Landscape Design: Make The Most of Your Outside Space | How To Home Podcast #010

Landscape Design: Make The Most of Your Outside Space | HTH010

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Transcript

Aaron:
Welcome
back to another episode of the How to Home podcast. My name is Aaron Massey,
and joining me as always is Tracy Pendergast, and our guest today is Mike Pyle
from Mike Pyle Designs, who’s a landscape designer. Spring is officially in the
air, which means it’s time to get outside and tackle some landscape projects,
and we’ve got the perfect guy here to tell us what we should be doing.
Aaron:
Why
don’t you give the audience a little bit of a background on how you got into
it, what it is that you do as a landscape designer?
Mike:
So
it started, I would say, when I was 21, so 18 years ago, 19 years ago. And I
just started by digging trenches and working my way up through the chain. I
eventually fell into design and sales after I learned the whole field of
everything from irrigation to lighting to plant selection. And then after being
in design and sales for a while, I actually started my own construction
company, was in that for about four to five years, and then got tired of the
management aspect of it and wanted a little more freedom for travel, and now I
specifically work on designing and consulting.
Tracy:
And
for people who have not seen Mike’s Instagram account, check it out. You can
scroll through it as you listen, Mike Pyle Design. It’s incredible. It’s so
inspiring.
Mike:
Thank
you.
Aaron:
Yeah,
I think you … Some of those coolest stuff that you do, you’ve got like these
living walls, you’ve got these … I don’t even know what you call them, but
like the spiral garden kind of things that you do with the various different
succulent patterns and stuff, and some really cool stuff. So definitely make
sure you guys go check out his Instagram. But before we dive into some of our
questions, make sure you follow us on social media as well. You can find us at
howtohome_guide on Instagram, and make sure you follow our email list, so you
never miss out on an upcoming episode, or any of the content that we release.
And one more thing, we want to thank our founding partner of the show, which is
FilterBuy. FilterBuy is an HVAC filter provider. They can create any custom
size or any standard size air filter that you want. You save 5% when you sign
up initially. They ship everything within 24 hours direct to consumer, so you
never have to remember to change your filters. You can sign up for a
subscription, and they’ll ship it to you anytime that you want.
Tracy:
Wow,
you are well versed in FilterBuy information.
Aaron:
I’m
getting good at this. I am getting good at this.
Tracy:
Couldn’t
get a word in on that one.
Aaron:
Well
Mike, thanks again for being here. We’ve got a bunch of questions lined up, and
we’ve got also some questions from our listeners as well-
Tracy:
Lots
of questions.
Aaron:

social media questions to dive into. So, first I just wanted to get your
mindset as far as how do you approach designing a space? Where does it start
for you?
Mike:
Well,
the initial consultation I have with a client, I’ll always let them lead, and
they’ll tell me their wishlist, you know, if they want a barbecue, a fire pit,
overhangs, lighting, et cetera. I’ll then kind of give my take on what I would
do with the project. I always go into a home as if it were mine. That’s the
easiest way for me to explain this, is just pretend like it’s mine and do the
best I can with it. Creating more space is always a huge goal of mine, but
really kind of marrying the two of their wants and my wants, to be selfish a
little bit and create my own design within their home. I kind of … that’s the
way I go about it, just kind of marrying the two is the best way to approach
it.
Aaron:
Does
the surrounding area, or the homes that are in the neighborhood, do you take
any of that into account when you are picking materials and stuff, or do you
just focus on what it is that this home kind of embodies for you?
Mike:
I
really mainly just focus on the home. Sometimes when I get into homes that are
within HOAs, I have to be conscious of what the HOA restrictions are through
their CC&R’s and such. But a lot of times they’re single family homes that
don’t have HOAs, and I really try not to focus on the surrounding homes because
it’s really just their own.
Aaron:
I
mentioned to you just before we got started that I’ve been going through this
massive backyard remodel. You know, I tackled a lot of it late last year and
still kind of ongoing, and I think, you know, having that vision and being able
to actually execute it are completely two different things. I’m finding myself
kind of tackling things as I go and adding things and changing things, and
somebody like yourself who has that overall design sense in mind certainly
could have helped me out a few months ago. What are your favorite tricks or tips
maybe to maximize a design?
Mike:
One
of the biggest things that I get approached about is people want to add, you
know, they want to essentially, especially in California, they want to extend
their living area. So they have a small home, lots out here in homes
technically are a little bit smaller than most. We want to extend their outdoor
living area, so they want to get dining tables, fire pits and such. Chairs take
up a tremendous amount of space, so I always try to incorporate … built-in
benches is a good example, so you don’t have to essentially pull chairs away
from the table and have that space. You’ll save, you know, 24 to 30 inches
right out the gate if you incorporate a built-in bench, that’s a great way to
do it. Living walls or panel wood walls, those are good as well because you’re
going vertical and you’re not taking up square footage of the yard, and you’re
also getting another element as far as wood or succulents or ferns, and within
the living wall itself.
Tracy:
I’ve
been curious what the maintenance is like on those living walls. Are they
pretty easy to maintain, or … ?
Mike:
They
can be. I get that question asked a lot. A lot of people want succulent living
walls, but sometimes they want them in areas that they won’t thrive in, so
they’ll put them … they want them in a shaded area or an area that only gets,
you know, two or three hours of sun a day. They will not thrive in that area,
so that’s going to be a constant maintenance for them. But if you put it in a
spot where it gets good afternoon sun, you know, four to six hours a day
minimum, it’s going to thrive and do much better in a space like that. Also,
how it’s built, if it has an irrigation system within the living wall, or if
you’re hand watering, those are two big differences. A lot of people forget to
hand water, so you struggle with that sometimes. I always recommend using a
system that’s going to be automated and irrigated on a regular basis so you’re
not worrying about that.
Aaron:
So
one of the things I’ve recently started to do … I’ve done a fair amount of
adding irrigation and things around my home. I’ve started using some of the
solar control valves that kind of … you don’t have to plug them into, you
know, some other kind of management system. They’re controlled right there on
the valves. Are there other products like that out there that you recommend to
the average person that can be really beneficial to install?
Mike:
I
typically only use one type of irrigation; it’s a product called Netafim, and
that’s a in-ground drip system, it has a hole every, either 12, 18 or 24
inches, it has a regulator within that hole. So you’re not … You know,
typically in the past, drip systems, they’ll have heads on them, or they’ll be
spaghetti wire that goes into a main drip area. Those will pop off, or the gardener
will snag them, and all of a sudden you got leaks everywhere, where this system
is bullet proof. It’s awesome. I’ve been using for five years, never had a
problem with it. And that can be linked to timers that are controlled by your
phone as well, similar to what you’re doing. But yeah, that system is bullet
proof. You’re not having water runoffs, you’re not wasting water. You’re not
visually seeing it, you’re not having pop up heads or emitters to where
gardeners or children can trip on them or pull them out.
Aaron:
Does
that work for sods and all that stuff too? Or is that more just for, like,
planter specific?
Mike:
You
could use it on sods, you can … there’s some applications I’ve used it on
where you’re, you know, between concrete pads, you’ll run that Netafim strip
underneath between the pads and it works great. I haven’t used it on a large
sod application. I don’t see why it wouldn’t work, but it has been done. I
haven’t personally done it myself, though.
Aaron:
What
about the balance between hard scape and soft scape and stuff? Is that job
specific or do you always try to incorporate a little bit of both?
Mike:
It’s
really what the client’s looking for, but I always like to incorporate both. I
don’t like planters to be too large and unmanageable. It’s really to fit the
space that each home has. I also don’t like to do too much concrete, because
then it looks, you know … and also running concrete against the home too
much, or against walls, just creates a real cold feeling as opposed to having
planters against those spaces or those elements. It just helps soften the
project.
Tracy:
When
you move into a new home with a huge amount of space, and you can’t necessarily
hire someone to design it for you, what’s a good place to start to create your
space and design it and plan it? Where do you suggest people start?
Mike:
Save
money to afford a designer, would be the smartest thing.
Tracy:
Okay.
Mike:
Having
a plan is huge, right?
Tracy:
For
real.
Mike:
Like
anything in life, if you have a plan, it’s just, even if you have to wait a
little bit longer, it’s just the best way to go about it. I feel a lot of
homers make the mistakes of, “Oh, we’ll just run down to Home Depot and
we’ll get a couple of plants here and a couple of plants there, and we’ll adjust
this irrigation,” without having essentially the knowledge of that, and
they end up actually wasting money in the long run as opposed to maybe hiring a
professional and … Get a plan going. You may need to save a little bit longer
for it, but you have a plan. I see the mistake a lot of a lot of people where
they say, “Oh, we did this and we did that and it didn’t work out, and now
you’re here,” where they’ve wasted maybe $500 or $1500 that could have
gone to that initial design and a plan.
Tracy:
I
know at our first house I probably replanted my front bed like four times. I
kept just ripping it out and replanting it, and I would just kind of read the
labels at Home Depot. “I think this should work,” didn’t have drips,
would forget to hose it down. It was just like, it’s a hot mess. And honestly,
if we would’ve saved all of that money, we probably could have just had
somebody.
Aaron:
I
mean, I’m a little bit guilty of that to a degree. You know, I plant a lot of
succulents and pots in the backyard, and then I kind of take them out, but I
have just this like massive amount of dirt around my home that just has no
design, and so I kind of just transplant stuff here and there and fill it in
piece by piece, but I try to keep the overall design or idea in mind when I’m
doing it. But yeah, I mean it can be tricky and a little bit overwhelming, and
maybe it is worthwhile. Even if you’re planning to do it in phases, you know,
maybe it is worthwhile to get an overall design initially, and then work off of
that over time, if you’re not going to do it all at once. I mean, it doesn’t
mean you have to do it all at once, but-
Mike:
Yeah.
Aaron:

you could still have the design.
Tracy:
Do
you give your clients like a maintenance kind of checklist before you leave or
as you’re planning?
Mike:
Yeah.
So I’ll, like on the final walk of the project, after consulting, everything’s
installed, we’ll go through everything, I’ll explain each plant and how it
grows and whatnot, and how often things need to be watered and fertilized and
all that. I use a lot of dwarf varieties, a lot of drought tolerant varieties,
so they think that it’ll just take care of itself, and it doesn’t. So they’ll
let three or four months go by, and then I’ll get a call and say, “Oh,
we’ve lost eight plants,” and then I’ll go over there, and I’ll notice
that no maintenance has been done. They haven’t hired a maintenance contractor,
and that’s really so key to have it thrive. It’s just one of the biggest
mistakes homeowners make. After you make it a large investment in your yard,
you have to take care of it.
Aaron:
Well,
I think that’s kind of the ideal landscape in most people’s mind is low
maintenance, right? Low maintenance doesn’t mean zero maintenance, it just
means low maintenance. That’s kind of more of the trend now is people are
working towards lower maintenance lawns, because you’re spending a ton of time
out there and also money, potentially, either irrigating all your grass or
fertilizing, constantly doing stuff. Are there any tips that you can provide
maybe the audience for for kind of building a lower maintenance?
Mike:
Artificial
turf is the best, but a fescue is a great variety, a Marathon II fescue. It’s a
deep root grass, it’s drought tolerant. It doesn’t require a lot of water, so
that’s good. That’s probably my best advice as far as fertilization. You always
want to fertilize late spring, right before the summer so it can, you know,
really take and grow as much as it can during the summer time. But again,
having a maintenance contractor on board is huge. There’s a new fertilization
system that I’ve just started using called easy flow, and it’s actually …
they have several sized tanks, but the one geared towards homeowners is a 1.5
gallon and it’ll actually be installed before your irrigation manifold, so
essentially before all your valves, and it’s a low dose fertilization that is
just constantly going through your system. So it’s super user friendly, you
don’t have to wonder if your gardener ever fertilized or not. It’s just a no
brainer, it’s just under $300, so it’s within reason, and it’s just low dose
fertilization year round.
Tracy:
Whether
you hire someone or do it yourself, kind of the formula would be to first of
all do your research on what’s going to be able to-
Aaron:
Survive,
[crosstalk 00:13:10]-
Tracy:

survive, kind of determine what type of maintenance you’re capable of and then
set that up and have a really strong plan for how you want things to look and
then also how you’re going to keep them maintained.
Aaron:
If
the audience is listening and wondering where, you know, maybe go to a local
nursery or something and find, you know, if you were looking for more robust
plants that maybe don’t require as much maintenance on a daily basis, just go
to the … find whatever plants they carry, see what they suggest, because it’s
different everywhere, right? Different places.
Mike:
It
is different everywhere. I always recommend doing some research. I’ve been in
this industry for going on 18, 19 years, and I’ve seen every type of nursery
there is, and what I’ve found is it’s worth doing your research to find
nurseries that specify in certain plants.
Aaron:
Are
the plants that are carried at big box stores for example, are they on par, or
are they a lesser quality than maybe some of the local nurseries in your mind?
Or are they-
Mike:
I’ve
bought stuff from Home Depot and Lowe’s. I mean it’s … I don’t go … that’s
not my first go to, but if I have to … and I’ve never found that they’re sub
par, I wouldn’t say. Their pricing seems pretty fair, and usually their
warranty is pretty good as well. Warranty is huge. There’s some nurseries that
actually offer, like, lifetime warranty on plants, which is awesome. You’ve got
to bring the plant back in.
Aaron:
Right.
Mike:
And
your receipt. But, you know, warranty is huge and if they’re willing to back it
up then, I mean, if the price is fair, then yeah.
Aaron:
And
you might just find a more knowledgeable staff at a more specialized local
store, maybe that’s one of the advantages, just people that have a really good
understanding of the products, I’m thinking.
Mike:
Correct.
Aaron:
You
know, visually I might look at a plant and be like, “Okay, that might look
cool next to this plant,” but I never know how well they’re going to grow
together, or, you know, if they don’t grow well together. Is there … how do I
find that out?
Mike:
Yeah.
They won’t necessarily not grow well together. They might grow too well
together. The way I design, I have a plant palette that has a lot of dwarf
varieties in it. So I’ll plant a drought variety that’ll max out at maybe like
12 by 12 inches or 12 by 18 inches next to something that gets a little bit
bigger. When I design, it’s always about future growth. What’s it going to look
like in six months or a year? I don’t want Bob Smith calling me in a year and a
half saying, “Hey, Mike, you’ve created a jungle here.” There’s a
process to it, and it’s really … it’s very simple, but you need to go about
it in a way where it’s going to look good down the road. It could look great
today, but you want it to look great later.
Mike:
So
I always recommend a lot of dwarf varieties, you know, agaves are great,
they’re real slow growing, they don’t take up a transplant of space. Succulents
are slow growing, they kind of stay within the space that you’ve given them.
There are varieties of succulents that multiply as far as like aeoniums and
such, and hens and chicks like you were speaking of earlier. But yeah, plant
placement is huge, and it’s just doing it a little bit of research, that tag on
the plant usually says what the maturity growth is. So just pay attention to
that, and if you go in it that way, then you should be pretty safe.
Aaron:
I
always think about that when I see you do the really intricate designs and
swirls with the succulents. Are people able to keep … maintain the integrity
of that design just with the plant being small?
Mike:
Yeah,
sometimes. Like the tight swirls that I’ve kind of started doing, I kind of
just thought of that, I guess, I hadn’t seen it anywhere. It was just a test
run that I did, probably started about two years ago, and what I found is if
they’re planted in the right spot, meaning full afternoon sun, and they have
irrigation below using that Netafim drip irrigation so they don’t have any
overhead water on them, because that’ll cause burning and such. I’ll go back to
a planting like 18 months later, and all that’s changed is the color of the
succulents, because they will get, they call it stressed through sun exposure,
so they’ll turn more in the oranges and the yellows and the reds. But as long
as they have that sun and the appropriate water, they stay pretty content, and
if you pack them in a small area, they’ll stay within the space they’re given.
They might get 10% bigger, but they’re not going to go crazy on you.
Aaron:
How
much does soil, like Ph and all that play into your designs? Or do you just
kind of start from scratch and bring in new soil?
Mike:
I’ll
bring in new soil, you know, a homeowner, sometimes from time to time they’ll
say, “Hey, we’ve planted here for years and just nothing’s taken,” so
I’ll do a soils test if that occurs. But typically I’ll just bring in a good
organic premium soil, will till it in the first six to 12 inches and just get a
good new fresh soil, aerate the soil as well through that tilling. And then
when you plant, you always want to go, you know, if it’s a five gallon or a one
gallon, wherever it may be, dig the hole twice the size of it and then get that
premium soil in there as well. I always water before I backfill, just get the
roots a good dose of water, then backfill, and then you should be good.
Aaron:
The
other question I have is weeds. I mean, I use weed fabric, I do all that stuff
and then I put down, you know, I’ve put stone down, I’ve done some landscape
edging, all that type of stuff, and I still get weeds like crazy growing
through. Is there any … do you have anything that you do in your design
process or your implementation that is kind of designed to minimize that?
Mike:
I
typically will just use … mulch will keep down weeds quite a bit, but mulch
also needs to be replenished, so that’s an ongoing cost that you’re going to
have to do at least once a year, so always keep that in mind. It will keep down
the weeds most of the time. Other than that I do use weed barrier, and then on
top of that, like a three eighths … like a pebble or decomposed granite, and
I usually don’t have much problems with weeds after that. Usually around the
perimeters weeds will sneak in, but in the main areas, it usually stays down
pretty well.
Aaron:
Yeah,
I’ve had a little bit of issue here and there, like in some of the planter
areas that I put in, it’s like there’s no soil, there’s no nothing, and yet
these weeds just grow right up through the rocks, and I’m like, “What the
heck?” So then … I mean obviously it’s low maintenance, right? It’s not
zero maintenance.
Aaron:
So,
we spoke a little bit about having that design, are there any, like, do you
ever go into a space where somebody has taken on a DIY design of their own and
then you get in there and there’s common mistakes done, like over-watering or
any of that type of stuff that you’ve seen?
Mike:
Yeah.
Oh, definitely. The most common mistake that I find is soil levels within
planters. If you have a planner that butts up to a patio or a walkway or a
driveway, I find that either they initially have the level’s too high, or over
the years you’ll have buildup of soil. And what happens is when we get a good
rain or any rain at all, that rain doesn’t even have a chance to get in the
planter and percolate down through the soil. It’ll just hit it and run off, and
you’ll be wasting water. Again, with the irrigation, same thing. There’s tons
of runoff situations where your soils are just too high. I always like to …
even that, like, first three to four feet close to any walkway, driveway or
patio, get the soil down three and a half, four inches, and then add your mulch
or add your weed barrier and decomposed granite or your pea gravel. And that’ll
actually allow the water to catch and stay within the beds as opposed to being
wasteful. That’s one of the biggest mistakes I see is just simply the level of
soil.
Aaron:
So
it’s about maximizing the water that you do get, you know.
Mike:
Exactly.
Aaron:
And
I know one of the issues that I’ve had since I did that remodel thing is just
soil settling. I mean, I’ve done a bunch of compaction and stuff, I built this
kind of backyard area, and just up against kind of these retaining walls, I’ve
had a little bit of settling just right in the corners. Does that come into
play in any of your stuff or is it all about just getting that compaction down
and making sure that the water doesn’t sit, that it kind of runs off like for a
retaining wall?
Mike:
Yeah,
it’s just, with retaining walls, essentially you’re putting all the backfill
back. So it’s just a matter of compaction, having your French drains installed
properly or your surface drains installed properly. So that’s just the process
of construction, you know, and you will have some settling. But over time you
should be … you know, it’ll be fine.
Aaron:
So
once you get a design in mind or you work with the homeowner and they talk to
you about their wants and needs and stuff, you put the design together, and
then you have contractors that you partner with to kind of execute it?
Mike:
Yeah,
so I had a construction company for four years, and I actually, just this last
year, gifted my company to my assistant, and that’s now [Morris 00:21:56]
Landscapes. So what I do with my designs is I will … I’m hired to design for
the client and then with that I provide a bid from Morris Landscapes, and then
that bid that I’ve given them, they can take the plans and they could actually
bid it out to whoever they like, because all the plans are to scale and they’re
very detailed. So, I always give that bid from them just so they have kind of
an idea of what it should cost, and then they could go elsewhere if they choose
to, though. But 90% of the time, 99% of the time, Morris Landscapes is who I
use and who my clients use.
Aaron:
What
are some of your most memorable projects?
Mike:
My
most memorable is probably this Hawaii project that I’m leaving for actually
like next week, I’ll be there for five weeks, consulting. It’s a two and a half
acre project on the Kona side of Hawaii. I just got it by chance. I did the
homeowner’s home in Laguna Beach and their yard is about the size of this
booth, and they had some gentlemen work with them out there and they fell a
little short and they gave me the opportunity to work with them, and it worked
out. I’m very thankful for it, it’s an exciting project. It’s pretty neat.
Tracy:
That’s
amazing.
Aaron:
So
do you stay on, as, you know, once you design a project and you partner with
the landscape company that you mentioned, as it’s being built and stuff, are
you actually on site kind of overseeing it, making sure it’s fitting the
design, tweaking things if things need to be tweaked?
Mike:
Yeah.
I’ve actually never followed one of my designs. I don’t even look at my plans.
Once I get on site, it’s … the plans are concept and budget for the client.
Once I get on site, there’s always a new, better way to do it. I’ll tweak it
just a little bit, won’t be much, but I’ll just enhance it a little bit. But
yeah, I’m there through … I’ll be there on the demo day, I’ll be there on a
hard scape layout, plant layout, plant delivery, lighting layout, and then see
through it to the end. So, yeah, I’m very involved in all my projects and
designs.
Aaron:
That’s
cool. So you’re there just like, you’re like, “Oh yeah, I know I had it
laid out this way, but now that I’m seeing it, I’m just kind of like, let’s
shift a walkway a little bit this way.”
Mike:
Exactly.
Yeah.
Aaron:
That’s
cool.
Tracy:
What
would you say your trademark is, like, is there something within all of your
designs that is kind of your thing?
Mike:
I
definitely have more of a modern kind of feel to my designs. Small spaces I
guess is what I’m kind of known for, but I’m also doing very large spaces now
too, so, yeah, I’m very passionate about what I do. I love … I’m thankful I
get to wake up every day and do what I do. So, it’s hard to really give a
simple answer to that.
Aaron:
For
your Hawaii project, was there a lot of … you know, obviously that’s not a
local landscape project, so do you have to do a lot of extra research on the
types of plants and all that stuff to do that type of-
Mike:
Yeah,
I’ve been out there six times now. When I first went out there I was … I
didn’t think it was going to look the way it did. It looked like I was on the
moon, so it was … it’s on the Kona side, so it’s all lava fields for the most
part, and I pretty much had to start from scratch and learn what grew natively.
The homeowners that I’m working for are very conscious about the environment,
so very drought tolerant. We’re using a lot of native plants. I did not know
one of the plants that’s currently on the plant palette. I wasn’t familiar with
any of them, so it was like I had to pretty much relearn what I was doing. It
was fun. I enjoyed the challenge and I’m excited to put it together.
Aaron:
You
mentioned the word plant palette a few times. What goes into creating something
like that? Is it you’re putting all the plants kind of together and evaluating
it for color and style and all that type of stuff [crosstalk 00:25:48]?
Mike:
Yeah.
So, I always send the client the initial plant palette, and that’s basically
… after the first time we meet, I’ll send that over to make sure we’re on the
same page. So I’ll send over varieties of plants that are going to work within
their space. You know, some, whether they’re succulents, or agaves, or natives,
or, you know, if it’s a certain hedge they want to use. So I’ll essentially
just throw them, you know, 15 to 20 plants and then say, “Hey, am I going
the right direction? Is this what you guys like?” Sometimes they’ll say,
“Yes, perfect,” and sometimes they’ll say, “Yeah, we don’t like
this, we don’t like that,” and I’ll just readjust and figure out that
plant palette before. It really helps me start with the design and know the
direction the client wants to go.
Aaron:
On
an average, I would say, from once you kind of start or you get that contract
initially with the homeowner to execution, how long are you usually working on
a job? I mean, obviously you have your big jobs that you’re talking about-
Mike:
Yeah,
but the standard single family home, I’ll meet with a client once they approve
the design proposal, I’ll have a design in front of them within two to three
weeks. And then, once construction is approved, a typical job is four to five
weeks. And what’s interesting is most of my jobs, and I’m all referral based,
so most of them, I’d say 90% of them are all full demolition and redos. So
we’ll go in, full demo, and then rebuild everything essentially, so that’s why
it will take essentially about four to five weeks. So, overall, I’d say a eight
to 10 week process, give or take.
Aaron:
You’re
talking about most of them are full demo. So most of your work is remodel as
opposed to new construction?
Mike:
Yes,
definitely.
Tracy:
So
for people listening that live in more of like an urban area, maybe apartment
living or condo living and want to do something really cool with their very
small outdoor space, do you have any tips and tricks?
Mike:
Yeah,
pots are great. You can do citrus trees in pots. You can do herbs, you can
essentially do small hedges in pots. You know, if you live on a small … have
a small patio that you’re trying to create privacy for. There’s another cool
company that I just used their product, I did a huge living wall for a charity
function, and it’s called [WayTechs 00:28:05], and they have these vertical
kind of pockets that you can plant herbs and whatever you like in and it’s self
watering. So again, the whole vertical aspect of not taking up square footage
is a big thing and helps save space when you have a small space.
Tracy:
Absolutely.
Those walls are so cool. What could someone expect to see in your own yard or
at your house?
Mike:
I
mean, I live in Laguna Beach, so I live in pretty much a cracker jack box. It’s
small, but I have a nice little patio and it’s all finished, and a hammock
area, and a vertical wall that’s a outdoor shower and it’s all lit up, and a
fire pit and barbecue. And it’s, I’d like to say it’s pretty well put together.
I’m not the pool guy that has a dirty pool, so …
Tracy:
Amazing.
Aaron:
What
about incorporating lighting and stuff in your designs? I know lighting,
backyard lighting and stuff, is a huge thing, because people want to use their
space at night, too. How much of your design goes into that? Like keeping that
in mind, what you need to incorporate, natural light vs., you know, artificial
light.
Mike:
Lighting
is huge. It was actually the first company I ever started. I actually had
forgotten that, so you just asked that question. When I was 21 I started a
lighting company, and I love outdoor lighting, it’s one of the most important
parts to finishing a project, I believe; not to overdo it. And the nice thing
about lighting is you can always add. So whenever I design, I typically go a
little under of what I think I should put, because I like the homeowner to
always be able to add, because once you purchase it and install it, you really
can’t take it away. But yeah, all LED lights, more to set the mood, you could
say, as opposed to lighting up the whole place and putting a flood light in the
corner, which is what half of us grew up with. You know, our parents just have
a floodlight and just light up the whole backyard.
Aaron:
Yeah.
Less for security and more for aesthetic.
Mike:
Yeah.
Tracy:
I
was going to say we just interviewed a security guy and like flood lights on
every corner-
Aaron:
Every
corner.
Tracy:
Free
openings.
Mike:
Yeah.
I’m not a-
Tracy:
Not
your [crosstalk 00:30:09].
Mike:

not an advocate of that, no.
Aaron:
I
mean, I think it has its place. You just, you know, you want to be able to turn
those off-
Tracy:
During
a dinner party.
Aaron:

when you have people over, you know.
Tracy:
Yeah.
Mike:
Yeah,
exactly.
Aaron:
Are
there any outdoor lighting products that you love or companies that make great
outdoor lighting products that you can recommend?
Mike:
Yeah,
I’ve fallen into a Canada based company, in-lite. It’s spelled I-N and then
-L-I-T-E, and they have a really neat line, especially the have these small
little lights are like seven eighths round, and I use them in clusters. You can
go up panel walls with them, you could have them within your driveway. They’re
0.2 watts-
Aaron:
Oh,
wow.
Mike:

so they use like zero electricity. It’s just a cool effect. If you look on my
page, I’ve used them quite a bit lately, but that’s … I mean, I love using
their … I try to use it, and I probably overuse their product. People are
probably getting tired of it, but I love it. It’s really neat.
Aaron:
So
that part of your job, right, you’re designing kind of a lighting layout, and
then does the construction company, do they have like an electrician that works
through to run all that wiring and power and [crosstalk 00:31:21]?
Mike:
It’s
all low voltage, so that license that the company that I typically work with,
or any company out there, it’ll cover that as well. It’s a pretty simple
install, it’s really user friendly. That in-lite product is actually made for
homeowners to install. It’s that simple.
Aaron:
Oh,
that’s cool.
Mike:
So
it’s, yeah, it’s super user friendly.
Aaron:
I
definitely want to add some, like, I’ve got some, like, in this backyard area
that I did, I put these post lamps, you know, they’re kind of vintage-y posts
lamps and they give off a really cool light because they have kind of the
vintage Edison bulb-y kind of look, kind of like these. And they look great,
but I kind of want to have a little more accents here and there, and kind of
add a little more flair, so maybe I’ll check those out.
Aaron:
In
my home I happened to have these ground squirrels or gophers and my concern is,
like, I’ve been trying to get rid of these things for the longest time, but my
concern is that I’m going to plant something that they’re just going to
destroy. Do you put any, like, mesh down or anything down in your designs, that
kind of-
Mike:
Yeah,
there’s … I don’t deal with gophers a lot, but when I have, usually just,
there’s actually just a wire called gopher wire-
Aaron:
Gopher
mesh or something? Gopher wire?
Mike:
Yeah,
gopher wire, and we’ll put that. Most of the time that I’ll install that is
beneath, like, vegetable beds. I’ll do a lot of raised garden beds, and I’ll do
the gopher wire below those. But to be honest, I haven’t really ran into a lot
of gopher problems, but the gopher wire’s essentially the best way to go about
that, but that means you have to mesh your whole yard. So it’s kind of …
Aaron:
Yeah.
Mike:
Yeah.
Aaron:
Or,
I mean, I guess you can plant specific areas and just put it in those specific
areas, and then maybe the other areas are more hard scape or something like
that.
Mike:
Yeah.
Aaron:
The
one issue that I’ve ran into as I had these big aloes that I planted in this
succulent garden thing that I had, and I didn’t have any issues there for a
long time, but then I added an irrigation zone kind of after the fact, even
though the succulents don’t need a lot of water, just to have them on
occasional. And as soon as I did that, I guess it softened up the soil or
whatever, and the gophers got in and chewed out the roots of these big aloes
and they just-
Mike:
Just
fell over.
Aaron:
Just
fell over. And so now I’m like-
Tracy:
Rude.
Aaron:
“I
can’t tear it up,” and, well, I could, but I don’t want to, I don’t want
to tear it up and put gopher mesh down. But I’ve figured out some other ways to
get rid of them. But …
Mike:
Yeah,
the gophers are … I remember when I was a kid, my dad would always be out
there with his pitchfork [inaudible 00:33:44] gophers.
Tracy:
Oh
yeah. My husband gets, like, he gets into this zone with the gophers that’s
just not in [inaudible 00:33:52] healthy space. I have to, like, shoo the kids
in the house. “Daddy’s trying to get the furry thing again.”
Aaron:
Straight
up Caddyshack.
Mike:
Oh,
yeah.
Aaron:
Just
chasing around them around the golf course.
Tracy:
They’re
annoying. Yep.
Aaron:
When
you’re planting a garden or a landscape, do you vary the types of plants in
terms of, like, the age or how old they are, how large they are? Or are you
planting mostly smaller things with the idea that they’re going to kind of fill
up the space?
Mike:
A
little bit of both. I use anything from a four inch pot to one gallon, five
gallons, 15 gallons and all up to like 24 or 36 inch boxes. My goal is
essentially to plant it, to make it look like it’s been there for a while and
not just like this new baby that has to grow in everywhere. But at the same
time, I’m still using dwarf varieties with varieties that will get larger too,
so it kind of just is encompassed within, you know, it’s all together as one
thought of planting to make it look like it’s been there, but not
over-planting, and planting for the future.
Aaron:
Yeah,
because I can imagine, you partner with the homeowner, and you’re like,
“Okay, well, trust me, this is going to look good in the next like eight
to nine months. Just let it grow for a while.”
Mike:
No,
I’ve never had anything like that. I plan it as if it’s my own and what I want,
my expectations, which I have high expectations, a little too high sometimes. I
always really want them to be just immediately happy. I don’t ever want to say
like, “Oh, this will look good in six months.” And the way to do that
is just by getting … by going to the right nursery that … I’ve found just
over the years of me doing this, a one gallon is not necessarily one gallon.
There’s nurseries that have one gallons that are … you’ll pay a little bit
more, but they’re going to be twice as big as another nursery’s one gallon, and
they really take pride into what they’re doing. So it’s worth doing some
research and finding a nursery that really has a quality plant and they’re
selling it at the size it should be.
Mike:
Now
that our economy’s doing so well, people are … I call it pushing plants, and
they’re just selling as much as they can. So what’s happening is they’re not
letting them grow as much as they should, and they’re not getting to the size
of that one gallon or five gallon or 15 gallon should be, and they’re just
wanting to make money. So take your time, find a nursery that is really
allowing them to get to their size they should be, and then you’re going to be
a lot happier with your initial planting.
Aaron:
Do
you have a favorite type of project to work on, or a favorite type of landscape
design to do?
Mike:
I
love it all, but I love small spaces. I love going into a 12 foot wide by 30
foot long side yard and having it just be a huge overgrown hedge that no one’s
used for 10 years, and having the challenge of putting a fire pit, a dining
table, two living walls, a water feature in there, and bringing it to life.
That is … I get so much joy from that and just having the client sit back and
be able to enjoy a space they haven’t even walked out to in 10 years.
Aaron:
Do
you have to do any engineering from that perspective? Do you do like
multifunction, like, “Oh this slides out to become this, and then
this”-
Mike:
Sometimes.
I try not to get too complex, but I have some areas where like, you know, a
bench could be used in a couple different ways, or a fire pit. You know, if you
have a four by four fire pit, if you’re not essentially always using that fire
pit, I’ll create a top for that, so it can be used as a table as well, just do
like a panel wood out of IPE or another product so they can actually use it for
our dining table or a fire pit.
Aaron:
So,
I think we’ll jump into some questions, we’ve got our fans, and everybody has
kind of solicited some social media questions for you, and I think we’ll dive
into those right now if that’s cool.
Tracy:
Okay,
so the first question was someone has a really ugly cinder block wall
surrounding their house, and she wanted to know if you have any creative ideas for
making the cinder block wall easier on the eyes.
Mike:
Go
away?
Tracy:
Mm-hmm
(affirmative).
Aaron:
I
can’t relate to that because I only have two massive ones now.
Tracy:
Right?
Mike:
There’s
a couple ways to cover or kind of put a bandaid over a cinder block wall. The
most expensive way is going to be smooth stuccoing or do a stucco application
to it. That’s going to be, you know, not the cheapest thing to do, but
obviously we’ll get rid of that cinder block. Another thing is to … you could
paint it. Painting cinder blocks sometimes helps, or the combination of
painting and then doing a hedge in front of it. You can do a ligustrum hedge,
or a ficus hedge. You could also tie vines on it, you know, espalier vines,
essentially, all along the wall.
Mike:
But
if you have the budget, I always recommend smooth stucco or a stucco variety to
just get rid of that. And you always want to make sure your contractor is …
some people would just brown coat and then do stucco, but there’s a product
called poly prep. So you’re going to do your stucco, you do your poly prep, and
then you do your smooth stucco or traditional stucco after that, and then what
that poly prep serves as is a, it’s essentially a glue, so you’re not going to
have … it prevents cracking long term.
Aaron:
Oh,
that’s cool.
Mike:
But,
I mean, you can’t go wrong with just throwing a solid hedge around that. You
know, if you have this space, and it’s not eating into your yard too much, I
would do the hedge. If you’re limited on space, I would do the vines. There’s a
lot of self attaching vines, like the creeping fig you can do, or you can do
like a calliandra vine. I try to stay away from bougainvillea, as pretty as it
is long term. It’s just going to-
Tracy:
[crosstalk
00:39:34]-
Mike:

it’s an … I would never plant in my yard. It’s just a maintenance headache.
Aaron:
I’ve
taken a lot of it out.
Tracy:
And
with kids it’s so dangerous.
Aaron:
And
apparently it’s poisonous to horses.
Mike:
There
you go.
Aaron:
There
you go.
Mike:
There’s
another reason not to …
Tracy:
The
next one was, what do you suggest, what’s like a great durable ground? So
pavers, concrete, stone, what do you suggest for like a long term outdoor
space?
Mike:
Concrete’s
great. When designing concrete I always … you know, you got to be conscious
of not pouring too big of slabs and have good expansion joints. I’m a fan of
doing large pads, have like a four and a half to five inch gap where you could
incorporate artificial turf, or pea gravel, or a cobble. That also helps with
preventative cracking. So, essentially, the pads will float and they will be
able to move when the earth moves, and you won’t have as many cracks. Pavers,
if you have a place where your soil is, you have a lot of movement, pavers are
great, because they essentially move with it. [inaudible 00:40:40] good. A pea
gravel is good too. But for hard scape, pavers and floating pads would be the
best long term.
Tracy:
I
live in an apartment, so I don’t have my own yard. What are some easy ways to
bring the outside in that I can manage in a small apartment?
Aaron:
I’ve
seen those modular kind of planting walls that … they kind of look like
hexagon tiles, but they have planters in them.
Mike:
Yeah.
It’s essentially like a grid and you could have one or 10, and it goes
vertically, and it essentially has like a little six inch pocket, a plastic
pocket, and you could plant anything from a herb to an ivy or a fern in it, and
then it has actually has a self watering system as well, so that would work well
for apartments. Pottery, getting some pots out there with plants in it is
always nice.
Aaron:
I
think you’re limited a little bit by what you can have indoor naturally, right?
Because the sun, you know, they’re not getting the natural light, but there’s a
lot of plant options out there that you can grow indoors.
Tracy:
Yeah,
I always see those beautiful long, like, succulent centerpieces. Do those
survive for a long time inside?
Mike:
Inside,
no, but there’s a lot of varieties of succulents that are considered low light.
Sempervivum is a good variety. But what I always recommend, because I used to,
one of my businesses I used to have was I did succulent workshops, and that was
a question all the time that I’d get is, how do we take care of this if it’s
inside? And I always recommend on your way out, you know, take them out for a
play day, throw them outside, they get some sun, and you know, get the
nourishment that they need, and then it’ll just give him that longer life.
Aaron:
I
think a big thing I see people buying now is like the fiddle leaf figs. I see
people, they seem to have those.
Mike:
I
can’t stand those things.
Aaron:
They’re
huge.
Mike:
I
kill them. I honestly have killed like five fiddle leaf figs. For some reason I
cannot get them to survive.
Aaron:
Well,
if you can’t get them to survive, then I don’t even want to try.
Mike:
There’s
plenty of people that can, but I’ve always struggled with them. But yeah,
they’re beautiful. I love fiddle leaf figs.
Tracy:
We
got another really funny question. It was, “Is it high pressure to send
your wife or girlfriend flowers or plants for Valentine’s Day?”
Mike:
For
myself?
Tracy:
Yep.
Aaron:
He’s
got to present a living wall.
Mike:
No.
No, I send her flowers often actually. But no, I don’t think her expectations
are too, I mean, I think I do pretty well. But I don’t create the arrangement,
so I guess the pressure’s on the person delivering them, but they do a great
job, but …
Aaron:
I
like the Edible Arrangements, those seem to go over well.
Tracy:
Anything
in chocolate is-
Aaron:
Chocolate,
strawberries, fruit, they win.
Tracy:
Is
there any negative impact on the local environment if I bring in exotic plants?
Aaron:
I
mean, we touched on that a little bit, but that is a good question. Like, I’ve
seen a little bit more of a push back lately to use more native plants to the
area as opposed to some of the other stuff out there. And I don’t think that
really a lot of people know that certain things aren’t native to California or
to some other places, like, do you find that you’re doing a lot of … or
people have specific requests for things that aren’t kind of native to the-
Mike:
You
know, I really don’t. I honestly … and I don’t know if it’s because I’ve
fallen into a referral based … you know, because I don’t really advertise,
and it’s pretty much, you know, friends of friends and such. But I’ve fallen
into a great group where they just kind of let me run with it, but from time to
time, there are people that, you know, they’ll want something that just won’t
work and I just tell them that it won’t work, and it’s not much of a, you know,
a fight to … yeah. No, not at all. They don’t want to invest in something
that’s not going to essentially work. And that’s the job of a designer to tell
the client, you know, yes, this [inaudible 00:44:33] work, or no, this is not.
Aaron:
Do
you ever come across things where, like for example, I know I have a couple of
sago palms, for example, around my yard, which I know are toxic to dogs. Does
that ever come up in your designs where people might have pets or something-
Mike:
Oh,
yeah.
Aaron:

and they’re looking for something, and you say, “Well, we shouldn’t do
this here because of your”-
Mike:
Yeah,
definitely. There’s the sago palms, like you said, there’s the pencil cactus.
There’s a couple of varieties that will hurt animals, essentially. And that’s
always one of my first questions is, do you have children or pets? And if they
still … sometimes they still want the pencil cactus within a job, and all
we’ll do is just bring that and put that in a pot and get that elevated so the
dog can’t essentially-
Aaron:
Chew
on it or whatever.
Mike:
..
chew on it or rub up against it.
Tracy:
Funny
about the sago palm, sorry. My brother actually had one stolen from his front
yard. They came out one morning, and the palm tree was just gone. I guess
people do steal them, and then they sell them or replant them. So they posted
it on a neighborhood board, and somebody actually saw a guy riding a bicycle
holding a sago palm, and they were able to track it down, and then he got his
palm tree back.
Aaron:
Okay.
Tracy:
It’s
insane.
Aaron:
I
actually … a couple of the plants that I have in my yard, I have these big
agave things, and somebody had curbed them, like, down the street, they were
doing construction and tore them out and threw them on the curb. And I was
like, okay. I picked up a couple of them and planted them and they’re …
Mike:
They
transplant great.
Aaron:
Yeah.
Mike:
They
generally want to live. You can throw them in the dirt and neglect them for
three months and they’ll figure it out.
Tracy:
Is
there a way to get plants cheaper, and what are some tips to save money if
you’re doing it yourself? And I guess clippings and re-planting is one option.
Mike:
Yeah,
clippings and repurposing, that’s huge. It’s essentially free. And like I
touched on before, really finding a nursery that specifies in the product,
whether it’s natives, or, you know, succulents. I just find that they’re not
sourcing them as much, and they’re growing them in house. So you’re going to
get a little bit better of a deal. And finding places … like, for instance,
for the longest time I didn’t shop at Roger’s Gardens. It’s a local nursery in
Orange County. I always thought they were very expensive, and I was getting
plants from Riverside and such, and I noticed the plants just weren’t as
quality as I’d like. And then I popped into Roger’s one day and I noticed that
yeah, it’s a couple of dollars more, but the plant’s actually like 25% larger.
And like I said before, they offer that extended warranty.
Mike:
So,
I mean, it’s just, we’re doing your research and just popping around and not
just buying plants at the first place you go. And like you said, finding
someone that is actually knowledgeable. You go to these places and they’ll talk
you to sleep, they love doing this so much. There’s some people that just love
what they do in that industry as far as plant knowledge, and it’s good to just
do your research.
Aaron:
Well,
and to that point, I think, you know, locally, wherever you are, just go talk
to whoever at nurseries, they’re going to have the most kind of knowledge about
what plants do well, and the type of soil and stuff that’s around you. And when
you’re considering a design, maybe in a colder climate that’s getting snow six
months of the year, you know, having that balance between perennials and
annuals, you know, where you want to plant things, how you want to do it, and
if you want stuff to come back every year vs., you know, you get that frost and
everything dies off.
Mike:
Yeah.
Aaron:
But,
I mean, that’s a whole nother challenge, I think-
Mike:
It
is.
Aaron:

designing the landscape, you know, in that type of climate.
Mike:
Yeah,
I’ve never experienced that.
Aaron:
It’s
a blessing and a curse, right? Like you get to be in California and you get the
year round gardening thing and the landscape and all that stuff. But at the
same time it’s like you have a year round maintenance schedule.
Mike:
Yeah.
Tracy:
Right.
Aaron:
Like,
my mom’s always like, “Oh, you have all this stuff,” and I’m like,
“Yes, I love it.” I love being able to be working outside, you know,
most of the year, but I have to work outside most of the year, you know.
Tracy:
It’s
a lot of water.
Aaron:
It
is. But at least I’m not shoveling and plowing snow. Well Mike, thank you so
much for being here. I think you’ve offered some great landscape design tips,
and some stuff I really want to kind of implement in my own designs, and pick
your brain offline a little bit about some more specific plants.
Aaron:
Make
sure you guys check out Mike on Instagram at Mike Pyle Design, and if you want
to get in touch with Mike, you can email him at a [email protected]
Mike:
Yup.
Aaron:
.com.
Sorry.
Mike:
.com.
Aaron:
And
make sure you guys hit us up as well. You can email me directly at
[email protected], or you can follow us on social media, the link’s in the
description down below, and make sure that you subscribe to our email list so
that you don’t miss out on any of our content.
Tracy:
And
as always, we want to thank our founding sponsors FilterBuy for making this
show possible.
Aaron:
Well,
Mike, thank you so much for being here. We hope you enjoyed it. I know we had a
great time.
Mike:
Yeah.
Aaron:
And
I look forward to seeing you again and following your work.
Mike:
Thank
you again. Appreciate it.
Tracy:
Thank
you so much.
Aaron:
All
right, we’ll see you guys next time.
Speaker 4:
The
How to Home podcast is brought to you by filterbuy.com, your one stop direct to
consumer replacement air filter brand, and is produced in collaboration by
Amassed Media Group, LLC and Intelligent Arts and Artists. The show is
executive produced by George Ruiz and Aaron Massey.
 

Show Notes

This week, Mike Pyle joins Aaron and Tracy to discuss everything landscape design. We find out what homeowners should consider before starting their project, how to maximise a small outside space, and which plants you should choose for a beautiful yard.

LET’S CHAT!

You can always call and leave your questions and comments on our voicemail!

978-709-1040

TIPS:

– Chairs take up a tremendous amount of space, consider built-in benches to maximize space.

– Living walls don’t take up square footage and add beautiful elements.

– Living walls need good afternoon sun with an irrigation system- if they don’t have these thing they require a lot of maintenance.

– Having a plan is HUGE! Plan out your project and research or hire a professional.

– Maintenance is key for things to survive. Low maintenance doesn’t mean no maintenance.

– Fescue grass is drought tolerant and does great.

– Fertilize late spring before the summer.

– Warranty is huge when shopping for plants.

– For weed control: Mulch, weed barrier and pebbles or decomposed granite will help.

– Get soil down 3 ½-4 inches before adding mulch so your soil level isn’t too high.

– Small living options: pots (fruit and herbs do great!), living walls, anything vertical.

– For gophers, gopher wire works well under garden boxes etc.

PRODUCTS:

PHONE CALLS/SOCIAL:

Q: How can I help my cinder block wall look better?

A: Smooth stucco, paint, hedge and vines all work great!

Q: Best hard surface for durability?

A: Concrete, pavers and pea gravel are all great options.

Q: I’m in a small apartment, how can I bring the outside in?

A: Vertical walls and pottery with plants work well. When you leave your house, set pots outside for some sun.

Q: Is it high pressure to send your girlfriend flowers?

A: Mike thinks he does pretty well!

Q: What are some ways to save money?

A: Find a nursery that specializes in certain plants. Clippings and trimmed pieces transplanted are free.

MIKE’S INFO

Website: mikepyledesign.com

The Gram: https://www.instagram.com/mikepyledesign

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