Liquidambar specializes in transforming ordinary or difficult sites into gardens that blend function with aesthetics. We use subtainable landscape practices that nurture the soil, conserve water and energy, and recycle or repurpose your materials. Transforming small challenging urban spaces is our specialty.

29 April 2010

Greening San Francisco

San Francisco Passes Landscaping Law

Edited from Rachel Gordon, SFChronicle Staff Writer

The continued quest by San Francisco officials to green the streets moved forward with final passage of legislation that will require developers to use landscaping to beautify the city and keep excess rainwater out of the sewers.

The Green Landscaping Ordinance, proposed by Mayor Gavin Newsom and approved unanimously by the Board of Supervisors, primarily will affect new development, but also will apply to owners who make significant alterations to their properties.

The legislation, which Newsom still must sign into law, will require that 50 percent of the surface area in new front yards be permeable, either with in-ground plantings, porous asphalt or interlocking bricks or pavers that will allow more rainwater to soak into the ground. The goal is to divert rainwater from the storm drains and reduce the burden on San Francisco's aging sewer system.

In addition, the legislation calls for parking lots, gas stations, car washes and other automobile-dense uses to be planted with more trees. Trees or ornamental fencing, or a combination of the two, will have to be used to screen larger lots from public view. Garage doors or solid walls can be used on smaller lots.

The new ordinance "will help San Francisco move forward with our environmental and aesthetic goals," said Supervisor Carmen Chu, lead sponsor of the proposal.  "You will start to see a change over time.” Once existing properties were largely removed from the legislation's reach, no significant opposition emerged.

The new landscape ordinance builds on efforts over the last couple of years in San Francisco to create areas known as pocket parks on blocked-off streets, to plant median strips, and to rip out sections of sidewalk to make room for cafe tables and plants.
This article appeared April 14 on page C - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle

24 April 2010

Sheet Mulching

The Hows, Whys and…What?

Sheet mulching is one organic soil amending technique we can use very effectively in our gardens. This technique replicates what happens in nature by recreating the thick layer of decaying leaf litter that drops from trees. As this material breaks down, it improves and enriches the soil, creating a healthy soil structure that is essential for robust plant growth. You can use this technique to improve soil around existing plants or if you’re installing a new garden.

For details and photos, follow this link (thank you Susan!) to:

22 April 2010

Salvage Sources

Recycle - Reuse - Repurpose: below are some local sources where you can reduce waste, divert tons of materials from landfills and pick up some useful or whimsical materials.

The ReUse People -
2100 Ferry Point, No. 150, Alameda; 510.522.0767
This nonprofit does whole house deconstruction and maintains an extensive warehouse of used building supplies.

Building Resources -
701 Amador St, San Francisco; 415.285.7814
Part old-fashion junk yard, part art installation, Building REsources has lots of funky materials at great prices if you search among the rubble. Also sells tumbled recycled glass in all colors.

Scrap -
801 Toland St, San Francisco; 415.647.1746;
A non-profit, Scrap breathes new life into old objects by reusing materials such as textiles, buttons, paper, craft and office supplies, plastics and wood collected from businesses, institutions and individuals. Teachers, parents, artists and organizations depend on SCRAP as the place to find all manner of materials for projects and classrooms.

Ohmega Salvage -;
2407 & 2400 San Pablo Ave, Berkeley; 510.204.0767
Restoration materials and furniture from older, mostly pre-1950s buildings.

Urban Ore -
900 Murray St, Berkeley; 510.841.7283;
Everything and lots of it. Also a showcase for sustainable building materials and design features.

Whole House Building Supply -
1955 Pulgas Rd, East Palo Alto; 650.328.8731;
Sign up for pre-demolition sale e-mails or call the hot line at 650.328.8732.
Wood, doors, windows, also some tubs, cabinets, mantels, sinks and appliances.

Caldwell’s Building Salvage -
195 Bayshore Blvd, San Francisco; 415.550.6777
Mostly lumber, windows, doors – with a great affordable door shop to build frames for old doors. Also windows, hardwood, the occasional claw-foot tub – plus a showroom with new flooring, bathrooms, etc.

19 April 2010

Spring Tips

The San Francisco Examiner recently interviewed me to get some 'Tips from a Pro' on what to do and see in the garden this time of year. Following is the edited version published 4 March 2010:

What special growing conditions are unique to our region?
We’re fortunate to have a Mediterranean climate. This means we have long dry summers with rain only in our short winter season. The area also has more than 30 microclimates.

What plants are in bloom now? What’s coming up, and how can we keep them looking good?
Plants from the southern hemisphere — South Africa, Chile, Australia, New Zealand — bloom during our winter, so these are good options. Most also tolerate drought. Plants that do well in more temperate climates also can thrive here. These include late-season and early-spring bloomers such as camellias, rhododendrons, azaleas and other acid-lovers typical of Asian or woodland gardens.

What other plants will soon be in season?
Many native California plants are early spring bloomers, like ceanothus, the wild lilac, available in a wide range of groundcovers, shrubs, and some that can be trained as small trees. You’ll see the California poppy and lupinus popping up. Ribes are the native currant, and gooseberry shrubs with gorgeous delicate blossoms. Arctostaphylos, the manzanitas, one of my favorites, offer some robust groundcovers, shrubs, and small trees with beautiful bronze bark.

Are there long-range steps we should take now to help our garden later?
Good soil structure produces healthy, robust plants. Most soils benefit from a good organic amendment that, over time, greatly enriches the soil. These are available at most good garden centers and can be applied in spring and fall. For mature gardens, top dressing works well — lay the amendment around the base of the plant and let the organisms in the soil do the work. In new gardens, mix amendment into the native soil when plants are being installed.

How about trimming and fertilizing?
It’s usually best to prune deciduous trees when they’re not in leaf. Hire a professional who can see the tree’s structure and trim appropriately for aesthetic value as well as tree health and leaf growth. Carefully select fertilizers and follow directions to fertilize roses, fruit trees and vegetables.

Special secrets for this time of year?
Foliage plants outperform many bloomers. Excellent examples include banksia, protea and leucadendron. One favorite is the “Safari Sunset” variety. Phormiums are tough flax that come in numerous colors as well as dwarf sizes for small spaces. Tree bark can shine in winter gardens: examples are coral bark Japanese maple, white bark birch, golden bronze of evergreen arbutus.

What are trends for gardens for 2010?
Water is the major concern, regardless of recent rains. Lawn substitutes, native and no-mow grasses will prevail. People also are planning vegetable gardens. Hopefully, more people will come to love succulents, which add enormous sculptural value to landscapes with well-draining soils, and they’re excellent in pots.

Read more at the San Francisco Examiner

4:34:00 PM by LIQUIDAMBAR Garden Design Delete