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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.

 

 

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.

Outdoor Fireplaces, Fire Pits & Fire Features – Options, Elements & Costs

Outdoor Fireplace_Lehigh Valley_Landscape Company

When colder weather settles in, adding a fire element to the landscape can extend your outside enjoyment throughout all four seasons. And an outdoor fire offers more than just heat to gather friends and family around. Fire is an experience of multiple senses. The deep warmth, the romantic smells, and the beautiful flames, create intriguing and memorable times. In our area of Allentown and the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania, outdoor fireplaces and fire pits can be enjoyed for several months in both the fall and the spring. The experience of lighting and managing the fire fascinates children or all ages, including those young of heart if not as young in years. Creating a wood burning fire feature in your home landscape involves some key choices relating to scale, type of fire, budget and the overall program of uses for the space.

Fire features can be created in a wide range of scales from the small fire pit to the large fireplace. When deciding what scale will work best, homeowners need to consider the scale of the existing spaces and determine how significant a role the fire will play in the family’s outdoor living. Homeowners with plenty of space and a strong history of gathering around fires could thoroughly enjoy a custom stone fireplace, so long as it is in the budget. A more cost conscious and flexible option for fire in a smaller landscape would be a portable fire pit. There are a number of other ways to incorporate fire features in the landscape, but this article will stick to wood burning fireplaces and fire pits.

A full custom outdoor fireplace is a significant architectural feature at a home. Careful design and planning is required to make sure it fits with the style of the other architectural elements including the home. If done right, it will be a gorgeous addition. The fireplace and chimney need to be grounded into the landscape with additional architectural features such as walls to define an entire space and/or plantings to nestle the fireplace into the landscape. Custom outdoor fireplaces are also a significant investment so a family needs to evaluate the cost compared to the amount of use and value the fireplace will provide. Wood burning fireplaces require very specific engineering of the firebox and chimney size to ensure proper draw and prevent smoke from constantly billowing out the front. It is a time consuming construction process for the masons. A full custom outdoor fireplace can cost between $25,000.00 and $40,000.00 or even much more depending on the homeowners desires. But, if the budget and the program work with a custom fireplace, it can be a beautiful and functional area that builds memories for years.

A pre-fabricated outdoor fireplace is usually a smaller and less expensive option for the homeowner who wants a wood burning fireplace without the size and price of a custom version. A number of companies make such units. Some of the segmented concrete block companies make versions that can match their pavers and seating walls for a unified design palette. Unilock is one such company and their fireplaces start at around $12,000.00 fully installed. There are also companies that make modular fireplace shells that can be quickly installed. These shells can then be adapted to a specific design style with a little extra masonry, and the exterior can be finished in a variety of materials from stucco to stone. Depending on the finishes and amount of style customizing, these fireplaces can cost between $16,000.00 and $24,000.00.

Fire pits are a good option when the space, the program of use, or the budget prohibits a full outdoor fireplace. Fire pits can be made or bought in many forms from the campout style with a basic stone ring to the portable type sold by various retailers. The portable fire pit has become popular enough that certain boutique retailers are producing some very unique and higher end models (see ORE containers for example). A portable fire pit is a great option when flexibility is important. It can be moved around to various areas in the landscape as preferences and moods evolve, and it can be put away if more space is needed for a special event.

If you are attracted to adding a wood burning fire feature in your landscape, the options discussed fit a full range of budgets and lifestyles. If you live in the Allentown, Bethlehem or Lehigh Valley regions of Pennsylvania, call Garden Design Inc. and speak with Frederick Learey about your project. He has designed and built many outdoor fireplaces and fire pits in all the styles and budgets discussed above.

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.

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.

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.