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Category Archives: Lehigh Valley

Landscape Curb Appeal

Dynamic front facades can allow simpler landscape designs; however, note the vibrancy of a color scheme that makes the vegetation stand out from the neutral stone.
Dynamic front facades can allow simpler landscape designs; however, note the vibrancy of a color scheme that makes the vegetation stand out from the neutral stone.

Curb Appeal is everything! The essence of suburban homes skyrocketed in popularity since their establishment in the 1950’s. What was once known as a weekend home has now turned into a permanent residence for many Americans. One element that has not changed since the development of these neighborhoods is the importance of curb appeal. Passersby are often given a strong first impression of the home owners just from a quick glance from a street view. With this in mind, every home owner should be mindful of their home’s appearance, and with a few small adjustments, a homeowner can make their curb appeal stand out from the rest.

Every home and its landscape are different; however, there are a few key elements that remain constant: front door, windows, garage and/or garage door(s), and plantings. Focusing on these aspects and finding ways to accentuate their best features is a great way to start improving a landscape.

Typically, the front door is the main focus in a frontal façade design. Knowing this, it is crucial to continue and promote focus on the door. Playing around with walkway design is a great way to dress up the front façade. Experiment with walkway design patterns using a linear and curvilinear directional, and try to stick with a walkway that is around 4 feet wide. This will give visitors more room to walk and it permits two people two people to stand shoulder to shoulder on the path.

Windows play a significant role in design choices as well. Rather than hiding a façade of a house with tall, dense vegetation, opt for vegetation that will feature the window. Short standing shrubs are typically a safe choice. Experiment with plant height and color to permit variety and interest to a formerly simple design.

The vegetation provides many options for the owners; however, stick to perennials, shrubs, and small trees that fit within the season and look for colors that mesh well together. Try incorporating species of hydrangea and rhododendron into a landscape. They are well-sized shrubs that have the ability to produce vibrant flowers. Flowering cherry trees are also beautiful when in bloom. When planting perennials, consider species such as Astilbes and daylilies.

Improving curb appeal can improve the overall neighborhood’s appearance and it creates more appeal for a potential homebuyer. Adding planted containers along the sides of the front door and window boxes on the windows and cleaning off walkways and garage doors can dress up a plain looking home. One lesser known element that can make or break your curb appeal is the appearance of the mailbox. Dress up the space with perennials and other small standing vegetation. Taking the opportunity to dress up your curb appeal will not only impress the neighbors, but it will also give you a yard that will make you proud to call your own.

Garden Cottage – A New Wave of Personalized Design

Garden cottages can be personalized to each individual client.
Garden cottages can be personalized to each individual client.

Garden Cottage is hot! These landscape elements are being called “she sheds”; however, as a landscape architect, I most commonly call them Garden Cottage. I have completed a project that had two garden cottages at a pool. One was for the men to smoke cigars and play cards (with the bar), while the other was for the woman to gather and visit (and the outdoor kitchen). I felt like a complete cliché designing it and seeing it built. But that was the client’s specification.

I would prefer to stay away from the he/she dichotomy because but who is to say that a ‘he’ wouldn’t like a ‘she shed’ just as much. But, I suspect everyone needs some alone time. . All sorts of research says that our mental, physical and spiritual health requires retreating from our daily routines and making time to relax. Doing that in a space outside of the daily household grind helps free the mind from the cooking, cleaning, bills and whatever surrounds us in our homes.

A far more descriptive discussion that informs the design approach to these small auxiliary ‘buildings’ which is far more fun and interesting as a designer, addresses the big question ‘what happens in the building?’. This is called the program. Other questions that can aid in the design process include: What purpose does it the building serve? Is it about an outdoor entertaining space, an outdoor room? Or is it for some specific hobby like painting, sewing, and woodcrafts? Or is it an office, a private space to write, to think, to read? All of these possibilities can be gender neutral. And the program will direct the design.

What I hear is a structure with more design detail and aesthetic, a Garden Cottage, something that is guided by the concepts of a ‘cottage’, ‘bungalow’, ‘lodge’, ‘Shanty’ or even a ‘shack’ but let’s avoid the word ‘shed’. So the roof, windows and doors need to have some character, be more dynamic, more unique than the ‘shed’. It may not be constructed from the standard cookie cutter materials available. Or if it is, the materials will be used and combined in unique and uncommon ways. So maybe it is the ‘Garden Shanty’ concept with the doors and windows being recycled and reclaimed materials. Or a ‘Garden Cottage’ with additional trim woods added throughout and a multi-layer paint scheme. The key is deciding on a concept then carrying that idea throughout the project material choices.

With all these elements, there are two directing principles to respect. The function and the style define the design approach. The function of the architecture and its elements are directed by the program, the styles are directed by the concept. Program and concept are the two main design principles. The concept is driven by personal taste in this situation, the taste of the owner. The concept help direct the decorating choices. Is it Shabby Sheik, Tuscan, Country Garden Cottage, Eclectic Artist, Modern Contemporary, Mid Century Modern, Rustic Country………… The program is what happens in the space, how it works, flows, is organized. The concept includes the program in a bridge to the ‘style’.

While program and concept are two driving forces in design, budget will overrule in the end. It always comes down to what can be afforded. Start modest. It is always easier to add then subtract. It is also feels much better to discover you can have more than realize you cannot have everything you had hoped.

 

Front of House Landscaping – Redesigns and Renovations

landscape, Allentown pa
Front of House Landscaping Before & After

Front of House Landscaping may be the word most associated with the quality of a home. It is our image portrayed to the outside world and sets the tone for the character of our homes. After 30 years of walking up to front doors for landscape appointments, I’ve learned to read some things about people by the style and maintenance of their front yard landscaping. Sometimes I simply read that this is a project in need, but other  projects that have taken priority. And, maybe that is why they called me to review their front of house landscaping with them and develop a plan to renovate the front of house landscaping. If that is the case, there is often a common set of opportunities for increasing the Front of House Landscaping curb appeal and the visitor’s experience.

Most of the time, the front walkway is the first opportunity for big improvement in Front of House Landscaping. Builders leave a home with the most simple, barely function and least expensive walkway to the front door. The walk is usually crammed up close to the house, too narrow to walk side by side and just horribly boring. Front of house walkways are experience through the landscape, a journey to the front door. They should begin from the sidewalk or driveway with a generous landing to gather before the journey. I like it large enough to accommodate a few landscaped containers with annual flowers flowing over throughout the season. A large landing makes the walkway entry easier to recognize and to enter from various directions.  Along a similar line of thinking, I like to incorporate a landing near the front door entry. It should be large enough for a few people to pause together before entry to the home, or for the homeowner to come out and greet visitors. If the overall landscape accommodates the space, this entry landing could be large enough to call a patio and have outdoor furniture arrangements. It may even end up being a favorite hangout to wait for visitors or watch the neighborhood activity.

Between the landings at either end, the walkway can be designed as an experience. It should be wide enough for two people to walk side by side, so at least 48” wide. Whether it is a curvy or linear walkway depends on personal taste. Both approaches can be well designed landscape experiences. I like to have walkways move in, through and out of a series of subspaces using diverse landscape plantings, trees, groundcover and lawn areas. The landscape design principle is to create varied planting plane heights, textures and densities. Maybe you enter with a tree arching overhead, walk through a field of low perennials that narrow into a tight arrangement of medium height ornamental grasses and the open up to an area with the flat green lawn panel on each side, rinse and repeat.

There is a wide range of landscape materials for walkways and patios. Concrete paver walks over a huge range of styles and colors. Beware that these require maintenance over time and are not the least expensive approach. Poured in place concrete walkways are the most economical choice with many options for concrete color and texture. Natural stone walkways are beautiful but expensive. Choose materials that fit your budgets and preferences.

Front of house landscape plantings are a personal preference. I encourage people to keep the wild and untamed landscape style in the back yard. We live in communities and that requires some respect to our neighbors in the form of a relatively neat and clean front yard. That doesn’t mean pruned hedges and mowed lawn everywhere. Naturalistic landscape plantings can still be clean and organized. But the jungle look tends to irritate neighbors.

Well planned Front of House Landscaping designs will help ensure a cohesive project that expresses an organized result. It may be alright to approach your back yard landscapes with ever evolving and more experimental designs, but the front is not the place to show everyone your playful experiments unless you live in a community that embraces such an approach. Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of the entire landscape being an ever evolving dynamic experiment. I’m aware of and have visited communities that embrace such an approach. Decide for yourselves the appropriate approach for your neighborhood. A manicured front yard would be would be a digression in a sustainable and experimental housing cooperative, while the wildflower and experimental aesthetic will offend suburban neighbors. But, landscape plans are a good idea for any scenario where a project is to be undertaken.

Psychology of Landscape Design for Outdoor Living

psychology of landscape design
psychology of landscape design

Knowing about the psychology of landscape design guides landscaping a successful outdoor living room? What makes patio  landscaping a rich and dynamic space that encourages us to go into the landscape and spend time outdoors? The qualities of the landscape design and the landscape construction will determine if you paver patio, flagstone patio, concrete patio or even gravel patio are inviting, warm and embracing spaces. Principles of the landscape design apply to any outdoor room and can be applied to landscape projects of all scales. Some elements of design are universal and others depend on individual preferences. The most primitive and universal principles are rooted in our psychological predispositions and survival instincts stemming from the long history of human evolution. These relate to the geographical and architectural structure of the space in relation to the surroundings. The more temporal and individual characteristics will manifest in the stylistic and material elements of the structure. These elements of style change often with cultural and individual trends while the structural principles landscape design are timeless.

The primary psychology of landscape design principle in the design of an outdoor living patio in called ‘defensible space’ in the western psychology paradigm. Eastern cultures incorporate the same principle into broader design paradigms such as Feng Shui.  Early in human evolution, survival required us to inhabit spaces that could be defended. The first garden courtyards were walled sanctums from a dangerous outdoor world. But we also need a way to see our surrounding, to know what danger may be coming or to have good vantage point for food resource potentials. Humans are comfortable when they feel like there is adequate ‘wall barrier’ around them and when the have good visual viewpoint vantages. These two elements work together in that the greater visibility of our surroundings allows for lesser dependence on barriers. If we are at the peak of a grassy hill and can see a long distance in every direction, we have less need for barrier protections since we can see any danger and flee. Contrarily, in an area dense with visual obstacles, we feel the need for more ‘walls’.

We are many years evolved from those early years of human history, but the principles are ingrained and pertinent to landscape design today. If we are creating an outdoor living space in a rural area, within a setting of beautiful nature, we may want our patio space to open wide to the surroundings. Conversely, in the city we tuck our patios tight to the home and create privacy barriers to the surroundings. So the first principle is that all other principles of landscape design start first with and understanding of the broader geographical and architectural surroundings.

The most common psychological preference, regardless of setting, is to inhabit a space where we can feel safe and private but also have good views of our surroundings when we want them. That is the primary principle to follow when designing a patio in the landscape. The key is how we feel or rather how the person who will inhabit the space will feel. This is where a designer has to be a psychologist. Though security seems to have some universal elements, people feel safe for a wide range of reasons. One person may feel most comfortable back against the wall tucked into a building corner, while another may need to be away from buildings with a good 360 degree view and the openness provided. These are questions that must be resolved to best design a patio for the specific resident.

When it comes down to the enclosure of an outdoor living space, psychology of landscape design can again guide decisions. Remember that it is how the resident feels in the space that determines their level of comfort. There is not a universal approach to how we create the feeling of security and comfort. Some people will only need to have simple distractions around their outdoor living space in order to keep their attention from outside ‘dangers’. This can be accomplished with landscape dynamic landscape plantings, perennials with season change, shrubs with texture and color, and trees with sculptural interest. Other people may need heavier structures using heavy planting barrier designs with dense evergreen foliage, stone walls, wood fences or a combination of all these landscape elements. Landscape design is a process of creating space that will impart a character of feeling, an emotion. Too often a landscape designer focuses on the aesthetics, the forms or the art and the materials from a self-based orientation and they neglect the emotions of those who will inhabit the space.

A successful outdoor living room patio will help create a safe, peaceful and joyous set of emotions for those who ‘own’ the space, those who most use it and for whom it was designed. It will provide ‘protection’ from surroundings where needed and good views of the larger environment where appropriate. It will also have clear delineation for the choreography of movement, the access and egress to surrounding spaces, and adaptability for uses that will likely change over time. But, those landscape design principles will be discussed in a future article.

Memory Garden Design – Landscape for an Assisted Care Facility

Landscape Design Assisted Living
Memory Garden Design for an Assisted Living facility in Allentown, PA

Garden Design Inc. in Allentown, PA was given the opportunity to create the memory garden design plan shown above. The landscape design program is to accommodate and nurture a spectrum of elderly residential client’s ranges from moderately independent to those with a range of dementia. This  memory garden design project is in the first phase of design and future blog entries will document the design evolution through construction. The next phase is a construction budget which will help the client organization determine how much of the design can be instituted initially. From there, we will revise the landscape design, complete planting plans and construction details for the arbor, the potting table, the planters, the water feature and the paving surfaces.

SUMMARY OF MEMORY GARDEN DESIGN ELEMENTS :

ARBOR GARDEN ENTRY – The arbor denotes the entry to and exit from the garden. It is visible from all areas of the courtyard to provide a landmark for residents and clear direction how the return inside from the garden. It inserts an architectural gateway element to help define the garden as its own sense of place separate from the building interior.

TABLE AERA – A table area is sited immediately inside the garden delineating the main activity and gathering area adjacent to the entry. The gathering areas are designed to draw residents into the garden and make the mental and physical process of going outside a more easy experience.

RAISED PLANTER ACTIVIY – A raised planter activity area is placed adjacent to the table area but with enough space to make its own area. The planter defines a perimeter wall to the seating area further defining both spaces. Residents can work on planting or enjoy the planting they have already done while sitting at the tables.

WALKING PATH – An oval walking path creates the unifying structure of the garden. It flows through the sub-spaces with a simplicity that minimizes confusion. Everything in the garden is tied to the walking path and residents can always find way back to the arbor entry without any confusion of turns.

WATER FEATURE – A water feature provides a sensory experience that triggers memory. A classic three tiered fountain is an iconic design with strong memory associations. For security and safety, the water would flow into a gravel base surround without a standing pool of water. The fountain can be seen from all areas of the garden including the entry and will provide visual clues to the organization structure of the space.

BENCHES – Benches are sited under the pergola and around the walking path. Six benches offer the opportunity for solitude or fellowship in locations prime for watching the activities around the garden (people watching).

ACTIVITY AREA – The activity area is a flexible space where accessible potting tables and sitting tables can be flexibly organized. This space defines the far end of the garden and is clearly visible to and from all other areas.

LAWN – A central lawn creates a neutral green plane allowing flexible use and viewing foreground. The lawn creates a sense of openness and space to minimize any potential for a crowded feeling.

LANDSCAPE PLANTINGS – A mix of trees, shrubs, flowers and groundcovers create the outer green layer to the garden. The plantings become a layer of textures and colors to create a sense of separation from the fence and the roadway beyond. Trees provide shade and vertical architectural elements, canopies to define and delineate the garden spaces.

Check back with us for updates on the evolution of this memory garden landscape design project. We hope to see it through construction and be able to share images of the final built project next spring.

Home Putting Green – Take the short game home

Home Putting Green

putting green
take your short game home

Time for a home putting green? Are you a golf fanatic or have one in your family? If so you know that perfecting the short game is critical. If you have the space and the budget, a home putting green in your landscape can allow you to practice that short game without a trip to the course. That ability to practice regularly and at random spare moments will translate to impressive long term improvement in your overall game.

Putting green design will be dictated by the space and budget available. If your landscape is small and budget tight, a one hole green may be the best answer. These can be installed professionally for as little as $3,500. On the other hand, your options are much broader if you have a landscape with expansive lawn areas and you have a budget of around $20,000. With that flexibility, the design can include multiple holes and chipping mats at distances around the ‘course’. The picture included in this blog is a three hole green with three chipping mats at 25’, 40’ and 80’ distances from the green.

What makes a professional putting green for the home landscape? The first choice is artificial turf of natural grass. Unless you have a degree in turf management, I strongly suggest the artificial turf. These materials have been extensively developed to have the look and more important the feel of natural turf. And, the topography of the green can be slightly altered over time to offer new challenges. It is only a matter of lifting the turf and re-sculpting the base.

The overall green is built in three layers. The first is a modified, compacted stone base. This should be around 8” thick, with geotextile fabric separating it from the subsoil. And make sure the subsoil is completely compacted. On top of the modified stone is a leveling layer of screenings, then a final layer of sand prior to the artificial turf. The turf itself is also over swept with a fine aggregate material.

There are companies who specialize in putting greens and they are the right people for the job. I designed the green in the attached picture, but I did the project with the consultation of professional company who installs similar greens for high end golf courses and is certified by Jack Nicholas Golf. I also included the clients in the process at every step since it was for him and his son, not for me.

If you are a golf fanatic, have space in your landscape and your budget, then consider a home putting green. It is a great way to relieve stress at the end of a long days work. And, it won’t require more time away from home and the family to squeeze in a few minutes at the course. Not that those days away at the course can’t still be welcome retreats, but when you do get out your short game will be better and you will enjoy the day more. You may even enroll some other family members in the sport and get to share that time with them.

 

 

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.

Fall landscape planting

landscaping
landscape planting

Fall landscape planting projects are ideal. The reasons are both ecological and economic. Cooler fall temperatures leave plants less stressed as they adapt to their new environment. But more importantly, fall soil temperatures are ideal for root growth. Plants can get six to eight weeks of root growth before winter. This gives them a big advantage when next summer’s heat arrives. The exception is that some trees, such as many Oak varieties, are ‘fall dig hazards’ and are best not planted in autumn. (Ask your nurseryman for more information). Don’t forget to water your new plantings, as fall can sometimes be very dry.

Deals can often be had on plants in autumn for fall  landscape plating. Nurseries may drop prices if they are anxious to get rid of planting stock to avoid winterizing it or if they need to make room for holiday decor. Nursery plants will be larger at the end of the season, so you may get more plant for less money. Perennials can often be bought for half price or less since they are starting to die back. But put them in the ground anyway, and next spring they will shoot out strong. Landscape contractors may even lower installation prices if they want to get a little extra revenue before the seasonal shut downs.

Fall is perfect for pruning. It is much easier to see the branches and structures once the leaves have fallen from shrubs and trees. You will be able to determine which branches have die back and where certain diseases may need to be cut out. Thinning out trees and shrubs properly can also reduce potential winter damage from heavy wet snows or freezing rain. Pruning back perennials is a personal choice. Some professionals are adamant that perennials should be cut back in the spring so that the die back provides a winter blanket of protection. But if that is a messy look that drives you wild, go ahead and cut your perennials back in the fall.

Cooler weather does not mean the end to gardening. Autumn is a great time for fall landscape planting and pruning.

 

 

Deck Design & Construction – Options for Deck Materials & Styles

TimberTech Deck
Deck with Gazebo and Outdoor Kitchen

Deck designs have evolved in recent years. The range of decking and railing choices has expanded drastically. Designers are expanding the program for uses and finding new, creative ways to combine materials to make each project unique. Homeowners have a wide range of decisions to make when designing their dream deck.

The deck industry has continued to grow even through this recession. Designers have capitalized on this by expanding the planning of uses that can be choreographed into a deck project. Outdoor kitchens, pergolas, gazebos, porch roofs, hot tubs, fire features and more are all now commonly included in deck designs when the budget allows. The vast array of decking styles and colors allows deck designers to create patterns within the decking that can delineate the various use spaces. The same is true with railings where a design can combine aspects of varied railing systems.

For years the choices for decking were cedar or pressure treated wood (redwood on the west coast & mahogany for the big budget projects). Then composite decking was invented in the early 1990’s, and has since become the predominant decking material used today. Trex Inc. developed the first composite decking, and along with TimberTech Inc., they have led the way in developing the highest quality and most attractive products. Each company makes several lines to fit varied budgets. Beyond the variety of choices in style & color, a benefit of composite decking is reduced maintenance since they do not need to be stained & sealed regularly. Composite decking still needs to be cleaned regularly with soap and water to keep that sharp appearance.

Exotic tropical hardwood decking is an option for the homeowner who may be averse to synthetic decking. These woods are very dense and have natural tannins that resist decay over time. And they are beautiful wood. Brazilian Ipe is one of the more popular and highest quality choices in this class because of the rich, dark appearance, high density and high tannin levels. Batu, Cambara, Garapa & Tiger Wood are other readily available choices in this category. The installed cost of exotic hardwood is about 15% higher than the highest quality composite decking.

Homeowners and designers have a wide range of choices when it comes to picking a railing system and design. The composite decking companies (Trek and TimberTech) make railing systems of the same materials as the decking to create a unified appearance. The composite choices range from a railing that looks like the standard deck railing used for years to higher price options with ornate spindles, detailed rails, and integrated lighting. Iron & Aluminum railings have become increasingly popular due to the ‘lighter’ profile appearance. These railings allow greater visibility through the railing and create less of a sense of being fenced in on the deck. Fortress Railing Inc. makes both iron and iron simulated aluminum railings with a variety of decorative detailing options and integrated lighting. Iron, Aluminum and Composite railings are all generally in a close cost range, so the choice tends to be one of preference and not budget. Braided cable railings create a distinctive contemporary appearance, a very light profile and the best through visibility, but homeowners will spend significantly more for this system.

Pergolas, gazebos and porch roofs on and over a deck have become increasingly popular. These elements allow homeowners to escape the rain and/or sun, while also designating specific use areas of a deck. Gazebos and porch roofs allow for ceiling fans, recessed lighting and infrared heaters to extend the use late into the fall and early in the spring. Outdoor kitchens and bars on a deck create variety and interest within the space, and keep everyone from running in and out of the house for food and beverages.

As with any project, proper planning by an experienced, creative and qualified designer will lead to the best final results. Hire a company that employs an educated design professional, has a track record of building unique decks, roofs, kitchens etc., and uses in house journeyman carpenters for the construction.  There are plenty of companies that can slap up a deck, but there are few that can provide high quality, experienced design and construction.