Saturday, April 25, 2015

Arbor Day 2015

Taking time to appreciate trees and some of the many benefits they provide in begarden's garden. In design school, one of the first things we learned was people need to feel enclosure – floors, walls and a ceiling – in gardens as well as in homes and offices. Trees provide all that and so much more.

Structural interest and a suggestion of ceiling are offered by the neighbor's ornamental pear tree, whose limbs arch gracefully over the fence and beyond.

The pear tree's dark, dense canopy will supply sun-sensitive succulent plants and young dwarf tangerine tree sufficient shade from summer's midday rays, while a showy blossomed, brightly foliaged Desert Willow tree takes center stage.

Side by side inflorescenses of "Purple Splendor" Desert Willow hint of summer's splendid show.

Mature citrus trees provide a sense of place in the garden as they root it to its agronomic past. Line-softening and corner-filling mass are pleasing side benefits, while tall, arching "walls" of dense foliage offer privacy and screen out unwanted views. Even the unwelcome presence of a power pole, itself a repurposed tree, is diminished by the fruit tree's robe of camouflaging foliage.

Trees' own leaf litter carpets the garden's floor, shading soil, sheltering cooperative creatures slithering beneath, while conserving soil moisture and nourishing future growth.

And, abundant fruit production means plenty for sharing with local Food Pantries.

Shade adapted plants, virtually unaided by a gardener's tenacious tidiness, find their way amidst debris while weaving their own tapestry of foliage 'neath sheltering limbs.

As if knowing floors, walls and ceiling were not enough to satisfy the demands of an implacable proprietor, while literally reaching for the skies, hard working trees grace our gardens with...

... attractively colored and textured bark...

... and buzzing bee –, chirping bird –, and fluttering butterfly – attracting abundant blossoms of every hue, all while...

... satisfying hearts, souls, and bodies. Is it any wonder while sheltering us when winds blow, trees laugh so hard at us their limbs shake?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

On painting color into the garden and onto your home...

Gardens are a great place to experiment with using color. Low walls and screens are a lot less trouble to paint and repaint than a whole house. Designers like Susan Morrison, BluePlanetGardenBlog employ their own gardens as test grounds to great effect, using limited scale, bold colored back drops to accentuate shapes and forms of foreground planting and other objects. Check out the previously purple now acid green wall in her side gardenNote how foreground furnishings shown in her post (chaise lounge cushions and large pots) present a variety of hues subtly, more subdued. Today, this post by Pam Penick over at Digging shows her experiments with gorgeously wild colors on her new low stucco walls. Thank you, Susan and Pam, for inspiring me to share a few tips of my own about using color, especially outside. 

Selecting complimentary colors and color schemes is more difficult for some than others. My neighbor's house to the east used to look like this.

While this red is not a bad color by itself, it fights a little with the brick wainscoting. A color to compliment the bricks may be better.

Using color outside has different challenges than inside. Outside light has a consistent (daytime) source, the sun. Inside, we may change light fixtures and lamps (bulbs for lay people), altering the color temperature of the light in which we view our colors. However, outside light is much stronger, especially on an early summer midday. Assuming you will paint your house the same color all the way around, it is important to "see" that color vertically on all the exposures, north, south, east and west, in various lighting conditions.

How to approach this is something I have been seeing neighbors struggling with when deciding what color to paint the outside of their house. They either resort to painting patches all over their house, painting it like someone else's house, or both. One left their house looking like this for months, then finally painted it blue!

Paint companies may want to sell you a lot of sample pots of paint, but they are usually interior grade and not their best line of paint. Later problems may result from improper surface preparation in a hasty decision to extensively patch paint exterior surfaces. The painting contractor for the house above knew this, and I believe he took extra steps (possibly adding to his cost) to knock off the patch paint before priming and repainting.

Seeing colors from chips and swatches is a skill we can develop a sense for over time, especially with training and an understanding of the way colors behave together and under various sources of light. It is why you might consider hiring a design professional to help you rather than waiting months to figure out what color to paint your house. As designers, we can can order full sheet swatches from paint companies. They can be placed on surfaces to be painted at different times of day, especially early or late. It is important to look at surroundings. How will colors in your landscape compliment your home, and vice versa? How will your new color look next to your neighbor's. If you have your heart set on a color,  you might paint your house before your neighbor gets a chance to choose their next color! 

Neutral tones are always safest when painting large areas, like houses. Also, in context with most neighborhoods. However, unless there are HOA restrictions, that doesn't limit us to white or beige. There are neutrals that convey every color in the spectrum. They are just toned down with generous helpings of grey/white to grey/black and their adjacent and/or complimentary-colored pigments. Here is the deep, neutral blue-grey-green my neighbors to the west just had their house painted last week after a full texture recoat:

Doesn't the color look great next to mangaris wood trim and trunk of nearby redwood tree?

Lighter colors reflect a lot of light, so they trick the eye into not seeing wall imperfections. If your stucco has been patched and you don't have it in the budget for a full texture recoat, a lighter color may be preferred. Same with older wooden siding. However, darker colors reflect less light and they can look much less harsh and evoke mystery. Even be more inviting. Who doesn't want to walk into a shaded glen to see what mysteries are to be discovered in the forest? By the way, my favorite exterior paint company actually has a color called "Shaded Glen" -- I kid you not. Unfortunately, looks more like WWII era "army green". Speaking of green, houses painted green may fight with various shades of green in the landscape. To me, the colors in nature always win that battle. May we never go back to the olive/avocado green fad of the 1970s.

My own house went from being a light oyster with aqua fascia (so very '80s) to a rich medium tan with deep walnut fascia and light lily color under boxed eaves. 



Someday, perhaps I will go darker, even paint the garage door. For now, I am enjoying the modest change.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Street Trees in the 'hood

I've ranted on here previously about the street trees in my neighborhood, their care, maintenance, and diseased, aging status. This post is to take a little different tack. Recently, that is earlier this evening, I put together some information about our street trees to share with neighbors. Most of it comes from a very cool website/database of CalPoly San Luis Obispo, called "SelecTree". Although I focused on the crazy-large, old trees in my particular neighborhood of Woodland Hills in northwest Los Angeles, CA, some of the information sources at least should be of value to anyone in California with an interest in trees. Below is the text of my document titled 'Large Trees in “Girard” Tract of Woodland Hills -- especially Costanso Neighborhood Watch Group section'.

Large Trees in “Girard” Tract of Woodland Hills -- especially Costanso Neighborhood Watch Group section

Janis Hatlestad, Better Earth Garden Design (, Woodland Hills, CA

Urban Forest Ecosystems Institute at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo has developed a website application called “SelecTree”. That page contains a search box in which can be input a tree’s botanical or common name. Listed below are some of the prevalent older trees in our neighborhood that are in the SelecTree database. Both types of names are shown (Genus species, Common Name(s)) with link to the appropriate SelecTree page. You might find your street tree among this short list. My understanding is these original trees were planted by Girard approximately 90 years ago (+/- 5 years). Most of them appear to fall into the longevity category of 50 to 150 years. Fifty would be in more adverse conditions, while 150 life span would be achieved through more optimal care throughout a tree’s lifetime. Some of these trees, of course, may live much longer in their native land in association with both fauna and other flora of their communities.

Photographs as well as pertinent attributes of the trees are contained in these pages. This may help you to identify your particular street tree or trees. For example, form, shape, and size characteristics of each tree species. Pest and Disease resistance and susceptibility, Branch Strength, Fire Resistance, expected climate adaptation identified by “Sunset Zone” and “USDA (cold-hardiness) Zone” are also included. We are primarily Sunset Zone 18 in the flats and cold air drains, and rather more like Sunset Zone 19 in thermal belts along the foothills, as we have little of the coastal air influence enjoyed in most other areas of Los Angeles. USDA Zone here is I believe 9a (average annual extreme minimum temperature for 1976-2005), although in some years we’ve felt more like 8b. Specific cold hardiness ranges for each tree species are also listed as available.

Many of our trees -- the Bottle Tree (Kurrajong), as well as the Gums -- are native to Australia, which has some similar climate areas. Being just slightly smaller in size than the contiguous United States, Australia also has many climate areas dissimilar to ours.

Brachychiton populneus, KURRAJONG or BOTTLE TREE
Eucalyptus camaldulensis, RIVER RED GUM 
Eucalyptus polyanthemos, SILVER DOLLAR GUM 
Eucalyptus robusta, SWAMP MAHOGANY 
Eucalyptus rudis, FLOODED GUM*
Eucalyptus tereticornis, FOREST RED GUM 
  * Not to be confused with Eucalyptus grandis, also called “FLOODED GUM”. 
** Also called California Pepper Tree, although not native to California. 

As time permits and I observe additional trees in our neighborhood forest, I will update the list, especially to include more recently planted replacement trees.
References:, Urban Forest Ecosystems Institute at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. 
PlantHardiness, USDA Agricultural Research Service
Sunset climate zones: Los Angeles region,

Other sources:
A Californian’s Guide to the Trees Among Us, Matt Ritter, Heyday Books, Berkeley, CA 2011., especially the publication “HELP YOUR TREES SURVIVE THE DROUGHT
Eucalyptus Redgum Lerp Psyllid, UCANR, UC IPM Online, Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program

Copyright: Janis Hatlestad, Better Earth Garden Design (, 2014 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Honoring the memory and legacy of Bert Wilson, founder of Las Pilitas Nursery

My sincere condolences to the family of Bert Wilson, who passed away on March 4, 2014. Owner of Las Pilitas Nursery, with locations in Escondido and Santa Margarita, California, he was a fine man with a great sense of humor and a passion for the natural world. He was supremely generous with photographic images of California native plants and information on how to grow them, where to grow them, their adaptations, and what benefits they provide.

The display garden at his nursery site in Escondido, California is what inspired me to design this garden. His knowledgeable staff helped me select plants.

Mr. Wilson, your memory will live on in the heart of loved ones as well as those of us further out in the network of native plant gardeners. Your legacy will live on not only in the business and website you created, but in the gardens where thousands of plants you adeptly propagated, selected, and nurtured have ultimately been planted, and will continue to be planted for generations to come. Thank you, and may God bless.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Gardening Passion: How a suburbanite beach chick grew to love her garden

In the beginning, there was a girl, a grandma, a dad, and a rose…

Notice the carefully placed rocks on the edge of the patio. Thinking that was to keep said girl from rollerskating into the rose bed, or worse, the wall. She still nearly knocked out her front teeth, but that is not how it happened. The actual rose at lower right is from a bush that Dad transplanted from Grandma's garden -- still going strong after 40 plus years.

… and a mom, some marigolds (planted while the girl was recovering from tonsillectomy), and California poppies...

There was also an older sister, but her significant contribution to the story comes later.

There were nearly weekly visits to Grandma's garden…
"Lessons" from Dad in how a 9-year-old should push a wheelbarrow -- that is how some of the adobe soil got moved from from front to back yards to level a playing field for family badminton games…
Original wheelbarrow 50 years later is missing a wheel and has seen better days, but it is still in use for mixing and catching excess potting soil.

Oh, and remember that the girl loved going to the beach?

She eventually realized she could plant it in her garden… well, sort of…

Thursday, February 27, 2014

When Swapping Your Grass for Cash, Plant Natives Rather than Plasti-turf

Pardon the interruption from the post series I've recently undertaken, but this topic is too timely not to address. What follows is the text of a letter I hope to share with local Water District and Watershed Management leadership.

On all counts -- aesthetic, functional, environmental (including water use), practical, and personal safety -- I am opposed to the notion of encouraging use of artificial turf in residential and commercial landscapes, especially in hot, fire-prone climates of Southern California. 

After having discussed the pros and cons with many colleagues in the landscape industry, I gave the topic considerable thought. My remaining unanswered concerns include:

  • How can one expose so much surface area such as on artificial turf to harsh sunlight and not be concerned about environmental consequences of photo-degradation?*
  • As the product ages and it is subject to normal wear and tear, how might small released particles and toxic chemicals released therefrom affect watersheds and our ocean**? What about impact on air quality?
  • Although there are alternatives using natural gravel, underlayment containing ground up used tires is a popular subsurface for artificial turf. It is known that toxic chemicals are used in the manufacture of tires. As these bits of old tires break down over time, what is the expected impact on underlying soil, groundwater and watersheds in terms of toxicity?***
  • How to mitigate contribution to landfills of non-recyclable portions of artificial turf. (Even for the ones claiming to be fully recyclable, will they be? What would be the mechanism to ensure recycling takes place? Do we even yet have an effective mechanism for recycling carpeting?)
  • How does artificial turf address urban/suburban heat island effects? global climate change?
  • How will artificial turf behave during a firestorm? How will it affect a resident and their home's chance of survival? (How) will it affect air quality?

 * Believe independent studies are needed. Manufacturer studies seem to focus on product useful life, and do not address environmental impacts. We already know about human health impacts and environmental consequences of other plastic products. Why should we replace plastic bags in the environment with bits of artificial turf? 

** Article about study on plastic pollution in the ocean:

In terms of aesthetics, I feel it is always better to use a material in a way that it is not trying to look like something it is not. Have not yet found a fake grass that comes close to looking or feeling like the real thing, and I have been to a lot of trade shows and events where vendors showcase their products. Manufacturing companies' salespeople and marketing departments might be doing a very successful job of promoting their products -- convincing a lot of people that artificial turf is attractive. While it might look good on television and on websites, up-close, in person is a different matter.

Functionally and practically, it depends what one's primary use is for the surface. Frankly, I see so many superior alternatives to artificial turf that I would not even consider installing it. There are low-water-using turf species, native grasses and grass blends, playground bark mulches, and other play surfaces, to name a few. Flame or embers will melt it, so if one uses a backyard fire pit or cooking device it should not be located nearby. Where pet waste is a concern, natural surfaces (even good old dirt) seem much easier to maintain than artificial turf. If I were a mother, I would much rather my children play in dirt (better yet, a native meadow) than on artificial turf.

Aesthetics and function are of course matters of personal preference. However, whether we are landscapers, product manufacturers or suppliers, watershed managers, or managers of water districts, we are in a position to affect how people and their activities relate to the world around us. My hope is that we can work together to find ways to help people live comfortably and beautifully, in harmony with nature.

A residential garden designer, my work focuses on using principles of sustainability to create landscapes of enduring beauty. 

Thank you for this opportunity to provide input on the topic of artificial turf, especially its potential use in residential settings. If you have any questions or concerns and would like to further discuss, my contact information follows.



Janis Hatlestad
Better Earth Garden Design
Woodland Hills, CA

Monday, February 24, 2014

Seeking a Sustaining Path: Evolution of a Small (Sub)Urban Garden, Part 1

In less than two weeks, it will be 35 years since escrow closed and I embarked on garden and home ownership.

My "inherited" garden consisted of a small patch of lawn out front, surrounded by "freeway daises" near the front porch and juniper tams toward the street; bermuda grass lawn in back almost to the fence; several large rose bushes; reseeding annuals, such as johnny-jump-ups and California poppies; tulips planted in a "cold spot" that pushed through heavy soil to rebloom each year; a cluster of bearded iris*; three ubiquitous clumps of bird-of-paradise; three multi-trunked flowering pomegranates stuffed into one corner, underplanted with white belladonna or "naked lady" lilies; one for-the-birds-fruit-bearing tiny 'Nana' pomegranate*; a small flowering plum; one gumdrop-shaped privet; and hedge-trimmed algerian ivy in the narrow parking strip. Other than two towering street trees, the only real tree was a rather large crape myrtle* near one corner of the garage, underplanted with creeping vinca.

*All that remains of the original garden, bearded iris having been dug up, divided, moved and replanted numerous times.

In the first several years, I was in a career that found me working long hours, commuting 27 miles, van-pooling when schedules allowed, then transferring out-of-state. Consequently, other than weekend raking, sweeping, weeding, watering with various hose-end contraptions, and pushing either a me-powered or later an electric-powered lawnmower around, my "garden" received little attention. However, I do recall those activities taking me on average about 7 precious daylight hours per week to accomplish. A few big jobs were saved for my dear father, such as removing the pathetic "gum-drop tree" that quickly became even more unsightly because I refused even to trim it. I never did play a round of croquet, which is what I had thought you were supposed to do with a lawn.

While I lived out-of-state, my sister, Faith and her family moved into my home and garden. The four of them made much better use of it, especially the backyard.

For a few years when her twin girls were small, Faith did not work outside the home. Her husband, Tom, however did take on a second job during that time. On weekends, Tom built or assembled play equipment. A cabinet-maker by trade, he was quite handy. Faith put in a small vegetable garden, did the weekly gardening chores, and mulched around the rose beds. Between the two of them, they turned my pitiful "yard" into a perfect playland for preschoolers. At least that is the way it looked when I would come home a couple of times a year to visit. And especially at their garden party when my nieces, Kari and Sarah, turned 3!

Far right above, is the result of my later having hired a gardener to install new sod and an irrigation system -- greener lawn, but run-off onto patio and not sustainable, especially in drought years. Still, I must admit to having been taken in by the lure of green envy.

As the years -- both drought and wet ones -- came and went, I became interested in growing food. Initially, fruit trees -- thinking, why not gain at least three benefits from planting a tree? Food, privacy, and shade in one package. The first we planted was a grapefruit tree, which my father had started from seed about 12 years prior. It is the only citrus I believe that will produce good fruit without being grafted. Of course, because I also wanted shade and privacy, much of the fruit is now out of reach for easy picking. One of many lessons learned the hard way. Still, to me the rewards outweigh.

While my father was alive, I had a ready "market" for the grapefruit. Also, help with picking! And, I swapped grapefruit with my neighbor's brother who lived a couple of miles away, for fresh figs from his five trees.

Lately, I have chosen to give the fruit I cannot use to a couple of local food pantries. They are always happy to receive fresh produce.

Through the 1990s, still not having a lot of time to devote to gardening but wanting to learn more about it, I planted small beds of flowers around the lawn. Roses were popular. Eventually, there were way too many of them!

And, there were gerbera daisies…

And day lilies, too!

One rose I plan to always keep, because it came from my grandmother's garden...

I loaded up a little raised planter with daffodil bulbs. (In the background -- a dwarf valencia orange.)

Then, when blooms were spent and waning leaves became an unsightly mess, I did to them what I did to my hair when it was unruly. I braided them!
One day in the early years, I had the not-so-bright idea to plant a couple of what turned out to be Monterey pine trees. My dear daddy had obliged me with the two cute, fluffy little saplings, and helped me plant them, too! One, right under the power lines in back met its demise shortly after the Department of Water and Power whacked the top off. The other finally dwarfed my house and had been planted so the trunk eventually grew to less than two feet from my roof. Branches extended dangerously close to my neighbor's chimney.

Above photo (taken the day before tree removal): Rick Ranney.

That sums up the first two decades in my garden. Stay tuned for what has evolved since the turn of this century!

Above "teaser" photo: Barbara Eisenstein, All other photos (unless noted): Janis Hatlestad, Better Earth Garden Design,