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Designer | Contractor
Kevin Cerini

Location
Palo Alto, CA

Site | Size
43,560 Sq Ft

Start | Completion
2017-Today

Budget
Moderate
Project Data

Landscape Case Study

Project Name

Peninsula Makeover

Bay Area Landscape Organization

Segale & Cerini Landscaping

Situation + Site Condition

Kevin Cerini, Lead Designer + Project Supervisor of Segale & Cerini Landscaping, had been working near an estate property in Palo Alto on the SF Peninsula.

A co-worker informed Kevin that the residents were searching for an experienced resource to help them with several challenges in their landscape. They had also not been satisfied with many other resources that they had met with.  These providers did not instill confidence that their needs could be satisfactorily addressed.

After an introduction and initial meeting, Kevin conducted a comprehensive site review of the property revealing a diverse set of landscape ecosystems. These areas included lawn areas for gathering, large planting beds, a pool area, a fruit orchard, a redwood grove, a Cedar tree house, a formal planted entry, and much more.

Each landscape section had distinctive attributes due to the orientation of the residence, soil and grade characteristics, and many mature shrubs and trees that impacted how air, light, and water moved through the landscape.

Kevin learned that the property had been updated over 10 years ago yet many areas were overdue for professional attention and care. As Kevin assessed the situation with the residents, he considered how he might address each of the garden areas and effectively unify them as an integrated landscape with a common structure.

Project Objectives

Kevin worked with his client to define and clarify a set of objectives for this project including:

  • Retain + enhance distinctive landscape area ecosystems
  • Integrate all areas into one unified landscape
  • Supplement + improve fruit orchard
  • Increase health + yield of cherished avocado, orange + persimmon trees
  • Avoid extensive demo + disruptive plant replacement
  • Retain mature hedge and screening barriers for privacy
  • Reduce + minimize water-wasting lawn areas
  • Improve water use efficiency
  • Hydro-zone irrigation for adjustments to temperature, wind + rain
  • Integrate new water controllers + off-site monitoring
  • Expand plant + tree palette beyond those in place
  • Educate customer about landscape components + requirements
  • Eliminate reliance on chemical pesticides
  • Provide a regular maintenance + fertilization schedule
Mature Plants Challenges

Retaining hedges and screening barriers for privacy was essential for the residents. This included a grove of Portuguese laurels that were challenged by the high water requirements and use of a group of mature cedars that served as the foundation for a large tree house.

An overgrown grove of redwoods also needed to be addressed by limbing up lower branches to lift the canopy and enhance the distinctive form and screening that these CA native trees provided.

Prunus lusitanica | Pacific Nurseries
Prunus lusitanica provided privacy and screening that was essential for the residents.
Soil Structure Challenges

Early tests revealed high salinity in soil throughout the site. This condition diminished available nutrients for plants—especially for fruit-bearing trees.

Soil samples and analysis were conducted for each of the diverse ecosystems and areas of the site. All of these different areas revealed a wide range of soil compositions and needs.

A consistent growing medium for uniform and healthy plant development was required. This necessitated a two-year soil improvement program consisting of extensive amendment additions, periodic organic fertilization, and improved water delivery.

Site-wide soil testing | Segale & Cerini Landscaping Case Study
Site-wide soil testing established revealed all areas that needed improvement.
Lawn Challenges

While the residents recognized that water savings would be attractive, they preferred retaining some portion of lawn for both entertaining and gathering as well as for use by pets.

They were open to reducing the ongoing high maintenance requirements of a lawn with alternatives that were seasonally green and inviting.

Water in early morning | Pacific Nurseries
Reduction of water-wasting lawn areas was necessary to improve water use efficiency.
Multi-Ecosystem Challenges
With the diversity of light, soil and air conditions in the landscape, experienced plant selection was essential for planting success.

Test-drive installations were conducted on individual plants to measure + monitor their performance. The goal was to not fight the individual micro-environments by choosing and using plants that would grow well and thrive without extensive care or maintenance. This patient trial and error method provided real-world feedback that enabled experimentation and learning for all.

Pro tree staking tips | Pacific Nurseries
Test installations were conducted on individual plants to measure performance.

Plan + Solution

Kevin and the Segale & Cerini team relied on over 40 years of Bay Area landscape experience to address the many challenges of this project.

With this recently remodeled Spanish mission-style residence and many mature trees and plants in place, they wanted to instill confidence in the property owners in their approach to a site-wide tune-up and landscape improvements. They were mindful of how changes would complement and not disrupt this large garden.

Rather than just relying on discussions, Kevin helped the residents visualize the Segale & Cerini plans to unify and connect the diverse areas of the garden by using 3d design software and a few detailed plans. The result improved communications and helped to set clear expectations for all parties on the project direction and outcome.

Beginning slowly by addressing primarily maintenance and pruning-related issues, opportunities were uncovered and the work expanded to meet the increasing requirements of the client and the improving landscape.
Removal of all dead or diseased plants and trees was followed by soil testing of areas and concentrated amendment additions. Existing irrigation was also used as a base with additional water delivery methods added to create hydro-zones and improve water use control. This included zone identifications with legends for off-site, remote monitoring.

Water-wasting lawn areas were reduced to primary paths with the addition of no-mow grass used in larger areas providing year-round seasonal beauty. Rather than relying on plant removal and replacement with a new pallet, Kevin and his team carefully considered what was in place and how they could enhance each unique area of the garden with complimentary plants and trees.

Innovative and dramatically disruptive methods were avoided to enhance the opportunity for garden visitors to pause and absorb each unique area in the landscape. This attitude and approach allowed the Segale & Cerini team and the property owners to experiment and learn what was most effective and attractive.

Project Gallery

Selected Project Plants

Kevin used thoughtful considerations to guide plant selection and locations for use. The residents were very unfamiliar with plants and their growing requirements. As a result, they were open to Kevin’s recommendations while retaining some preferences for only a small handful of plants.
Every plant selected for use was designed to integrate into the unique requirements of every area of the landscape while not disrupting the overall structure of the mature garden. The gallery above features some of the many plants + trees provided by Pacific Nurseries that were used in the project.

Results | Outcome

Looking back after years of dedicated attention, this garden is a thriving inspiration.

There has been significant improvement to soil health and a reduction in the salt concentrations that were discovered when Segale & Cerini first evaluated the site. The result of ongoing soil care has resulted in a reduced need for soil enhancement.

What’s more, regular plant maintenance and care now consists of primarily seasonal pruning and dead-heading.

Water use has been reduced by 67% and the landscape is resilient and tolerant even in the summer-dry season. Reduction of lawn area has helped to lower costs and improve water conservation. Off-site water use monitoring has also been integrated with regular reporting and performance reviews with the residents.

All of the fruit trees in the orchard are producing yields that are far above what the residents can consume. They now have many opportunities to share the bounty with family and friends.

Use of pesticides has been virtually eliminated and monthly fertilization has replaced the need for toxic chemicals.

The landscape remains a diverse set of mini- ecosystems that divide the garden into distinctive visual areas. However, they now work as integrated and unified whole by sharing a designed structure and plant pallet that is healthy and green. The result welcomes and invites visitors to explore and experience the changing environment around them as walk through the landscape.

Kevin and his team now concentrate on sustaining and enhancing this special place that brings daily joy to the thankful property owners.

Services Delivered

+25%

Increased Fruit Yields

Fruit tree production + volume increased significantly

-67%

Decreased Water Use

Site-wide landscape water use decreased by over 67%

100%

Improved Soil Health

Soil health improved site-wide + required less attention over time

“Our dream was to have a garden where you would forget you were in Silicon Valley. We also wanted it to be functional with different areas for outdoor gatherings, gardening, swimming, and playing. We discovered an iterative process was best for us. After trials and errors with many plants, we found a plant palette that worked throughout the landscape while still creating distinct sections. Segale & Cerini has been a perfect fit as they have the proven expertise and flexibility to work with us.”
Peninsula Makeover Residents

Lessons Learned

  1. Find clients that listen and that you can work well with
  2. A successful, beautiful garden is many steps done correctly
  3. When things are not performing well, find the missing steps
  4. To get the landscape results that you want, pay attention to details
  5. Beautiful landscapes are a connected set of components + trades
  6. Recognize that success takes time
  7. Don’t be afraid to dismiss clients that you can’t work with
  8. A garden is never finished
  9. Always be learning
  10. Put your passion and heart into making beautiful outdoor spaces

Segale & Cerini Landscaping

Since 1985, Segale & Cerini Landscaping has delivered their proven skillsets to every project from start to finish. They recognize every outdoor space has its unique qualities and challenges. As a result, their ability to adjust to each project is reflected in consistent positive outcomes that they achieve for their many customers.