Monthly Archives: October 2010

Not in Anybody’s Backyard!

What is this blog about?

I’m not really a big fan of labels but I did give it some thought a while back because, according to the experts on how to best build and support my future business, I need to identify my audience and zero in.

My conclusion?

Honestly, I don’t have any real desire to “zero in” too much because, for better or worse, I don’t believe that my mind is capable of doing that very well most of the time.

I’m studying to be a Landscape Architect so that’s very important to me.  My grandpa instilled the love of gardening in me…also important.  Many of my best memories have been formed while hiking & mountain biking the trails around my home and the great people that I’ve met in doing so!  Hugely important for my sanity!

However, if I had to choose what I’d like to “zero in” on, it’s open and green space and how we interact with it.  Planning it, designing it, enjoying it and taking care of it (that narrows things down a bit, right?).  This leads me to why I’ve been a little sad lately (mini soap box coming up).

Citrus Ranch Park in Tustin Ranch, CA

I live in the Tustin/Irvine area and love it mainly because, in a matter of minutes, I have multiple county or state park options to hike or mountain bike in.  Our neighborhood & adjacent cities have many, great municipal parks within spitting distance (and I’m not good at spitting).

Goliath and I walk to and around most of these parks and I was very excited when a new one was built right next door to my complex (especially nice for those rainy morning/evening dog walks).  Even my overly-critical Landscape Architecture student eye appreciates that they installed some different plants such as Kangaroo Paws, Rush, Carex, Sage, Strawberry Trees, Chitalpas, etc  and I have a couple of different areas that I can visualize how great the transition spaces will be upon maturation of the Sycamores!   (Not so much appreciation for the Flower Carpet Roses planted everywhere that the maintenance staff hate and can’t seem to take care of properly).

As somebody who will be involved in park and urban planning/design in the future, I also enjoy watching how different people use these types of spaces (or don’t use them).  The buzz about this park’s opening was constant and, when they finally dropped the barricades, it was packed every day and still is!   There were, literally, mobs of small children and parents on the playground from sun up to sun down.  Families had picnics, others chose to just sit on the grass and talk and fitness groups started using the park as their regular meeting place.  For about a month, it was a little too crowded for my overly-excitable Labrador buddy but the park was and continues to be a huge success!

For you planning and design nerds (of which I proudly affiliate myself), the city of Tustin now has 2.6 acres of park for every 1,000 people. The next park the city will build is a 25-acre sports park in Tustin Legacy at the former Marine base, which will change the ratio to 3.5 acres of park to 1,000 people, exceeding the national standard.

Lately, however, the park seems to have some unwanted visitors.  Vandals.

Since the park opened in February, many of the young Australian Willow, Camphor and Eucalyptus trees throughout the park and in the parking medians have been hacked, ripped out or pushed over.  This morning, as Goliath and I walked through, I noticed that two more were damaged and will probably die.

There are tracks across the grass on both sides of the park, about 1-foot width, that look like someone rode a motorcycle through it while wet.  Broken beer bottles litter the grassy areas and the citrus grove. Goliath has already stepped on some.  I suspect the same people are responsible for pushing over the young Eucalyptus trees along the adjacent horse trail and pushing over all of the concrete site furnishings (benches and trash containers) at the large sports park down the road.

At school, we discuss the extreme measures that are taken to protect LA’s parks and their users and I remember the problems in the parks around my own neighborhood and my grandmother’s growing up in Altadena and Pasadena.  I listen to the stories and think about how fortunate we are in most of Orange County to not have to deal with those conditions.  No, vandalism of this park in Tustin and having to create “safe places” in parks to shield children from errant gunfire is nowhere near an equal comparison but it’s sad nonetheless wherever and whenever it happens.

I’m a little bristly about this today and am suppressing my colorful language. Obviously, the cost of replacing the trees is a concern with many communities paying hundreds of thousands to do so.  But, more importantly, I think, is the cost to the community.   I take it personally and it gives me a sense of feeling violated!  These amazing spaces are such a gift to us and it only takes a few idiots to ruin it for so many!  I believe that with each act of vandalism, they are taking something away from everyone who uses the space and because it belongs to everyone collectively, people need to check themselves before they go around wrecking things!

It’s important to take steps to stop this if you’re ever a witness because (1) your tax dollars are being used to install, maintain and now repair these spaces, (2) your tax dollars are now being diverted from the valuable recreational programs and/or facilities that they were designated for and (3) it just blows!

Please call 9-1-1 or the local police precinct if you see a crime in progress.  Or, when an immediate police response is not needed, still call the local precinct or contact your city’s Parks & Recreation Dept.

During one of our classes, we had to do an assessment of Palmer Park in Glendale.  It has been designated a “Smart Park” due to the surveillance measures installed with the intent of keeping the community users safe (of course, not all community members are pleased with it).  I, however, particularly like the visual of people getting doused by the sprinklers that come on after 10:00 pm if they hop the fence!  Joking aside, is that what it takes?

I think that, ultimately, good still wins out over evil in that the park users continue to come and interact with each other and the park is still a success.  Hopefully the police can catch the vandals but, if not, maybe the continuously destroyed landscape will ignite a sense of ownership in the user community and more people will get personally involved in protecting our parks and open spaces.  We’re lucky to have them.

Photos from OC Register


Paws in the Garden

If you have pets, you enjoy having them in the yard with  you and, to be honest, I don’t know what it’s like to NOT have a furry shadow (or two) following me everywhere!

"Duke" Courtesy of Kim C. Martin Photography

Occasionally, however, when some people think of pets in the garden, this is the image that comes to mind.

It doesn’t have to be this way and, with a design plan in place, everyone will be able to co-exist peacefully….you, pets and the plants!

We’ve all heard the quote, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”  In regards to a haphazard landscape design, you can also add, “and you plan to throw some serious cash (and time) out the window!”

So what now?

Safety is, of course, the most important aspect to a truly successful design but think about where your pet likes to go now and how they use their current space. Do they stand at the sliding glass door staring at you like the Mervyn’s lady waiting for you to open, open, open and come play?  Do they lounge in the sun? Do they pace the perimeter to keep the compound secure?  These are just a few things to consider when designing a garden that is enjoyable for everyone!

I took an informal survey of my own zoo and here’s what they said:

Goliath’s preference for his “yard” would be that we owned beachfront property at Del Mar Dog Beach but he would settle for a swimming pool (with beach entrance, of course), grass to scratch excessively, bunnies, lizards and crows to chase and a sunny spot to sleep from 8:00-3:00 (yes, he has specific beauty sleep hours).

Zoe says that when he’s not plotting to take over the world, he prefers to eat grasses & grass-like plants (he seems to have misunderstood the question)

Zoe AND Goliath requested an on-site snack shack with an endless supply of  rotisserie chicken.

Rodney would like any place where Goliath can’t find him.


Obviously, the first line of defense for your garden is dog training.  If you know how to train cats, please contact me!  Not only can you train your dog to stay out of the garden but also to use their own designated area such as this dog run by the folks at CraftPro.


Pets, like humans, enjoying exploring their surrounding on paths.  The more turns the better!  If a path has already been worn through an existing planting bed or around the perimeter of the yard, this is great!  No, really it is!  You’ll avoid the hassle (and expense) of having to replant an area that you thought was the ideal location.  Lay down some pea gravel, brick, paving stones or mulch and design around it.  Your pet may help you come up with a great design that you hadn’t even thought about yet!

Planting larger or more mature plants in masses is another way to give your pets a visual cue to go around rather than through.

Raised beds and planters might be a solution to discourage a curious dog (or bunny).  Cats don’t care what we want so plan accordingly.

The Manchester Deck Co Ltd


The ASPCA publishes a list of toxic and non-toxic plants. Always consult here or another toxic plant database when designing your pet-friendly garden if your pets like to snack as much as my cat does.

Nikki Phipps, lead writer at Gardening Know How discusses some of these plants in her article, “Pet Friendly Gardens and Plants.”

“There are many popular garden plants that are quite harmful, even deadly, to pets. In fact, commonly grown plants such as foxglove, lily-of-the-valley, yew, oleander, and kalanchoe contain cardio-toxins and can cause heart failure if ingested by pets. Other common garden plants, such as rhubarb and daylilies, are particularly dangerous to cats as they can lead to kidney failure. The autumn crocus can cause multiple reactions in both dogs and cats, including renal failure and liver damage. Even plantings of rhododendrons or azaleas can prove harmful to pets as they contain toxins causing gastrointestinal problems. Other potential hazards to your pets include mushrooms and cocoa hulls. You should avoid placing any of these within your pet-friendly garden.”

Ah yes, the cocoa hull.  Not only do you have to be careful of the plants that you select but your pets will also love the chocolaty goodness that is Cocoa Mulch.  It can also make them very ill!  Less toxic alternatives are shredded pine, cedar or hemlock bark.


Planning for the worst while hoping for the best is a terrible way to go through life but useful when designing a pet-friendly garden.  Many plants can handle human and pet traffic although some may look a bit more ragged than others depending on the amount of traffic received.  Other plants are not as susceptible to animal’s, ahem, irrigation techniques.


Cats will chew on just about anything but, as Zoe mentioned, they especially love to chew on grassy-looking plants (real and synthetic).  Again, whether you have an indoor or outdoor kitty, be certain to check the toxic plant database to keep them safe.

Karen Nichols at The Cat’s Meow wrote a great article to help keep your feline happy in the garden, “13 Eco and Cat Friendly Gardening Tips.”


The high nitrogen content of dog urine is commonly a cause of lawn burn.  However, before your banish your pooch to the side yard,  be careful to identify the correct cause of the brown spots.  Various lawn diseases or grubs will produce symptoms that can easily be mistaken for urine burn.

Why does dog urine burn the lawn and what can be done about it?   See this handy article from Drs. Fosters and Smith.

Frequently, turfgrasses are paired up for seasonal reasons or durability.  For example, Bermuda grass is durable but can be sensitive to dog urine. Overseeding it with some Perennial Ryegrass, however, gives you a winning combination!  Here are some turfgrasses and a turfgrass alternative that could keep you and your pets happy!

In his new book, “The  American Meadow Garden,” John Greenlee points out that, once established, many species of grass are fairly resistant to dog urine.

(Note:  Children love tall meadow gardens too!)


copyright Anne Taintor

My sister and mother made a special request for information about how to  keep cats OUT of their yards because their allergies are going wild due to neighborhood cats using their yards as litterboxes.

Nikki Phipps offers some suggestions in this area as well.

This, too, can be fixed by keeping the soil in your pet-friendly garden moist. Cats prefer dry areas. Typically, the driest areas of the garden are close to the foundation of your home as concrete often takes moisture from the soil. Keeping this site moist with a layer of plastic and mulch should help alleviate any littering problems.

“Orange peelings work well with cats; they do not like the smell of citrus. You can also incorporate natural animal-repelling plants such as citronella or scented geranium.”

David Beaulieu, wrote this very informative article, How to Keep Cats Out of Your Garden: Cat Poop and Gardens Don’t Mix”

Another solution that I learned about recently seems like it’d be a little sadistic but, surely, is effective – a layer of Liquidambar seed pod mulch!  Note:  Be sure to microwave them first to kill the seeds or you’ll then have unwanted trees

Photo courtesy of Scott Robinson


So whether you’re trying to make the pets in your yard happy OR keep out unwanted visitors, there can be a lot to consider.  However, think about how relaxed everyone will be once you’re finished!


Your turn! Please share what’s going on (or will be going on) in your pet Shangri La?