Wilson Environmental Contracting

Green is Good

By Daniel Wilson on May 16, 2012 at 12:28 AM in Residential Landscaping, Firescaping, Greywater, Porous Paving, Sustainable Irrigation

Daniel Wilson is not your average landscaper. On top of holding degrees in biogeochemistry and aquatic biology, he has worked as an environmental consultant for half a decade and is familiar with most plants native to Santa Barbara and its sub-regions.

His latest project was for Martin Stevenson on Norma Way in Goleta, which involved developing a wholly sustainable and aesthetically pleasing garden using primarily local materials and plants.

Green is Good Home
A client's home.

"My mission was to design and build a residential landscape that's not only beautiful, but completely functional from an environmentally sensitive perspective," says Daniel, owner of Wilson Environmental Contracting.

When Daniel first started the re-landscaping process, dense trees and hedges walled in Martin's property, and the backyard was overgrown with weeds and vegetation that didn't belong there, such as periwinkle and dandelion. The patio running alongside the back of the house was covered in brick and concrete and enclosed by wood beams. 

"The whole backyard was a hodgepodge of unattractive materials and somewhat invasive plants," says Daniel. "It lacked cohesiveness and elegance." 

Over the past six months, Daniel and Martin have collaborated to transform the entire backyard with all-local sandstone and gravel pathways and a range of drought -tolerant local plants planted in a specific pattern so that when they grow larger, their individual forms will blend beautifully with one another.

"We wanted a plant palette that would enhance the yard and compliment the natural environment around the property," says Daniel, pointing to the tall trees and lush foliage growing along the creek just below Martin's yard. "I've selected native plants that have evolved to the exact climate right here. You won't see any plants imported from San Diego or San Luis Obispo."

Green Landscaping

Among the many edible trees, vines and herbs, count apple, banana, persimmon, passion fruit, pear, gooseberry, lichee, longan, fig, Mission era grape and strawberries as well as an assortment of kitchen herbs and salads. You'll also find sweet-smelling butterscotch, six types of native grasses and five buckwheats, along with medicinal plants such as Echinacea, white sage and other important plants used by indigenous cultures for making baskets, mats and rope.

"The plant variety ensures that flowers will be blooming year-round, and they'll require virtually no maintenance," says Daniel.

In addition to adding 30 percent more usable garden space, Daniel installed ultra-durable and attractive custom fencing around the property (with the joint support of neighbors) and built a charming mountain-view gazebo and fishpond. The fishpond is ecologically balanced, fish and mosquito-proof, and comes complete with nighttime lights and an energy saving waterfall. Every single stone surrounding the pond has been individually placed by Daniel, who built two four-foot-long fish tunnels, caves and ledges that protect the fish from the raccoons, hawks and herons that frequent the area.

Green Backyard

"Running water not only brings calming sounds, it attracts insect and butterflies," he says. "It also creates an intimate atmosphere just outside Martin's bedroom." Hummingbirds, chorus and tree frogs, water striders and dragonflies seem to appreciate this soothing playground as much as Martin does.

"At first, the gazebo, pond and stone paths weren't part of my plan, but I gave Daniel free reign," says Martin, who's lived in his Goleta house for 30 years. "I'm amazed by his envision how it would all look together and how he makes the most use of space in the simplest way possible."

Daniel has thought of absolutely everything: the flagstone patio and paths are planted with drought-tolerant thyme to soften the hardscape and allow for rainwater recharge; all the mulch is recycled from the original landscape for weed control and to reduce irrigation; leaves that fall from trees and bushes will act as mulch and give nutrients back to the plants. A "living" retaining wall near the property line (facing the creek) is built with open-jointed concrete blocks with plantings to soften the walls and further stabilize the terraces. To add further stabilization and ward off invasive weeds, deep-rooted native vegetation is planted on both sides of the eroding flood control easement path.

Green is Good Pagoda

A compacted, decomposed granite pathway minimizes storm water, while dry-stream channels of gravel swales encourages groundwater recharge and prevents rainwater from running off the property. A 2,100-gallon rainwater storage harvested from roof gutters nourish edible plants during the dry season (if necessary) and adds firewater supply. The irrigation system is set up to function by gravity, irrigating either the entire landscape or a manually selected "plant zone," particularly the edible trees and vines. In addition, a solar harvesting system provides all the property's energy needs, with low-voltage lighting subtly and safely illuminating in front of the house, a driveway of porous cobblestone absorbs rainwater and breaks down car pollutants to keep the toxins from ending up in the adjacent creeks. Here, Daniel also thinned some sycamores and placed a bench for Martin to sit and enjoy the quiet cul-de-sac and the mountain views it affords.

Green is Good Bridge

The landscape will have fully matured about 20 years from now, although one will be able to see drastic changes in the flora and fauna every season. If Daniel has done his job right, Martin should not have to water his plants ever again, except maybe for the fruit trees. "This type of landscaping brings decades of enjoyment with minimum care," Daniel says, pointing out that no chemicals, pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers are used anywhere, which makes the entire property completely safe for children, pets and wildlife. "I'm hoping this project demonstrates to contractors, planners and homeowners that it's possible to create a beautiful outdoor space while minimizing footprints on our planet."

Martin could not be more pleased with the outcome. "We have created an inviting living space for humans and wildlife alike where textures, colors, sounds and smells are carefully designed to be in harmony with the natural world," he says. "I can't wait to see it all grow."

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Wilson Environmental Contracting, Inc. (WEC) is a locally owned, fully licensed, and insured landscape design, build, and maintenance company.  Please visit www.WilsonEnv.net for more information about innovative sustainable landscapes, or call 805-957-4729.