Plants, Stone, California Landscapes


Archive for July, 2010

Connecticut Blue Tumbled

One of the other forms Connecticut Blue takes in the Bay Area is as tumbled stone for edging and very low walls. It comes in a few different widths, but the stone in this garden is 6 inches in width, which is a bit undersized for retaining walls; the stones just don’t have the mass to lock in securely. Also, the tumbling makes the stone kind of low on friction. But, that said, the stone has been in this garden a long time (since before I first saw it five years ago), and it’s really easy to re-stack any sections that shift. It’s probably one of the best stones to use if you don’t have much experience at stacking; you just try to keep the stones level and break your joints. I like it for this type of cottage garden with the plants growing around the stone, hiding it in the summer and revealing it in the winter.

In the last photo, you can sort of see from the wide joints that the stones on this section are slowly migrating down the slope. A rule of dry-stacking is to keep the stones perpendicular to gravity even on a cross-slope, like steps rather than a ramp. The more regular and rectangular the stone, the more important it is, but people don’t seem to follow that rule as much nowadays in this age of mortared stonework. It’s not a big deal with low edging that is so easy to re-stack, but it would be a problem in a larger wall. In this case, though I was spending a few hours re-stacking someone else’s stonework, I considered it more like garden maintenance than a stone repair job, and if I hadn’t been replanting the garden, the owners would have left the stone how it was. A few plant photos are below. (more…)

Connecticut Blue Flagstone and Concrete

Last week I helped a family member prep his house for sale (update 8/10 — it’s now sold). I had done some stonework there a few years ago, so to prep it now we just added some sod and mulch. The house is in Albany with one of those tiny East Bay backyards, really easy to work in; I think family members should all be encouraged to have really small yards.

The flagstone here is Connecticut Blue, a sandstone which is not always from Connecticut and only sometimes looks bluish. It gets sold in a lot of different shapes and thicknesses out here, popular for creating that East Coast bluestone look. We tend to use it when we want to blend in with existing concrete and not put that concrete to shame. In this case, we wanted to make the massive former hot tub slab look like an integrated part of the yard, rather than just a massive former hot tub slab. We also wanted to make the massive wall of ivy into something other than a massive wall of ivy, but that phase never happened, a project for the future owners, I guess.

When you factor in the embedded energy and the $500/ton price tag, I’m not sure Connecticut Blue is all that much better than just using recycled concrete/urbanite for a patio, but there’s no question the stacked flagstone makes a much nicer step.

I like the Connecticut Blue in the hellstrip with the gold path fines. We used blue path fines for the joints of the patio, and in retrospect it would have been better with the gold. The blue has a tendency to leave little gravelly bits on the stones, not nice for bare feet.

All of the stone is leftover from a much larger job; instead of throwing it away or selling it on Craigslist, I used it here. Some of the stone in the raised bed was too thin to dry-stack, so I mortared it with a hidden joint so it would look dry-stacked but still be solid. Other parts of the wall, using the larger stones, are actually dry-stacked, but no one can tell the difference.

Leptospermum Dark Shadows

Leptospermum Dark Shadows

All the stonework and most of the plants went in three years ago, so the main thing we did to get the yard ready was to add sod. I spend a lot more of my time taking out lawns instead of putting them in, but lawns do have their merits and sometimes you gotta just throw down some sod. The Leptospermum ‘Dark Shadows’ were planted as 1 gallons three years ago. Pretty fast.

And just to compare with the Connecticut Blue in path fines, a photo of recycled concrete/urbanite in path fines from a different project, the closest comparison I have.

Another Bee Tree

And in another quick follow up on a recent post, we did a consultation at another house with a wild bee hive last week, this time in an old willow. Maybe bee trees are more common that I thought. This hive was much more exposed than the one in the silver maple, and the bees were a lot less comfortable with me sticking my camera up close, forcing me to retreat pretty quickly. These bees over-winter on-site, the client said, visibly present, but with a very low level of activity. They’ve been in the willow for six years, and the fruit trees in the yard have, predictably, had bumper crops ever since. When the tree (now moribund) dies, the owners are planning to plant a vine to grow up the trunk to keep the wood shaded and the bees happy.


A few months ago, I mentioned that the US Census had sent out a form for our tepee. No one, of course, resides in the tepee; we said zero occupants and mailed it back, but then I guess the census was left to wonder who had filled out the form if no one was living in it. They’ve now sent two separate workers to verify that there really is no one living in it. I suppose a tepee does sound like it could be the home of an anti-census militia activist. Neither of the census workers spoke enough English to even know what a tepee was, and until this weekend we hadn’t found time to put it up yet, so we’ve had some rather long and involved conversations to explain the situation. In a couple of weeks some friends will be coming to visit; we have to just hope the census doesn’t send out a third worker while we have people in the tepee.

The Tree Museum

The Tree Museum by Enzo Enea

The Tree Museum by Enzo Enea

While I’m posting about the value of trees, here is someone who really values his trees. Swiss landscape architect and tree collector Enzo Enea has created what he calls a tree museum for his collection. Explains Enea:

“This is a collection of trees I’ve gathered over a span of about 20 years. They come from construction sites; they would have been cut down to make way for new buildings. I needed to build a space to display them all and I wanted the trees to be seen as objects, so I set them off against sandstone.”

Inhabitat has details of the museum, World Landscape Architect has a video interview, and Arch Daily has photos of many of the trees. It reminds me of the work of Myoung Ho Lee, who makes photos of trees with a giant canvas hanging behind them. Lee’s work showed up on various blogs last year, including DryStoneGarden; the tree museum seems to be getting a similar, well-deserved run. Some of the trees are very cool, including one that is full of staples from decades of serving as the town bulletin board.

I really like the combination of the walls and stone, and if I lived just a little closer to Zurich, I’d go check it out. There are few things in the world better than a tree with a backdrop that showcases its character.

The Tree Museum by Enzo Enea

The Tree Museum by Enzo Enea

The Real Estate Value of Trees

$195,140 worth of birches?

$195,140 worth of birches?

We once had to do a lot of talking to convince a client that he didn’t want to chop down a healthy live oak that was just beginning to develop the kind of dramatic architecture that can’t be purchased with anything other than time. Since then, I’ve been wanting a dollar value for what a tree can add to a property, a number that’s easily cited and perhaps easily dismissed, but undeniably monetary and specific. A number like $8,870, the number that a recent study came up with after looking at how the presence or absence of street trees affected the sale prices for homes sold in east Portland during 2006-7. (The houses with trees also sold an average of 1.7 days quicker.) It’s obviously one of those statistics which can’t be applied too literally, but the researchers seem to have made an effort to account for some of the other variables that might surround the real estate sales. And though it is somewhat mercenary and doesn’t account for the many environmental and aesthetic benefits of trees and there probably isn’t a direct causal relationship, it might help people appreciate their trees more. What homeowner could hear that stat and not go right out to get a street tree? Personally, I’m sure I’ll cite the number at some point in the future, possibly to our landlord who knows that Anita and I are responsible for adding six street trees to our block. Shouldn’t that get us $53,220 credit towards our rent?

In a somewhat related note, I’ve always liked this planting of birches in my neighborhood and this post seems like the most reasonable time to mention it. The planting has an impressive total of 22 birches, which is 19 more than anyone else ever has. I’m pretty sure the birches count as ‘good overall tree cover,’ rather than as individual $8,870 trees, but there’s no question they make the house more valuable and desirable. The trees do the sun-in-winter, shade-in-summer thing for the house, and the planting always looks remarkably good, even when the understory needs maintenance. Designers talk about being bold or committed; 22 birches shows a serious level of commitment. Props to whoever planted them.

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