Organic Landscapes Blog

Alternatives For A Greener World

Beyond Beauty

by Nicole - January 22nd, 2012

The beginning of the year is a time of reflection.

Plants can offer us much more than just a sensory treat.  They have practical uses including food, medicine, shelter, clothing, and materials for industry.  Many of the species we see everyday in our gardens, both intentionally planted and weeds we remove, have had a long relationship with humans.  Understanding the value of plants beyond attractiveness can lead us to a greater appreciation of our landscapes, and to view them as a sustainable resource.

Below are five native plants with multiple uses that are commonly planted by Organic Landscapes.


Tea can be brewed from the leaves and stems of certain varieties of Penstemons, which is been considered highly medicinal for gastrointestinal and viral problems. Native Americans used the roots to relive toothaches.  This plant is highly drought tolerant, provides beautiful colors, and is a huge attraction to hummingbirds and pollinators.

Golden Currants:

Golden Currants (latin: ribes aureum) are native to California and provide some of the most delicious berries of all the currants.  They are extremely high in vitamin C.  A syrup or jam of the berries has been used for mouth inflammation, sore throats, and as a bowel regulator and appetite stimulant.  The flowers attract hummingbirds, and the inner bark of the stems has anti-inflammatory properties.


Manzanitas are dependable and tolerant of various conditions, and range from large tree shrubs to ground covers.  The wood is very attractive and is used for furniture and in aquariums, and for fires as it burns slow and hot.  Manzanita berries are edible and can be made into a tasty cider.  The bark has been used to combat bladder and urinary tract infections.


The leaves of ceanothus, or California Lilacs, provide a decaffeinated tea replacement.  They have multiple medicinal uses, and have historically been used in dyes and soaps.  The profuse and beautiful flowers attract bees in huge numbers.  They are also nitrogen fixers, and will add to the health of the soil and other plants.


A favorite of Organic Landscapes, yarrow is extremely reliable and can grow well even in poor nutrient soils.  It is highly medicinal and used both internally for various ailments, and externally to treat wounds.  A tea can be made of the leaves that has been commonly used as a compost inoculant to increase microbiological activity.

A great resource for researching the various uses of plants is the website Plants For A Future:  Spend five minutes looking up your favorite garden plants and be amazed at what they can offer.

Next post we’ll look at some useful plants we call “weeds” that maybe deserve more respect.

Organic Landscapes Community Fruit Program

by Chris - June 22nd, 2010

Community gardens are sprouting up all over the place… but how about the community orchards? Now, with the help of Organic Landscapes, you can create one right in your own backyard. Fruit trees often demand no greater care than any other landscape ornamental, and they are not only decorative, but also provide nutritious food.
“But what about all the messy fallen fruit?” some ask. Often the hundreds of pounds of fruit produced by a healthy mature fruit tree is more than one person or family can handle. That’s where we come in.
Organic Landscapes will design, install, and maintain a productive organic fruit orchard in your yard. All necessary maintenance (pruning, fertilizing, irrigating, pest management, etc.) will be provided for FREE. When the harvest is ripe, we will pick the surplus fruit- and sell or donate it within the local community. A portion of any profits earned will be returned to you.
By planting more fruit trees in our yards and public spaces, we can:

-Improve access to fresh, healthy foods. Most Americans still eat less than the minimum recommended amounts of fruit and vegetables.

-Decrease negative environmental impacts (ex. fossil fuel emissions) from transporting food long distances. An average 1,500 to 2,500 miles (4,000 km) every time that it is delivered to the consumer.

-Redirect valuable and limited resources such as water toward appropriate uses( Americans use 270 billion gallons of water per week to irrigate their lawns, enough to grow 81 million acres of organic food.)

-Encourage our communities’ self-reliance

-Reduce family food budgets

-Beautify our neighborhoods

*A Piece of Fruit for Thought*-

In the town of Seville, Spain, orange trees, instead of ornamentals, are planted as the street trees. Every year the city harvests the oranges, and makes marmalade that is sold to tourists. The earnings are used to fund a local school for orphans.

Greywater Installation: Laundry to Landscape

by Chris - June 18th, 2010

Some decisions in life are tough...this is not one of them.

This is the “3-way valve”, the beginning of the laundry 2 Landscape Greywater irrigation system.  With a simple turn of the handle, you determine the destiny of your greywater.  One way leads to toxic sewers, failing wastewater treatment plants, and poisoned rivers.  The other way leads to a rich fertile soil food web, and an abundant community orchard of luscious fruit trees.
Just downstream from the 3 way valve the greywater pipe exits the house and snakes through the garden to the Mulch Basins around the dripline of the trees.
These are like wide trenches, dug out and filled with wood chips or other free draining material (not gravel!),  designed to be able to fill with the surge of water without ever overflowing, and slowly percolate out into the surrounding soil.        

Mulch Basin ready to be filled with wood chips around a baby Pear tree.

Greywater recieves extremely effective purification in the biologicaly active upper regions of the soil, far superior than treatment plants or septic systems.   The natural nutrients in the greywater that cause problems in waterways (ex. algae blooms), are effectively put to use as fertilize by the fruit trees here.  The laundry greywater produced at this home in petaluma is enough to irrigate a small orchard of apples, pears, figs, plums, and citrus.  The trees are still young now, but in a few years that will be hundreds of pounds of fruit,   all from water that would have gone down the drain !   This orchard is also part of our Community Fruit Program.
A new code was passed in California last fall allowing  simple laundry machine greywater irrigation systems to be constructed without a permit as long as they follow several simple commonsence guidelines.  Read them here(Page 3 & 4).   If you wanna go green- you gotta go grey…water!

Meandering garden path

by Rebecca - May 27th, 2010

This recent install was down the street from the patio, deck and vegi box project, you may have seen us walking between the properties or even directing traffic!

This new landscape replaces another lawn with blooming perennials, a meandering pathway through the garden and three fruit trees which will be maintained for free by Organic Landscapes as part of our community fruit tree program. This garden has lots of variety so the path serves as a perfect way to explore up close what is coming into bloom each month (notice the plant of the month in bloom in the pictures!)

Party time!-Brand new patio perfect for entertaining

by Rebecca - May 27th, 2010

This is yet another recent completion, the front yard was installed about a year ago and the homeowners were so happy that they invited us back to landscape the back yard. We replaced an old wooden deck with a new redwood deck, added a flagstone patio for seating, barbequing and entertaining, and installed a raised vegetable bed so that the family can grow some of their own food. Peppers, basil and cucumber have already been planted!

Plant of the month-Achillea ‘Coronation Gold’

by Rebecca - May 27th, 2010

This is one of my favorite plants which happens to be in bloom at several of our properties this month. Not only does it lend a lively yellow color to the landscape but butterflies, bees and other pollinators just love it. This is because they like to land on the flat surface of the flowerhead which is actually a collection of dozens or even hundreds of tiny flowers, providing tons of food and reason for the little pollinators to hang around for a while. As an added bonus it is also a low water use plant.


by Rebecca - May 27th, 2010

Recognize this property? It was once lawn but is now filled with all kinds of perennials and adored by the homeowners. This renovation will save nearly 30,000 gallons of water per year and it looks so much prettier than that old lawn (see the ‘Watch this Space blog for the before picture)! We also added a flagston pathway for easy access from the sidewalk, as well as some beautiful boulders as focal points. Be sure to click on the thumbnails for a full panoramic view.

Ecological Water Solutions

by Chris - May 26th, 2010
 For a Greener California…

 *Native / drought tolerant plants

*Greywater irrigation

*Rainwater Harvesting

*Pervious Pavement

* “Smart” Self-adjusting irrigation controllers

    Throughout the history of the arid West, water has always been an important issue. After all, no resource is as vital to its development, agriculture, and environmental preservation. California has always suffered from drought cycles, and while this year’s precipitation levels may give us some relief, current climate change models suggest that long droughts are likely to become increasingly common here, and rising temperatures are likely to decrease the Sierra Nevada snow pack which serves as our natural slow- release reservoir. With the states’ population expected to increase by 14 million people by 2030, we have to wonder: where is the water going to come from?


The largest, least expensive, and most ecologically sound source of water to meet California’s future needs is the water currently being wasted in every sector of our society. The average resident in Sonoma county uses over 160 gallons of water per day, with over half of that being used in the landscape.

   With a little bit of thoughtful re organization, we can use the water we already have much more efficiently, and California will have plenty of water for today and for continued growth in the future.

    Saving water means saving money, and is also one of the best ways to save energy, because distribution pumping of water requires a huge amount of electricity. The Marin Municipal Water District (MMWD) has the biggest energy bill in the entire county, and 25% of all energy use in California is related to the distribution of water.

 Native / drought tolerant plants

Lawns require a tremendous amount of water to maintain in our Mediterranean climate. Lawn watering uses more than half of all the water used by most California households.

  A beautiful and productive native/drought tolerant landscape requires less than 15% of the water needed for a lawn of the same size.

 Greywater Irrigation

The average American generates about 69 gallons of “Greywater” daily from their showers, sinks, and washing machines. Instead of being sent to the sewer, this water can be recovered and reused for irrigating gardens and trees.

Just think of paying once for the water, but using it twice!

Diverting the recovered water for irrigation doesn’t threaten anyone’s health. There is not a single documented incidence of a person in the US becoming ill from greywater irrigation.

A recent study from UCLA institute of the environment  found that if only 10% of residents in the south coast region recycled their greywater for irrigation, the volume of water saved would be equivalent or larger than the capacity of a modern, large seawater desalination plant such as those proposed for California.

Greywater is not “waste”, but rather a valuable resource that should be reused.Policy change is beginning to reflect this perspective, and a new code (CPC Chapter 16A) was passed in California last year making it much easier to install simple residential greywater irrigation systems.

 Rainwater Harvesting.

Rain, naturally distilled through evaporation, is one of our purest sources of water. An average size home (3000 sq ft roof) in Sonoma receives over 40,000 gallons of rain off its roof each year. Many landscapes have been designed with the view of rainwater as nothing but a nuisance to be sent “away” as fast as possible, into drains, sewers, and waterways. However, rainwater is a resource that can be put to use , as well as being safely channeled away from the house. After all – what’s better than using water that you didn’t have to pay for?

Rainwater can be captured and stored in many different types of cisterns (tanks) above or below ground, and used for anything from irrigation to drinking water.

By using simple earthworks such as basins and swales to “slow, spread and sink” the flow of rainwater into our land, we can replenish groundwater aquifers, while at the same time reduce contaminant load in waterways, and stress on overwhelmed waste water treatment plants.

13 million gallons of raw sewage is released yearly into the streams and lakes of San Francisco Bay due to storm water overflow in waste water treatment plants.

Pervious Pavement

    Paved surfaces (concrete sidewalks, asphalt driveways, etc.) block soil absorption of rain, shedding massive amounts of runoff, and often causing flooding and contamination. New innovative pervious pavement systems not only make your driveway and other hardscape areas look amazing- but also make them more environmentally friendly by making them permeable, allowing water to soak in. Vegetated paving systemsare made of a honeycomb of recycled plastic panels that can be interplanted with native plants, wild flowers, or vegetables.

“Smart” Self-adjusting irrigation controllers

 are one of the biggest breakthroughs in landscape water conservation since the introduction of drip irrigation over 30 years ago. These new controllers automatically set and adjust watering levels according to local evapo-transpiration rate, microclimate, soil and plant type, slope, length of day, temperature, humidity, rainfall, etc. for a water savings of up to 50%.

 The return on investment cost for these systems in water bill savings is typically less than two years.

A truly sustainable water culture begins with being conscious and responsible with our daily use right in our own homes and yards.

Watch this space!

by Rebecca - April 13th, 2010

We are in the process of replacing this 1800 square foot lawn with a flagstone pathway, beautiful boulders and low water plantings that will flower throughout each season and save our client nearly 17000 gallons of water per year.  We already have the pathway and boulders in place and the plantings are not far behind. Check back soon to see the after pics!

Less lawn, more fruit

by Rebecca - March 30th, 2010

We finished our latest lawn replacement last week and it looks great. After removing three different sections of lawn we had space to create a mini fruit orchard, a drought tolerant garden and a Decomposed Granite pathway meandering through beautiful fragrant plantings. As a huge added bonus this will save the client 90% on her water bill and she will get apricots, peaches, pears, figs, apples, nectarines and blueberries right in her back yard. Since she will be part of our community fruit tree program she will even get her trees pruned and maintained for free while we collect and sell the excess fruit at the farmers market and give 10% of the profit back to the client. Free fruit and free maintenance! All while enjoying the beauty of her new garden and flowering fruit trees.