Landscape Design – Planning an Energy Efficient Landscape Part II

xeriscaping-1One element of landscape design that is overlooked, but is part of any energy efficient design is water conservation.  While in the past, only arid areas of the country were concern about water conservation.  Today, water resources and conservation are a concern across the United States.

Landscape design that deals with water conservation is called xeriscaping.  This type of landscaping is based on seven principles that are generally used in all landscaping projects.  The difference though is the plant material that is chosen.

The first principle is one that all projects should start with and that is planning and design.  Many mistakes are made when planning is done off the hip and haphazard planting occur.  If your landscape already exists and you want to convert it to a xeriscape type of design, start slowly and do your research.  If you are starting from scratch, again start slowly and do your research.

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Landscape Design – Planning an Energy Efficient Landscape Part I

shade_homeEnergy efficient homes are ones that utilize efficiency inside and outside. While many homeowners concentrate on energy efficient appliances and maintenance, a little known technique is ignored and that is landscaping.  Utilizing landscaping to change an environment is an old technique that our ancestors used for thousands of years.  To understand how to use this technique, one must first explore their home’s surroundings.

Regional Climate

The United States is divided into four regional climates.  Each climate has its own conditions that can be manipulated by landscaping.  Knowing what regional climate applies to your living space is the first step in this process.

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Add a little Peace and Tranquility to your Garden Space-Create a Japanese Zen Garden

zen-rock-gardenEveryone has had a day where nothing has gone right.  You were late for work, the kids forgot their lunch, and your husband just informed you that his boss was coming for dinner.  This description describes many peoples’ lives and how they handle this stress. This is one of the factors that determine their health and happiness.  One way of dealing with this stress is to just rush through ones day and hope for the best.  Another more constructive and healthy way is through the creation of a Japanese Zen garden.

This type of garden can be created for a desk or tabletop along with a more traditional type of design that is actually done in one’s garden space.  All Japanese Zen gardens are made up of sand, rocks, water, and ornaments.  These ornaments include bamboo fencing, lanterns, or water basins called tsukubai, along with natural plants.

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Grow a Traditional Favorite – The American Chestnut Tree

chestnutsAs you sit around the fireplace this season and listen to a chorus of “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire,” consider how wonderful it would be to be able to harvest your own hyperlocal chestnuts for the holidays.  Before jumping into scanning the seed catalogues and putting your gardening clogs on, one must first understand the history of the American chestnut tree.

The American chestnut tree covered a large portion of the United States prior to the 1900s.  Then, shortly after the early 1900s, a shipment of Asian nursery stock came through New York.  The chestnut blight was carried in this stock.  Once on land, it spread through the United States by wind, rain, birds and other animals.

After the chestnut blight enters an area, it attaches itself to the tree’s bark and enters the inside of the tree through cracks in the bark.  Once inside, the chestnut blight causes sunken cankers that expand around the tree until the tree is girdled with the cankers.  Everything from the canker up will die at this point, but the blight does not stop there.

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Forcing a Holiday Favorite – The Amaryllis

AmaryllisThe amaryllis has been a flowering staple of the Christmas holiday for many years.  This is quite evident as one walks through the stores during this time.  The bulbs can be found loose in boxes, pre-planted and in a combination of both.  This kit provides a container, potting medium, and a bulb.

When shopping for an amaryllis bulb, one must look at the materials, and skills one has available to them.  If giving the bulb as a gift, one must also look at the materials and skills of those who may receive the bulb.  Another consideration when purchasing a bulb is the color.  The easiest color to find is red but pink, white and variegated varieties do exist.

Once you have chosen your bulb style, the next step is to decide when to plant.  Bulbs that are going to be planted immediately will need to have its roots soaked a few hours in warm water before planting.  This step will help rehydrate the roots.  If the bulb is going to be planted later, then one must place the bulb in a cool environment that is kept between 40 and 50 degrees F.  This environment can be an unheated garage or the refrigerator.  If using the refrigerator though, do not store the bulb with apples.  Bulbs and apples do not mix due to the production of ethylene gas by the apples.  This gas will cause the bulb to not bloom.

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Grill Safety Tips

grill_safetyWith the Holidays quickly approaching, I thought it would be appropriate to take a moment to remind everyone to be safe with his or her travels and activities this season. With that in mind, here are some guidelines to make sure you are exercising caution and utilizing standard safety measures when grilling.

The first thing you should do with your grill is read the owner’s manual. No matter how familiar you think you may be with grilling, if you are getting a new grill, do yourself a favor and flip through the manual. New features and technologies are constantly becoming available, so it is important to familiarize yourself with your grill in the event something goes wrong.

The next thing that you should be very watchful of is your fire. It should go without saying that fire can be extremely dangerous, and if misused can cause severe damage, injury, and even death. Have a water sprayer handy to help reduce flare ups from grease, and also be sure to have a fire extinguisher or garden hose readily available in case your fire gets out of hand.

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Green Living – How to Use Fresh Plant Material to Welcome the Season

Christmas_WreathHoliday decorating does not have to cost a lot of money or have a large carbon footprint, instead decorations can be found right outside ones door.  Natural plant material is a great choice for those who want a more nostalgic decoration or desire to reduce their consumerism by using what they have lying around their home.

There are three major types of decorations that can be created from live plant material.  This includes wreaths, swags, and centerpieces.  While other decorations do exist, the bases for these decorations are derived from the three listed previously.

The first step that all decorations start with is the collecting of the material.  All three types of decorations require filler, color and texture.  All of these requirements are met by what you harvest in your backyard and if you do not have enough, do not hesitate to ask a neighbor.  Pruning a neighbor’s plant material will not only help you, but will also reduce the amount of yard work your neighbor will have come spring.

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Get Connected at The Epicurean Connection

sheana_davisA mention of Sonoma often comes in the same breath as discussions of great wine. And, of course, any discussion of great wine must include a mention of artisan cheese. Luckily, Sonoma has a new house of fromage to satisfy both the turophile (cheese lover) and oenophile – The Epicurean Connection.

Located just off the Sonoma Square, The Epicurean Connection offers specialty cheeses, local artisan food fare, and fresh soups and sandwiches to enjoy on a wine country picnic. Sheana Davis – local cheese maker, caterer and culinary educator – opened the shop to showcase the wide variety of delicious local ingredients available for cooking in the Sonoma Valley as well as her two own artisan cheeses: Delice de la Vallee and Crème de Fromage.

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Creating a Safe Environment for Man and Beast – Outdoor Plant Hazards

dog_gardenMany plants that are found in the landscape are harmful to dogs and cats.  These include annuals that may be found in container gardens or flowerbeds along with an assortment of trees, shrubs, ground covers and even herbs.  When planning and designing a landscape, one must consider the safety of all those who may use the space.


While flowers add seasonal interest, color, and texture to our outdoor environment, they can also cause discomfort, and in some situations death of our pets.  Many of these plants do extra duty as a container plant, flowerbed addition and even a houseplant.  Several varieties of bulbs are poisonous to pets.  This includes calla lily, day lily, daffodil, gladiolus, hyacinth, iris, and narcissus.  Annuals such as baby’s breath, begonia and geraniums can also cause harm.

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Creating a Safe Environment for Man and Beast – Indoor Houseplant Hazards

cat_plantsPlants add beauty to our indoor environment by adding color, texture, and a touch of nature.  While it has been proven, that having plants in an indoor environment can be calming for humans it can also be fatal for our furry family members.

Both dogs and cats have a tendency to chew.  This chewing habit in nature provides much need fiber in the animal’s diet.  Certain dog breeds are bred for their natural habit of picking things up and caring them in their mouth.  This habit is reinforced through the game of “fetch.”  When it comes to this habit, dogs do not know what is safe to put their mouth on and what is not.

Cats, on the other hand, not only chew but they also scratch and rub.  Scratching is done to sharpen their claws.  The rubbing habit is a way of taking ownership of something with scent.  While on the surface these habits may look benign, they can cause accidental poisoning.

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