Landscaping A to Z: Resources for a Green Thumb
It’s summer in Costa Rica – that time of year when good weather draws homeowners’ thoughts outdoors to their gardens and lawns, but also when the heat and sun can make life treacherous for plants. A variety of businesses, as well as two new publications and a nonprofit institute, are available to help those seeking to design a garden for their homes or businesses for the first time, or people looking for a new touch of green or color. From how to ensure that your garden helps conserve the right balance for animals, to irrigation systems for gardens or lawns, plenty of resources await.
Vivero Floraventura owner Cristina Formoso says her landscaping business in the western San José suburb of Escazú goes to great lengths to meet clients’ needs, whether this means tracking down hard-to find plants or connecting a client with a designer to make a unique vision a reality.
“What we try to offer our clients is that if they fancy something, a whim, we get it for them,” she said. The company serves a largely foreign clientele, with many customers coming from Europe and the United States and seeking to create a typical Costa Rican tropical garden in their own backyards.
“They want tropical gardens with a lot of heliconias, ginger, large plants with large flowers,” Formoso added. “They don’t have that in their country of origin, but they’ve seen it here and they want to have it. A smaller group, on the other hand, wants minimalist gardens.”
In addition to serving clients designing gardens at their homes, the family-owned business has worked with a number of hotels and businesses. It offers services from garden maintenance to fumigation. For landscaping projects, the staff will visit the site, learn about the client’s needs and then create a budget. The store also offers free presentations on landscaping at clients’ request.
Vivero Floraventura is located in Construplaza, a shopping plaza where a number of other stores offer construction materials and other related services, one kilometer east of Multiplaza on the highway to Santa Ana (turn right at the Guachipelín exit and the plaza is on your left). To contact the company by phone, call Construplaza at 215-1112 and dial extension 143.
Gigante Verde (302-1838) owner Bendjelloul Karim agreed that tropical gardens continue to be a favorite for clients. However, in the northwestern province of Guanacaste, where his company is located, irrigation is key if any garden is to be a success. Karim, who worked for eight years as a landscaper in France before moving to Costa Rica, says that 50% of plants in Guanacaste die during the December-to- May dry season without proper irrigation. According to Karim, irrigation is an outstanding investment for anyone with a garden or lawn.
“It is more economical to put in a good irrigation system than to do another planting later,” he said.
Like Formoso, he says he prides himself on being able to get virtually any type of plant for a client, and offers a three-month guarantee – if a plant does not survive during that period, he’ll replace it free of charge.
He has been working with a nearby nursery, but is set to open his own soon, including a showroom with nine different garden styles from around the world, from Japanese, Indonesian, French or Middle Eastern to Mexican or tropical Costa Rican.
Karim said he is now designing a Japanese garden in San Pedro, east of San José, complete with a waterfall, bridge and other features.
Gigante Verde and its eight staff members can also create walkways or walls for gardens.
It’s located in Caña Fístula, 15 kilometers from Tamarindo on the road to Santa Cruz. Contact Karim at 302-1838.
Miki Landscaping (658-8270), in Playa Negra, Guanacaste, offers a wide variety of landscaping and garden designs, including gardens designed to use minimal amounts of water. These gardens, with cacti and rock walls, are popular with clients, according to owner Mike Krepin. Because Guanacaste homes often feature large garden lots, “there’s a lot to work with,” he said, adding that he often designs gardens with “a little bit of everything.”
The company also offers maintenance, irrigation systems, statues, rock walls and paths, as well as garden “facelifts” for gardens that need a boost.
“You can have the nicest house in the world, but if your garden’s not there, no one will notice,” Krepin said. “I try to make everyone happy with their gardens.
Another Guanacaste landscaper, Jam S.A., helps gardens survive the long, hot summer in part by emphasizing indigenous plants.
According to owner Demetrio Alvarado, the company is now working with approximately 50% plants native to Guanacaste, in an effort to create gardens that can survive without much water and also help the region’s animals survive.
“There are many animals that eat seeds from the area – birds, armadillos, foxes,”
Alvarado said.“With that in mind, I’m planting lots of native flora.”
As with other landscapers, Jam S.A. draws up a design proposal and budget after an initial meeting with clients, 80-90% of whom are foreigners, he said. The company is located at Finca La Josefina in La Garita, two kilometers from the Huaca crossing on the road to Tamarindo (653-8855).
Also interested in the biological makeup of gardens, and how the plants chosen can affect the environment, is the Tropical Architecture Institute (see separate story). Its office in San José contains an extensive multilingual library with resources on architecture and landscaping, open to consultation free of charge by any interested party. The institute’s most recent publication is “La Biodiversidad en el Diseño del Paisaje” (Biodiversity in Landscape Design), available through the institute, which includes sections in both English and Spanish and provides some background on the special concerns of tropical landscaping. (“A Guide to Tropical Plants of Costa Rica,” a recent publication by botanist Willow Zuchowski, also offers extensive information on hundreds of plant species found in Costa Rica (see separate story.) To contact the institute, visit www.arquitecturatropical. org, or call 256-4749.
Lawns are becoming an increasingly popular part of Costa Rica’s landscaping scene, according to Rene Barrientos, sales and marketing manager for gardens at Ceres, S.A., in Heredia, north of San José.
The force behind this trend is the tourism industry, he said.
“They’re building various hotels with gardens, golf courses,” he told The Tico Times, adding that an increase in the number of housing developments with a need for shared recreational areas, such as condominiums and gated communities, has also driven up the demand for lawns.
The tropical climate places a special strain on grass, and home or business owners should take various factors into consideration before planting, including the type of land – sandy or clay, for example – and the topography. The amount of sun a lawn space receives is also important. The type of grass should be chosen based on these factors; the most common variety used here is San Agustín, followed by Bermuda, he said. Ceres, S.A., offers a variety of lawnmowers, from traditional push mowers for residential use – a Toro or Lawn-Boy push mower starts at ¢200,000 ($400) – to large, professional riding mowers, which run up to ¢3.5 million ($7,000).
The company, which has been in business for more than 40 years, also sells other types of maintenance equipment, from leaf blowers to fertilizing equipment. (Grass should be fertilized every month and a half in the April-to-November rainy season, less frequently in the dry season, according to Barrientos.) It’s located in Barreal de Heredia, 100 meters east of Riteve (239-1138 or 239-1400).
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