sustainable landscape design

April 2014 Newsletter

sustainable landscaping

In contrast to the rest of the country, we have experienced the warmest and driest winter and early spring on record in California. Even as we enjoy the beautiful weather, we can’t help but wonder if the drought will deepen and what we can do to be waterwise. This is an important issue especially for those who are planning to remodel their house and envision a modern and sustainable landscape.

landscaping an eichler: home, life, nature

bL's own Stephen Shoup and his wife Taya Shoup (a landscape designer with SWA Group, Sausalito) have just completed a remodel of an Eichler into a modern residence with extensive landscaping that incorporates many green building practices. They share their thoughts on balancing aesthetics, concerns for the environment, and practical needs of the family and neighborhood.
For Taya, the landscape is an important part of her home; she wants it to have a calming effect. She selected a variety of grasses (the dominant plant type in the garden) for their rich textures and limited the palette to shades of greens and blue greens without too many flowers to achieve the desired effect. She also planted in masses that give a sense of simplicity and order.
She feels it is fortuitous to have a sloping front yard that raises the house up and enables the connection of the landscape with the amazing hills beyond. ‘I think the olives trees are the perfect choices (oaks would just get too big!) and the planting of drifts of Manzanita (a California native) and different grasses is very effective.’ Indeed, nature seems to flow down from the hills, continues around the house and spills gently onto the sidewalk.

landscaping an eichler: site, street, architecture

For Stephen, the two greatest concerns at the scale of site were the typical Eichler austerity to street frontage and this model's want of an atrium or courtyard. Along with other details, his solution consists of two primary elements. ‘The five foot tall fence defines a front courtyard with a soft sense of enclosure and filtered connection. The insertion of the large picture window in the dining room draws the eye more deeply into the site from the street.’
As one approaches this residence from the street, one experiences a sequential unveiling of spaces from public to private. This is achieved by way of layered planting, diaphanous fencing and lighting. The floor to ceiling glazing in the dining room engages the front of the house with the interior’s most active spaces.

sustainable elements of the shoup residence

  • all drought tolerant planting, many natives
  • zoned + satellite controlled Toro drip irrigation system
  • salvaged and re-used parts of the old fence
  • vegetable planters made from salvaged IPE
  • concrete driveway and path replaced with permeable surface (gravel) which allows water to percolate into the soil

waterwise gardening

For more ideas on selecting and installing drought-tolerant plants, here is some advice from Piedmont garden designer Anne Weinberger: 

I enjoy creating low-water gardens with a harmonious combination of California natives and plants from regions around the world that share our Mediterranean climate. Some of my favorites are Australian Grevilleas with their spiderlike blooms and airy foliage, South Africa’s winter-blooming Leucadendrons and Mexico’s multitude of Agaves. Among my California native favorites are the blue-green Mendocino Reed Grass (Calamagrostis foliosa), our enormous range of Manzanitas (Arctostaphylos) and the irresistible Pacific Coast Irises. All of these plants want well-draining soil, so planting on a slope or slightly mounding up individual plants is wise. While getting them established, water the plants deeply, gradually decreasing the frequency, to develop roots that will find water far below the surface. A nice layer of mulch around the plants (avoid their trunks) holds in moisture and keeps down the weeds.

local resources


Photos of Shoup Residence by Scott Hargis:
1. Front view showing layered planting, entryway, large window of dining room
2. (L) Path to front entry (R) Fence filters sunlight
Photos of  plants: (L)Leucadendrons and (R)Agave by Anne Weinberger

eichler day

Panel of architects+designers at Hudson St. Design
Sat, June 14, 10am-4pm
3773 Redwood Highway
San Rafael
Stephen speaks at 3pm

shoup residence featured at

Click here to see article and slideshow.

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