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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 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.