dana point renovation: part 3

September 29, 2010

in 2009 the new home owners of the dana point project moved in and were all too excited to transform the property in their taste and style. this would be the first time that i did a big planting job in all cactus and succulents. i called dan orduna from laguna canyon cactus and he drove a truck full of specimens to the job site. the owner and i hand picked some amazing pieces from his selection. we basically just pointed to over half of the plants on his truck and said, “this one, this one, this one…”

i will make a potentially long story short by simply showing you the photos instead of launching into a lengthy narrative about redoing sprinklers, tearing out roses and amending soil. so here it is:

ozzie digging out the old myrtle hedge

the empty planter ready for the new plants

staging the new plants

overview of planting moments after completion


firestick, crown of thorns, agave, euphorbia, barrel cactus

euphorbia ingens and barrel cactus

firestick, aeonium, euphorbia ingens, barrel cactus

crown of thorns, blue chalk stick, bromeliad

euphorbia, blue chalk stick, aloe, firestick

afterglow echeveria, aloe, firestick, blue chalk stick


agave parryi, bromeliad

blue chalk stick and firestick

firestick, aeonium, blue chalk stick, euphorbia, barrel cactus, afterglow echeveria

barrel cactus, afterglow echeveria, senecio

bromeliad, crown of thorns, afterglow echeveria, senecio


euphorbia, afterglow echeveria, agave, senecio

aloe, euphorbia, afterglow echeveria, senecio


last one, i swear

dana point renovation: part 2

August 22, 2010

by november of 2007 most of the initial renovation of the dana point residence was complete. we tore out one of the two lawn areas and replaced it with columbian gold flagstone, removed almost all of the flax and fountain grass in the side planter, demoed the raised planter along the back fence / bbq area and replanted it, and replanted all of the pots on the property. i would have to say that the trickiest part was definitely the demo of the old plants and the lawn simply because dealing with that amount of green waste was rather new to me. it takes an awful lot of sheer strength and sweat to manipulate that much earth and plant material. the other most intense part was moving the heavy flagstone from the street all the way to the back of the property. i think at the time it didn’t dawn on me to use a wheelbarrow and my helper and i just humped back by hand almost 2 pallets of flagstone. yikes.

columbian gold flagstone planted with creeping thyme

iron arbor planted with trumpet vines and columbian gold flagstone

the real fun part about this job was that the client was pretty easy to please. they basically just left it up to me and were way cool about whatever i decided to do, even if it deviated from the designer’s plan. i more or less stuck to the plan, but made a few adjustments here and there based upon plant availability and personal preference.

Euphorbia ingens underplanted with blue chalk stick and aeoniums

there were 4 large pots like this to utilize. we left this one in the planter and potted it with the largest Euphorbia ingens – candelabra tree – we could buy, the other two went to either side of the outdoor fireplace and were planted with 25 gallon spiraled cypress evergreens. the 4th pot was moved under some trees in a shady area and planted with Clivia miniata – kaffir lilies – that were salvaged from the landscaping.

spiral cypress evergreens accented with succulent pots

succulent pot filled with string of pearls, sunburst and kiwi aeoniums and afterglow echeveria

this is where i first started getting a taste for using succulents in pots.

string of pearls, kiwi aeonium and afterglow echeveria

the area behind the bbq was planted with clumping blue grass – Paspalum quadrifarium – and Abelia grandifloria “Edward Gaucher”. initially i thought this planting turned out very nice. i really like when plants fill in an area and can soften the hardscape. after the planting began to take off the owners kept asking me to cut it back until i just couldn’t keep up any more. i think this meant their view of the dana point harbor was being impeded. very nice planting and plant choice, but poor selection based on sizing needs. though after several years of gardening in southern california i have realized beyond a doubt that the most important aspect to homeowners is their ocean view, and they are willing to do anything it takes to maintain and enlarge this aspect of their home.

clumping blue grass - Paspalum quadrifarium and Abelia grandiflora "Edward Gaucher"

the area to the left of this photo that was originally planted with overgrown breath of heavens was replaced by a row of 1 gallon boxwoods and back planted with Gaura lindheimeri. i really love Gaura. it’s a great plant that takes off quickly, flowers profusely, has great movement in the breeze and can tolerate cutting back seasonally. sometimes it tends to get aphids pretty fierce though.

Gaura lindheimeri and "Green Beauty" Boxwood

the owner eventually thought the Guara’s got too big as well and had me replant the area with hybrid tea roses. we basically moved the roses from a different section of the yard where they were getting too much shade. we then moved the Guara’s to the shadier area where the roses were and they basically crapped out instantly. and then i replanted that area another time. too be continued in part 3 of course. the lesson to learn is this: it is incredibly difficult to choose plants perfectly based on size requirements and sun and shade requirements unless you have a ton of experience doing so. i am so fortunate to be gaining insight regarding this exact thing. each time i put a plant in the ground i learn something new in regards to soil type, plant material, water requirements etc…. it never ends.

the last photo i leave you with are some pots that we replanted with some horsetail – Equisetum hyemale. before i planted the pots with horesetail they were planted with a variety of dying annuals that were starved for attention and had seen better days. a good lesson i have learned regarding horsetail is to never plant it unless you can completely contain it – unless of course you don’t mind that it runs everywhere and becomes a complete nightmare to deal with. one time i had this woman ask me to remove horsetail that was running rampant on her hillside. let’s just say the roots break off rather easily and make it mind numbing to get rid of. keeping it in pots or in raised contained planters is the best and most aesthetically appropriate way to deal with horsetail. oh yeah, and keep it well watered at all times.

Equisetum hyemale - horsetail

there are of course other areas of the project i didn’t explain or take photos of. that will come together in part 3, as you will see that yet again we transformed this yard when the owners decided to sell in 2009 and new owner moved in rather quickly. this is usually the end of a good thing, but in this case since i was doing the maintenance as well, i was called upon to help restructure what i have just showed you. and all for the better.

until part 3 …

enjoy the gardening


cabbage echeveria

August 20, 2010

potted cabbage echeveria

the ruffled edges of a cabbage echeveria

the succulent flowers of a cabbage echeveria

i use a lot of cabbage echeverias in my succulent pot plantings. it does well in part to full sun, flowers so nicely in the summer time, and can be repotted, moved and easily handled with no ill effects. recently, i took one out of a pot at a client’s house because it was standing in water. i intended to come back the following week and repot it, but noticed it had rooted into the ground by itself just laying on top of the soil. and a week or so later it began to flower. it’s an amazing plant with great color. it’s tough and adds character to any garden.

enjoy the gardening – scott

day in the life

August 17, 2010

i thought it might be interesting to do a post about what a day in the life of a gardener is like in southern california. like i have mentioned before, i consider myself a gardener as well as a landscaper. i enjoy all aspects of gardening, not just sitting back and letting others do the hard labor. i love to feel the muscle strain and soil soaked fatigue washing over me at the end of the day. i think at this point there is truly no going back to an inside occupation. no tie, no desk job. i always told my father when i was younger that i would never wear a tie to work. i remember that he laughed and said, we will see. i did wear a tie for just a few years, but i kept being choked out by the starch in my collar. so i traded it in.

so a day in the life. today i picked up the truck at the top of the hill and drove down to meet the crew in laguna beach. over the weekend i leisurely worked at one of my client’s properties cleaning and pruning, so i had the guys help me load my truck with the green waste and then headed to the dump. yay, the dump! a good friend of mine and ex-tree pruner used to say that “it is never a good day until you’ve stood in a trash can”. i second that statement for sure. nothing like getting the attention of a young cutie by standing knee deep in a green waste trash can, stomping down leaves and twigs. so i drove to the dump to unload the truck and sent gilberto and ozzie out to do some maintenance.

weighing in at the green waste dump

i often enjoy driving to the dump. it’s a nice break. i get to drive and blast some Opeth or Mastodon, i get to clean out the truck and “get all OCD” about the truck organization and just relax knowing that work is getting done in my absence. i cruised back into laguna from the irvine dump and met up with guys. for an hour i pruned a boxwood hedge with my kick ass gas powered kawasaki hedge pruner. that thing could seriously lop a finger off in an instant. we cut some grass, pulled some weeds, watered the pots and beds.

lately we’ve been eating lunch at a little hole in the wall mexican joint on glenneyre called laguna feast. if you come to laguna and want some true authentic mexican food i suggest you eat here. they have the best salsa by far. can’t be touched. we are locals there by now and know the owner and his staff too well. i’ve been getting the wet burrito lately – awesome tender pork with green sauce on top.

after lunch we pruned hard for the rest of the afternoon. pruned back some trees and shrubs away from a retaining wall so that people could park closer to the house and not so much in the street. in the back of this same property i’ve been watching english ivy infiltrate the yard for some time now. i think the previous owner either planted a small ivy plant, or else as i’ve seen before they just set an indoor ivy topiary on the ground in the back for lack of anything else to do with it. either way the ivy has been creeping across the back planter for about 2 years now and it had actually begun to choke out other plants and to climb up trees.

ozzie tearing out english ivy

the only way to get rid of ivy is to cut and tear it out. of course it depends how long the ivy has been growing and how thick it is. in this case it was easiest to just get on our knees and pull it out by hand.

me, contemplating the piles of ivy

each day i like to tackle something at each of the properties that i care for. whether i am fertilizing, dead-heading, watering, pruning, weeding, planting, amending soil – it doesn’t matter, i simply enjoy transforming and making a garden look better each time i am there. there is no such thing as a no maintenance garden. there is always something to do. always something to improve upon and make nicer.

i started out the business doing all of the work myself, but eventually was fortunate enough to have so many clients that i just couldn’t handle the work by myself. the day passes pleasantly with a little help as well. day after day it is a grind, just like anything you do over and over. but i tell myself when i get frustrated or tired that it could be worse. i could be sitting behind a desk fearing that the ceo is going to fire me, or that there is some secret meeting going on i am unaware of that is going to determine my fate.

gardening allows me to choose my own fate, plain and simple. i find solace in bringing people happiness through their gardens. gardening is what i do. i make it my business to do the best job over and over again and to constantly better my properties. when we loose the drive and motivation for what we do, we had better find a new source of inspiration to drive us forward. being with the plants and being outside everyday is what does it for me. i would rather work in an orchard picking fruit off trees all day long than be stuck inside with a tie on wishing i could feel the sun on my face.

get outside, dig in the dirt.

we ended the day with some simple sweeping up and weeding. everything is completely important when it comes to good gardening. no detail should be left undone or incomplete. i get ridiculed sometimes for my overly compulsive nature. but i just know how i like things done when it comes to gardening. it doesn’t mean i am not constantly bettering myself and learning – i am, trust me. i am humbled all the time. i realize i have a ton to learn. and all the time to learn it. my intent is true, my drive is pure. gardening, that’s it.


dana point renovation: part 1

August 15, 2010

in late 2007 i was put in contact with a dana point resident who needed a landscaper to help him design and redo his yard. i don’t remember who initially gave the gentleman my name, but i am thinking it may have been my friends at plant depot. upon meeting him and checking out his property i was overwhelmed to say the least. at the time i only had one part time helper, and he had no idea what he was doing any more than me. and, i was completely new to major landscape renovation projects. needless to say, i was completely eager to jump into anything over my head for the experience of it. the owner wanted a complete redesign and brand new installation – front yard to back. all new plants, all new potted garden, everything. i was super busy doing a ton of landscape maintenance at the time, so i deferred the design work to a landscape designer who had recently given me some smaller jobs. i was happy to be able to flow her the work, as it saved me the daunting task of coming up with a plan. like i said before, i was overwhelmed. coming up with good artistic ideas on top of doing the work was too much at that time.

once the plan was drawn up it was immediately given to me with no questions asked. the owner was the type of guy who just wanted to get the work done, and to get it done now. he didn’t seem to know too much about plants, nor did he care, and trusted the designer and myself to implement something new and fresh. however, he did ask me to come up with a bid for what i thought would be the total project cost. i remember thinking as i handed over the estimate that that was going to be the end of the job right then and there. thanks, no thanks, too much. he simply handed me back the estimate and said, great, when can  you start?

below are photos of the landscaping before we did anything to it.

front planter along driveway - overgrown lavender

back lawn area and planter - huge flax and fountain grass

raised planter along back fence

raised planter along back fence 2 - breath of heaven mish mash

raised planter along back fence 3

raised planter, lawn area and side planter - roses

overgrown potted area

there are of course a ton of other areas around the house the we eventually reworked as well. i won’t put too many pictures in now as to confuse the reader. i am going to stick with the main landscaping areas that were most impacted and changed. like i said, up until this point in my landscaping career i was mainly doing maintenance and smaller planting jobs. you know, a few potted plants here and there, a few plants in the ground here and there. nothing like this. this was a full tear out, lawn removal, flagstone installation, new lawn, sprinkler reworking.

was i sure i could handle it? no. and yes. that is how we learn. we take on things bigger than us. i remember losing a little sleep as i wondered how in the heck i was going to tackle this project. my heart thumping as i lay in bed prior to doing the job. these are the times that make us strong. make us forge ahead. it really is a double edged sword. we feel like giving up before we’ve even started. too much, too big. too much room for failure. ahhhh. and then we just go, move ahead. and that is when the greatest learning takes place.

i leave you at the end of part one with a quote from one of my favorite authors and from one of the most empowering books i have ever read.

– scott

“each aspiration presupposes the admission of a lack, each challenge presupposes a barrier to be overcome. the more adventurous will often choose greater challenges, and so in their minds the contrasts between what they want to achieve and their present status can seem to be impossible.”

- from “The Nature of Personal Reality” by Jane Roberts

agave americana

August 11, 2010

i haven’t posted in quite a while. been busy. been distracted. became busier. and busier. going to really try and make an effort to publish more often. i have a ton of content to push again. so, i though i would start with some simple pictures of an agave american. this one is located on pch in south laguna beach up on a hillside of a vacant lot. i have been driving by this agave and noticing it for a long time now. this spring it started pushing a flower and i just knew i had to go and visit it and pay my respects to its majesty. truly an amazing and brilliant plant. a soul to behold.

attack of the agave

agave americana "marginata"

heart of the agave

defending its flower

the weekend quick plant with harry

March 16, 2010

this past saturday i woke at 6:30, groggy and beat down from a long week of maintenance and planting. i made a cup of super extra dark strong roasted komodo dragon blend, blasted myself with a hotter than hell shower to wipe the sleep out of my soul, and found myself gunning toward a “half-day” of planting. i arrived at the job at about 8, just in time to start spacing out the 2 grand worth of plants i had purchased the previous day. i get frenetic at these moments. once i am awake and the soreness of 3 dislocated shoulders has been thwarted by motrin and caffeine, i am ready for anything the day deems necessary to throw at me.

today was not too tough, or so i assumed. i spaced out the plants for a job in laguna niguel that i had designed a few weeks earlier. armando and his crew from perez landscaping where there before me, arranging flagstones and finishing the sprinkler adjustments.

we cranked away for several hours when my phone rang – it was my next door neighbor, harry.

for several months now we have been tentatively planning to replant a small raised planter that juts out to the right of his garage. about six months ago i came home one saturday afternoon and harry was eagerly chopping away at a loquat tree in the back of the very same planter. in all the time i have lived across from harry i have admired and partaken of the fruit from the loquat treee. needless to say i was dismayed that he was chopping the thing down.

“what the f*&k are you doing”, i said. he informed me that there was a retaining wall that needed to be rebuilt just to the right of the loquat tree and in order to rebuild the wall, the tree needed to go. i didn’t quite buy the story, but decided to help harry with the tree regardless. the tree could have been saved.

he and i hacked away, lopped up, cut up and stomped down the debris. i was sad to see the tree go, but was happy to help a neighbor with a chore he was going to pursue whether or not i was there. beer included.

… a month or two goes by … i ignore the construction and don’t offer to help a bit … i stay in bed on the weekends and drink mimosas and listen as harry struggles with the rebuilding of the retaining wall. harry eventually tears out the rest of the crappy planting material in the small planter – which consists of overgrown lantana and grassy weeds. he retains a nice looking bird of paradise and that’s it.

several more weeks go by… harry and i talk about replanting… another week goes by…

this past saturday rolls around and harry finally calls me to help him with the planter. i tell him to meet me at plant depot at 2:30 in the afternoon. i finish up with the job in laguna niguel and head over to las golondrias for a carne asada burrito – with sour cream, guacamole, and rice. i eat, and drive over to the nursery and chat away with erick lux – truly one of my favorite plant people and someone who i have lots to learn from – check out botaniverse.

harry shows up and we pick out a beautiful 15 gallon mineola tangelo, two 5 gallon birds of paradise, and two flats of strawberries – “pretty in pink” and “sequoia”. the nursery is buzzing with customers and we do all we can to check out and head back home to finish the planting before dark. harry and i load the plants into my stake-bed, along with 2 bags of harvest supreme planting mix and bust out for home.

i pull up to harry’s house at about 3:30 and begin unloading the plants. he pulls up about 5 minutes later and gets out of his car holding a 12 pack of negra modelo. “planting fuel”, he says. oh great, i think, this will be fun. he begins pulling the grassy weed from the planter and i begin turning the soil in his wake. in no time at all do we weed and cultivate the planter – it’s only about 3 feet wide by 15 feet long. the soil is sandy and very easy to break apart with a spade shovel. it’s got a few extraneous roots in it, but nothing to speak of. harry chides me for not helping him with the tear-out. oops, i was sleeping and eating bacon, and lounging with my girlfriend…

harry weeding the bed of grassy infiltrators

bed ready for planting

i add in the two bags of harvest supreme planting mix, working them in with my furious OCD tendencies, and then get totally distracted because of the beer and begin pruning his pygmy date palms on the other side of the driveway. his phoenix robelini have spikes sticking out everywhere. i show him how to prune off the fronds all the way to the trunk – so that no spikes can jab a future pruner, or unsuspecting passerby, or me because i will probably be pruning them 6 months from now.

“maybe we should get back to the planting”, harry casually insists. “we only have an hour till dark.” i reassure harry and get back to the planting. “you mean maybe i should get back to the planting”, i tell harry. beer is getting the best of my saturday afternoon. in no time flat i dig the holes and plant the tangelo, the two birds and the flats of strawberries. i finish planting the last of the strawberries as the sun is going down. by the time i am done a very cold chill has descended and it’s all i can do to finish watering everything in and bail out for the evening. he offers to buy my girlfriend and me dinner for the evening. we decline, as i am tired as hell and ready for a shower. but we will gladly take a rain check for sure.

finished planting. mineola tangelo, two new birds and strawberries

harry is stoked that the planting is done and confides in me that his wife, deanna, is going to be so happy when she gets home. of course it’ll be past dark and she won’t see it until the morning, but we know we’ve done a great job – and harry is especially happy because he is banking on the fact that this is going to be the last home improvement he is going to do for the next 10 years. “i guess it’s time to buy a new house now that this one is all fixed up”, he tells me.

i know, i rule, i kick ass

good luck with all that, pal, i tell him. drink a beer and just stay put. enjoy your new tangelo tree and strawberry patch. don’t worry. why move. you’ve got an ocean view. life is good.

life is always good. you’ve just got to see it. if you don’t, you are not looking with the right intent.

- enjoy the garden-


how to kill clover in your lawn

March 15, 2010

yup. it’s that time of year when weeds begin to infiltrate like mad. grassy weeds and broadleaf weeds alike begin popping up wherever they can – in planting areas and in the lawn. in planting beds the weeds are never quite as bad as in the lawn. that’s just my personal opinion – others may disagree, but i find that i have a way easier time getting on my hands and knees and weeding around plants than i do weeding in the lawn. for one thing, it  is easier to see the weeds that you are dealing with when they are in planters. second of all, you can move plants out of the way and get under most flowers and shrubs well enough to pluck them out by the root.

clover at the base of a palm tree

but weeds in the lawn are a whole other story. i have given weeding lawns by hand my best shot in the past. i have literally spend hours pulling clover out of a fescue lawn by hand. it actually feels like you are making progress at some point too. until a few days go by and the clover comes back even stronger. sometimes i even use a screwdriver and gently pry the roots loose. i do advocate weeding by hand as much as possible. but sometimes the problem is just too big to overcome by hand weeding.

clover in a fescue lawn

i combat  many weed problems by using a pre-emergent herbicide, which should be applied to planting beds and lawns prior to any sign of weeds. this is especially effective for grassy weeds in lawns – like crabgrass, which can become a total nightmare if left untreated year after year.

as far as the broadleaf weeds go – clover, dandelion etc.., there is a simple solution if weeding by hand is just to time-consuming and maddening. the answer – use chemicals. i hope to not ruffle the feathers of staunch eco-friendly “green” people out there – but come on, sometimes you have got to fight fire with fire. i am all for making as little of an impact on the earth as possible, so i advocate using chemical methods only when absolutely necessary.

ok, follow directions below – and no, i am not being paid by ortho. this is not some cheesy advertisement and i did not sell out. this is simply what gets rid of clover very inexpensively in lawns.

broadleaf weed killer and hose end sprayer

pour weed killer into hose end sprayer container

set dial to appropriate amount per gallon

attach hose to sprayer

spray lawn with herbicide

*please follow specific directions for whatever herbicide you decide to buy – remember to be very careful when using chemicals. follow directions on labels, that’s what they are there for.

joie de vivre.

March 13, 2010

this is a guest post by my friend and fellow gardener ozzie ausband.

I wandered lost…  a broken human being. I -finally- took a break from the madness & dark road I was traveling. I got it all together. I put away the baggage & dealt a blow to my demons. Starting to garden & landscape with Scott has helped me tremendously. I find myself falling into the rhythm of the earth. I cut back & prune plants & roses. I see new life forming & growing all around me. We watch all life move around us in a slow-motion play of beauty. As the world moves frantically in its ever-present race of acquisition, Scott & I stay in the calm flow of nature. Tranquility. My mind & soul are no longer in turmoil. Sure, I make far less money than I once did as an RN. However, I sleep better, my mind is calm & my body strong. I am part of the earth…and all things in it. Ozzie

hippeastrum - amaryllis

the atrium succulent garden

March 10, 2010

wednesdays are always a fun break from the maintenance routine i usually stick to. i keep the day open for bigger planting and/or pruning projects. recently, i’ve been doing more and more succulent and cactus plantings. i would have to say that these are definitely some of my favorites. when i originally moved from pennsylvania to southern california about 10 years ago i immediately fell in love with the wide array plants that can grow here – namely cactus and succulents.

unlike arizona where a lot of people plant their yards with this type of landscaping, people in so cal seem to fancy english and mediterranean gardens. most of my clients in fact have lots of roses, lavenders, hydrangeas, azaleas, camellias and higher maintenance shrubs, vines and trees.

so within the last two or three months i have been so stoked to have had the opportunity to do full gardens with a free reign of cactus and succulent choices. today we replanted a small atrium in the middle of a house in san juan capistrano.

ozzie raking out debris after the tear out

ozzie eyeing up for plant layout

i would say that the whole scale of the planter was probably about 10 feet long by 5 feet wide, so it was a pretty small area to clear out and replant. the atrium sat walled in, literally in the middle of the house, closed off by sliding doors. it doesn’t get full sun by any means since it is walled off, but there was a very impressive 8 foot tall euphorbia cactus already growing there – so i figured it got decent enough light and heat to support a succulent garden.

we tore out some limp looking pennisetum grasses and struggling heathers. the soil was sandy and easy to dig. we buried an existing 1/2″ drip line around the perimeter, and then hit dana point nursery for the plants. we convinced the owner to go with 1 huge impressive euphorbia “firestick”, two 5 gallon aeoniums and an assortment of 6 inch succulents including 3 jades and 6 echeverias – 3 of which included the “evening glow” hybrid. we also decided on topping the garden off with lava rock – my personal favorite for cactus and succulents, even in potted gardens.

me planting

laying down the lava rock

i am always happy to be planting any type of garden, as long as i brings the owner happiness and pleasure. unless someone has a strong aversion to cactus and succulents i try to convince people of their beauty and austere. there are so many textures, colors and shapes to choose from. i think sometimes my clients get tired of having to constantly maintain the english garden plants – always pruning, and replanting color and cleaning up leaves that they are turning more towards the low maintenance style of cactus and succulents.

the final project

euphorbia "firestick", echeveria "evening glow", jade


echeveria, aeonium, firestick


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