Bringing the ‘burbs to life

When we started, there were plants, a bird bath and bird feeders. The plants for the most part did nothing to feed the birds. Native insects likewise did not come here for fine dining.

With this makeover, that’s all changed. The bird bath is now a recirculating fountain. The bird feeders remain, but now there’s a veritable smorgasbord for visiting birds, with insects buzzing around a host of new native flowers.

We didn’t touch the concrete paths, other than to add a looping access path of flagstones set in sand and gravel to service the fountain and resupply the bird feeders. To make the design look as though it were done at once, gravel mulch strips align to the existing steps, flowing back into the plantings.

Perimeter plants were left in place for screening, the white birches remained for shade and habitat, but most of the other plants were ripped out. If a plant didn’t feed pollinators, help restore butterfly populations or provide nectar it got chopped. The result is a seasonal display of successive blooms that support local bee populations and feed migrating hummingbirds. As plants go to seed, they’ll support seed-eating birds. Some plants, like the milkweed, may even supply downy nesting materials.

We did not choose a purely native plant list, since some of the best plants for honeybees are not native (neither are these bees, for that matter). As long as all the plants in each group used the same amount of water and sunlight, the design would work.

Indian paintbrush, unlike most plants, does not get everything it needs from sunlight, soil and water. It needs a host plant: bush monkeyflower. Growing paintbrush alone is unlikely to be successful, but once paired with monkeyflowers there’s a good chance you can grow this native wildflower in your garden.

Partial plant list

Although the plants had to provide some function, that didn’t mean that they were thrown together haphazardly. They’re massed to form swaths of color, partially screen one area of the garden from another, and make the garden seem more private near the house.

  • Milkweed: restore monarch butterfly populations
  • Indian paintbrush: hummingbird food
  • Bush monkeyflower: host plant for paintbrush, hummingbird food
  • Annual wildflowers: food for native solitary bees
  • Mexican lobelia: hummingbird food
  • California fuchsia: hummingbird food
  • Lavender: honeybee food
  • Red yucca (Hesperaloe): hummingbird food
  • Penstemon: hummingbird food
  • Russian sage: honeybee food
  • Woolly sunflower: bee food
  • Coyote mint: butterfly food
  • Mugwort: background plant, interesting fragrance (leaves)
  • Grasses: keep some green while natives are dormant, add texture.
  • Sundrops: great color, and feeds bees, too.

It was also accepted by the National Wildlife Federation as a Certified Garden for Wildlife, meeting the criteria for food (pollen, nectar, seeds), water (fountain), cover (perimeter shrubs), places to raise young (perimeter shrubs and birch tree) and sustainable practices (no pesticides or nasty chemicals).

Although the style of this garden differs a bit from the surrounding homes, it seems to be accepted by the neighbors. It was certainly accepted by the birds and insects! It will probably need to grow in a few more years before the milkweeds get large enough to attract monarch butterflies, but other benefits were immediate. Ground-nesting bees moved in, probably taking advantage of nearby abundant food. Hummingbirds zip through the flowers, searching for nutritious nectar and probably insects to eat. Then there’s the impressive palette of color to delight passing people.




Multiple shades of privacy for a front yard remodel

Low screen fences create a gradient of privacy as people arrive toward the front door. A new path draws people to the front door to pass through a threshold created by the screen fences, with side paths linking a new driveway, the side yard and a crushed rock additional parking space.

integrated lighting
integrated LED lighting on the screen fence
screen fencing
the fence appears continuous from some angles
stepping pads
stepping pads, awaiting planting

The project’s goals were to reinvigorate the front yard, increase curb appeal and increase the sense of privacy by making the screen fence seem continuous from the street.

Planting will come soon, and will unify the design from floating elements to an overall, comprehensive design.

Small back yards can be dramatic

This small backyard in East Sacramento has a gas fire pit surrounded by a curved seat wall, linking to another curved seat wall on a deck that flows around two large sycamores. There’s a cooking area, place for a table, and in time beer kegs in the garage will service a counter through taps installed in the wall.

For patio gardens, plants tend to be overhead canopies combined with peripheral massing to maximize usable space. To accommodate two large trees on site, we created a deck that could float over their roots to provide flat space without excessive excavation in the root zone. Although the finished garden appears simple and elegant, the planning and construction process involved a lot of collaboration with the contractor to make sure all the details fit beautifully.

Elements of design in nature | elements of nature in design

Line, form, color, texture, contrast, pattern, repetition, movement. All elements of design to consider when creating a built landscape. Finding and studying them in nature helps us recreate them in gardens and understand natural relationships of elements of a harmonious concept.

These scenes juxtapose chaos (willow branches), pattern (grasses, water plants), direction (some willow branches, grasses), color (willow branches, water, grasses, water plants), texture (water, grasses, vetch). Some scenes are worth painting; others not. Much depends on one’s point of view.

Of course, a painter can paint what she imagines instead of brute reality, arranging the elements as she sees fit to create a stronger painting. We do much the same thing designing landscapes: lining up views, overlapping elements here, contrasting them there, putting light against dark or bold against soft.

For dynamism, contrast in color, form and pattern work well: soft against bold, dark against light, movement against stability.

For harmony, subtle changes of pattern, harmonious colors, low contrast and sweeping horizontal lines make calm spaces.

In built landscapes, we can juxtapose bold hardscape with soft, harmonious plants – or do the opposite. Large sculptures emerging from billowy grasses in different hues for the first; stong, architectural plants such as agaves with simple gravel paving for the latter. We can also do both – mix the agaves and the sculpture or the grasses with the gravel.

All schemes can work, as long as there’s a hierarchy where main focal points cede to secondary, to background, to what artists call negative space. This is the calm between features that helps them stand out, easily discerned where they hold they gaze before the secondary items detail pulls you in. Ideally, the design will draw the eye through it in a repeating cycle, only to be redefined as the visitor moves through the garden.


Five things to consider when removing your lawn

Removing lawn is a good thing if you live in an area where water is limited. You’ll save on your water bill, avoid breathing dust and smog from a mower and gain more color and interest. Here are some things to consider when removing your lawn to conserve water and create a more sustainable landscape.

transformed lawn
This space – except for the patio – used to be lawn. A new Bocce court, fountain and flowering shrubs transform it into something exciting and useable, with pollinators for bees and nectar for hummingbirds.

Five things to consider when transforming your lawn:

1. Irrigation System. You’ll need to update your irrigation system to work with the new plants. You can switch to drip irrigation, but you’ll need to install filters (Wye strainers) and in-line pressure reducers at the valves so the drip components don’t clog or have problems with excessive pressure. If you’re using broadcast irrigation, you’ll likely have to move and change heads and probably nozzles as well. The lawn might have used 4″ pop-up heads – too short for shrubs. You’ll need to change the pop-up bodies to at least 12″ and put irrigation nozzles on risers where they’re  in shrub areas so that the plants don’t block the water. Stream sprays are more efficient than spray nozzles and can be retrofitted onto your pop-up bodies (check that the threads are compatible first). They do need longer run times, however.

2. Keep sight lines open. If your lawn is in the front yard and you replace it with tall shrubs, you’re creating a hazard every time you pull out of your driveway. You need to see what’s coming, and approaching cars need to see you backing out. The solution is to keep plants low where views are needed, and keep the taller stuff at the back.

3. Light. Don’t plant things that will grow up and cover your windows. If you want to screen views to a room, plant your shrubs far enough away from the house that you’ll still get light in the room. Planting shrubs farther out also gives you a nice private garden view instead of a mass of green leaves pressed against a window when the plant grows.

4. Maintenance. Just because you’re not mowing does not mean you’re not doing maintenance. Your new garden will need periodic trimming, initial weeding and periodic general cleanup. You may want to check on more natural ways of pruning and trimming than the mow-and-blow standard of shearing everything into a ball.

5. Think new opportunities. Ideally, you’re not just removing lawn; you’re transforming your landscape into something more interesting. You can use mounds to create a bit more privacy, perhaps to create a small patio for visual interest or chatting with neighbors – the new space does not have to be entirely dedicated to plants! If you add mounds, you’ll improve drainage – and the mounds can envelop the patio area for more separation from the street. In the back yard, your former lawn can become a Bocce court, dining space, a lounge, herb garden, grove of trees for sitting in the shade, a sculpture garden with flowing ornamental grasses, a hummingbird garden…

Of course, if it’s design ideas you need, we can help! Check our ideas section for some transformations, get in touch and create some wonderful spaces for yourself!

Got Birds? How to bring nature back into your outdoor environment

Imagine every yard with at least some habitat designed in: food plants for bees and butterflies, berries for birds, a variety of plants for foraging.

wildlife fountain diagram
This sectional view shows the fountain, pump, filters, perching branch, sheltering shrub and adjacent habitat. The plants are illustrative- not actual species – in reality, there is a variety of species chosen to attract hummingbirds, produce berries and provide pollen for bees.

Looking at the typical suburb in a satellite photo, you might notice the dominant plant type: lawn. It might be a great place to play from time to time, but it consumes a lot of water and energy – yet provides nothing for bees. Some birds will visit to pull worms or chase insects, but none will stay to nest, find shelter or forage for berries. Neither will the lawn feed caterpillars that become our larger butterflies like monarchs.

Just removing even a patch of your lawn and doing three simple things can help bring back vanishing butterflies, encourage native bees and give your local birds a better home. In the process, you’ll get movement, color and seasonal variation.

Provide water. The biggest attraction for birds in our garden is the fountain. It’s designed as part of a system: running water that makes noise so passing birds know it’s there. Bare perching branches over the fountain so they can pause to look for predators before drinking or bathing – or wait for their turn as other birds bathe. Sheltering shrubs nearby so wet birds can fly somewhere safe to preen and dry off. Sloping sides with a rough surface let hummingbirds cling to the edges for a bath, and placing pebbles at the top lets birds judge the depth of the water. Our fountain has filtration made from inexpensive aquarium supplies, drain line and perforated piping – so the water stays clear as long as nobody adds goldfish (although egrets love eating them!).

Plant food plants. There’s a double benefit here: by helping the bees, you’re also increasing the number of pollinators and therefore encouraging seed production for the birds. Although it’s a bit tricky to establish, milkweed is the only thing monarch butterflies eat. When I was young, these butterflies floated across the landscape in huge numbers; now they’re few and far between, to the point where people are considering putting them on the endangered species list. California asters will attract bees and butterflies, then produce seed. Toyon berries will give birds something to eat in autumn – while various species of mahonia and ribes can provide berries at other times of the year.

Plant native plants. You can plant certain Mediterranean climate plants, too – as long as they’re not invasive species. All the plants I mentioned above are native, and you can add Ceanothus and manzanita to the list. Both come in a variety of forms and are much loved by bees when in bloom. Most prefer dry conditions, often minimal or no water in summer. Other good natives include California fuchsia (hummingbirds love this), coffeeberry, sages (hummingbird sage even grows in partial shade) and penstemon, another hummingbird favorite. A lot of great ornamental grasses are native: deer grass, sporobolus airoides, nassella pulchra… There are grasslike rushes and sedges, some with spiky upright gray foliage. There’s blue-eyed grass, actually a type of iris – and we have native iris, too. There are annual wildflowers loved by native bees: California poppy, Clarkia, lupine, five spot… although you’ll probably have to reseed the annual area every year and give it no supplemental water. For shade, there’s red-twig dogwood, creeping mahonia, snowberry and bush anemone for light shade. You can add western columbine and alum root in irrigated areas.

These are just basic points on bringing small wildlife to your garden, possibly restore butterfly populations and gain something more interesting to stroll through than lawn. There is a lot of information on the web, and you can also join a local environmental organization like the California Native Plant Society (CNPS) to learn what people are doing in your area.

You can also contact us, of course! We’ve given talks on attracting wildlife to your garden, and many of our designs have a wildlife component.

6 tips for restaurants who are ready to reinvent their outdoor dining areas

You’ve spent a fair sum of money on your restaurant’s interior. What about outside? A great patio space can help your restaurant become a favorite during the many months when the weather is too nice to dine indoors.

All you need is a burner to prepare sauté items in the patio – preferably where the action is visible from all dining areas.

Here are six things to consider

  1. It’s not just seating. There should be some kind of POS station complete with essential items so your wait staff doesn’t have to run back into the restaurant every time someone drops a fork or needs a napkin. Having a POS on the patio shortens client wait at that critical time when they’re deciding what to tip.
  2. What about in-patio prep? A grill station works great for hot appetizers, and seeing the heat and sizzle as the food is prepared can entice more orders. There can also be burners for quick sautés, or a simple station equipped with a creme brulée torch to bring back of the house action to the patio.
  3. Style counts. The patio should reinforce your restaurant’s concept: if you’re farm to fork, can you grow herbs? If you’re into brewing, what about growing hop vines over the patio? Italian? Bay laurel grows in part shade, and you might be able to open views to a more Mediterranean garden that can also provide fresh herbs for your recipes. More exotic? Bold colors can suggest an Asian theme, as can layering fabrics and bold plants.
  4. Water features separate conversations. White noise from the water masks and replaces the murmur of voices to create a more intimate, calming feeling. The water feature can also reinforce your restaurant’s style: tile for Spanish and North African, cut stone or steel for modern, rough stone for Asian.
  5. Circulation is key. Not only your guests, but your wait staff needs to move through the space. Think of the patio like a small city: wider roads allow quick access to key points, medium sized streets link areas, narrow streets slow the flow and walkways arrive at final destinations. In a patio, the avenues link the back of the house to the patio and the patio to the front entry. Once in the patio, lanes let guests and staff move from wait stations, restrooms, the bar area and the tables. The area around each table is the walkway, where people move slowly to find their seats. The key is making each table feel intimate while allowing rapid access for food delivery and busing.
  6. What’s around the patio? How will you define your patio space? If it’s blank walls, that’s not very appealing. You can add art, wrought iron, colorful textured paint, bold graphics such as murals to transform blank walls into interesting backdrops. If guests arrive at the restaurant by passing near the patio, make sure they have good views of the area as they arrive. Too many restaurants hide their patios well, resulting in fewer requests for outdoor dining, even astonishment when guests find that you even have an outdoor dining space.

If you’re planning a patio renovation, give us a call. Odds are we can liven up your space and help make your restaurant’s surroundings as appealing as its interior.

Design is everywhere

Being a designer means looking at everything around us. The chair I’m sitting on, the sidewalk, the handle on the frying pan, the smart phone. We’re not really cranky. We only seem that way because we’re asking questions, like, “Why aren’t sidewalks better at treating runoff water?”

Designers continually look at how things could work better. The chair could have rounded arm rests that don’t catch on things, throwing them to the ground. The sidewalk doesn’t allow water to filter through – instead it dumps it into the gutter (another designed thing). The frying pan handle’s geometry means I have to lift my arm too high at a strange angle to toss ingredients.

Case in point: “smart” phones. What if…?

This looks more like my phone and my life than a zillion tiny icons! Note that the icons also reflect messages & updates.
This looks more like my phone and my life than a zillion tiny icons! Note that the icons also reflect messages & updates.

Unfortunately, my “smart” phone looks little like this image. I can’t have bigger, custom buttons. No, I must be happy with three screens of tiny, look-alike icons that are hard to organize the way I want. Sure they’re easy to drag, but that just pushes something else away, not necessarily where I want it.

Apple products used to just work, generally speaking, but that was before the separation happened. It’s a design risk, separation. It’s where you start to think that you know more about your product’s users than they know about themselves. You stop asking basic questions, stop thinking like the people who will use your products. You think they’ll all wade six levels deep into a control pane to adjust their ring tone, when all they want is simplicity. You think the bezel details are more important than handling attachments well in the e-mail app. It’s where you spend a lot of time designing each little button on the screen instead of asking if a  grid of little buttons is really the best way to organize and activate your applications.

As a designer, the phone and its user interface aren’t exempt from analysis. Here’s mine, written knowing that absolutely nobody at Apple will read it nor take it seriously.

  • Why isn’t the screen recessed right out of the box so it’s protected? And the associated question, why do they spend so much time on the color and detail of the back of the phone when everyone will buy a case for protection and pop their phone into it as soon as it comes out of its box?
  • Why isn’t the phone two millimeters or whatever thicker, so the battery could last perhaps a day longer? Is having to carry a recharging battery for long trips away from power sources (like air travel) really excellent design?
  • You can be interrupted in so many ways with a smart phone. It notifies you of everything, without any real ranking of importance or relevance. A message from a client gets the same treatment as the latest e-mail ad from the supermarket. Both demand immediate attention. Yet the phone also has an address book, containing contact information for everyone you know. It can contain groups, like family, clients and even supermarkets. You might think it would be smart enough to know that family and clients would be a higher priority than the supermarket, but no. It seems these things aren’t correlated – except by the application that received them (not by most recent?).
  • What about planning a pizza night with some friends? We all have Apple phones. Why can’t we ask our phones for a night in a week or two where we’re all free and have it propose something that works. No, we each must glue our eyeballs to the screen, scrolling around, individually searching our schedules to find holes, calling them out until one works.
  • Ring tones? Why can’t I record Annette’s voice saying, “Hello!” as a ringtone so when she calls I’ll immediately know it’s her? The phone has a microphone, after all.
  • And all those buttons? Some do similar things: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest… why not have a bigger button with its own logo, or (gasp!) even a custom logo that could be chosen from the photo library and cropped? I can group these things together, but all I get is a tiny button with even tinier versions of the apps inside. Lame! Why can’t I have a big button, say the size of two to four normal buttons that fits in the “grid”, with a clear logo that I could see quickly?
  • What about those “important” apps that you assign to the bottom of the screen? What if these could be the groups mentioned above?
  • Why can’t I delete unwanted apps installed by Apple, like Stock Market? I could always load it again if I wanted it, right?
  • The phone has two speakers: one for your ear and one for ringing. What if these were tweaked so they’d work as stereo speakers in landscape mode for sharing videos with friends when I don’t want to plug in ear buds for quality sound?
  • How about GPS? I’m in Berkeley for some Indian food, but I’m not sure how to go home. I tell the phone to take me home. I put the phone where I can see it while driving. JOIN A WIFI NETWORK immediately appears on the screen, completely blocking the map (yeah, the map I need to see so I’ll know where to turn). Right. The geniuses at Apple thought there was an 80 mile long continuous Wi-Fi network? I have to pick up the phone and correctly hit the tiny CANCEL button to recover the map with my route. If it ever finds a Wi-Fi signal it likes, I might have to do this again. Worse, the phone knows I’ll be driving 80 miles (well, actually 82.4 miles). Why doesn’t it know I won’t be able to maintain a continuous WiFi connection?

How does this relate to landscape design? I see it as a cautionary tale. If we’re ever infected with narcissistic tendencies, we might start dictating and stop collaborating. We might stop asking questions: how should this work? Does this work? Where can it be improved? What can be simplified? How can we apply new things we’ve learned?

In other words, we might start worrying more about button icons and bezels than overall function.

Monterey Park garden growing up

The goals: color, year-round interest and water saving – using plants that grow naturally in the site’s alkaline clay soil. There’s been a bit of trial and error – there’s a big difference between a plant that’s supposed to grow in certain conditions and a plant that actually does grow.

This garden is on a slope facing the ocean in Monterey Park, a suburb of Los Angeles. Before developers dropped houses on the site, it was likely a mixture of coastal sage scrub and chaparral. We went native on the slopes, although not entirely – there was some existing lantana, bougainvillea and Cape honeysuckle doing well. We simply added native toyon and lemonade berry to the mix, along with some coast live oak trees in strategic locations (and one tree added by scrub jays and left to grow).

The flatter portions of the garden are a test bed for a mix of native and exotic low-water plants with year-round interest and seasonal color. Here’s a list of what worked, what didn’t and what’s hanging on, in no particular order.

A major portion of the garden is planned for renovation – mostly because of a brick wall that’s ready to fall over, built along with the house, running alongside a too-narrow path. We’re using our successful plants list to plan what will go into the new section, but we also have a wish list of very interesting succulents that will require a trip to Fallbrook when it’s time to plant.

Successful plants

Kalanchoe beharensis. Accent plant. Exotic succulent. Will grow larger than shown in photo to become more dominant – right now, it’s the same size as the Aloe ferox but this won’t last long since it grows much faster than the aloe.

Agave parryi. Foundation plant. Semi-native succulent.

Agave attenuata. Foundation plant and accent. No spines on this agave, and pretty much bulletproof where there’s little or no frost.

Aloe ferox. Accent plant. Exotic succulent.

Aloe ‘Blue Elf’. Exotic succulent. Form and color (red flowers), hummingbirds.

Senecio mandraliscae. Ground cover. Exotic succulent. Form, color contrast.

Cordyline ‘Burgundy Spire’. Exotic accent plant. Form, color contrast.

Graptopetalum paraguayense. Exotic succulent. Ground cover, blue foliage. Pretty much bulletproof.

Aloe hybrids – maybe ‘Pink’. Exotic succulent. Ground cover, perennial. They’re small, tough and turn pink when it’s hot. Frost wipes them out, as we found out in Sacramento: instant black mush.

Penstemon eatonii. Native perennial. Looks like this variety might put on quite a show in spring. It’s supposed to be short-lived, but short lived still gives us a few years of bloom and food for hummingbirds.

Deer weed. Native perennial, butterfly food plant (if the right species are present). Formerly known as Lotus scoparius, it was renamed Acmispon glaber (the previous name was too easy to pronounce?). Goes dormant when dry, perks up with first rains. Hopefully will reseed as time goes by.

Desert mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua). Flowering perennial. A desert species, this took a couple of years to become established, but has since grown and even reseeded.

Baja feather duster (Calliandra californica). Foundation shrub. Another desert species that apparently loves dry clay soil. Red flowers for color, too.

Agave salmiana. I stuck this in the ground and it’s doing very well, but we can’t keep it. Although beautiful (if you like agaves) it’s just too big. We might keep the pups and find friends with big gardens, although transplanting a large agave is difficult (heavy) and dangerous (spines for us, and the plants are fragile).

Opuntia littoralis. Native cactus. This thing has taken over a good section of the hill, with yellow flowers in spring and tasty magenta tunas in fall.

Opuntia santa-rita. Near-native cactus, accent shrub. Purple pads and some of the nastiest glochids anywhere in the the plant kingdom. Worth it for the flowers and the pad color, planted well away from any path and given lots of room to grow.

Aechmea hybrid. Bromeliad. Ground cover, if you consider something that grows about two feet tall a ground cover. It can also grow up trees, rocks, whatever by clinging on with its roots. Just fill the reservoir cups between the leaves occasionally to keep it happy.

Eriogonum fasciculatum. Native ground cover. This was an especially low-growing variety from Theodore Payne. One of the plants that would have grown here 200 years ago, along with the toyon, lemonade berry and live oak.

Epiphyllum hybrids. Flowering cactus. Although they’re epiphytic jungle cacti, they’ve proven to be happy inhabitants of the garden, requiring just enough water to keep their branches from shriveling. They’re growing in pots on clay pipes sticking out of the ground so they can cascade – their preferred growth habit since they grow on trees in nature. These are divisions of an old plant, and seem to love the pot/pipe combination. We’ll see next spring when it’s flowering time.

Just Hanging On

(so far – they could either decide they’re established and grow or curl up and die)

Capparis spinosa. Foundation shrub, edible buds (capers), flowering accent. It’s supposed to grow out and cascade over the retaining wall, but so far it’s just growing a little bit each year.

Geranium canariense. This plant does not like summer heat, even when it only gets in the 80’s. So far, it’s recovered in the winter. It’s also possible that it wants more water than we’re giving it.

Salvia canariense. This did well in the past, but the current plant is struggling.

Penstemon ‘Marguerita BOP’. Native perennial. Not happy campers, although perhaps since we’re getting rain this year they’ll perk up.

Arctostaphylos ‘Howard Mc Minn’ (manzanita). One branch turned black, then the other. Plant dead. A second plant is hanging on, barely. Perhaps with good winter rains it will recover.

Dead and gone

Dudleya hassei. Native succulent. These things were our attempt at a native alternative to the Senecio. Maybe if we had the perfect habitat they might have grown, but as it was they all went downhill and never recovered.

Digiplexis ‘Illumination Flame’. It looks like this thing wanted more water and possibly less heat. It grew, bloomed and died when summer arrived.


Lighting your landscape

Lighting gives you two landscapes in one. By selectively lighting focal points and use areas, you bring the best points of your landscaping into focus while letting everything else fade into obscurity.

As landscape designers, we look at all use of a garden – both day and night. Properly applied, lighting will make the landscape glow, without hot spots that detract from the overall view. The right light in the right place – not too close to the subject, but not so far as to lessen the light’s effect – is key to creating a softly luminous landscape.

We’re in the middle of a lighting revolution. The light bulb and its variations are finally obsolete, replaced with long lived, energy saving LEDs. LEDs make changing bulbs a thing of the past, and use much less energy than the incandescent lamps they replace. Better yet, they come in a wide variety of shapes: linear, spot, glowing square… so light can be applied precisely for the optimum effect. Many high end fixtures can be programmed to wash walls  or structures with intense colors.

The other side of the revolution is transformers. They’re becoming more connected, with one model interacting with a smart phone app to allow you to program your outdoor mood as you’re sitting in your garden. Since LEDs require less voltage, their transformers can be smaller, too.

Patio by day


By day, this patio is pleasant enough, but the wall to the right isn’t very interesting (it’s the neighbor’s wall, so we couldn’t paint it nor add sculpture). Nothing is highlighted, and every element of the design appears of equal importance.

Patio by night

After darkness, the water takes on an ethereal glow. The formerly blank wall to the right is decorated with shadows, and increased contrast brings drama.

Front walk by day

This front entry is bold enough by day, but the path is just another path.

Front walk by night

By night, lighting built into the path guides visitors to the door, bracketed by scones set on the walls. There’s also a security function at work here, since anyone walking up the path will be highlighted by multiple lights.

Backyard, daylight

Although the plants’ forms are dramatic, the overall effect is uniform. Comfortable, interesting but not something exotic and ethereal.

Backyard lightingThe nocturnal effect brings exoticism, transforming the palm into a glowing sculpture.

Pindo palm at night

Closer up, the pindo palm becomes a fountain of light. The unlit fountain fades into the background, with the water sound accenting the night.

Cactus and niches by night

Looking in the other direction, a specimen prickly pear flanks a series of lit alcoves displaying a succulent arrangement and ceramics.

Art wall, daylight

This arrangement of outdoor art and living sculpture transforms from this by day…

Art wall with lighting… into a dramatic gallery at night.

When you’re considering installing some new landscaping, don’t forget to set the stage for night, especially if you live in a warm climate where you’ll spend a lot of night time in your outdoor spaces