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Even landscaping can benefit from a “green” makeover

SAN DIEGO -- With summer just around the corner, a growing number of San Diego homeowners are taking water conservation seriously and with good reason: Water is getting more expensive.

Many are consulting landscape architects to find ways to save money on their water bills.

A consultation with a landscape architect can turn into an investment in the property value of a home. Not only cam homeowners discover how to best utilize gardening and lawn space and reap a lifetime of monetary savings, but they can also contribute to the conservation of the environment.

Meet Michael Brennan, a registered landscape architect, LEED accredited professional and owner of Urban Green Landscape Architecture.

A California native, Brennan has spent the last eight years in San Diego helping homeowners, business and homeowner associations discover the beauty and practicality of green landscaping.

As a child, Brennan had an active role in his family’s garden. He remembers that he was about 10 when his parents hired a landscape architect. Brennan befriended the landscaper, was heavily involved in the design process, and recalls that the experience had a profound impact.

“Choosing a college major was easy for me,” Brennan said. “A lot of people struggle with those choices but for me it was clear.”

He turned his childhood passion into a degree and in 2002, graduated from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, earning a bachelor degree in landscape architecture, with a concentration in environmental design and a minor in environmental sustainability.

What does one learn by obtaining such a degree?

“We studied a lot of design and theory that was heavily geared towards architecture. Surprisingly, very little of it – probably only three classes – were directed at learning about plants,” Brennan said.

Still in his professional design experience, Brennan has tried to teach others about the aesthetic beauty of California’s native plants while focusing on urban design and sustainable practices. His landscape design portfolio includes multifamily developments, master planned communities, model homes, commercial developments and custom residences.

Brennan’s love for the environment, however, extends past the garden: He is a self-proclaimed "green guru." Beyond recycling, Brennan can boast of a $13 SDG&E bill, he hangs his clothes to dry outside and, most impressively, he has not owned a car for almost three years. He relies on his bicycle and public transit.

It is with this conservation-geared mind-set that he steps into dozens of homes to educate others on landscape design. He also brings to the table his appreciation for local resources and design influences from travels abroad.

What Urban Green does

The initial consultation begins with a walk-through of the area in need of new landscaping. During this process, Brennan helps the owner identify the aesthetic, conservation and function goals as well as pin point the problem areas like irrigation problems and overgrown trees and shrubs.

After a mutual understanding is reached, Brennan writes up his proposal for design services. Depending on the level of design, an owner may need to hire additional contractors or simply provide his regular landscaper with the plans for small projects like changing out plants and converting the irrigation system.

“The great thing about having a landscape architect is you can actually bid out your plans,” Brennan said. “A lot of people will choose landscape contractors that can also design, but the problem with that is the owner loses control over the bidding process and can end up with contractors who cut design corners to save on construction costs.”

“I design something with the best [design] interest in mind and don’t focus on cutting cost.”

An initial consultation with Brennan can cost about $100. But he often attends events at which he distributes free consultations opportunities.

He will have a booth at the Earth Day Fair in Balboa Park on April 18 and fans of his Facebook page are often privy to exclusive discounts.

Once a landscape architect provides homeowners with design plans, the typical homeowner will spend $500 to $2,000 on landscape renovations, but the expenses will pay for itself within a matter of years.

Take water conservation, for example. In the heat of summer, Brennan said, property owners would only have to water their landscaping one to two days a week with California native plants.

“In lieu of lawns,” Brennan said, “I like to create a native meadow which will end up using about a quarter of the water that a regular lawn uses.”

A sustainable and environmentally conscious landscape is worth looking at, even if it is just for educational purposes.

Brennan recently worked with the Sustainable Scripps Ranch committee to turn one lucky owner’s front yard into a sustainable showcase garden for the community. By utilizing native plants, a bio fill and a dry streambed, they created a sustainable front yard that fits in with the local ecology.

Additionally, as a member of the Garden Committee with the American Society of Landscape Architects, Brennan has helped to create a north coastal garden tour of exclusive properties from Rancho Santa Fe to Carlsbad.

Set for May 1, the educational bus tour will stop at several homes with various “green” landscaping features. The four-hour tour will conclude with a sponsor display, food and beverages. (Click here for ticket information)

It is also worth noting that not all landscape architects have Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certifications, an industry standard in other areas of architecture but a credential only a handful of landscaper poses.

Michael Brennan is a LEED AP, to learn more about him and his landscape architectural services visit GoUrbanGreen.com

Esther Rubio-Sheffrey is a Staff Writer for SDGLN. She can be reached at (877) 727-5446, x711 or at esther@sdgln.com.