When Rick Mathews took a temporary landscaping job in 1975 while waiting for the new semester at college in Santa Barbara, he didn’t know it would dramatically alter his future. As a sociology major planning to teach, he went to work for Owen Dell, a landscaper who specialized in native plants. Dell is now an internationally famous author, speaker and educator known as a “sustainability guru.”
“When I understood what Dell was doing, it completely changed our lives,” said Mathews. Dell was generous in sharing his knowledge and vision as a mentor for Mathews, and soon Mathews and his wife, high school sweetheart Valene, headed to San Luis Obispo where he could study horticulture at Cal Poly.
He started a small landscaping business “with a truck and office in the back of our home” to support his growing family. He named his business Madrone after the striking native Arbutus menziesii tree that grows in Coast Ranges from Southern California to British Columbia.
Now, almost 40 years later, Madrone Landscapes has 28 employees including three construction crews, two maintenance crews and two service crews, three full-time designers and one estimator (all Cal Poly graduates, by the way.)
In 2009, he received the coveted President’s Award from California Landscape Contractors Association for Best Residential Landscape. “We were ready for the massive shift in landscaping requirements due to the drought, as we had been practicing sustainability since our inception,” said Mathews.
When Valene Mathews retired as an administrative assistant from Cal Poly after 30 years and their children were grown, she and her husband sold their home of 32 years and relocated to a sunny corner lot in the Apple Valley development in Atascadero.
Using his “#2 pencil and paper,” Mathews created a design for the yard that incorporated the key goals of his business: to find sustainable components for every idea, consider the architecture of the home, create color schemes, and factor in the owners’ values and lifestyle. “It’s been fun to do our own yard, and work alongside the crew in designing something we will enjoy for years,” he said.
Because the house was on a corner near the entrance to the development, Mathews sought to create privacy in the front yard by removing the lawn and “lifting” the yard up through a mortarless retaining wall of Air Vol Europa blocks. Between the wall and the street, he designed a wide sidewalk of permeable pavers, using tumbled Euro-cobble.
To create a functional private front patio, he built a low stucco wall accented by square entrance pillars of Sanford Stone stacking stone. Adding flagstone for interest, the mix of several natural materials created an inviting outdoor space shielded from the street.
Up on the new front patio, an interesting round local boulder with a core-drilled center hole serves as a vanishing fountain surrounded by two benches made from cypress logs recycled from one of Madrone’s projects. Two of the seven varieties of manzanita on the property grace the porch; the Manzanita morroensis, native to Morro Bay, and the Dr. Hurd, a multi-branched tree with glossy light green leaves.
Winding the way to the backyard past a long south-facing raised vegetable bed and fruit trees (the “food forest”), a wide path leads through tall deer grass to the pool and patio. Mathews created a curving elevated bed of stacking stone along one side of the pool decking, wide enough to sit on, full of native plants and another vanishing fountain.
“Something about the combination of compost and the south sun has resulted in amazing growth,” Mathews said. His purple Winnefred Gilman salvia is four feet high, and bright orange California Fuchsia, Arbutus and Austin Griffiths Manzanita are filling in quickly.
The backyard focal point in both form and function is the new poolside outdoor kitchen, constructed by Madrone Landscapes. Rough-sawn horizontal siding covers the existing fence and continues along the back of the structure as a sliding barn door to conceal pool equipment. Slender veldt grass, Carpenteria Bush Anemone, carex and potted succulents hug the various stone surface treatments. Mathews’ prize fixture is the cypress bar, recycled from the same log as the front benches.
The couple appreciates their new functional and sustainable outdoor space, loaded with texture from their many uses of stone, color and interest from favorite native plants, front and back patios, outdoor fire pit, poolside kitchen — and lots of sunshine for outdoor living.
“Our new home and garden are the perfect way to celebrate 40 years of marriage and enjoy a bit more relaxation time at home,” said Valene Mathews with a smile.
▪ In addition to a low nitrogen fertilizer, add a beneficial fungae natural root enhancer product after planting to help with the exchange of nutrients. Recommended: Mykos Mycorrhizal Inoculant by Xtreme Gardening, www.xtreme-gardening.com.
▪ Use your imagination for turf substitutes other than synthetic lawns. Good performers that can be mowed: Carex praegracilis (California Field Sedge), achillia millefolium (yarrow.) Spreading groundcovers that tolerate foot traffic: Creeping thyme, Elfin thyme, Dymondia margaretae.
▪ Make your garden come alive at night by using low voltage LED lighting for outdoor structures, pathways, at base of fountains and beneath interesting specimen plants.
▪ Incorporate the many available varieties of native, drought-tolerant Manzanita (Arctostaphylos) throughout the garden for the smooth deep red bark and architectural shapes of the interesting trunks, the gray-green leaf tones, pink or white urn-shaped flowers and seasonal berries that attract birds.
▪ For books and articles by Owen Dell: owendell.com
▪ For more information on Madrone Landscapes: 805-466-6263, www.madronelandscapes.com
Rick Mathews, Madrone Landscapes