焼杉板 – shou sugi ban

A while back, a friend and I discussed the similarities between the composition of music and landscape design: things like contrast, counterpoint, melody, dissonance, and unity . And just as these elements have been mixed, remixed and reinterpreted into a multitude of musical genres, landscape design can be richly varied in style and expression and still be, in a very expansive sense, "good". The bland, "sameness" of much contemporary landscape "design" in many ways resembles what Elton John once lamented as the "sameness" of contemporary pop radio.

This might strike the reader as an odd way to introduce shou sugi ban, (the ancient Japanese technique of preserving wood through a controlled charring process), but stick with me and let me explain. 

Shou sugi ban (literally "burnt cedar board") was developed in medieval Japan as a way to protect wooden buildings from fire. As anyone who's tried to relight a cold, carbonized piece of firewood knows, this is an excellent (albeit non-intuitive way) to fireproof wood.

The process also arrests decay and repels insects without the need for chemical preservatives, paints and retardants. Up until the early 2000's, this was essentially a "lost" art in Japan. Modern cladding like plastic and concrete had largely replaced this traditional construction technique. Shortly after it was revived in Japan, architects all over the world, particularly in Europe, started employing the technique.

 Amsterdam design by architect Pieter Weijnen  

 Amsterdam design by architect Pieter Weijnen

 

But here's the cool part: rather than merely imitating traditional Japanese architecture, European designers integrated this technique seamlessly into contemporary design and the old was new again.

via Pintrest

via Pintrest

via Pinterest

via Pinterest

via Pinterest

via Pinterest

We've been incorporating shou sugi ban into our projects for a little over a year now- a technique we think dovetails perfectly with our goal of constructing beautiful, sustainable and unique landscapes for our customers. Here's a glimpse of some of what we've been working on.

Our 2015 Boise Flower & Garden Show Garden Pavilion: Friluftsliv

We'd like to extend an invitation to all our followers in the Boise area to come visit us at the 2015 Boise Flower and Garden show this weekend. As many of you know, we were given the honor to build one of the two lobby gardens for the show this year.

We've spent most of our winter "down time" conceptualizing and constructing a garden pavilion that we hope will inspire and challenge visitors.

Check out the link below for a taste of what you'll see.

We hope to see you this weekend!

Winter Injury

People have remarkably short memories, particularly in regards to the weather. While Boise and most of the West have enjoyed late spring-like temperatures since early February, we've watched (gloating a bit at times), as the east has been pummeled by an unrelenting winter.

I've heard folks describe our winter as one of the mildest they've ever seen in our area. So why do so many conifers that looked so peachy back in the fall now look this?



Or like this?



A recent post by a respected local garden blogger described it as the result of bitter cold we experienced earlier this winter. Cold? Yep. It got cold (1 F°), but only briefly and well within historical averages and certainly within the tolerance of the many conifers that were damaged this winter.

So what gives?

The short answer is it's not the cold per se, but rather the whiplash nature of the weather in November. We enjoyed a late gardening season with warm weather into November, and then we were nailed by a polar vortex that dropped temperatures from a high/low of 69 F°/46 F° on November 9th, to a high/low of 22 F°/1.2 F° less than a week later!

Some plants just have a really tough time riding these kinds of rapid transitions. One of the conifers that has struggled the most in Boise is the Hinoki cypress. I bet you can pick it out in this line up.



Here's another Hinoki cypress in my own yard.




And another Hinoki cypress in my parent's landscape. Note how green the bamboo looks (what winter?).



Another interesting aspect of this "whiplash weather" is how it impacted the same kind of tree so differently. A friend and I were puzzling this morning on why the White pine on the left fared so poorly compared to his buddy on the right. Southwest exposure? Wind protection/exposure? A difference in the water holding capacity of the beds on either side of the driveway? Go on, speak up if you think you know.




Unsurprisingly, I've had numerous calls and consultation requests during the last month. My advice? First, given our warm weather, seriously consider turning on your sprinklers early this year. Desiccation is really rough on a weakened tree. Second: be patient and wait to see if the tree pushes new growth. It may be June until you can really see the extent of the permanent damage. My prediction is that most of the pines will spring back. I'm not so sure about some of the Hinoki cypress (including my own).

An Artist's Garden

Local Boise artist, and all around classy lady, Ardith Tate, approached me last fall for ideas on how to convert a small common area into a sitting garden. Primarily turf, with a small foundation planting against her house and dominated by an adjoining parking area of concrete and asphalt, Ardith nevertheless enjoyed setting up her bright lime green garden chairs in the grass to commune with the outdoors and neighbors alike.


A stroll through her house to see her artwork and design sensibilities revealed that this was someone who’d be open to the unconventional. I didn't think a deck was a good option, I explained, because you’d feel perched above the parking lot and lose a certain degree of connection to the surrounding landscape (detached, raised pagodas and decks are often better for giving political speeches or hosting weddings).

Tossing the deck idea on its head, I suggested that we sink a patio area into the ground, taking a literal approach to being “in the garden.”  And since ruin gardens are cool again, I proposed a crumbling section of the surrounding retaining wall, à la Angkor Wat.


Concept Sketches






Measurement, excavation and construction (um, you called the utility locators, right?)






Retaining wall and patio construction (who needs laser measurement when you've got spare poly pipe?)










With the completion of the stone patio/walkway, and a little colony of Elfin thyme planted with a blessing to go forth and multiply over the garden ruin, we turned our attention to the planting scheme. Ardith had hoped that the new garden area would be a bit more waterwise; an easy task given that virtually anything (aside from domesticated rice?) would be an improvement over the turf grass we removed.

Dry woodland garden perennials aren't the obvious choice for a waterwise garden, but given their low water requirements relative to turf and the decreased footprint of the irrigation thanks to the hardscape,we were able to significantly reduce the irrigation needs of this small area. 

I dunno, Ardith, I'm kind of thinking the old lime green chairs would have been just fine...



A Year Later

As we accelerate through the final few days of 2014, it seems fitting to revisit a project that I introduced exactly a year ago today in a blog titled Draw!. We'd completed enough of the project at that point to compare with a patio concept sketch I'd completed earlier in the year.

                 

January of 2014 didn't provide us with ideal landscaping weather, but we persevered, completing the patio fire feature in February
.





By late summer the hardscape had been in for months and the plants had really begun to fill in.


Plant tapestry, anyone?





And so we come full circle. Happy New Year everyone!


Larry Miller Subaru Turf to Xeriscape Conversion



The folks over at the Boise Larry Miller Subaru had a problem: the two south facing areas of turf in front of their showroom looked nice enough, but demanded an obscene amount of water. Worse, over-spray from the broadcast irrigation was staining their shiny new Subarus.

As a sponsor/supporter of the Idaho Botanical Garden, naturally Larry Miller Subaru turned to IBG for turf alternative ideas. IBG horticulture director Toby Mancini, sketched up a plan that included creating berms in the two areas out of a specific soil "recipe" (25% organic compost, 25% fractured 1/4" gravel and 50% screened topsoil), especially formulated for xeric, zonally adapted plants. The plants he specified read like a list of the "who's who" list of dependable, drought tolerant and readily available specimens, perfect for the dry intermountain west. They included:

Philadelphus lewisii 'Blizzard'

Fallugia paradoxa


Agastache rupestris



Panicum virgatum "Heavy Metal'

              Nepeta racemosa 'walker's low'



Oennothera macrocarpa subsp. incan 'Silver Blade'®



Echinacea x 'Cheyenne Spirit'



Thymus pseudolanuginosus 


We jumped at the opportunity when Toby asked us if we be interested in the installation and were able to complete the project in a single day (including the conversion of the broadcast sprinkler system over to single source drip system for each plant*).


Clean up after a long day.



Fresh installation = lots of negative space. By mid-summer next year, the plants will really start filling in.



*I generally prefer broadcast irrigation because I believe it promotes good lateral root development as well as a vibrant soil ecology. This is a great example, however, where drip was the right way to go to eliminate wasteful over-spray as well as runoff from the berm. Our preferred approach is to loop a 1/4" line with 6" emitter intervals all around each plant, making sure that each 1/4" line is directly connected to a 1/2" feed line for even water volume throughout the bed and even distribution of water around each plant.


Industrial Park





While Corten is often associated with modern gardens abiding by rules of strict linearity and an emphasis on negative space, I was delighted to find panels of oxidized steel sprinkled throughout a woodland garden during a design consultation earlier this summer. The warm, earthen tones of the rusting panels leapt out of the shadows and contributed to a visceral feeling of movement throughout the garden. I took this as the starting point for the design of an  outdoor room in a woodland garden.





A concave 8' x 9' oxidized steel panel acts as the back wall and abstract focal point "painting" for the room. An arcing, andesite stone wall, green roof arbor and steel edging all add to the feeling of an open, yet delineated space within the garden.




A Yankee doodles.
In the process of developing the design, I experimented with using concentric circles as a way to bridge from the right angles of the home/patio to the fluid, curvilinear lines throughout the garden.











The vertical expression of these concentric circles (the panel, the arbor and sloping andesite wall) are all critical in defining the space.

A completed concept. No, wait- the rocks are too much.

The home is in a neighborhood nestled against the Boise river that provides a micro-climate achingly close to zone 7, with trace amounts of honest-to-gosh humidity and an actual water table; perfect for the dry, woodland, under-story plants we installed.


                                   





















Just another Mendelssohn/Front 242 mashup.


The process...

Before the intervention.
Construction of the andesite wall and steel panel base.

Kevin Knickrehm attaching the green
roof arbor to its i-beam armature.


I almost like it as well unplanted. Almost.
                                       
                                                       
                                                 
As I was flying by.


          

   

So We Left the Tree Zoo for a Night…

I’ll let you in on a secret: I've been complicit in my own kidnapping every father’s day for the last seven years. Regardless of how busy the landscaping season is, we ditch the City of Trees (AKA the tree zoo) and head to the mountains to see the real thing- the “real thing’ in this instance being an actual forest that doesn’t require my help to sustain it.*   

I ran feral in an eastern hardwood forest as a young child, so I’m always a little surprised to find myself surprised to see a self-sustaining forest.  Boise is a great place to live, but by the middle of June the foothills have already lost their brief, verdant veil and begin to don an increasingly washed out, brown aspect.



What a difference 60 miles and several thousand feet of elevation can make.



The old Forest Service guard house we lovingly refer to as our “time share”,  sits next to Beaver Creek about 30 miles north of Idaho City. Hiking east along Beaver Creek will connect you to the Crooked River trail system and more wild trees than you can shake a stick at. And not just trees but shrubs, grasses and forbes with nary a drip emitter to be seen!



The very underutilized Buckwheat (Eriogonum).

Perennial geranium




Wild heuchera happily anchored in a granite outcrop.


Color. Texture. Form.

When I combined sedum & heuchera in this project, a friend remarked how odd they thought this combination was.  Ha!



First time I've seen this wild clematis. I definitely need to find out more about this plant!



Yep, that's a landscaper's hand.

Back to Boise.

*   Full disclosure/laborious backstory: When I was MUCH younger, I rappelled out of helicopters to suppress fires in an effort to “sustain” the forest. This wasn’t too long after Yellowstone had erupted into an enormous bonfire. Debate still rages on in regards to proper “forest management”, but for the sake of the story can we just forget about life in the so called Anthropocene? Please?

The Vertivore's Edible Green Wall




If I was to draw a Venn diagram showing the overlap of my gardening and landscape interests, you'd probably find edible green walls smack in the center, next to medieval Japanese stonework and my fig tree.

Oh look, I did.




Up to this point I've mostly written about green walls as an ornamental element, but vertical space is also a terrific place to grow an edible garden. My long term goal for our own property is to place an edible component within three or four steps anywhere on our acre. We're lucky to have so much room, but with the continuing trend of urbanization and smaller lots, many people don't have the room to grow greens and veggies conventionally. But if you've got a wall, there's a way.


Skyfarm: Gordan Graff

Optimistic futurists love to present us with images of a biophilic, urban paradise not too far away.  Heavy on stunning visuals and light on actual details, this hazy vision usually includes rendered images of urban agriculture on the walls and rooftops of the city skyline.

Part of a larger concept called Agriculture 2.0, this discussion of urban of food production rarely takes into consideration some of the problems that need to be solved to make this vision real.

Soil based green wall systems, for example, are very heavy, requiring serious engineering for the support armature.  GLTi's 2,380 square-foot living wall in Pittsburg has an estimated weight of 24 tons when fully saturated. Some have even described this kind of urban farming as financially nonsensical.*

Personally, I think it makes a lot of sense, if the design challenges can be addressed. To that end I started experimenting a few years back (successfully, I might add) with a lightweight mineral wool system.

So far, we've grown nasturtiums, chard, tomatoes and dozens of varieties of herbs including rosemary, thyme, sage, mint, basil and oregano.


































This year I plan to try out collard greens, rainbow chard, spinach, rapini and cabbage.

Rest assured I'll be sharing pictures of our edible green wall through the season.


*But the author seems to have some internal conflict on the matter as demonstrated by this article.

How To Prevent Your Tree From Falling Over

Far too many Boise trees blow over during relatively light wind storms. It's in the tree's best interest not to perform a faceplant, so why does it happen so often?
Based on years of post mortem evaluation, Jason shares tips on how to prevent your tree from falling over. Head on over to the D&B Supply blog for more.
~Stacy

Dem Bones ... The Importance of Scale and Style in Hardscape Construction

I've yet to be involved in a project where the home and the landscape are designed at the same time (does that even happen anymore?). Generally, I'm given a completed plan view of a house perched on abstract topography. This is my opportunity to get the bones of the landscape right the first time around.

What do I mean by that? Most of our installation projects consist of improving existing landscapes. Often this involves adjusting the scale and style of the hardscape components of the landscape (things like patios and walkways), to compliment the scale and style of the home; details that should have been considered the first time around.

I'm astonished at the amount of effort and creativity in home design that promptly stops at the outside edge of the home, but you certainly won't find me complaining. Every undersized 4' x 8' patio paired with a 4000 sq. foot house is just another project in waiting.

Here's the plan I originally received for a job we're currently working on.

Deliciously blank.











Later the architect gave me an updated plan showing the driveway sweep and proposed entrance walkway (floating rectangles that somehow resolve the 5 foot elevation difference between the driveway and the front door).







This thumbnail sketch of my counter proposal for the entrance walkway reveals a less direct route to the front door. This is where I am trying to set the cadence and tone for the entire landscape, taking cues from the architecture and style of the home. (Read: creating the illusion that the home and landscape were actually designed in thoughtful tandem.)







Home construction delays put this project so far out that I'd nearly forgotten about it, but following a break in the cold weather, the entrance walkway was finally installed last month.




There's quite a bit of work yet to do (for example, covenant restrictions require all vertical surfaces to be natural stone, cultured stone or stucco), but it's gratifying to see a harmonious setting for this magnificent home finally begin to materialize.

Updates to follow (more hardscape and then here come the plants!) ...


10 Mile Interchange Hellstrip


Fitter, happier
Am I the only one who finds this repeating motif on the new(ish) Ten Mile Interchange just a bit creepy?

Aside from the undertones of Orwellian Maoist thought control, The Ten Mile Road Interchange in Meridian, Idaho represents a subtle change in public works projects around Ada County. Gone are the days of shoulder to shoulder asphalt and concrete. Honest to goodness, live plant material and permeable surfaces are beginning to be incorporated into new design.

But, as I was often reminded as a child, they don't give you a medal for good intentions, so let's perform some taxpayer deconstruction of the project.

PLANTS


Behold, an Idaho winter: a washed out/monochromatic sky meets a washed out/monochromatic planting bed.

What? I'm not being fair because it's February? While it is true that last summer there was a lovely succession of color here, compliments of Echinacea purpurea, Coreopsis verticillata, Perovskia atriplicifolia, Gaillardia, and Leucanthemum x superbum, they are all now distant herbaceous memories from a half forgotten warm season.





Winter "structure" is mostly provided now by the skeletons of miniature Berberis, the carcasses of winter kill Lavendula, prematurely trimmed ornamental grasses, and the much maligned Yucca filamentosa.

(Incidentally, I swear I will punch the next person who tells me that "there's a reason they call them YUCKas". I mean, cut them a little slack, they are the only plants in this bed providing any real color for five months of the year!)



I think lavender is great and I probably overuse it in my designs, but what is there not to like? It's mildly drought tolerant, the bees love it, it smells terrific and it blooms for months.

There are plenty of varieties of  lavender that are dependably hardy in our area, but I'll be surprised if even half the lavender in these beds wake up in the spring. They really don't catch a break between the basalt "mulch" heat sink in the summer and snow plows and drunk drivers in the winter.

Which leads us to...


MULCH/HARDSCAPE

Un-shaded asphalt surfaces can reach temperatures as high as 160 degrees. A planting bed surrounded on all sides by asphalt and concrete receives a tremendous amount of this as reflective heat. What is the logic of using dark, basalt mulch in the beds to further heat up the poor plants?

Crushed basalt is also a nightmare to maintain.




Another observation: the median beds are elevated, surrounded by slope faced curbs. Perhaps a better approach would have been to match the planting grade with that of the road and install curb cuts for passive rain harvesting?

IRRIGATION


The purple cap on the popup gives us the heads up that non-potable water is being used. In many areas of the country that means reclaimed, grey water with potential problems associated with salt build up. Not here. Snow melt is what built Boise and our urban forest and I'm so pleased to see it being used in place of domestic water.

As a card carrying member of the "green industry" I'm expected to hate broadcast sprayers and embrace drip lines and micro-irrigation, but too often micro-irrigation = dead plants. This is partially due to incorrect installation (single emitters rather than grid installation), but also because our soil has lousy capillary action resulting in uneven distribution of water and poor root development.


CONCLUSION

There's a lot to like about this project- for about 8 months of the year anyway. Swapping out even half of the standard army-green Yucca filamentosa with a variegated form (Yucca filamentosa 'Bright Edge' or 'Color Guard'), or the bluish Yucca rostrata would give this planting a lot more punch during our indeterminable "gray season".

The damaged lavender along the edges of the median strip should probably be replaced with a tougher, semi-evergreen perennial that can take the heat and drive-over damage; maybe Penstemon pinifolius or Arenaria 'Wallowa Mountains'?

Since I'm feeling generous, I'll say that the crushed basalt "mulch" is slightly better than paving over a garden bed.  I'd really like to see an organic mulch installed (or at least light colored, porous sandstone if you must have rock). I'm sure the crushed basalt was installed out of an assumption that an organic mulch would blow out onto the street and the rock would stay put. You can see how well that's working.




Yucca rostrata in Turf

photo credit: Ocean Blue
Here's a little advice: if you see a garden you like, take a picture of it today because it might be gone tomorrow. This was the case with a terrific xeriscape installed along lower Fairview Avenue in Boise five or six years ago.

Framed by two specimen sized Yucca rostrata, the unknown landscaper nailed it with a beautiful composition that wasn't quite riotous cottage garden style nor an uptight, rectilinear, modernist's garden- but rather a pitch perfect hybrid of the two. Hesperalo parvifolia, Agastache, Muhlenbergia and a half dozen other plant varieties I can't remember were combined with three triangulated, lichen covered boulders. Before I was able to take a photo (those were, after all, the days before decent cell phone cameras) all but the Yucca rostrata had been ripped out.

In it's place, someone decided to plant turf, and because the new business was an artsy, graphic design firm, a token Cor-ten weathered planter was installed with a crisp line of Equisetum.

I blame the turf indirectly on the Japanese architect, Tadao Ando and his preoccupation with horizontal planes. Many (most?) of his buildings sit at right angles to a plane of water or turf grass.


Photo courtesy of the Clark Institute
Photo credit:  Tomas Riehle 2004


Clean, calming, serene? Sure. Sustainable? Maybe in Kentucky. Never the less, this informs the aesthetic sensibilities of a great number of people I know personally in the creative fields. These are decent people who recycle, bike to work and support their local farmer (and landscaper) but can't let go of their favorite monoculture.

But back to the landscape and the Yucca rostrata...

Here's how the makeover looked a year or so after the turf/Cor-ten was installed in place of the xeriscape.

Photo credit: Google street view September 2011

I was pretty convinced that the Yucca rostrata would be dead by year's end. After all, the irrigation needs of turf grass and yuccas don't typically parallel. I'm pleased to report I was dead wrong.


Both have grown at least two feet in the last two and a half years.

 



No sign of my other prediction: string trimmer damage to the trunk.

While I wish the original xeriscape had been left in place, I'm pleased the specimen size Yucca rostrata are doing so well. I'll be employing Yucca rostrata in several installations in 2014.





Tracking the Natural Range of Trees by Annual Precipitation Rates

When I started preparing for my 2014 tree care presentations earlier this year, I realized I needed to rework one of the most important parts: explaining why irrigation is so important for Boise's urban forest. Many folks simply cannot grasp that the vast majority of these trees would not be here without supplemental water (whether or not this is sustainable, good, bad or meaningless is a rich topic for a future blog).

I blame this on the suspiciously apocryphal story of how Boise got it's name. It goes something like this: French fur traders exclaimed "Les Bois!" as they crested over a rise and saw the poplar lined Boise river below. When I hear this I can't stop imagining Herve Villechaize in a bearskin cloak, shouting "De trees! De trees!

My presentation strategy this year is to shock and awe my audience with a spread sheet. That's right, I'm going to Blind Them With Science! 

The idea is pretty straight forward. Most of the trees in our urban forest are native to the hardwood forests of the eastern Unites States. Those forests start to disappear past the Mississippi right along a magical line of demarcation where the precipitation drops below 20 inches a year. Here are the facts of life: Mountain Home gets an average of 7.62" of precipitation, Meridian gets 10.94", Boise 11.73". No water. No trees. *

Growing up first as a Marine Corp brat and then later a Forest Service brat, our family slowly moved westward from North Carolina, to Indiana, on to North Dakota and then zig-zagged across the basin and range interior west. It was a slow motion lesson in how precipitation shapes ecology.

For my presentation, I speed up this lesson by picking a common shade tree, the Silver Maple, and track it's natural range. By finding the western edge of the range and comparing that to the annual precipitation of that edge, we can infer the low end of the Silver Maple's annual water needs.

So why just pick a couple data points? I decided to find towns and cities with the highest and lowest precipitation in every state (courtesy of weatherDB). The data backs up what we know to be true, that is, precipitation begins to taper off in Nebraska, Minnesota, Kansas and Oklahoma. West Mineral in eastern Kansas, for instance, has an annual precipitation rate of 46.89", while Coolidge on the far western edge gets 16.82".

So take a look at the numbers. Basin and range topography starts to mess with the gradual decrease in precipitation as you move west**, and there are a couple unexpected anomalies (what's with Bell City, Louisiana 30 miles from the Gulf of Mexico?), but the numbers support my assertion that an urban forest in the arid west composed primarily of eastern hardwoods is by definition an artificial construct, albeit a beautiful one.





Alabama

13.54” (Jones)
70.73” (Brooklyn)





Alaska

3.8” (Prudhoe Bay)
156” (Whittier)





Arizona

3.3” (Yuma)
23.91” (Superior)





Arkansas

41.83” (Peel)
58.82” (Sulphur Springs)





California

2.85” (Anza)
84.36” (Smith River)





Colorado

7.04” (Monte Vista)
30.82” (Idaho Springs)





Connecticut

42.74” (Bridgeport)
58.83” (West Hartford)





Delaware

41.59” (Little Creek)
45.91” (Cheswold)





Florida

42.97” (Salem)
70.73” (Century)





Georgia

43.57” (Keysville)
80.96” (Pine Mountain)





Hawaii

11.96” (Kailua Kona)
240.02” (Volcano)





Idaho

7.62” (Mountain Home)
               42.43” (Elk River)





Illinois

33.35” (Arlington Hills)
50.21” (Joppa)





Indiana

36.58” (Buck Creek)
51.17” (Rome)





Iowa

26.38” (Larchwood)
40.91” (Russell)





Kansas

16.82” (Coolidge)
46.89” (West Mineral)





Kentucky

38.64” (Flatwoods)
57.73” (Cosplint)





Louisiana

14.93” (Bell City)
67.26” (St. Bernard)





Maine

33.6” (Saint Agatha)
56.72” (Cherryfield)





Maryland

37.36” (Flintstone)
50.2” (Oakland)





Massachusetts

42.55” (Orange)
53.42” (Avon)





Michigan

41.14” (Lacota)
23.82” (Iron Mountain)





Minnesota

20.65” (Kennedy)
36.5” (Whalan)





Mississippi

50.22” (Lake Cormorant)
68.88” (Wiggins)





Missouri

33.57” (Mound City)
52.26” (Lesterville)





Montana

7.2” (Red Lodge)
37.96” (Saltese)





Nebraska

14.21” (Henry)
34.84” (Douglas)





Nevada

3.66” (Luning)
23.74” (Glenbrook)





New Hampshire

38.03” (Plainfield)
98.87” (Randolph)





New Jersey

40.01” (Ocean City)
52.39” (Dover)





New Mexico

8.28” (Sanostee)
30.28” (Mescalero)





New York

30.8” (Springwater)
62.69” (Bearsville)





North Carolina

39.96” (Wagram)
90.51” (Balsam Grove)





North Dakota

13.98” (Grenora)
25.2” (Abercrombie)





Ohio

31.48” (Farmer)
47.71” (Harrison)





Oklahoma

15.79” (Felt)
56.14” (Broken Bow)





Oregon

8.92” (Boardman)
122.28” (Depoe Bay)





Pennsylvania

33.05” (Tioga)
54.21” (Brownfield)





Rhode Island

43.58” (Block Island)
51.42” (Smithfield)





South Carolina

39.96” (Tatum)
80.96” (Mountain Rest)





South Dakota

14.52” (Ludlow)
31.34” (Jefferson)





Tennessee

73.49” (Gatlinburg)
41.01” (Kingsport)





Texas

8.93” (Fort Hancock)
64.2” (Orange)





Utah

5.23” (Monument Valley)
34.42” (Brian Head)





Vermont

33.64” (North Hero)
55.84” (Manchester)





Virginia

35.28” (Timberville)
52.78” (Tyro)





Washington

7.42” (Royal City)
115.62” (Amanda Park)





West Virginia

33.02” (Kirby)
59.87” (Snowshoe)





Wisconsin

23.82” (Dunbar)
37.86” (Belmont)





Wyoming

6.48” (Big Piney)
22.11” (Moose)














*OK, that's a bit too simplistic. We do have riparian trees that cling to the banks of our waterways like a mercy seat, but the only native, non-riparian, deciduous tree in our area is the shrubby, brutish Celtis reticulata.

**Idaho City, for example, is 36 miles northeast and 1200 feet higher than Boise and receives 27.95" of precip. compared to Boise at 11.73".

Clearance Pruning Mature Trees



Back in the prehistory of the last millennium, Stacy and I headed down to Florida for our honeymoon.  I snapped a shot of this southern live oak (Quercus virginiana) in St. Augustine.  The ancient tree looks as if it's about scoop up and run off with my new bride.

Low, lateral branches like this are a kid's best friend.  Which is why, a Boise forester explained to me, city trees are limbed up long before they can develop these low branches.  A pity.

A pity too that upon occasion, mature trees need to be trimmed because of clearance issues.  Better to take out just low limbs than an entire tree though, and better to perform the trimming in such a way as to minimize the stress on the tree.


A new driveway is scheduled to be installed right under the large, low limb of this ash.  Rather than make the Airstream slated to be parked there do the limbo, the owners asked me to trim up the tree (arborists call this "raising the canopy").


Removing large limbs on a tree creates open wounds that make the tree more susceptible to disease and pests which can then lead to decay.  It's critical that pruning cuts are performed correctly to expedite the healing process. This healing process is accomplished by a process that the late Dr. Alex Shigo called the "Compartmentalization Of Disease In Trees" (CODIT).  Cells form walls around the wound, effectively quarantining the area to prevent the spread of decay to the rest of the tree.      

So, where and how do you make the cut?  Let's take a look.

Preparing for the first cut.  (Yes.  I will get off the branch first, smarty-pants.)
It's very easy to see the demarcation between the branch and the trunk of the tree in this photo.  That line is called the branch bark ridge, and it's where the bark from the trunk joins the bark of the branch.

Nestled in the branch bark ridge is another area called the branch defense zone.  Cells in this area are responsible for the growth of woundwood that will ultimately grow over the cut.


Woundwood callous is close to sealing off pruning cut
If the branch collar is damaged (often by flush cuts), the woundwood will not grow from the damaged area.  This prolongs the tree's susceptibility to decay.




These branches weigh hundreds of pounds so the standard three cut process ain't gonna work.  I trim the branch in small sections, working my way in from the tip until I have a piece small enough to hold.  An undercut a quarter of the way up, and a final cut from the top (carefully trimming along the branch bark ridge), and viola!  A clean cut.







Remember, not all branch bark ridges are perpendicular to the trunk of the tree.  Take a close look before you cut!








Half a day later...





































From start to finish.



Saguaro Canyon, Idaho

Out of all the bizarre, pre-recession themepark residential developments in the Boise area, Saguaro Canyon in Meridian gets my pick for the best.  All those Tuscan villas, the Carolina antebellum neoclassical architecture, and Sun Valley inspired landscapes with aspens full of borers aren't even in the same league.

Sadly, you'll not find a single saguaro at Saguaro Canyon, but you will find a rare collection of specimen sized yuccas and Joshua Trees strangely interspersed with more commonly found Deodar Cedars and Weeping Sequoias. 

An ambitious experiment in landscaping with plants of questionable hardiness, this is what Saguaro Canyon looked like shortly after it was completed.



Ferocactus wislizenii and friends....





















At the entrance you're greeted by a who's who list of Sonoran/Chihuahuan superstars.  And, just to make sure you get the subtle vibe of the place, massive slabs of Arizona sandstone were installed as a backdrop.






A sexy night time shot a little further in illuminates Yucca  filamentosa x thompsoniana, Yucca brevifolia,  Cylindropuntia imbricata,  Agave havardiana,  Fouquieria splendens and Opuntia x somethingoranother.


I stopped by a few weeks ago in the bitter cold to see how our southwest friends were holding up.  By this point, I figure that we should be able to get a decent sense of what will survive and what won't.

Let's fast forward five years after the installation was completed ...



On a cold and snowy day...

The sandstone is still there, as are the Deodar cedars, the weeping sequoias and spruce....




A leashed Yucca  filamentosa x thompsoniana trying to make an escape.



The lone Agave survivor.  A. neomexicana?  A. havardiana?  You tell me.  A Yucca baccata sulks in the background.


Yucca  faxoniana on the right.





Cylindropuntia imbricata looking to tangle with anyone dumb enough to amble by.


No sign of the narrow Fouquieria splendens (bummer) or even  the Opuntia polycantha. Unsurprisingly, Ferocactus wislizenii has also left for the great desert in the sky (it was a nice idea, though).  The oft planted Yucca filamentosa 'Color Guard' looks to have been added later.



Driving a bit further into Saguaro Canyon you start to see specimen sized Yucca faxonia as well as more Yucca  filamentosa x thompsoniana (or is it Yucca rostrata?)




















Yucca brevifolia
The most gratifying part of the visit was seeing just how well the Joshua Trees are doing.

Scattered throughout the common area landscape, all the specimens look to be thriving. 





















     A veritable yucca copse!



The clubhouse.

All I'm gonna say is that cultured stone looks better in photographs.


Another Yucca faxonia nestled against a south facing wall.  It's where I'd be if I was a yucca forced to live in Idaho.



Yucca baccata hanging with his pal Ephedra equisetina
















Cercocarpus trimmed into tidy little snow cones. 

Why stop there?  Surely the Chrysanthemum nauseosus could be trimmed into fish and flying monkeys?







So, we've got a clear idea now of what will survive in southwest Idaho, right?  

Not really.  

Sure, I didn't expect the Ferocactus wislizenii or the Fouquieria splendens to overwinter, but what happened to the hardy Opuntia or the Festuca idahoensis?  I think this hints at some irrigation issues, but it's hard to pin down how soil, drainage and other factors played into the plants' success or mortality rate.

I'm pleased that the Idaho Botanical Garden now has a xeric test garden where these factors can be measured and controlled.  In a couple of weeks I'll be sharing a picture tour of that as well.




1001 Blogs You Must Read Before You Die

'Cause, what the world needs now is another folk singer like I need a hole in my head.
~David Lowery

In the spirit of New Year self-reflection, I pose this question: does the world really need another garden blog?  I've been writing in what could be kindly described as a leisurely manner since 2009, but I've yet to declare my raison d'etre.

I promise to keep this short, but let's backtrack to 1979...


I still remember the day my Dad brought home ELO's Greatest Hits.  The instantly accessible melodies and faux symphonics dovetailed perfectly with the classical music and Beatles I'd been listening to all my young life.  So when I first read that Jeff Lynne had once said that ELO was formed to pick up where I am the Walrus left off, it kind of made sense.  The problem is, he never said it.


But there it was again.  Reading through my new copy Stacy gave me for Christmas of 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, I noticed the review of ELO's 1977 Magnum opus, Out Of The Blue made the same reference to I am the Walrus.

There's probably not a great deal of harm done by misquoting some frizzy-haired musician who's managed to hang on to the same set of sunglasses since 1974.  The problem is, I see this kind of thing happening a lot in garden/landscape blogs: the dissemination of information that has a ring of truth to to it, but is patently false.  Blogged.  Reblogged.  Over and over again.


So am I some sort of self-appointed gatekeeper?  John the Baptist in the Wilderness? Nah, I'm just a punk who doesn't have a problem pointing out that the Emperor left his pants at home.

The first time this happened I was still under the naive assumption that everyone is seeking the truth.  I'd been chatting with some Dr. so and so at a local Ag supply outfit about soil conditioners when the conversation turned suddenly to his research into the recent "billbug epidemic in turf grass".  

Innocently enough, I remarked that I had heard of this infestation but had yet to see it in the hundreds of properties that we cared for.  I went on to tell him that, in those instances where customers thought they had billbugs, it turned out to be problems related to sprinkler coverage and exposure - both problems which could be mitigated by relying less on turf in landscape design.  He threw me out of his office.

Sitting in my truck in the parking lot, what should have been clear all along suddenly became obvious: tacking on a "Dr." to the front of your name doesn't make you any more of a truth disseminator than a contractor with stained Carharts.  Dr. so and so's agenda was simply to create a new revenue stream to the business.  New infestation = new product to sell.

I'm still on the look out for billbugs and I will continue to keep an open mind about these kind of things but, ultimately, I'm going to rely on the gardener's best tool: our own power of observation.

So does this world need another gardening blog?  It does if said blog has something interesting to say and speaks truth to power, money, misinformation, greenwashing, trendiness, elitism, pseudoscience and just plain bad taste.

But it's not all about being a contrarian. In future posts I'll flesh out what xericoasis actually means. I'll also continue to share thoughts and pictures from the field, spanning the whole arc of Willowglenn's services, as well as gardening, cooking (and eating!) in our own urban acre.

Here's to a fantastic 2014!




Draw!

Years ago, Stacy and I  frequented an Italian restaurant tucked into the flank of a non-descript strip mall. The food was obvious but delicious, and the music was the kind of non-offensive but cacophonous jazz that I know I'm supposed to like. After years of buttered scallops, gnocchi and Chianti, I started developing a Pavlovian response to the music. To this day, background jazz playing at the vet, the auto repair shop (cool cats, those guys), or the Post Office prompts an instant and irrational desire for focaccia and olive oil.


Nature hath no muse equal to thy crumpled splendor.
Similarly, the sight of a crumpled napkin or envelope and a well nibbled pencil inspires me to draw landscapes. This is always the origin of any of my landscape designs. It's a relaxed place without mistakes, expectations or a fixed destination. It's fun.

My nine year old introduced me to a perfect word to describe this process: adumbrate. It's similar to foreshadow without the spooky or negative connotations.



So, enough adumbration already!  Let's jump into what this post is about: early-in-the process sketches of some of our landscape projects.



Thumbnail sketches are a great way to contrast and compare disparate surface materials as well as reconciling elevations. With this illustration, I was exploring ways of transitioning from the formal granite surface of the upper patio to the informal stone patio and fire feature below it.


































The simplest lines can capture the essence of an idea: a wall-mounted recirculating water feature to psychologically enclose a patio.

















More elaborate sketches can help refine the architectural style of the hardscape and how it relates to the topography of the site.












This is typical of the built out version of a sketch: less elaborate with cleaner lines.






A few months back I completed a series of exploratory sketches to try out different ideas for a bocce court construction project.



Here's another case of uber-simplification in the build out. We stuck with the timber frame for the bocce court, but jettisoned the stacked ends. We also cut out the benches and firepit but used the drystack andesite for terracing and to delineate rooms and corridors within the new garden space.



I sketched this out to understand the slope of the site.  I envisioned the wall emerging out of the slope as if it had been recently excavated in an archeological dig.







Once the ground thaws, we'll partially cover up the back side to create the "hey this has been here all along" charade, but let's just keep that secret between us, okay?





The next stage in this same project will be the construction of a three level patio space that will be the heart of the landscape.

The upper portion of the patio (a formal outdoor dining space) will contain a drystack fire cube, a zero-edge spa, and a raised planting bed and water feature.

Working through a series of sketches was critical in understanding how all these components will ultimately relate to each other.




The zero-edge spa and planter are complete, but the ground needs to thaw a bit for the flatwork and rock work to begin...














Until then, I draw.