This section explores the zeitgeist of contemporary landscape design, sweeping aside cliché to consider new models of the built environment.

Native plants and modern materials always figure highly in our thoughts. 

Our most prolific contributor, Geoffrey Coffey, cut his teeth writing the "Locals Only" column on native plants for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Madroño Certified as Green Infrastructure Contractor

Bioretention planter on Cesar Chavez in San Francisco

San Francisco is a national leader in sustainable urban development, having passed citywide ordinances on mandatory green building, recycling, and environmental ethics. To bring this same ethos to the complex subject of urban water management, the City has incorporated a number of  “Green Infrastructure” (GI) projects into its massive, multi-billion dollar Sewer System Improvement Program (SSIP). To ensure the success of the municipal GI projects, the City provides contractor training on design guidelines and best practices. To date, 40 firms have completed the training program, including Madroño Landscape Design Studio. But unlike many of the larger firms which are engaged in more commercial and municipal projects, Madroño’s residential business sees the SSIP as a launching pad to engage private property owners more deeply in the larger vision of greening our city.

So what is Green Infrastructure? In essence, it is a landscaping strategy that diverts rain into planted areas and eventually back into the water table, rather than sending it into the sewer. This method replaces impermeable surfaces like asphalt and concrete with permeable pavers and infiltration basins that allow rain water to percolate into the earth. Less water in the sewer means lower treatment costs for the city, less chance of overwhelmed sewers, and an overall recharging of the water table for improved plant and soil health. The City has found that optimal GI design prevents nearly 90% of stormwater from entering the sewer system.

But Raphael Garcia, the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) GI Project Manager, spoke of the challenges still facing this issue: “Municipal projects can only go so far, as 80% of the impervious surfaces in this city are on private property.” This eye-opening statistic raises the question: what programs are in place to reach this vast and largely unaddressed majority of the city landscape?

Urban Watershed Stewardship Grant Cycle Begins

Green InfrastructureFree money for green infrastructure!

Many small individual actions by so-called "watershed stewards" can add up into major benefits for San Francisco's watersheds and sewer infrastructure.  Building upon this premise, the San Francisco Community Challenge Grant (CCG) program has partnered with the SFPUC Urban Watershed Management program to announce the launch of the application cycle for this year's Urban Watershed Stewardship Grants (WSG). 

Grants of up to $100,000 will be funded to support "green infrastructure" projects including rainwater harvesting and re-use, the removal of impervious surfaces, and the installation of rain gardens, permeable paving, and bioretention planters.

Eligibility for grants is limited to community groups, nonprofit organizations, merchant associations, schools, and community benefit district organizations.  More information is available online.  This year's grant application deadline is March 24, 2017.  Throw your hat in the ring for a piece of the action, and do your part to make San Francisco a more sustainable city.

Former Inmates Garden for Change

planting-justice.jpg“I’d be out there running amok, if not dead or locked up again -- Planting Justice saved my life,” says Julius Jones. Sitting in the sun on the 5-acre “Mother Orchard” in El Sobrante, Jones and other recent inmates of San Quentin State Prison offer nothing but praise for the Oakland-based nonprofit, founded in 2009 by Gavin Raders and Haleh Zandi. As one of 31 former prisoners hired by Planting Justice in the past 7 years, Jones is among a growing number of participants in the Holistic Re-Entry program, which educates former inmates about the benefits of regenerative landscape design, called permaculture. The program starts with garden training during incarceration, and provides employment opportunities for prisoners upon their release, translating planting skills into living-wage job opportunities.

Summer Pruning

Front Yard Ambassadors Program

Sponsored by the City of San Francisco, the Front Yard Ambassadors Program encourages residents of the Sunset District to remove concrete from their properties and, with the assistance of experts and volunteers, to replace it with drought-tolerant landscaping proven to thrive in this neighborhood.

Participants receive roughly $1,500 of improvements and are only required to pay a nominal $100 fee to participate. Applicants must partner with a minimum of four houses on their block (five total).

Applications for the Front Yard Ambassadors Program will be open through May 31, 2016 and can be found online.

Middles of Nowhere: Dry Lakes of the Mojave

drylakes_cuddeback_600.jpgDry lakes are places in the desert where drainage stops, and goes no further. Landscape dead-ends, they attract activities drawn to nowheres. Many dry lakes have no name, marked on maps only as alkali flat, salt flat, sink, mudflat, wash, or playa (if at all). 

A current exhibit in Los Angeles looks at approx. 70 dry lakes in the Mojave valued enough to have names and be recorded on maps by the US Geological Survey. These are the nowheres that have become, at the very least, somewhere. 

Leave it to The Center for Land Use Interpretation (CLUI) to curate such a creative and interesting show. A research and education organization, CLUI is dedicated to the increase and diffusion of knowledge about how the nation's lands are apportioned, used, and perceived. They find new meanings in the intentional and incidental landforms we individually and collectively create, and believe that the manmade landscape is a cultural inscription, which can be read as insight into who we are and what we do.

Seminar on Natives at San Mateo Arboretum

c-noevalleysustainable09.jpgGo native, stay modern!  In this free presentation by Madrono president Geoffrey Coffey, we will learn that native plants are wildlife friendly, drought-tolerant, and locally appropriate — not to mention beautiful.  Learn how you can weave color, texture, and aroma into the garden using the natural flora that lived here long before we did. 

WHERE: the Kohl Pumphouse in San Mateo Central Park. 
Enter at 9th & Palm Avenues, follow path to iron dog statue. Go through white gates to the left of the statue, and the Pumphouse is behind the Victorian fountain. 

WHEN: Sunday, October 4 from 1:00 - 2:30 pm

Kill Your Lawn, Get Paid

kill-grass.jpgThe California Department of Water Resources (DWR) has announced a statewide lawn-replacement rebate program to encourage the ongoing trend away from water-wasting yards. Owners of single-family residences who agree to rip out turf grass and replace it with drought-tolerant landscaping (such as native plant gardens) can apply to the program and be reimbursed for their expenses at the rate of $2 per square foot of lawn removed, up to a maximum of $2,000 per property. 

With the aim of converting more than 10 million square feet of thirsty lawn into locally appropriate water-wise gardens, the program's intent is more than admirable; it is indispensable in this modern age of indefinite drought.  Applications can be submitted online.  Apply today and demonstrate your ecological vision: Kill your lawn and get paid!

Santa Clara Valley Ups the Ante on Lawn Conversions

Today the Santa Clara Valley Water District announced an increase in the dollar value of their Landscape Conversion Rebate. Eligible property owners who choose to replace "highly irrigated landscape" (such as turf lawns) with drought-tolerant alternatives will be paid $2 per square foot of property so converted. 

The rebate applies to residential (single- and multi-family), commercial, and institutional properties with a minimum of 75 sq. ft. of "converted area." The new landscape must include minimum 50% coverage of the area with living water-efficient plants when the plants are fully grown. To determine coverage value, consult the SCVWD Qualifying Plant List.

We salute the courage and vision of the Santa Clara Valley Water District in compelling local property owners towards a more drought-tolerant future.  Need help converting your landscape and applying for your rebate?  Call us.

CaliforniaFIRST Launches in San Francisco

Madrono Landscape Design Studio is a registered contractor with the CaliforniaFIRST financing programCaliforniaFIRST, the government-supported PACE financing program for sustainable energy projects, is now available to property owners in San Francisco.  Eligible landscape improvements include drip irrigation, low-voltage LED lighting, solar panels, greywater systems, and stormwater capture and reuse programs, a particular specialty of Madroño Landscape Design Studio.  

The program will finance 100% of qualified project expenses, up to $200,000 or 15% of the property value (whichever is less), with no out-of-pocket cost to the client.  The loan balance is applied to the property, not to the borrower, and payments are tied to property taxes, paid only twice per year. The underwriters do not look at FICO score, debt-to-income ratio, or personal income, and the application process can be done over the phone with approval rendered immediately.  By reducing annual energy bills and increasing property values, the program essentially pays for itself.

CaliforniaFIRST offers such favorable terms as incentive for property owners to make the physical improvements now that will lead us into a more sustainable tomorrow. It is a win-win proposition, and Madroño is proud to be a certified contractor on the CaliforniaFIRST team.  

We encourage interested local property owners to contact us today and get started.

Seminar on Vertical Gardens at the Going Native Garden Tour

GNGT-logo.jpgAt the upcoming Going Native Garden Tour, a free annual tour of private native plant gardens in Santa Clara Valley and the Peninsula, Madroño president Geoffrey Coffey will appear at Garden #16 in Los Altos Hills to serve as docent, where he will speak at length on Vertical Landscaping.

This garden features a modern green wall composed of perforated steel panels, designed and installed by Madroño in 2008. The four-acre property also features several mature valley oaks, one spectacular black oak, and a multitude of choice native flowering shrubs and perennials including Dr. Hurd Manzanita, Ceanothus 'Julia Phelps,' Redbud, Fremontodendron 'Ken Taylor,' Wax Myrtle, Bush Anenome, Western Azalea, and many more. 

This year's event will also feature a plant sale by Bay Natives nursery, featuring many of the same plants growing and thriving in the garden.  Please join us!

To get the address, you first must register on the tour website.

WHO: Native plant aficionados of every stripe

WHAT: Going Native Garden Tour

WHERE: Garden #16 (please register to get the exact address)

WHEN: Sunday, April 21, 2013, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

WHY: To meet Madroño president Geoffrey Coffey and learn about the benefits of green walls, to enjoy the pleasures of a private estate garden in Los Altos Hills, and to buy choice native species from Bay Natives nursery, the San Francisco source for native plants.

See you there!

Madroño Wins "Best Overall Design" at S.F. Garden Show

pacific-rim-fusion-PBF.jpgThe award for Best Overall Design in the Small Spaces Living section of the 2013 San Francisco Home & Garden Show was given to Madroño Landscape Design Studio and Bay Natives nursery for "Pacific Rim Fusion," an exhibit of California native landscaping with Japanese inflection. 

The 8'x8' display included a milled redwood slatted screen with Japanese-style trim, designer teak furniture from Indonesia and Brazil, the ultra-modern Rimbou Venus sun shade, a custom concrete planter by Mary Oros, and choice native plants including bentgrass (Agrostis pallens), seep monkeyflower (Mimulus guttatus), Tule rush (Scirpus californica), and the Paradise manzanita (Arctostaphylos pajaroensis 'Paradise').


California Passes Rainwater Act

Cistern_san_francisco_rainwater23.jpgCalifornia Assembly Bill 1750 was signed by Governor Jerry Brown today to enact the Rainwater Capture Act of 2012, a significant new measure clarifying that the use of rainwater captured from rooftops does not require a water right permit from the State Water Resources Control Board.  

This much-needed liberalization of the law further permits holders of a C27 licence (landscape contractors) to prime contract for the construction of such systems when they are used exclusively for irrigation or as supply for a fountain, waterfall, pond, or other water feature.

Designed together with targeted overflow into bioswales and vernal detainment pools, rainwater management systems recharge local aquifers and liberate the gardener from the city garden hose. 

The new law also acknowledges change in precipitation patterns, with more changes to come:  

An increasing amount  of California's water is predicted to fall not as snow in the mountains, but as rain in other areas of the state. This will affect the local hydrologic cycle profoundly; much of that rainwater will no longer be held in existing reservoirs, which are located to capture snowmelt.

Snowmelt is also predicted to occur progresively early in the year, so reservoirs operated for flood control must release water early in the season to protect against later storms, thereby reducing the amount of early-season snowmelt that can be saved.

Expanding opportunities for rainwater capture to augment water supply will require efforts at all levels, from individual landowners to state and local agencies and watershed managers. 

Here at Madroño, we hope to serve ever more clients choosing to improve their landscapes so elementally.

Special Event at California Academy of Sciences

native-plants-through-a-modern-lens.jpgMODERN & NATIVE:
Contemporary Design Meets
California Native Plants

Join Madroño founder and president Geoffrey Coffey for a talk and slide show on modern design approaches using California native plants in the built landscape.

Sept. 21, 2011 from 4:30 - 6:30 p.m.

California Academy of Sciences
(Use Staff Entrance on Middle Drive East)
Golden Gate Park, San Francisco

(APLD members free)

More info here: Modern & Native

Program begins at 4:30 sharp. Meet at the staff entrance on Middle Drive East. Academy staff will escort us as a group to the lecture hall for this special event; please respect their time and be prompt.

RSVP to Alan Good,

Sponsored by the San Francisco chapter of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers (APLD).

Laundry to Landscape Pilot Program

greywater-plan.jpgIn a push for citizens to install greywater irrigation systems in their homes, the SFPUC (city water department) has launched a program to offset the cost of materials for qualifying households.  The so-called Laundry-to-Landscape program requires a formal application with proof that the property has a working washing machine and a yard that is level or downsloping away from the machine's outflow.  The first 150 qualifying households will receive a 95% subsidy toward the purchase of a hardware kit (hub connectors, three-way valves, etc.) to divert greywater from the sewers and use it to irrigate the garden.

Only 1- or 2-unit residential buildings are eligible, and only these buildings are allowed to install greywater systems without a permit from the building department. To encourage and promote the use of graywater systems in larger and/or commercial or industrial buildings, the SFPUC also offers a rebate up to $225 toward the cost of obtaining a permit. To be eligible, the graywater system must be used for subsurface irrigation only.

For more information on the program, check the SFPUC's dedicated greywater page.  For help with the application and permitting process, or to order a professional greywater design for your property, contact Madroño.

Planting Planreservoir planting, long crop
Score a point for the city planners: their new landscaping at the Stanford Heights Reservoir, in the San Francisco neighborhood of Miraloma Park uses locally appropriate native plants in simple bold strokes of panache.  The design is a triumph of simplicity.

We are so frequently dismayed by the busy, overwrought planting plans brought forth by cookie-cutter "native plant designers" taking the wildlands as their only inspiration, who employ a hodgepodge of (too) many plant species because "that's how it looks in nature."

Here, the design chooses two beautiful species as a foundation for all the plantings adjacent to sidewalks: Carex pansa and Pacific Coast Iris.

The Pacific Dune Sedge (Carex pansa) looks like a  meadow grass, and it spreads underground by rhizomes like running bamboo.  It grows well in heavy soil (though it prefers sand) and can tolerate sun, drought, and the traffic of dogs.

The iris is gorgeous and locally authentic; Its blue flower and long pointed leaf may be as emblematic of San Francisco as any plant I know.

Together they bind the perimeter of the reservoir with sustainability and beauty.  Water-wise, insect-friendly, pleasing to the eye, and mostly self-sufficient -- what more can you ask?

The plan also called for sowing seed of blue-eyed grass (which didn't come up) and California poppy (which did).  Count my vote a yawn.  Haven't we had enough poppies?  So many other local and lovely annual wildflowers to choose from -- anybody for Clarkia?  Collinsia?  Lasthenia?  Limnanthes?  Anybody?

Talk & Slide Show at Brisbane Library

Join Madroño founder and president Geoffrey Coffey for a talk and slide show at the Brisbane Library on modern gardens using locally appropriate native plants.

May 14, 2011 from 2-3 p.m.

250 Visitacion Ave.
Brisbane, CA 94005

Sponsored by the Santa Clara Valley chapter of the California Native Plant Society.

A Word on Modern Fences

Modern Fence in San Francisco
Urban living means density, and for city back yards that means fencing: we need clean lines of agreement on where my property ends and yours begins.

But so many existing fences in the city are ugly, common, built on the cheap, installed by rote with no insight, like mere place-holders.  We swoon at the magnitude of lost opportunities.  If well designed, the fence can strive for art even as it performs its necessary, divisive duties.  The key to the sublime lies in transparency to sunlight.

LUCCON Translucent Concrete

luccon1.jpgLuccon is a light-transmitting concrete made with multiple sheets of thin optic cables layered into fine-grained concrete cast in prefabricated molds. It allows sunlight, shadows, and colors to project through the concrete -- one of the most beautiful and ethereal materials we have seen.

Because the fibers have such a small diameter, the strength and durability of Luccon is the same as for that of conventional concrete. The blocks appear comparably massive as well as translucent, with an unique light pattern created by chance. Blocks can be cut to achieve elements of variable thickness and size.

The most striking effect is the silhouetting of shadows cast behind the concrete.  It raises wonderful possibilities for use as a garden screen, for example, or as the wall for an outdoor shower.

Landscape design can bridge otherwise impassable hurdles.

Consider the case of this San Francisco backyard: a sheer slope on the southeast face of Mount Davidson, where a concrete drainage trench carries winter's seasonal river and then runs dry for summer and fall. The trench cuts off houses from their gardens and limits human access to the yards uphill. At this particular house, the existing deck was built out to the edge of the trench, with no means of getting across.

Los Palmos -- BEFOREQuestion: How to deal with this ugly yet necessary piece of engineering?

Los Palmos -- AFTERAnswer: Add another level of deck to bridge the gap. Set the platform at an angle to diverge from the rectangular facade of the house, and to suggest triangular shapes in the landscape. Cantilever all four edges 24" over the beams, thus hiding the posts so the deck appears to float above the ground.

This deck, with bench and arbor, is both a place to inhabit and to pass through. We cut a path in switchbacks up the slope from the point of contact with the platform, removed all french broom, fennel, and ivy from the hill, and replanted with native pinegrass, junegrass, and needlegrass; a field of silver lupine and scattered Ceanothus to attract butterflies, especially the fabled Mission Blue; elderberries and manzanitas for bird-friendly flowers and berries; and more.