Saturday, October 17, 2020

Native Plant Palette Set

 The native California plant palette has been set with the help and direction of Randi Gunder at Tree of Life Nursery in San Juan Capistrano.  Randi is a Landscape Designer and a tremendous help to us as we evaluate and plan the next steps of our native landscape.

So, why native?  There are many reasons that we chose to go with a more native landscape.  First, I have always enjoyed the great outdoors and am most impressed with mother natures ability to create grand gardens.  These eco-systems always seem to strike a balance and plants flourish.  Second, the native plants of the region are well adapted to the climate, and therefore require much less water and are less susceptible to disease.  Third, I appreciate the small and proportional flowers and showmanship of native plants.  Far to often I see plants that have been bred to produce flowers they can barely hold up.  To me this looks like a Frankenstein anomaly, and I struggle to find the beauty in it.  I am convinced that many of the natives produce better looking foliage with striking colors and textures.  These plants have evolved to protect themselves for survival and the armor that they've built is beautiful and purposeful.  And finally, native plants draw wildlife and insects while maintaining a natural balance.  These are just some of the reasons why we're committed to an 80% native plant garden.

We arrived at the Tree of Life Nursery at around 11am.  From there, we sat with Randi and shared the work that we'd done to date.  She had prepared a base drawing using photos I had sent her earlier.  Fifteen minutes into the design consultation and we were browsing the Nursery grounds discussing plants, textures, insects and fragrance.  This was a really wonderful way to develop the conversation and learn about each others tastes and interests.  In fact, we learned a lot about what native plants make great cocktail infusions.  What a fun idea!

After an hour of discussing plants and looking at all different shapes and sizes, Randi was off to the races heads down building out a conceptual landscape plan based on our likes, the space we have and all the considerations that we discussed.  There was some discussion during the design/drawing phase to clarify and work towards the final product.  This took her approximately 45 minutes, and the final product was this:

To better visualize this, I loaded the plants into a spreadsheet and attached photos.  The IDs in the document correspond to the numbers on the design.  This document makes up the palette that we plan to work with.  We are making a few adjustments and will continue to look at this for the next couple of months as we plan the planting project in phases.

Overall, our experience working with Randi and the Tree of Life nursery was exceptional.  It was exactly what we were looking for.  We had spent months looking at books, but were overwhelmed with the choices and needed direction.  Her help to build the palette was what we needed and we would recommend it to anyone taking on this type of project.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Then and Now

 When living in an old house I like to imagine what it would've been like to live there at the time the house was built.  What is the story that the home tells?  In Tacoma, I lived on D street and discovered that it was  where the street car travelled from Puyallup into downtown Tacoma.  That street was a flag-stop area -- there were no dedicated stations, you would just flag the street car down and jump on.  In Long Beach, the Red Line street car system would've been in operation for 12 years at the time this house was built.  From what I can tell, it would've travelled down Broadway which would've been the nearest stop from our house.

It is crazy to think how things have changed 106 years later in 2020.  First, Los Angeles county became an area completely reliant on the car where as before it had one of the nations most extensive street car systems.  How would've daily life been different without the tremendous reliance on the car?  What about design, would houses, building and retail coridors look different?  Would the area have sprawled like it did, or would it have grown upwards like New York and Chicago?  Would we see urban development more centered around street car lines?

Turns out the last trip on the red line was sometime in the early 1960s.  Just 9 short days before it was completely shuttered, the following video was shot from the front of the red line street car as it departed downtown LA towards Long Beach.  

It is a pretty amazing experience to watch this and to consider how things have changed.  How will they change again and where will they go?

At some point in the future I would like to research this further and learn more about what it was like to live in this home in 1914.  For now, this is a pretty good glimpse into what was and the extent by which it all has changed.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Paint Stripping

 We have started the long process of stripping and restoring the wood work in our 1914 craftsman bungalow.  From what we can tell so far, it appears that the woodwork has been painted at least 40 years which means several layers of oil based paint.

From past experience, I know this is a long arduous process.  Our goal is to strip most of the woodwork in the living room and dining room areas.

We purchased the Speedheater 1100 kit to start the process.  It is a hefty $500 device to strip paint, but if it helps, it will be well worth the investment.

We have been at it for around 30 minutes, and we've already made noticeable progress.  Having used chemical strippers, I can tell you that this is much faster and less messy.  In the next couple of months we will be posting a more detailed review of the paint stripping device as well as more progress photos.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Outdoor Makeover

 Anyone who is a follower of this blog is probably aware of how important I find outdoor space.  To me, it is as important as indoor spaces.  We knew as soon as we set out to buy a house in Southern California that we wanted something that supported outdoor living.  With our little house in Long Beach, that was going to be quite a challenge.  A 6000 square foot lot with a main house, a second ADU house and a sizable workshop/studio building.  That left a small chunk left to design and landscape.

First, we knew the space had to be optimized.  Little space could be left as unused.  In addition, spaces had to be multi-purpose and allow for indoor/outdoor living.  Second, we have tenants in the ADU house, and they need space too.  Access to the ADU house passes through our backyard space.  This needed to be done in a way as to not make it awkward for us or for the tenant since we're passing through each others areas.  Lastly, we knew that we wanted something semi low maintenance, but that also emphasized California native plantings.  With all those considerations, we put pencil to paper.

Our primary design objectives were as follows:

  • To create outside rooms
  • Create a potager/kitchen garden for food and herbs
  • Create outdoor dedicated living room and dining room spaces
  • Use organic shapes to soften the urban box within a box landscape
  • Leverage garden structures to create rooms and visual interest
  • Create a dedicated outdoor workout space that seconds as a multi-use space
  • Create hidden spaces and elements of compression to create surprise
  • Approximately 80% native plantings
During the Winter 2019/2020 season, we produced the following landscape design drawing based on the above objectives:

Top of drawing is East and Left is North.

This drawing has endured months of sketching, erasing, more sketching, and more erasing, so it isn't incredibly easy to read.  This is the second version of the drawing, because as some point we threw out the original version and started over.

Once we had finalized the major aspects of the landscape, hardscape and planting areas, we started out with the big stuff -- removing 400 sq. ft. of old concrete and a lot of drainage work.  While I have done concrete removal in the past, I knew it wasn't something I wanted to do again.  We identified contractors and moved forward with the work.

The following are photos of the landscape at the time of purchase and during/after the concrete removal project:

The following  photos represent landscaping progress made to date in 2020.  We had originally established a 3 year goal to complete this work, but the pandemic in 2020 allowed us to accelerate that and make progress faster than anticipated:

Coming up next... consultation with a local native nursery & landscape designer to create and finalize the plantings.  More details shortly in a future blog post.