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.

10 July 2010

Bay Friendly Practices

Bay Friendly landscape guidelines were written for landscape professionals to provide an integrated, common-sense approach to sustainability. If you’re a handy DIY person, these guidelines will help you get started. They’re organized around 7 principles, the first of which I’ll briefly outline here.

Watch this space for future installments and the second principle: Landscape for Less to the Landfill.

First principle – landscape locally: Respect the natural attributes of the region in which you are landscaping. This doesn’t mean we have to return to the wild, uncontrolled landscape that once prevailed; instead we can contribute to the health, diversity and sustainability of the existing ecosystem.

How can we apply this? When planning your landscape, first, analyze the site carefully and on the site map, identify these areas:

• Sunny, shady and part shady areas
• Hot spots along south facing walls and fences
• Wet or dry spots
• Windy or exposed areas and direction of prevailing winds
• Slopes
• Frost pockets
• Shape and size of planting areas
• Zones with difficult access
• Water flow

This information determines everything you need to apply all other principles, especially when selecting plants that are drought tolerant, low water and climate appropriate.

Left: one of many Ceanothus varieties-the California wild lilac;  right is Lupinus (lupine) hybrid.

2. Assess the soil and drainage:
Is the soil sandy, loamy or heavy clay. This determines which and how much amendment to add, the correct plants to select to thrive in that soil, and whether we need to address drainage or compaction problems. In some instances a soil analysis may be necessary, depending on the extent of problem and the planned construction.

3. Survey and protect flora and fauna:
• Identify and protect existing plants, especially California natives, endangered species and wetlands
• Learn what wildlife inhabits the site and plant to shelter and sustain them and to restore the site
• Know your local tree ordinances and endangered species; many local or regional ordinances prevent the removal of certain trees such as native oaks
• Plan to preserve existing trees; engage a certified arborist to create your plan
• Avoid invasive species, see below

4. Consider the fire potential of plants and plant debris:
In fire-prone areas, most fire departments have guidelines to help you plan for this. Remember also to construct your deck with fire-retardant material such as ipe, redwood or cedar.

5. Use local, natural plant communities:
Examples in California include Redwood Forests, hot inland Valley Grasslands and Coastal Prairies. Large areas of Oakland and Berkeley hills once were Coastal Prairie that due to urbanization, are now converted to woodland. Using these plant communities to guide your plant selection gives your landscape a sense of place and context; plus your plants are more likely to thrive with minimum water and maintenance.

Consider also where your materials, furnishings and accessories come from: Are the boulders, flagstone or slate you select quarried locally or shipped from China or Africa? Is your furniture made locally with local materials? Your choice may significantly impact your carbon footprint.

Next time… Landscape for Less in the Landscape!