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.

09 July 2011


Recycle - Reuse - Repurpose:  words we’re all familiar with these days. Repurpose is to find a useful purpose for something you were going to discard. Better still is to Upcycle – the practice of using something disposable as an object with greater use or value. Typical example is the use of containers as homes, offices, or shelters for the homeless. See examples here:

For San Francisco Bay Area residents, here are some local sources to help you reduce waste, divert tons of materials from landfills and pick up some practical or whimsical items.

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.

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.

25 March 2011

Water Water

Conserve Water is the 4th of 7 Bay Friendly practices. Even with the wonderful winter rains, water is and will always be a scarce and valuable resource in California. Of all urban water use, landscapes consume 1/3 and most residential properties are over-watered by 30-40%. By 2020, the state will require all residents to reduce water consumption by 20%.

Water-wise landscaping includes more than water recycling and conservation. We also need to improve the water retention capacity of the soil, in addition to installing the latest irrigation technology.

To begin, follow procedures below for nurturing the soil - the 3rd Bay Friendly principle. Then continue to build on these principles to create a thriving, living soil with enough organic content to hold water and increase permeability.

Soil: first, know your soil texture – clay, silt, sandy.
o Incorporate 2-4” compost into top 6-12” of soil to reach a soil organic matter of 3.5% under turf and 5% in planting beds.
o In spring and fall, top-dress with compost around shrubs and trees and on turf/lawn;
o Regularly apply mulch as needed to all exposed surfaces to reduce evaporation.

Plants: install drought-tolerant California natives, Mediterranean plants and succulents:
o Not all native plants are drought-tolerant so be wary and match plant requirements with your soil type and microclimate;
o Select plants from Mediterranean climates; these are Chile, South Africa, Australia & New Zealand and of course Mediterranean countries that share our long dry summer seasons;
o Minimize high water use plants.
o Plant in fall to take advantage of winter rains that help roots become established;
o When planting, remember to leave enough space to allow plants to grow to their natural size… and adjust the irrigation as plants mature.

Minimize the Lawn:
During the long dry summer season, lawns require frequent watering, cutting with machinery, pesticides to remove weeds, etc. So where lawn is desirable for kids or pets, minimize its size and/or plant low ground-covers…
o Replace lawns with water conserving native groundcovers or perennial ornamental grasses;
o Avoid turf in areas less than 8 ft. wide to accommodate efficient irrigation;
o Avoid planting turf on slopes greater than 10% or in irregular shapes.

Hydrozone your Plants - Group Plants by Water Needs:
Basically this means grouping plants by their low, medium or high water requirements and sun/shade needs;
o Locate thirsty plants in smaller, more visible areas and where possible, in spots that naturally collect water;
o Plant drought tolerant species in larger planting beds;
o Discontinue irrigation for California natives once they’re established, and be sure to continue irrigating those that need ongoing water;
o Use separate irrigation valves and circuits for each hydrozone; lawn should have its own valve.

Harvest Rainwater, Recycle Water & Graywater:
Harvesting: redirect rainwater from your downspouts and gutters into a storage barrel to use for irrigation.
Recycling: refers to water treated at a regional facility that can be used for irrigation – but not for consumption.
Graywater (not suitable for drinking): wastewater from sinks, showers, bathtubs and washing machines can be reused for subsurface irrigation of roots of trees and shrubs (as it’s not contaminated by human waste).

The simplest way to get started is to harvest rainwater from your roof. For other means, check your local building codes.

Install High-Efficiency Irrigation System:
Irrigation systems are becoming more efficient and sophisticated. Weather-based self-adjusting controllers now have soil moisture and rain sensor shutoffs. For all your irrigation needs and materials, an excellent resource is If you plan to install the system yourself, bring them your planting plan and they can design it for you. Otherwise, to optimize water conservation, best to have a professional to it.

Once your system is up and running, be sure to maintain it properly; have a landscape professional check it once a year for leaks, broken tubes, blocked sprinkler heads, etc. For mature systems, check whether your local water district or utility company will provide a free irrigation audit.

04 March 2011

How to Prepare for Spring Growing Season

Time to put on the gloves and get outside in the sun; or if, like me, you prefer to have someone else do the 'heavy lifting,' e-mail me for referrals to good maintenance gardeners.

BULBS: plant your summer blooming bulbs now, before the garden center runs out of the best varieties; or shop on-line to include some of the more exotic lilies… one source is

PERENNIALS: Add fragrance to your garden with Artemesias such as ‘Powis Castle;’ oreganos and salvias; almost all sages are scented and most are well suited to the Bay Area climate. This is a good time also to install Coreopsis, Gaillardia, Gaura, penstemons, santa Barbara daisies… these are available in economical 6-packs, 4” pots, or 1 gallon sizes for more punch.

EDIBLES: being planning for your berries, strawberries, blueberries and fruit trees. See below for composting and slug prevention.

VEGGIES: lettuce, cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower can be planted now. Select some potato tubers in the more exotic varieties and flavors now available. And ensure a continuous veggie crop by successively planting beets, carrots, radishes, spinach and turnips every 2 weeks apart.

LAWN: lawns like to be richly fed so top-dress now with a good organic compost, available at most garden centers. Follow directions on the bag. Top-dressing simply means to lay compost on top of the lawn and let the organisms do the work of incorporating it into the soil. This works also for your planting beds.

IRRIGATION: turn on the water and check that all emitters are dripping water; clean or replace any clogged emitters you find. Watch for leaks and repair broken tubes. If this sounds like too much technical labor, contact Urban Farmer Store where you’ll get expert advice as well as any supplies you need:

SLUGS, BUGS & APHIDS: lots of slugs around now due to the rain. To control slugs and snails, spread Sluggo around the perimeter of your planting areas after you’ve removed all visible intruders; as extra protection, spread around vegetable, flower and berry plots; and to minimize future invasions, spread around the perimeter of your garden.

Check new growth on plants for aphids; spray first with water, under the leaves as well, every 7-10 days or so. If aphids persist, try spraying with horticulture oil, available at garden centers.

25 February 2011

Weather Alert... February 25 - 28

A freeze warning has been issued for the San Francisco Bay Area, starting tonight through the weekend. If you have any new young tender plants, here’s how you can protect them; these include succulents, citrus, bougainvillea, and most tropical-style plants

  • Cover trees and plants with burlap or similar fabric or plastic
  • Bring tender potted plants indoors;
  • Insulate the plant roots with lots of mulch;
Wait until new growth begins in spring before removing dead or damaged material. Cutting frost-damaged plants too soon could stimulate new growth that could be damaged with later frosts.