Debra Prinzing

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A low-water planting recipe

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

A dreamy landscape in the sky, designed by Lauren Schneider

If you pick up the June issue of Sunset magazine – the one with skewers of salmon on a cobalt blue plate on the cover – turn to pages 51 and 52.

There, you will see a short (and I mean short!) story by moi. It started out much longer, but is now not much more than the length of a photo caption.

As these things go, I can’t complain. Thanks to the way we communicate these days, full-length magazine articles now read like Cliff Notes versions of themselves. The photo tells most of the story and then a few captions and call-outs do the rest of the heavy lifting.

In this case, the story called “Lush Look, Low Water” was inspired by a rooftop garden owned by Mike McDonald and Jill Martenson, a visionary young couple who built Margarido House, the first LEED-H Platinum home in Northern California.

The “green” home and its eco-friendly landscape have received a lot of press, but the Sunset story really gives readers the specifics on designer Lauren Schneider’s approach to the roof garden. A special thank you goes to Sunset’s Julie Chai for shepherding this story from our initial conversation to the final publication.

Check out the attractive clumps of Libertia periginans, a New Zealand iris relative valued for its bronzy-orange blades and vibrant color.

Surprisingly dreamy, soft and fluid, despite its exposure to the harshest of elements (wind, sun, saltwater, for example), Lauren Schneider’s design can be replicated in similar rooftop or in-ground conditions. The photos you see here are mine. I included the original full-length story in my articles section.

Eight hardworking native and Mediterranean plants create the central elements of Lauren’s design:

Echinocactus grusonii, Golden barrel cactus

Lewisia cotyledon ‘Sunset Strain’

Nassella tenuissima, Mexican feather grass

Sedum spathulifolium ‘Cape Blanco’

Lavandula multifida, Fernleaf lavender

Libertia perigrinans

Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’

Sedum spurium ‘Voodoo’

Meet a beautiful – and sustainable – landscape

Friday, August 28th, 2009
Mike Mcdonald, a Green Builder and Visionary

Mike Mcdonald, a Green Builder and Visionary

gardendesign004Garden Design magazine asked me to profile one of its “Green Awards” winners for the September-October issue, which is out on newsstands this week.

The story is about a lovely, sustainable landscape designed to complement the cutting-edge, eco-architecture of Margarido House in Oakland.

Margarido House is the creation of builder-owner Mike McDonald of McDonald Construction & Development, and his architect-brother Tim McDonald of Philadelphia-based Plumbob.  The brothers and their multiple collaborators have created a stunning residence that earned the highest (Platinum) rating from the U.S. Green Building Council. It is the first home in Northern California to obtain the LEED-H Platinum Award (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design).

gardendesign005What makes this garden and its home sustainable?

1. It’s Permeable : The patio, roof and driveway surfaces are designed to capture all of the property’s storm water runoff. The driveway’s decorative design uses recycled and perforated Pavestone concrete tiles. Water percolates into a 4,000-gallon cistern hidden under the driveway and, when needed, circulates through the property for irrigation and flowing through the Zen garden’s piped fountain. “We’ve created a self-contained water loop,” Mike points out.

 2. It’s Durable: Garden designer Lauren Schneider of  Wonderland Garden and Landscape in Oakland, chose a diverse, drought-tolerant plant palette. She worked closely with local growers to specify California native varieties, as well as plants from many Mediterranean regions, including South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, South America and Mexico. She closely observed the garden during its first year to evaluate whether each plant was durable enough to survive Oakland’s dry summer conditions with infrequent water.

 3. It’s Reusable: Recycled concrete is the basis for Margarido House’s über-modern S-curve chaises, tabletops and sleek urns, which contain succulents, bamboo, and New Zealand flax. Created by Bay Area Concreteworks Studio, which also fabricated interior concrete counters, the products satisfy LEED’s “local” and “reusable” criteria. Other outdoor furniture also has recycled content, including Room & Board’s  “Emmet” Adirondack-inspired chairs, by Loll Designs, made with 100 percent recycled high density polyethylene (plastic).

Margarido House, enhanced by a soft, sustainable garden

Margarido House, enhanced by a soft, sustainable garden

One of the key scoring factors in earning this ranking is Lauren’s sustainable landscape design.

Dreamy and naturalistic, the garden is an organic counterpoint to the geometric architecture.

Lauren actually created three distinct gardens – one on the ground; one in the air; and one that climbs an incredible vertical retaining wall and has multiple sections for planting (not to mention a melodic water feature to attract birds).

Photographs of the Margarido’s rooftop garden weren’t included in the Garden Design layout, due to space constraints. I wanted to make sure and show some here. The rooftop is pretty stunning, and not just because it has killer views of San Francisco Bay. It is installed on top of a capillary mat and layer of geo-textile material; over this base are “three inches of horticultural pumice as a drainage medium and five inches of lightweight planting mix,” Lauren explains.

Garden designer Lauren Schneider gave me a personal tour of Margarido House's exterior spaces

Garden designer Lauren Schneider gave me a personal tour of Margarido House's exterior spaces

The dramatic design includes sedums and sempervivums, golden barrel cactus, lewisia, Cleveland sage, lavender, deer grass, and Libertia peregrinans, a New Zealand iris relative valued for its bronzy-orange blades.

This garden provides top-down insular qualities that cool or warm the home, depending on the season. Flowers and stems of Cleveland sage, silhouetted against the sky, can even be seen through the skylight that illuminates the master bath. The roof garden invites its viewers to look close and study the interplay of plant colors and forms. In an abstract way, they echo the distant scenery where treetops and buildings form an irregular city skyline.

You can read the full story here. And enjoy this gallery of photos that I shot when visiting this past May. You’ll see details that caught my eye and get a fuller sense of this amazing landscape and home.