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Tag Archives: Allentown PA

Fencing and Gates in Landscapes

fencing and gates in landscpapes allentown pa
The horizontal distance paired with the vertical height, combined with the material choices of the fence can influence the atmosphere of the landscape area.

 

Fencing and Gates can be an influential elements defining the character of any landscape or garden, but they play an especially important role in the small, courtyard landscape. When the fence and gate become close and present architecture in a landscape experience, the scale, proportions and materials take on increased significance toward the character of the outdoor room. Garden Design Inc. designs and installs standard and custom fences and gates in Allentown and the surrounding Lehigh Valley.

When a landscape design includes fences and gates, consider the garden visitors experience of those architectural elements. Will they feel trapped by the fence or made safe and secure by it? Will the material be warm and inviting to create a sense of peace and harmony in the garden? Or will it be sleek and refined to express a certain elegance whether classic or modern of design intent?  Or will it be practical and uninteresting, thus best veiled by plantings or other landscape elements?

Wood fences and gates tend toward the warm and inviting end of the design character spectrum. Being a natural material, and one from a living object, we experience a sense of that life in the fence. The type of wood will further define the landscape character.  A pine fence will be organic and campy while a custom hardwood fence may express a mid-century modern craftsmanship.

Vinyl fences are practical and lack much in the way of character. There are some nicer styles that are made with more detailed craftsmanship. But it is still a synthetic material, a cold material and not a welcoming option. However, it is a very practical option as the initial cost of the fencing and gates will be lower than a custom wood fence and the long term maintenance cost of the fencing will be very low. Vinyl fencing works best with some distance between the patio or outdoor living areas and the fence such that a veil of plantings can be installed to soften the overall affect of the fence.

Less standard and more innovative fencing and gates can be designed with a variety of materials from bamboo fencing to metal fencing options. These custom options get expensive but offer a unique character to the landscape courtyard. An especially distinctive and warm option is to combine solid fencing materials with living fence elements. Vines have long been used to soften fences and create character to a space. For more innovoative fence ideas, review :  Garden Design Inc – Pinterest Fence Portfolio

Gates are one of the most memorable and architecturally defining element of any garden. The express a first impression to the landscape visitor. A solid gate of quality and craftsmanship will express a quality in the landscape design. Good garden gates can be expensive, but are well worth it in respect to the importance in a landscape. Review gate ideas at: Garden Design Inc. , Pinterest Portfolio of Gates

Take time to design fences and gates the relate the overall character of the landscape. There are many good fence builders in Allentown PA. Garden Design Inc. has designed and installed a wide variety of fences and gates in Allentown and the surrounding Lehigh Valley.

 

Water Features: A Flowing Landscape Element

Water features can be created using a variety of materials.
Water features can be created using a variety of materials, and their water flow can be changed as well to produce a different effect in the landscape.

One of the lesser used forms of residential landscape design would be the implementation of water features. Typically, when a homeowner is proposed a water feature, there is often a wary and cautious response. As a homeowner, you may begin to worry about the cost of the feature, the upkeep and yearly maintenance, and the cost. In early forms of design, yes, this would have posed a problem in residential design. Fortunately, many designers and non-designers alike are finding new and innovative ways to create successful and low maintenance fountain and water features. Tutorials are even available online that teach those who interested to make their very own homemade water feature.

Implementing water features in your landscape, especially if well kept, can cause housing values to increase. Additionally, water features provide a classy appeal to a landscape which can make you feel as if you home is the most expensive on the block.

The types of water features can differ based on your own personal preference. Some of the more common water features include ponds and waterfalls; however, some of the newer ones consist of bubbling rocks and even cascade falls.

Certain flowing water features now have the ability to reuse its water using electrical pumps and the water flow rate can be set off on a timer to turn on or off at certain times. This is both cost and energy effective.

Consider evaluating your landscape and see if and where it would be most suitable to install a water feature. Keep in mind that water features should be placed in area where falling debri is minimal. Installing one near a pine tree is poor planning considering it is likely that pine needles will fall into the feature, which can potentially cause some problems and pump can clog or break. It is also important to ensure that proper lining is installed for in ground water features. Water that sits on karst landscapes, or limestone dominant land, can cause deterioration of the limestone and form sinkholes.

Aside from a few minor considerations, water features are versatile and have the ability to be used in a variety of environments. Depending the number and scale of water features, a focal point can be formed. A water feature can be surrounded by small perennials and shrubs or it can sit in the center of a paved or gravel space. This is solely up to the owner and the designer.  By the end of the implementation, a well-placed and design water feature will be on display for visitors, and it will create a calming atmosphere for the surrounding landscape.

Deck Design

A deck should compliment the housing structure but it is should also be able to stand on its own. It should look appealing but also provide some functionality for an outdoor living space.
A deck should compliment the housing structure but it is should also be able to stand on its own. It should look appealing but also provide some functionality for an outdoor living space.

Are you interested in Deck Design for your backyard landscape? The implementation of decking has a mixed connotation. While they clearly have the potential to create an interesting outdoor living space for the home owner, often times their designs are constructed in an uninteresting, boring, and bland fashion. They are usually the last addition to be constructed on a typical suburban home. What tends to be a common re-occurrence is that the deck design appears to be an awkward rectangular addition to the back of a house, left to rot.

Fortunately, there are many opportunities to dress up a deck, and typically that can be done by experimenting with decking materials, preservation techniques, and surrounding vegetation. Decks have opened the doors to landscape architects to explore how this type of structure can reach top efficiency while also retaining a visual aesthetic.

Primarily, material and surrounding vegetation can make or break a decking design. Materials play a significant role in the sense that it affects color scheme and other forms of visual aesthetics, but it also influences the maintenance and upkeep of the structure as well. For example, wood is not an uncommon material used in construction, but certain types of wood need a type of sealant to prevent water seepage and rotting.  Insects are often a culprit of decking deterioration as well. With proper repellant these detrimental elements can be prevented.

Installing a deck with suitable materials should require little maintenance post construction. Using materials such as composites typically have the least amount of maintenance due to their rot resistant abilities. When using woody materials, it is best to use tropical hardwoods for they are more rot resistant and they do not attract wood-boring insects. Some suitable hardwoods may consist of teak and ipe. One of the newer materials being integrated into decking design is aluminum. A unique feature to the type of aluminum that is used in deck design is that it is a strong material, and it does not give off a ping sound while walking on it.

Keep in mind that this is an outdoor room, so consider the elements when selected the placement of your deck. Sun and wind patterns will play a significant role. While a deck becomes an entity of its own, it is important to integrate the form in its natural surroundings. Perennials, shrubs, and small trees are all suitable vegetation to surround your deck.

As a finished project, decks provide an open space for people to congregate, similar to the roles of a patio. With its elevated properties, a deck gives the illusion of being in the house without actually standing inside the structure, but by acknowledging the similar elevations. Note that there is a range of possibilities of what can be placed on the deck, but nothing beats a nice set of seating and dining area. Adding a few planters would not be a bad idea. Consider what you want to use the space for, and build onto your deck landscape design from there. Perhaps the space will become a dinner seating area, which can be used during the day, and with the implementation of landscape lighting, it can be used after dark as well. Regardless of the design, find one the fits best with you and your landscape

Landscape Plantings & Patios – How to Create Balance

The stone walkway and patio break up the dense plantings.
The stone walkway and patio break up the dense plantings.

How do we develop landscape designs that balance landscape plantings and patios? Balance is one of the key design principles in landscape architecture, and without it, design lacks a primary component. A strong sense of balance between hardscape and plant life can truly bring a design together and transform a formerly plain and uninteresting landscape into a beautiful oasis. Designing with vegetation is always a primary focus, but how does hardscape play a factor in balancing design? In short, hardscape breaks up the potential monotony of vegetated plantings. It provides some structure to an organic flow of vegetated spaces. Hardscape can be defined as man-made structures or elements in a design, and in residential landscape design, materials such as brick, concrete, pavers, etc are common forms of hardscape. Hardscape colors, shapes, and patterns leave a designer with a number of design opportunities making it such a popular design element.

Concrete is the most commonly used hardscape, mainly for its versatility. It often comes poured, but it can come in a variety of colors. Brick more often than not, is manufactured as a bright red, and with a majority of planting emitting a contrasting color of green, the red will easily stand out in comparison to most other hardscape materials. While it can be used solely on its own, one interesting look that some residences are trying is using the brick red as an accent color. Designing a concrete walkway with neutral tones mixed with an outer brick edge, can soften the brick but also brighten the neutral concrete.

Other materials, such as flagstone or bluestone and natural stone tend to work well when designing patios. Hardscape can promote the design of patios, creating great outdoor living spaces without the woody appearance of a deck, for example. Stone walls can create enclosures, creating separate spaces within the landscape. Whether the hardscape becomes the home of an eating area for families or a fire pit gathering for a group of friends, the size, shape, and style are completely up to the user.

Taking a look at Techo Bloc, a landscaping supplier, they offer many products that can personalize a landscape. Pavers, walls, and many other forms of masonry are available for purchase. Some of my personal favorite hardscape designs consist of block pavers that are broken up using grass or fine gravel. This breaks up the monotony of a solid, flat hardscape, and it allows the user to notice a change in ground type.

Aside from the hardscape, the plant selection and other softscape materials  play just as important of a role in design. Selecting vegetation and hardscape of a corresponding color scheme is typically a good place to start. Think of vegetation possibly some mulching that can be used to soften hardscape edges. Or perhaps, you want the hardscape to stand on its own, and the use of seating and landscape planters can create an interesting design. Balancing hardscape and softscape with take some experimentation, but a successful design is always possible.

Landscape Design

The implementation of an accent hardscape can dress up even the most simplest of walkways.
The implementation of an accent hardscape can dress up even the simplest of walkways.

Depending on the city, the abilities and the types of landscape design will vary. Focusing on the eastern portion of the Lehigh Valley, Bethlehem is leaning in a positive direction for landscape and garden design. Bethlehem is fortunate because despite its average spread, it is still covers a wide spectrum of design being that it holds urban, rural, and suburban characteristics.

Bethlehem residential landscape design is rising in popularity, and regardless of the location, there is always potential for design. Although every landscape company has their own approach, Garden Design takes advantage of existing conditions as well promoting the usage of appropriate vegetation, hardscape design and materials, and landscape lighting.

To start, urban sections and older neighborhoods in Bethlehem tend to give off a small town feel, so simple planting and walkway and patio design is common. Throwing in a few perennials and a unique paver pattern and layout will add a splash of color and aesthetic to a formerly drab landscape. If space for planting design is limited, utilizing planting containers on and/or near the walkway and patio can produce a more welcoming feel to the landscape.

The suburban classification in Bethlehem covers a majority of the land.  This creates overwhelming potential for many forms of landscape design. Depending on when the house was built, a spectrum of conditions can coexist. In some of the newer neighborhoods, there is very little well-developed vegetation, in comparison to some of the older neighborhoods that have vegetation that has been growing for many years.

Large quantities of the houses built in the past ten years or so are typically built on a ‘clean landscape’ , which will be used in the context of little/minimal standing vegetation that existed pre-development. While this could pose ecological problems in the long run, this at least open the gates for more design opportunities for the home owner. Experimenting with front walkway design using different hardscapes can make one landscape stand out from the rest. Flagstone is not a common paver type in newer sections of Bethlehem; however, there is much potential for these materials considering its easy accessibility and attractive appearance.

Sizes of back yards in Bethlehem vary depending on the housing type, location, and year in which the house was built, but most yards are large enough to fit at least a small patio. One of the many benefits of patio design is that there are so many options to explore that can create a solid landscape design. Patio layouts and materials can easily be customized to each individual user.

Bethlehem is moving a steady rate toward more modern designs in the field of architecture and landscape architecture. Taking a look at other designs outside of the residential realm, Steel Stacks displays innovative design methods that will hopefully become translated and integrated into more forms of design.

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.

 

Paver Patio and Timber Frame Pergola Project

pergola, patio, landscape
a quaint backyard landscape in Allentown pa

Timber frame pergola. Garden Design Inc. completed the  timber frame pergola project pictured in Allentown PA, during the summer of 2014. The client contacted us to review ideas for creating a new outdoor living space. She started with the idea of a new patio in her backyard and a place to put a grill. The property had more opportunities for outdoor living than just a patio installation. The first step was to determine the clients budget. Once she expressed an interest in spending more than just a patio would cost, we began to discuss the range of additional project features.

The first constraint was a large cherry tree very close to her sunroom addition. It limited the flow and use of the adjacent space, and it made a big mess in areas she wanted to have patio space. But, it also provided shade. I suggested the possibility of removing the tree and installing a pergola overhead. The pergola would provide some shade and define the outdoor room adjacent to the sunroom. The client liked the idea and thus we added that additional design direction and element. The next constraint was how and where to put the grill. Since she was in the market for a new grill anyway, I suggested a built in outdoor kitchen. Nothing extravagant, just a simple grill station. The built in element would allow for a more unified design.

The client is an active gardener and has an eclectic backyard landscape. The plantings and the elements are organic in form and character with nothing being formalistic. Reflecting that aesthetic, we designed a timber frame pergola constructed with rough, large Douglas fir lumber. The pergola would be constructed in the timber frame approach with mortise and tenon joints, pegs and wood brackets. It will be allowed to turn grey naturally and not be oiled to maintain the yellow, new cut color. The pergola is designed architecturally as an extension of the sun room and the two sliding doors leading to the landscape.

The outdoor kitchen was designed with enough space to function as a grill station and allow for a bar overhang at one end. The overhang bar seating area accommodates two stools so a couple guests can visit with the cook while she is grilling. Or, the grandchildren can eat at the bar while the adults eat at the outdoor dining table. The grill itself is professional quality Delta Heat. Delta Heat grills are a great quality for perhaps the lowest price in the professional grill range. The countertop is granite and a propane line was run tot he outdoor kitchen to eliminate the need to switch grill tanks.

The patio is designed with two levels. The upper main patio includes the pergola area and the outdoor kitchen. The lower patio is oriented to the pond. The client picked a CST ‘Ridgestone’ concrete paver with a natural cleft finish. The edges of the patio have curb stone to hold the planting beds and define the patio form. Outdoor lighting was installed in the step risers and path lights were installed around the patio. Kichler landscape lighting fixtures were chosen by the client.

The end result was a quaint outdoor living space with unique architectural elements to define the use and character. We enjoyed working with the client during the landscape design process and the landscape construction phase of the project.

 

 

Concrete Patios – Landscape Design

cocnrete patio_allentown pa
Concrete patios for landscape design

With the popularity of concrete paver patios, many homeowners neglect to closely review the options for concrete patios. The mention of a concrete patio can bring to mind the boring white slab tacked onto the back of a house. But concrete patios can be designed in dynamic and interesting forms. In some modern or contemporary landscape design aesthetics, concrete is a more appropriate choice. Concrete technologies have also evolved to include aesthetically attractive finish options. Installed properly, a concrete patio is a low maintenance and cost conscious approach to building an outdoor living space in your landscape projects.

Concrete patios offer a clean, simple and elegant opportunity when a modern landscape design aesthetic is preferred. It offers the opportunity to create large seamless slabs, simple flat colors and strong geometric patterns with cut expansion joints. That style cannot be achieved with the numerous pieces of a modular concrete paver.

Poured in place concrete patios involve less maintenance material than the concrete paver. With all the joints in a paver patio, individual pieces may settle or shift and moss or weeds may grow in the joints. Concrete paver patios need to be pressure washed and have new joint sand added to keep a fresh and clean appearance. Done properly, a concrete patio eliminates those maintenance issues indicative of a paver patio.

Concrete patios are around 25% less expensive than a paver patio. That cost saving will vary by 5-10% depending on the project site access and the finish style. A stamped concrete patio will cost more than a textured concrete patio. A textured concrete patio will cost more than a flat finish patio. Concrete patio’s also require less installation time and expedite a projects completion.

I personally am do not like stamped concrete finishes. The illusion never works and the result always looks contrived when the stamps try to make a concrete look like brick or flagstone. However, I do like the result if the stamp is simple and geometric, meant only to create a pattern and not the appearance it is something other than what it really is. I do also like a finish called ‘textured’ concrete. In this case is ‘stamped’ with very large sheets creating the cleft one would see on a large stone. The patio is then loosely scored for control joints. The result is clearly concrete that is not pretending to be something else, but it has a texture one would find in nature. Textured concrete patios have a comfortable sense of place and can be interesting without being contrived.

Some people can be snobs about concrete patios. I like them when done properly. They can be as nicer than a paver patio depending on the overall landscape design. Concrete offers a great value since it is less expensive than pavers, and it has more structural integrity. But, it must be installed properly with good sub-grade compaction and proper control joints to reduce the risk of any cracking. The quality depends on a professional landscape design and highly qualified concrete installers.

 

Paver Patio Projects, Choices of Styles and Costs in Residential Landscape Projects

Paver Patio Projects

Paver Patio
Paver Patio with Outdoor Fireplace

Concrete paver patio projects are the most common material used for residential patio projects in our region of the Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania. A variety of regional manufacturers produce a range of paver styles, colors and textures. Paver styles tend to evolve with popularity trends. One manufacturer may develop a new stone face texture that gets popular, and then other companies copy that style. The more complex the style, the larger the individual piece sizes, the refinement of the manufacturing process and the companies marketing, administration and overhead costs are all factors in the final product price.

Ten years ago our choices were largely between EP Henry and CST concrete pavers. At that time, EP henry was the first and most highly regarded paver in the region. But CST had a good, simple product line and kept overhead costs low. We liked the color process and the end color appearance of the CST over the EP Henry at the time. We at Garden Design Inc. used mostly CST Roman Cobble pavers back in those days because we liked the colors best and the cost to quality ratio (value) was greatest. In the late 1990’s, all pavers were basic smooth surface and sizes tended to resemble a range of brick sizes or cobblestone sizes.

The choices of styles and paver companies grew significantly as the demand for the product expanded. Techo-Bloc entered the paver market and had been a leader in developing new paver styles that break the old paradigms. Technically speaking, some of these new paver products are considered ‘slabs’ and not pavers, but that level of conversation is not needed for the typical homeowner. Techo-Bloc introduced a textured top meant to appear like the cleft of natural stone. And the larger ‘slabs’ have appealed to more contemporary landscape architectural design. CST, Unilock and Cambridge have all followed suite in their new product lines, neither quite as nice but nor as expensive as Techo-Bloc. EP Henry lost significant market share for a while and struggled to hold its market position without innovating and evolving. But they have come back strong and developed new products that appeal to the consumer today.

Paver patio projects material costs can vary as much as $5.00 per square foot or more. A simple CST roman cobble paver will cost less than $3.00 per square foot. A Techo-Bloc high end ‘Slab’ paver can cost more than $7.00 per square foot. The result is that a paver patio may cost $16 – $24 per square foot for everything involved. The price depends on the total size of the patio, the amount of preparation, and the access to the area. The larger the patio with great access will cost less per square foot than a small patio with terrible access.

The price of paver patio projects is not only linked to the quality of the product. Techo-Bloc is a high quality product, but they also have a large overhead burden based on administrative salaries and a large marketing budget. If your budget is limited, Cambridge or CST make a great product with a streamlined business model to minimize overhead. As with any design material choice, we encourage clients to make timeless choices. Trends and styles come and go, but certain pavers have a character that will always be quality.