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Category Archives: Landscape Design

Landscape Containers – Pots & Urns for Outdoor Living Spaces

landscape container bethlehem
landscape containers

Landscape Containers an architectural object added to the space. Don’t skimp of the size or character of the container even though the plants may flow and cover much of it. The container itself sets the tone for the quality of what will be installed. I prefer containers made from clay, wood or metals. The quality of these materials is worth the extra price. But, there are situations where those materials make a container far too heavy to be practical for some locations. Plastic containers have come a long way and certainly have a place. They are easier to more in and out at either end of a season and for that matter can stay out all winter long. They are also better for rooftop gardens where weight may become an issue.

The design principles for Landscape Containers are similar to other landscape planting design paradigms. Think in layers in order to create varied interest and character. Use the tallest plant material in the middle if the pot is viewed from all sides or the back if it is viewed only from one side. This is the ‘Anchor’ of the container, the central features, and the show piece. I like to use variegated Canna lilies, Pennisetum rubrum or my favorite is Caladiums (elephant ears).  The mid-section can be thought of as the ‘Fill’. Here you want to pick one to three plants types that will grow to layer in front of the anchor plants ‘legs’. Coleus is my favorite colorful fill plant for those playful and lively pots. Geraniums, dahlias, cuphea, or Persian shield work well for the fill layer and may be a little more toned down and elegant than the playful coleus. The perimeter layer is the ‘Spill’ or ‘Drapes’. This is the layer of plants that flow over the edge of the pot. Some may flow to the ground and run out from there. Ipomoea is a great vine like plant for this approach. Its leaves are heavily cut and provide great texture contrasts. There are deep red leaf, chartreuses and variegated leaf varieties. Aggressive and exotic ivy varieties work in a similar manner. Some pot designs call for a more restrained spill layer. Verbena is a mid-length spill with colors that will pop. Lobularia or lantana is also somewhat loose and draping plants that will hang moderately far over a container. Calibrochoa, red purslane and licorice plant are tighter in growth habit and will only slightly spill the edges.

As with landscape design in general, think about your design concept. Are you creating a playful lush container for a private space or a formal more manicured container for the front entry to the house? Do you prefer predictable or spontaneous? A wild mix of tropical feeling plants or the simple and elegant statement made with a couple more subtle colors? Will the Landscape Containers be a monochromatic, complimentary or contrasting color scheme? My advice is not to take yourself too seriously and have fun. Experiment and enjoy the learning process. Try something new each year even if it is only in one of the layers. And don’t cheat yourself on the quality of the Landscape Containers.

Landscape Design Theory – Tools of the Design Process

landscape design gesture
Gesture in landscape design, long linear allee, brick wall and perennial garden

Landscape design theory is a process of building ideas in a visual format. The material creation of a design relies on the tangible tools of art and drafting – pens, pencils, paints, computers etc. The methodology of design relies on the less tangible tools of knowledge gathered through education and experience.  Those tools of design theory and principles guide the creation and   will determine the quality of the meaning, form and ideas expressed in the visual representation.

Design ideas start as intangible firings of neurons in the designer’s brains, creating vague mental images and emotions. They are inspired by the inception of a design program and a site (real or imaginary). The program is the ‘what to create’, ‘what is the purpose’, ‘who is the user’ and the ‘how will it operate or be experienced’. The site is usually a specific geographically defined area in the case of landscape design. Conceptual or transitory design projects can be based on an imaginary site or meant to travel various sites. Once the program and the site are established, then designer is ready to apply the tools of design to the process of creation.

The ‘concept’ is the first landscape design theory tool required once the program and site are established. Concepts are macro level design tools that guide the entire process. This was discussed in a previous blog and won’t be readdressed here (see Landscape Design Concepts – Principles of Landscape Architecture May 22, 2014). Once the macro tool of a concept is defined, designers can begin the process of resolving the program, the site and the concept into a cohesive and successful design. That process of design resolution relies on the ever expanding set of design theory and design principle tools. We add more tools to the tool box if we continue to grow as designers.

One of my favorite landscape design theory tools is ‘the gesture’. A design gesture is a sweeping movement directing the experience toward a note of significance. Gestures can be subtle in approach and create a surprising discover. Such is the case with the long arch of a gravel path, elegantly defined with a simple border planting, sweeping around to an unseen groove of mystery. That would be an intimate and even personal type of gesture in the landscape. At the other end of the spectrum, an allee in the garden design creates a very formal and directed experience.  Gestures can be playful, majestic, axiomatic, or illusional just to specify a few of the possible ways to use the gesture tool in design. A gesture is an implication that does not spell out the exact nature of the intent. It is one of my favorite tools used in choreographing landscape design.

This article is the first another entry in an ongoing exploration of landscape design theory. I am a designer and a builder. I find joy, satisfaction and a place to contribute to the world in the practice of design and construction.  I will continue to write about design tools such as ‘the gesture’. It is a process of sharing ideas and working through my own thinking. If you enjoy this journey and would like to interact on an individual level, please send me an email through the company website contact information form or at info@GardenDesignInc.com.

Backyard Patio – Brick Pavers


Landscape Patio & Fire Pit
Clay Brick paver Patio & Walkways with Fire Pit

What ingredients are required for a high quality backyard patio and landscape project? The answer is quality design, quality materials and quality installation. Professional, experienced and creative landscape design is always the first priority for a successful landscape project. Without that, the finest materials and craftsmanship are wasted efforts. The project highlighted in this article has a design arranged within a curvilinear theme. That concept leads to a cohesive landscape design that unifying the brick patio, the brick walkway, the natural stone bench and natural stone fire pit. It takes an experienced landscape designer to create successful design, but most people can tell quality design whether or not they themselves can create one. 

In the case of this project, natural clay brick pavers are used for the landscape walkways and patios. The real clay brick is bordered with natural Pennsylvania bluestone. Both products have a natural and authentic quality that is easily recognized by visitors to the landscape. The bluestone is used to define spaces within the overall landscape design such as the main patio space, the back steps and the landscape feature location.

A fire pit and bench are designed in unison and constructed of natural stone masonry. Like the bluestone and brick patio paving materials, the natural building stone has an unmistakable quality. The fire pit is integrated with the bench design with a double spaced patio layout. This organizes the fire pit on the edge of a smaller patio but still in relation to the main patio. That insures that the patio spaces remain flexible and donÆt become only about the fire pit ( a mistake too often made in fire pit patio designs).

The success of this landscape project started with a strong landscape design that specified quality materials such as clay brick pavers, Pennsylvania Bluestone Paving, and Natural Building stone for the fire pit and the built in bench. Landscape construction and masonry construction completed by experienced craftsman ensured the final outcome of an excellent backyard patio and fire pit project.

Landscape Design Concepts – Principles of Landscape Architecture

Outdoor Fireplace_Allentown PA
Formal Garden Outdoor Fireplace and Pergola

 

The first lesson of landscape architecture 101 is that successful design requires a well-defined concept. The concept serves as a guide to create a unifying and cohesive character to the final design product. When design struggles present themselves or the designer finds themselves with designers block, a good concept will guide the way to a successful resolution. A concept is critical whether you are designing a simple paver walkway for the front of the house or a grand outdoor living space with flagstone patios, an outdoor kitchen, a swimming pool, pool house and outdoor fireplace.

A concept is the unifying paradigm of a design project. Often it is thought of as a theme, though it is not limited as such. Regional themes are a popular approach that affords a rather clear and simple template for the landscape design project.  Historical garden themes can range from the informal English Cottage Garden to the formal renaissance French Garden. Regional styles may include Mediterranean gardens, Prairie Gardens, Japanese gardens and Urban Gardens. Though poorly defined and understood, designers often speak of contemporary garden designs, modern gardens or postmodern gardens. Those are topics for another blog.

The concept will help guide the design decisions in a project. A clearly defined concept can dictate design gestures, forms, delineation of uses, and how movement through the spaces is choreographed. A cottage garden concept will dictate informal, organic design movements resulting in a series of unique and intimate rooms. Such a garden is designed to be intimately experienced in hands on manner. On the other hand, a landscape designed in the concept framework of modernism will define large design gestures and movements, sweeping open spaces with singular powerful statements. Landscapes designed within a modernism concept an experienced in a view more than in any hands on manner.

Well defined and articulated design concepts are the key to quality design. When questions come up, or struggles arise in the design process, the concept will provide a framework for design resolutions. If the designer holds true to the concept, the final project will be cohesive and unified. An unlimited range of factors can influence the definition of a concept. Consider the existing landscape, the built architecture, the future inhabitants, the meanings that may be portrayed, the availability of materials and the budgets for the project. Developing a concept requires the same process as developing the design. It starts with a kernel of a thought, it is explored in sketches and in written journal entries, and it is revised and revisited until that moment of clarity arrives when the designer knows the concept is right.

Outdoor Kitchens – Overview of Elements & Costs

An outdoor kitchen is a well used addition to any outdoor living spaces. After all, families spend most of their time in the kitchen, so why not get that gathering outside. The outdoor kitchen design can range from a simple grill station to a complex design with all the elements of an indoor kitchen. The biggest factor in the design is the budget so let’s look at the basic elements and costs.

The first element of an outdoor kitchen is the base which will hold the appliances and countertop. The most economical kitchen bases are built on concrete slabs with steel or wood frames and exterior grade sheathing. A higher quality base is built with concrete block on a concrete frost footer. The exterior of either structure can be covered with wood, stucco, tile or stone with natural stone being the most expensive. Expect to spend anywhere from five thousand to fifteen thousand or more on your outdoor kitchen base.

 

Outdoor Kitchne_Allentown Pa
Outdoor Kitchen with grill, sink, side burner, trash drawer and refrigerator.

The range of potential outdoor kitchen appliances is vast, so we will stick to the basics. The outdoor kitchen starts with the grill. If you are going through the expense of building a kitchen, you are going to want a professional quality grill, built with high quality stainless steel, very high cooking heat potential and excellent long term durability.  A medium size high quality grill will cost around three to four thousand dollars. The next requirements are stainless steel cabinetry for utility drawers, trash drawers, and storage space which will add another thousand or so to the project. Beyond those basics, you can add refrigerators, sinks, beverage centers, side burners, griddles, smokers and more spending upwards of fifteen thousand or more on outdoor kitchen appliances.

The last elements of the outdoor kitchen are the countertop and the utilities. Granite countertops are by far the most popular and will cost anywhere from twenty five hundred to sixty five hundred or more depending on the kitchen size. When you add the costs for a licensed electrician and plumber, an outdoor kitchen will cost anywhere from fifteen to forty thousand or more depending on the size and the elements included.

A Pergola in Landscape Designs – Add Form and Function

Timber Frame Pergola
A natural timber frame pergola set on a bluestone flagstone patio beside a natural stone outdoor fireplace

A pergola can add form and function to outdoor living spaces and define an outdoor room. The columns signify the corners and walls of the room, while the beams & joists create a roof overhead. It will denote the main room for gathered activates while creating a visual point of convergence and architectural interest. These elements of the form are also main elements of the pergolas function to define a space.

Style is the element of the form that will define the character of the outdoor room. White Palladian columns with clean white beams and joists will create a formal space when situated in gardens of strong architectural and organized plantings such as boxwood hedges. Rough timber frame posts, beams and joists produce an informal feel to the room and blend seamlessly with loose informal planting and a more organic garden structure. The materials used for the pergola construction will influence the resulting style but should also be considered with respect to long term maintenance of the structure. Cedar or other timbers will require some sealing or oiling over time.

There are a variety of companies that produce synthetic pergolas with vinyl, fiberglass and polycarbonates. The higher quality of these products are almost indistinguishable from painted wood, though the lower quality clearly have a plastic feel to them. These synthetic products tend to work best when a more formal style is desired. Shade can be an important function of the pergola. The pergola alone may not offer enough protection from peak summer sun.

Vines grown on a pergola create additional shading and aesthetic interests. Another shade option is a retractable canopy that is set on tracks in the beam structure. These can be either mechanical or manual and provide a much lower maintenance option for shade when compared to the vines. Retractable sun screens can even be fitted between posts to provide protection from the sun when it is lower on the horizon. A pergola can create architectural interest, define and outdoor living space, provide retreat from the elements, and give structure for fruiting or flowering vines. It will contribute both form and function to your garden and outdoor living space.

Pennsylvania Bluestone in Formal Landscape Design

 

Pennsylvania bluestone is the most prominent paving material in formal outdoor living spaces throughout the northeast regions. Some people may refer to it as flagstone or slate, but the proper name is bluestone and the majority of it is from Pennsylvania. The natural stone paving material can be found in estate gardens from northern Virginia to Boston. Here in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania, bluestone patios are common around the majestic old homes of West End Allentown, Saucon Valley Bethlehem and College Hill in Easton.

In formal landscape designs, the natural stone is cut in rectilinear patterns for patios. The limit of the pattern design is tied to the creativity of the landscape design and the landscape designer. Random patterns are the most common, but a good landscape designer can come up with multiple paving pattern options to uniquely fir the design. One approach is to install a band of stone on the perimeter of the patio, a running bond pattern in the field and a diamond pattern as medallion in the center.

Pennsylvania bluestone is sorted into various colors, grades and sizes. When left natural cut, the top has a finish known as ‘cleft’, meaning that it has ridges and variations. This rougher finish can be refined by flaming the tops which causes the stone to regularize and leaves a more even textured finish. This finish is most common on the uniformly color range called ‘Blue Blue’ or ‘Thermal Blue’. Classic and formal landscape and patio designs tend to call for the uniform color. Pennsylvania bluestone also comes in ‘Lilac’ ‘Green’ ‘Brown’ and a full color range mix.

bluestone patio
Formal Bluestone Patio in landscape design courtyard project

Bluestone patios can be installed several ways. The stone can be installed on a concrete slab with mortar pointing in the 3/8” joints between stones. Bluestone can also be ‘dry set’ on compacted stone base much like a concrete paver patio is installed. In that approach, polymeric sand or screenings are swept into the stone joints. A good installer will cut each piece of stone such that they all fit into the pattern with less than 1/8” joints, but 3/8” or more is the common joint for ‘dry set’ bluestone installers. A hybrid method involves installing a bluestone curb and then setting the stone on a damp masons mix mortar bed with each stone custom cut to make the tightest joint possible. This technique is expensive and reserved for only the best masons and the higher budget projects.

Front of House Landscape Design Project – Agrarian Setting

Front Courtyard with Fountain_Stone Walls_Pergola_Pavers I worked on this front of house landscape design and construction project several years ago in Bucks County PA. The homes design was developed around a rustic barn type architecture that fit naturally into the rolling agrarian landscape of the large property. To create architectural interest to the otherwise flat front of house façade, a pergola was added in a rough timber style. The pergola support columns are natural stone masonry construction with a taper to create dynamic interest.  The pergola is designed as a ‘roof’ for the front porch outdoor living space.

From the front porch, a wide set of bluestone steps flows to the front motor court. The motor court is designed in classical form on axis with the front door and the symmetry of the home. A natural stone masonry wall with bluestone caps delineates the gardens from the cart way. The concept is to create a garden experience and transition as the visitor moves from the motor court to the front porch outdoor living space and entry to the home.

The design axis of the front door, the front porch and the motor court is accentuated by a central fountain. The fountain is located in the center of the motor court and serves as a functional organizing feature for traffic flow as well as an aesthetic attraction. The fountain surround is a masonry stone wall using the same stone as the transition walls and the pergola support columns. The water feature itself is a granite millstone handcrafted in Maine. Water circulates up and through the stone, over the edges and back into the pool.

The form of the motor court is delineated with concrete paver bands and patterns.  Concrete pavers were chosen over granite cobblestones as a cost savings option since the entire long driveway to the main road also received a triple band of concrete pavers on each side. At the main entry to the property, a 15’ skirt of concrete pavers was installed as a transition to denote the entry.

Plantings in the front garden included boxwood hedges, shrub roses and groundcover. The garden design is classical in form, linear and organized in a geometric principle appropriate to the style of the home. A more intimate and informal cottage style garden was developed at the side porch where the family tended to spend more casual outdoor living time together. That side garden includes a wider variety of flowering shrubs organized around a pallet of hydrangea varieties and perennial geranium varieties.

Perennial Garden Theory & Design

 

Perennial gardens have a long tradition in landscape designs going back to some of the earliest gardens of Asia. However, they are most associated as beginning with the renaissance gardens of Europe. During that period, international travel expanded as did interest in horticultural specimens from across the world. The English perennial garden of the late renaissance and modern era are held as the prime example of design and excellence. These gardens were often extensive displays of color and variety requiring a staff of gardeners to maintain. Today’s homeowner can learn from those gardens and incorporate the concepts at a scale appropriate to their property and the amount of time they can invest in upkeep.

Perennial Flowers
Perennial Garden

A classical perennial garden can vary in dimensions and is designed in at least three layers. That requires at least 10’ of depth minimum, though 15’ or more is needed to really pull off that classical landscape design of the perennial garden. The length of such garden designs is at least 10’ and can be as long as 100’ or more. The design depends of the scale of the space and the outdoor living environmental that will contain the perennial garden.  The three layer minimum layers are a tall backdrop, a medium care and a lower growing foreground. Four, five or six layer gardens follow the same principles.

The key to a beautiful perennial garden is understanding color theory, plant texture combinations and plant bloom periods. I will address color theory in landscape design during a future blog as it is a topic of its own. The relationship between the varied plant textures creates an important aesthetic result in the landscape design. Use perennials with distinctly unique textures adjacent to one another in order to help delineate the garden and the design. Textures can be as important as colors in a successful perennial garden. The goal with bloom periods is to create a garden that has color and interest throughout the season. Don’t forget to consider the fall leave change color of a perennial in this part of the design.

Annual flowers might be considered cheating by some landscape designers, but they are a great way to ensure a beautiful garden throughout the season. Annual flowers have long, dependable bloom cycles and are great for tucking into bare spots. Some annual flowers have displays that are simply unachievable with a perennial.  Delphinium for example create a powerful color display early in the season while other perennials are just getting started (Delphinium are technically a bi-annual but are best used as an annual in the gardens of the north east).

When laying out the perennial design, create a repeating pattern throughout the garden. This creates a pleasant and somewhat logical aesthetic. It is a more relaxing experience for the viewer. Avoid perennials that are self-seeding or you will fight their spread throughout the garden and that will ruin the intent of the design. Double dig your planting beds incorporating as much rich compost as possible. Mulch with a very light, highly ground and composted peat based dressing. Do not use a standard mulch in a perennial garden since you will be working, turning, and maintaining it often. A regular triple ground hardwood mulch will just get in the way if your are a true perennial garden creator. A perennial garden is dynamic and ever evolving as the designer or gardener learn and adapt.

Reasons to Hire a Landscape Architect to Design your Swimming Pool

Landscape master Plan
Landscape Master Plan with Swimming Pool, Pool House, Patios and Landscape Plantings

If you are considering a swimming pool, start by calling a qualified landscape architect or designer who has experience with custom swimming pool designs. If you call a pool construction company first, they will encourage you to install one of the standard pool shapes that are easiest and cheapest to build. The pool company will also encourage you to put the pool in the easiest place to build it. Sometimes those are the right answers, but most of the time some more thorough and professional landscape design attention could be applied to the project. If you are looking for a custom swimming pool that is fully incorporated into your total outdoor living design, then a landscape architect is the right person to work with. However, it is important that you review the designer’s previous work and make sure they have experience with outdoor living projects and custom swimming pools. Not all landscape designers are created equal and many landscape architects have little if any skill with residential outdoor living projects. The most skilled landscape and custom swimming pool designers tend to be associated with landscape design companies who also manage landscape construction projects. The designers and project managers have learned from firsthand experience the elements of design that are most successful in a built project and result in the greatest quality outdoor living spaces.

Once you have hired a qualified landscape designer for your swimming pool project, then it is time to review the elements, character and locations of the swimming pool in relation to the other elements of a landscape master plan. Will an outdoor kitchen be integrated into the project? If so, will the outdoor kitchen be in the swimming pool area of associated with another outdoor living space at the back patio of the house?  Will there be a pool house or pool side cabana either now or in the future? Is the pool meant for lots of family activity and play? If so, then there needs to be plenty of pool decking in various areas around the pool to accommodate outdoor dining areas, outdoor furniture arrangements, chaise lounges, umbrellas and kids toys. Or maybe the pool is a classic design surrounded by lawn and meant as an architectural feature in the garden. Such a swimming pool may be ideal for a swimming pool that is more often viewed than actually used. Will there be fire features around the pool? How does the overall landscape lighting plan fit into the swimming pool lighting plan?

The above questions and concerns are part of the approach a professional landscape designer or landscape architect will take when designing a swimming pool with a client. This approach tends to dig far deeper into the entire range of design considerations required to design the most successful swimming pool project. Then once the pool is designed, the client is open to interview multiple swimming pool companies in order to get the best product at the best price.  Garden Design Inc. has the professional design experience to guide you in this process. Call Frederick and ask to review his portfolio of swimming pool designs and installations.