year round. Creeping thyme clothes the checker board ground.

From California Gardening

From California Gardening

When I first saw this valley property in late spring it still had a foot of standing water covering most of the back yard.
To remediate the drainage problem a highly engineered drainage system was designed.
We did not have the advantage of connecting to a sewer system so all of the water that flows into this low lying property is filtered through a surface to subsurface filtration system on site. The drainage troughs are located under the gravel pathways.

From California Gardening

From California Gardening

There is a separate raised bed vegetable garden that produces abundant produce year round but the real working bones of this edible and herbal landscape can be found in the softscape layout of the garden.

From Potager Gardens

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Marin Hot-tubber

Marin Hot Tubber

George Bush the Senior once snidely commented ( and mispronouced ) that us Marin residents are ‘hot tubbers’. ( It’s pronounced Ma- rin George. )

Well wouldn’t you be too if you had great year round weather, fantastic views of the San Francisco Bay or had the chance to sit under the ancient canopy of some towering redwoods while soaking in heavenly hot water ?

Here’s an abbreviated example of some tub designs we’ve designed and installed.

Sunken into a teak deck surrounded by handcrafted local stone and lush gardens.
Looking east to the S.F. Bay
From Fizzy water boxes

Cloistered under a canopy of old redwoods
From Fizzy water boxes

With adjacent stone lounging terrace
From Fizzy water boxes

Located over a steep redwood ravine, this old style redwood tub is enchanting on a rainy night. ( excuse the knitted line in the panorama of the photograph )
From Fizzy water boxes

Another Marin tub strattling a steep down hill slope. This deck at its highest point is 17 feet above native grade. Looks so easy.... That’s the magic of a good structural engineer. Thanks Welliver Engineers !
From Fizzy water boxes

Set in a densely populated development this backyard design was able to squeeze in a hot tub, pool, outdoor kitchen and fireplace
From Fizzy water boxes

Inspired by my trip to Bali. This is my dream tub. It was designed for the S.F. Garden Show in 2008.
From Fizzy water boxes

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Give some thought to Thinking Gardens

A recent article published in the UK online E-zine , "Thinking Gardens"

Check out the link below. The published article has some photo images to go along with the essay.


Aspiring for excellence: Elevating the bar for Landscape Designers
NOVEMBER 1, 2010
This is a piece for landscape architects and gardens designers regarding the presentation of their work – though I wonder if the same applies in the UK?

A rap on the knuckles for careless designers from Michelle Derviss

It happens all the time and quite frankly it lowers the bar :

A ‘professional’ landscape designer publishes a ‘finished’ project photo into their online portfolio or on a web site set up for ‘professional’ landscape designers to peruse and interact on.

The photo is poorly composed, It was taken in harsh overhead light, the plantings were installed yesterday and the hoses and black plastic nursery pots are still scattered about the site.

Note to duhsigners : This is not good professional representation of your design work.

It doesn’t put you or your work in the best possible light and lowers the standards for the profession as a whole.

It’s no wonder landscape designers moan that they receive little respect. The bar has been set low.

A photograph speaks volumes and a poorly presented one will tell your audience, be it other designers or potential clients, that you are not ready for prime time playing, at least in the ‘professional’ category.

Look at the real professionals in our industry who are being published, are making waves and have a distinguished following.

Their portfolio images were taken in the proper lighting conditions, ie: early morning light, over cast illuminating light or the golden hour of sunset.

Their gardens are lushly mature, full of beautiful plants and have tastefully arranged furnishings complimenting the softscape and adjacent architecture.

Someone took the time to sweep the site, arrange the chairs, stage the ‘set’ and compose a photograph that puts the designers work in the best possible light.

These are our ‘professional designers’ and you can instantly tell the difference by looking at how they strive for excellence in the profession of landscape design.

If you have poor photography skills , hire a photographer. There are many available at a wide range of rates.

If you feel you can’t afford one then educate yourself in how to take a decent photograph.

And above all, choose a garden that has some age to it.

As a professional you should be keeping in touch with your recent past clients.

Not only does this speak well of you to your clients and their investments, it keeps you connected to one of your growing assets, a finished project waiting to be photographed in the best possible light .

Strive for excellence and bring up the bar by showing potential clients and your peers that you have completed beautiful works of horticultural and hardscape craftsmanship via a well composed and presented photograph.

Michelle Derviss

Friday, October 22, 2010

Organic , No Panic - Direct Deposit Method.

I call this compost set up "The Direct Deposit Method" .

I designed this as part of an educational exhibit for the 1990 San Francisco Garden Show.

Last week I babysat a friends bunny while they were away on holiday and I received so much joy from having
"Little Gray Elephant" that I am considering adding a bunny to my house hold.

The "Direct Deposit Method" of composting consists of having an elevated rabbit cage with a porous screen flooring.
The high nitrogen rabbit poop falls down into a compost bin directly below helping to activate the heat process.
Fallen leaves, grass clipping and veggie food waste that the rabbit does not eat , goes into the compost bin along with the
rabbit poop.
Easy peasy pie .... fast and easy..... and back into the garden it goes .

From random photos

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Artistic endeavors in pruning.

It’s just all too easy to dismiss or make fun of something that you may not understand.
Horticultural pruning seems to be one of those subjects.

If a heavily sculpted or renovated tree or shrub was seen in a middle class neighborhood one might say it was “butchered, devalued, defaced or just bad horticultural practices”.

But what happens when the same plant is severely pruned or cut back for renovation and it is at a world class horticultural institute ? Then it is not snickered at and upheld as good horticultural craftsmanship

This smacks of ignorance , or at the very least a lack of understanding.

Example :
Is this poor shearing or creative slight of hand ?
One see’s this type of shearing in many middle class neighborhoods.
This example happens to be at Filoli Gardens in Woodside CA
From random photos

How about this ?
This is a type of renovation pruning but some who may not have the experience to understand this type of pruning would mistake it as a hack job.
This is how you renovate a very old Taxus baccata .
From random photos

These are the same Taxus (yews) The light grey sheared tree in the front left and far rear centers are sheared olives at Filoli Gardens. When I worked at Filoli I was involved in a major renovation project of the Taxus hedge in the foreground. We cut it back to little stubs and within 3 months it was leafing out. It took a year for it to completely fill in.
From random photos

A residential middle class homeowner showing their artistic horticultural side is Tsck tsk’ed
From random photos

But this is acceptable . Silly isn’t it.
From random photos

Japanese cloud pruning is especially prevelent here in California.
If seen at Botanical garden it is upheald as art.
If it is done by a gardener in a commercial or residential setting it is devalued.

From random photos

From random photos

Would snarky remarks be made if you saw this residential garden ?
From random photos

How about this ? Surely the peanut gallery would find something to cackle about.
Now inform the ridiculers that this garden is going into a national trust for its artistic vision.
From random photos

From random photos

From random photos

Horticultural bullying is really not that attractive.