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Southern California can do fall color after all

In San Diego, I often meet ex-East Coasters who miss their wonderful fall color and claim that San Diego has none. I would like to change to the record to say that it isn’t that we can’t plant fall color trees, it is that we don’t. Many of my clients chose not to plant deciduous trees, opting instead for the consistency of an evergreen.
What is lost is the gorgeous colorful leaf display in the fall. Here are a few trees that grow well in Southern California, and have a nice fall display.

Starting at the top right:
– Acer fremanii ‘Autumn Blaze’ otherwise known as silver maple, has a gorgeous red color in the fall. This is a tree that gets very large, so make sure there is room in your garden.
– Pistacia chinensis or the Chinese Pistache, is another great display of red leaves, although it starts off with more of the oranges and yellows and changes over the course of the season. This is a tough tree, so it is good for high traffic areas like parking lots. It has a wide, spreading shape.
– Some of our most reliable fall color comes from our Liquidambars. The varieties come in different shades of fall color from yellow to burgandy, so be sure to check which one you are buying.
– Ginkgo biloba turns a wonderful canary yellow before losing its leaves. Just a warning here though: this tree comes as a male tree or female tree. The female tree produces very stinky seeds and should be avoided!

– Lagerstroemia, or Crape Myrtle, is quite variable but gives excellent color in cold years. Plus, it has a gorgeous summer flower display. Its small size makes it idea for suburban gardens and as a patio tree.
– My personal favorite for fall color is the Chinese Tallow Tree, Sapium seberiferum. It has delicate heart shaped leaves similar to a poplar and turns varying shades from gold to orange to red, often all at the same time. This year has been an excellent year for Tallow Tree color. They are the street tree in Little Italy so stroll by soon and take a look. Or take a look at my favorite specimen on 25th street near B in Golden Hill.

Want to add fall color to your San Diego garden? Go to our web page at and click on the contact us link.

Sage Outdoor Designs is a San Diego landscape design firm. Kate
Wiseman, the Principal, has been a San Diego landscape designer
for the past ten years. Find out more at

Great LA Times article on how to kill your lawn

I always like to post a good “How to Kill Your Lawn” article when I find it. This is from the LA Times, from September 2008. The full text of the article is printed here (my post is abridged).

By Joe Robinson, Special to The Times|September 06, 2008

YOU’D THINK it would be easy to murder a lawn, since many of us have had plenty of success without even trying. But finishing off that green sponge takes a smart strategy, or it may come back to haunt you.

Removing lawn seems basic enough: Dig it up and haul it away. But it’s best to subordinate reflex and forgo brute hacking, experts say. “Don’t dig up your lawn if you have Bermuda,” advises Barbara Eisenstein, horticulture outreach coordinator for the Native Plant Garden Hotline, a collaboration between the Metropolitan Water District and Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden. “Don’t rototill. All you’re doing that way is planting the grass, because it grows from the stems.”

Gerischer says people often make the mistake of hiring a crew that just skims off the top of the lawn, leaving the root system. You’re left with the LAWN That Will Not Die. “It can be hard to kill lawn when you don’t do it right,” he says.

That means bumping off the grass before you dig. Claremont resident Andrea Gutierrez, online marketing director for flower grower Monrovia, stopped watering her front lawn, and after a month it browned out. “We were sure the neighbors were freaking out,” she says. She and her husband then plowed the turf, attacking it with a rented mini-Bobcat excavator, counter to the advice of experts, who recommend disturbing the soil as little as possible to avoid activating weeds. The couple did wind up with residual weeds, but the result is a garden of lavender, blueberries, fig trees and blackberries.

The excavation approach is just one way to go grassless. Other options:

* Layering. This approach is increasingly popular among those who want to avoid chemicals, but it takes time. Cover the turf with six or more layers of cardboard or newspaper. On top of that, add 4 to 6 inches of organic mulch — chopped bark, leaves — and water. The layers prevent any light in or growth up. Grass dies in two months. Then you can dig right through the mulch and newspaper and plant in the soil.

* Spraying. Many gardeners prefer not to use herbicides, but Tom Smith, a turf specialist with the Institute of Agricultural Technology at Michigan State University, says an agent such as Roundup is one way to go, particularly if you’re going to replace the grass with something else. The spray is “absorbed by the plant and root system but doesn’t have a soil residual,” he says. Spray it once or twice, and in seven to 10 days the fescue has moved onto the big golf course in the sky. “It’s the simplest solution,” says Catie Lee, who runs CRL Landscape Design in Encino. She says that almost all of her clients are trying to lower water consumption and are looking to replace some of their lawn.

Want to take out your lawn and replace it with a gorgeous drought tolerant garden? We can help! Go to and click on the contact us link.

Sage Outdoor Designs is a San Diego landscape design firm. Kate
Wiseman, the Principal, has been a San Diego landscape designer
for the past ten years. Find out more at

Solar Path Light

Currently, most solar garden lights are gawky and awkward, shaped like their predecessors but with a small photovoltaic glued on top. Add to that the fact that they cast a dim glow for a few hours after sunset (at best), and I find myself talking clients into a hard-wired low voltage outdoor lighting system instead. So when I came across this prototype for a solar garden light, I was excited that a designer was finally heading in a new direction.

These fixtures, by designer Damian O’Sullivan, were displayed in the New York MoMA until May 2008. (I came across them on the Sietch Blog). He calls them the Solar Lampion. His exhibition focused on design’s reaction to changes in technology and science. Hopefully, this is one case where art will inspire a change in product design and put an end to those gawky awkward lights we have all gotten too used to seeing.

Want to add night lighting to your garden? Ask us how! Please go to and fill out the contact us page.

Sage Outdoor Designs is a San Diego landscape design firm. Kate
Wiseman, the Principal, has been a San Diego landscape designer
for the past ten years. Find out more at

Aqua Box for easy small fountains

I just learned about this company, and I wanted to pass the information along. I think a small fountain feature still has a place in a waterwise garden, as a small oasis that draws wildlife and provides wonderful dancing sound and movement. Using this company’s product, making your own small fountain just got easier. Aqua Box is an underground ricirculating system: just add the feature itself and some gravel or pebble to hide the system, plug it in, and you are ready to go.

A few places I like to go searching for features: Planter Paradise on Chase Street in El Cajon for amazing deals on pottery, Rolling Greens in Los Angeles for more designer pottery, and Stone Forest for beautiful carved stone bowls, pillars and basins.

Want your own small fountain feature? We’d love to help! Go to and fill in the contact us form.

Sage Outdoor Designs is a San Diego landscape design firm. Kate
Wiseman, the Principal, has been a San Diego landscape designer
for the past ten years. Find out more at

Style trend: Junipers?

Lately I have been noticing that in the world of popular drought tolerant plants, there is one genus that teeters on the edge of popularity but hasn’t quite made it back into style yet. In the debate, I am on the side pushing to bring back the juniper.

Junipers have a reputation: dated. They remind us of gardens that have been neglected since the 1960’s. Hollywood Twisted Junipers, especially popular in the 60’s, grow very large in their old age, and are by far the plant I remove from gardens the most often.

I think that they are about to see a huge rise in popularity and here is why: They are drought tolerant and they are green. Really green. Green-green in a way that most drought tolerant plants are not.

A few other reasons to recommend them:
They are so easy to grow. In fact, this is why I think they have such a bad reputation. They are still here from the 60’s! While many garden plants have long since kicked the bucket, these just keep on growing.
They come in a huge variety of sizes, shapes, and colors. They do not all have to be the huge shrubs we remember. Plenty are only 12″-18″ tall, and many others are compact groundcovers.

So here is to rooting for the junipers! The one shown above is Juniperus scandia (18 tall). Below is Juniperus ‘Old Gold’ (3′), Juniperus ‘Blue Chip’ (8″), Juniperus ‘Armstrongii’ (40″), and Juniperus ‘Arcadia (24″).

Sage Outdoor Designs is a San Diego landscape design firm. Kate
Wiseman, the Principal, has been a San Diego landscape designer
for the past ten years. Find out more at