Saturday, February 20, 2016

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
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 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.








Tuesday, March 17, 2015

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!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

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).

Friday, February 27, 2015

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...

Thursday, January 1, 2015

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!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

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.