Landscape design with nature brings the outside in.
Thursday, April 18, 2002
Landscape artchitects Tom and Bobbie Deyerle''s clients don''t need music. It''s not that the sound of arias floating through the living room on a foggy day isn''t lovely. But it would almost be excessive. There''s a profound simplicity in Tom Deyerle''s garden designs that lends itself to reflection, even reverie.
Dr. Richard Myler likes to turn off his fancy sound system and walk down the curving stone lined path on his Carmel Highlands coastal property to hide out in a carved chair overlooking the ocean.
Among bright orange California Poppies, purple and blue Echium, native grasses and gravel pathways are tucked niches offering protection from the elements and cozy benches to daydream on. Spots of bright color are provided with perennials. A salt-air-greened copper vase rests on a wooden table. Painted birdhouses hang in groups and are sheltered behind a chunk of granite.
Inside, a Persian cat named Oliver waits expectantly.
The copper-roofed house is hidden as much as possible by granite cliffs. A winding deck of weathered gray wood connects the lower and upper parts of the property, offering effortless circulation. Deyerle''s crew is in the process of building stone walls and creating a patio for a wind protected eating area outside of the kitchen.
"A landscape architect literally creates an outdoor place-with circulation, safety, views and exposure in mind," Deyerle says.
Myler spots an otter in the cove beneath his house, bobbing in the choppy whitewater. The waves create a constant undertone that physically resonates with the humans in the house above.
"The wind, the ocean is music," says Myler. "You don''t need any stuff here."
Sharon and Richard Myler gave away 13,000 square feet of stuff from their Bay Area home before retiring to this much smaller cliffside vacation house in the mid-nineties. The oceanside garden, a work in process, also had to be cleared out.
"It was all scruff and ice plant," Richard says.
"We wanted someone to work with the natural vegetation-not to make the garden look too ''done,''" Sharon adds.
Enter the Deyerles, who worked carefully with the house, designed by Carmel architect Mark Mills [see sidebar] to incorporate the landscape and schema of California cliffs and ocean. It''s an environmentally respectful style that conforms to the natural limitations of the land.
It''s also a trend that has lasting implications for California.
Stemming in large part from the water crisis, gardens with lots of thirsty greenery has given way to natural and water-conscious California landscaping. The era of big rose gardens and unlimited lawns have bit the gravel-pathway dust, so to speak.
"With the drought in the mid-seventies, people woke up," Tom Deyerle says. "We were among the first to push this real natural landscaping with natives."
Deyerle, a landscape architect based in Sand City with his horticulturist wife, Bobbie, provides all types of garden services to his clients, and offers an education in landscape language to his MPC students.
After 24 years in the business, the Deyerles have seen a lot of environmental buzzwords come and go. Like the fashion industry, the California horticulture world has seen versions of the "it girl" come and go. Recently trendy terms such as "Xeriscape" (meaning landscaping with plants native to the locality) are losing ground to more linguistically friendly labels. Hot adjectives such as "natives," "organic," and "drought-tolerant" have stuck around, but Deyerle insists they''re often misused.
"Be careful when you say ''organic,''" he warns. "There are insecticide soaps called organic, but if you were a true down in-the-dirt hippie, the ingredients would make you groan."
Deyerle, who uses native plants whenever appropriate, would also like to remind us of their true origins. Deyerle points out that birds, ships, and people''s clothing have imported seeds from around the world, and over time, transplanted species of plants to the area.
"There are environmental zealots-and their heart is in the right place-who want everything to be ''pure,''" he says. "But who are we as humans to say anything that came here after 1952 is exotic?"
Deyerle believes that in moderation, it''s perfectly permissible to use a few non-native species in a garden-especially when they have special memories to the gardener.
"We all bring a history with us to the area, and we all like to bring a piece of that past into our garden," he says. "Do we have a right to expect others to be so pure-isn''t it kind of arrogant of us?" he says.
"The term ''native'' is bogus," Deyerle says, "unless you specify native to what. There are arbitrary political boundaries that have nothing to do with climate." Deyerle explains how a plant native to California at the peaks of the Sierras will perish on the Coast.
It isn''t so much the question of whether a plant is California native, Deyerle says, but whether it''s harmful to the environment where it''s planted.
"A weed is a plant out of place," he says.
Firmly against pesticides and herbicides, Deyerle believes that appropriate garden planning can prevent many pests-from spider mites to deer-from destroying a landscape.
"Systemic pesticides are nasty stuff that I wouldn''t even use commercially," Deyerle says. "Often spraying simply breeds a new generation of resistant critters."
Like a human with a suppressed immune system, an unhealthy plant is much more likely to be infested with bugs.
"You want to keep the plant as healthy as possible with good air circulation," says Deyerle. "Stressed out exotic plants are more susceptible to disease."
Deyerle would rather let a plant die than use pesticides. "So you have a $6 plant-maybe the nursery sold you an infected plant. Try another one."
Using good garden design minimizes the need for pesticides. Xeriscaping, a phrase popular in the seventies and eighties that Deyerle himself promoted, is among the buried buzzwords that were once so hot. He says the word was doomed by the way it sounded-not be what it meant. "People thought of zero, nothing," Deyerle says. "That term never quite caught on with the public."
Deyerle says the concepts of Xeriscape-good planning and design, soil analysis, careful plant selection, practical turf choices, efficient irrigation, mulching, and maintenance-are still completely valid.
"We like to use the term sustainable landscaping," Deyerle says. "The right plant in the right place."
Before plunking down, say, a rosebush, in your arid, rocky soil, think through what it will take to keep it limping along.
"You have to ask yourself, are you going to have to spray with pesticides, import fertilizers, and have high maintenance costs?" Deyerle says. "Is it realistic for you?''"
Deyerle likes to steer clients away from huge thirsty lawns, in the direction of native grasses and other drought tolerant plantings.
Still, there are those who will have their lawn and seed it, too. Some clients in Pebble Beach simply don''t care about huge water bills and want their Gatsbyesque turf. "It''s very disheartening, because as a professional you want to educate your clients and nudge them in the right direction," Deyerle sighs.
Then there are those star clients, like the Mylers, who purchase the perfect property and do exactly the right thing with it. Including no lawn at all.
Today Sharon Myler is stuck on the couch, after having knee surgery two days ago. But she''s not complaining at all. Windows in almost every direction provide either views of the ocean or the hills.
"It''s very humbling to have this view," she says.
With a surging cove some thirty feet below their living room, the Mylers didn''t necessarily need to shout for attention with their garden. But coming from the Bay Area with a formal English rose garden did require an adjustment in style. Salt air and constant wind off the ocean make for some specific hardy plant options.
"I said, ''how about a fruit tree,''" Sharon remembers. "Tom giggled. He said it would never make it. ''But this is the exchange you have. Look out your backyard.''"
Dyerle managed to put one rose bush in a protected area for Sharon. Necessary elements like drainage channels are camouflaged to look like dry riverbeds.
Rocks, driftwood, and wildflowers pave the way for the entrance to El Sueno, a Carmel Highlands cliffside dream.
"The message of this place is that the inside and outside are connected," Richard says.
California lilacs, hens-and-chicks and succulents thrive on a drip system.
"Everything grows so fast here due to the choices of Bobbie and Tom," Richard says. "When you see the hummingbirds, butterflies in the Echium, and the birds and the bees you know you have a healthy garden," Sharon says. "I''m adamant on no poisons."
A marmalade tabby takes care of the wood rats and mice, although Sharon had to be talked into even such natural pest control. Animals and people are equally welcome to veg in the house and garden.
Farley, a 170-pound Newfoundland, couldn''t be more pleased with the arrangement. Richard''s got a copy of How to Speak Dog that he glances at while Farley gives his foot a tongue bath.
"Time is no longer an enemy," Richard says.
"It''s a sanctuary," Sharon says. "It''s almost spiritual to be here. I love all the wildlife. This is who we are."
The waves roll in and out beneath the house, as the Mylers home takes on a dreamy quality, impossible to fight on this foggy morning.
Lisa and Joel Knight''s Monterey garden has been done and redone by the Deyerles over the past 18 years. Herbs and lemon trees provide heady scents. A drip system takes care of poppies, rock rose, oak trees, herbs, Japanese maples and ceanothus.
"We didn''t really want to do native landscaping," Lisa Knight says. "We were steered into it by the Deyerles, and then we loved it. It''s so natural and not overdone. I think this is just as beautiful as an English garden, and more Monterey."
Tom''s crew maintains his clients'' properties, coming weekly for a few hours to trim, sweep and feed. "The only problem is the bushes are so happy they get so huge," Knight says. "It takes a lot of work to keep it tamed. It wants to be a jungle."
Happy with the barely tamed garden look is Elaine Schlegel, who with husband Mark has run Schlegel Landscapes for thirty years.
"I love a progression of blooms," says Elaine, one of the first women gardeners to gain notoriety on the Peninsula. "I like things just spilling over, really exuberant."
On their Carmel Valley property, a flowering Crabapple tree is blooming against a grape stake fence. Catmint Blue Wonder provides groundcover as Ebony, a recently adopted black cat, hisses at elderly Scoots. Wisteria are trained against the wood shingles of their home. Viburnums are being babied as, once established, they become very drought tolerant.
Tucked in a giant Bay Laurel tree is a treehouse Mark built 23 years ago. A wooden geodesic dome covered with ivy provided a refuge and eventual bedroom for their teenage son and now offers a spare bedroom.
The Schlegels are big on practical water conservation in the garden. Water reclamation, though expensive initially, is an insurance policy they promote to their clients.
"We are enabling people to feel better about the water situation," says Elaine. "We install hillside catch basis that can gravity the water into a tank, and with an electric pump put it back into the sprinkler system. They can use rain gutters and French drains and pump water into a tank, banking for later use."
Though specializing in drought-tolerant plantings, the Schlegels will allow a little bit of thirsty plantings for spots of color in the garden, especially in moister microclimates.
"We do English cottage gardens and they are fun and pretty," says Elaine. "Especially in Pacific Grove and Carmel where it''s not going to dry out so much."
The Schlegels haven''t installed a lawn in 10 years.
"I''m not saying a lawn is totally forbidden, in a small area, especially for clients with young children," Mark says. "But if we had incentives to remove them, I''m convinced we wouldn''t need a dam.
"Lawns are the cash cow of the landscape industry. People make money installing them, irrigating them, fertilizing, and maintaining them. From an ecological standpoint they are a disaster-the nitrogen fertilizer runs into waterways and creates algae blooms, and poisons the groundwater."
The Schlegels offer clients alternative low-water groundcover, like Emerald carpet Manzanita, with tiny green leaves with miniature lantern flowers. There are also native grasses.
"Finer blades should not be used in this area-but native grasses can be used as turf-like Dwarf tall fescue," Mark says.
"You can have large swaths of gravel and islands of garden. You can be very creative without making it feel like some kind of desert landscape. You don''t have to have yuccas and cactus."
The Schlegels also educate their clients about pesticide control. Aphids, according to Mark, produce a sticky residue called "honeydew" as they suck plant sugars. It''s a delicacy if you''re an ant, which actually herd aphids onto plants. "Tanglefoot is a sticky substance that prevents ants from bringing the aphids to the plants," Mark says.
Timing is also critical with the natural pesticides. To effectively use Bacillus Thuringiensis, or BT, to rid an oak tree of worms, it must be used when the critters are young. It''s an education the Schlegels are happy to provide to their clients.
"We owe it to the animals we love and the planet not to poison them in our zest to control what''s hurting our shrubs," Mark says. "It means not hitting the panic button and going down to Orchard and buying the strongest poison. If you have a very reasonable landscape you can get a handle on it."
The Schlegels design and maintain Dr. James and Anna Rheim''s five-acre Carmel Valley property, and water using drip irrigation and a water collection tank. Toyon, one of Anna''s favorite native shrubs, borders the perimiter of the property.
"We use big swaths of drought-tolerant plants, then thirsty bursts of color," Elaine says, referring to ranunculas and sweet peas that pop out of a wooden cart in the midst of a field of wildflowers, and a planter of Hydrangeas that rests on a table next to twisted branch chairs.
Tall Bearded Irises reach for the sun against a background of purplish blue Ceanothus. Baby Blue Eyes add punch in a field sown with native grasses and wildflowers. Lentenrose, a plant staple in woodland gardens, lines shady stone paths.
"If you use strictly native planting, it really narrows your choices, but there is a long list of appropriate, not necessarily native, plant materials," Elaine says.
"We wanted something that would have some color but not be giant water hogs," Anna Rheim says. Lilacs, rockroses, and snowball viburnum are among her favorites. Pots of tuberous begonias hang under oak trees in the filtered sun. A screened-in vegetable garden wards off hungry crows.
"I do not resent plantings that take into account where I live," Rheim says. "I resent that we haven''t had a sensible water program that measures if you are being conservative or you don''t care at all."
The Schlegels clearly enjoy their clients, and vice versa. "One of the bonuses of this job is making friends with the cats and dogs," says Mark, who reaches out a hand to pet an elderly kitty basking in some daffodils.
"If we are going to try to improve our lot in these modern times, we need to get out of cars and stay home and enjoy our gardens with our kids and pets," Mark says. "If we spend some time in the soil we may start to understand the sequence of things-how it all works together. It''s as high a priority to me as exercise."