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arbor, pergola, arbors, pergolasWooden arbors provide instant shade with slats typically running along the open roof. They create thresholds and garden room enclosure. They add romance to your design.

Arbors and other outdoor structural elements need to be appropriately scaled. When in doubt about the scale needed for your landscape design, make a mock-up of the components of your structural design out of cardboard, and test it outdoors. This is a simple hack, and can save you embarrassment later. There is nothing sillier-looking than a spindly arbor or pergola.

Wooden posts must be at least four by four, preferably six by six. Pickets and crossbars need to be substantial, too. Besides holding up heavy plants like Wisteria vines, the thick, visual weight of appropriately-sized structures suits outside proportions.

Arbor posts need to be as sturdy as fence posts. Their footings should be treated the same, incorporating methods for water to drain away from the wood and to separate contact with wet soil, to prevent rotting. Arbors should be difficult to climb, since they are not meant to hold the weight of people. Posts can provide clever methods to run electrical wiring to special lighting fixtures.

Carriage bolts are the standard joining hardware for wooden arbors and decks. Beams can be added to the posts to run slats along the arbor top. Trellises and seating can be easily incorporated into the structure using the same posts. When an arbor is larger than a threshold, it can be used as a square, open-roofed, outdoor room or covered walkway. Then it is called a pergola.


Creative Traffic Control

bollards, landscape designIf you need to control or restrict vehicular traffic in an unobtrusive way, bollards do the job. Spacing can be done to permit small, special-purpose vehicles inside while keeping sedans and trucks out. Four feet is a good height for a bollard, but they can be lower if you only want to deflect tires. Remember, anything over seventeen inches can be in conflict with vehicle bumper overhang. Because bollards are relatively small, they can be made to be removable from ground sockets and relocated as needs change. They can also be retractable, something necessary to allow first-responder access in emergencies.

Even though bollards are relatively unobtrusive visually, they can be decorative. You can incorporate lighting. They can serve more than one purpose. The design can look like the original mooring bollards for ships. Boats are a design inspiration for many, but you can dream up lots of innovative and imaginative options.

Outdoor Wedding or Event Venues

“Make Me Wanna Shout!*”

outdoor wedding venue design

Lots of weddings take place outdoors. If you are designing an outdoor wedding landscape site, think about providing a space which can suit different personalities. Outdoor wedding and event spaces are great opportunities to allow your landscape design imagination to soar. These are fantasy outdoor spaces. Have fun designing them! Outdoor events provide room to add large, temporary props which can be secured by simply putting stakes in the ground. An outdoor wedding requires good planning and many safety net, in case the weather gets bad.

Outdoor wedding landscapes should consider the comfort and safety of the guests. Provide a solid parking area for your outdoor wedding venue. Be sure to provide wheelchair accessible seating and circulation. Provide a place for refuge from inclement weather or brutal heat. A pavilion is a nice addition and can be decorated and themed to compliment the other floral designs. Provide plenty of seating and tables. Do all you can to make the guests happy they came and reluctant to leave.

Bike Paths

Share the Road

bike path designBike paths can be great amenities for adjacent neighborhoods if they are designed nicely. Multi-use paths need to be eight to ten feet wide. Try to preserve as many trees as possible when grading for new paths. Occasional shade canopy is an important part of the pleasure of biking.

A bike path is a linear park. Restricted access sometimes makes sense, but usually, the more people and activity near a path, the safer it is. Lighting can also add to the public safety of the path. Communities need alternate ways of getting from one place to another, rather than depending on automobiles. A safe, excellent path system is a draw for economic development.

Complete screening with fences or walls of a bike path can create new, big problems that can make it dangerous to use. Adding vegetative screening for a bike or multi-use path can add safety issues, too. Try to keep paths open to visual checks from passing cars and police patrols.

A local government entity or homeowner’s association should budget for bike path maintenance, with regular reports of pavement status and issues as a part of every public meeting.

Landscaping Steep Slopes

Holding Your Ground

landscaping steep slopesSlope rations for planted areas are a critical consideration for the establishment of plant material. For planting, a slope ratio of one foot of drop for every four feet of horizontal distance, called “four-to-one” (4:1) slope, or flatter, is best. Most of the time, the area beyond the graded platform for hardscape structures is steeper than that. Here are some general rules for deciding what to do with steep slopes.

Any slope steeper than “three-to-one” (3:1), is difficult or dangerous to mow. Trying to establish turf grass on slopes so steep is difficult, too. For steeper slopes, use vigorous ground covers, or a mixture of vigorous shrubs and native grasses to hold the soil. Another option is to use large masses of Juniper shrubs. They have long, low, spreading forms that do a good job of holding slopes on commercial properties, where professional maintenance crews can use a custom spray program to reduce typical Juniper pests and special pruning techniques to keep their spikes dense and weed-free.

Early March is the Time for Topdressing

The Perfect Filler

turf and cow manure

Just before your turf grass begins to green up for a new season, topdress low spots and depressions in the lawn with cow manure or sand mixed with cow manure. The gentle fertilizer provides just the right amount of encouragement for grass to grow and fill in bare spots, too. Layer on as much as possible without covering the tips of the new grass blades. 


Retaining Walls

Safety is the Key Design Element

retaining wall design

Retaining walls must hold steep slopes. The only reason you don’t see them used more often as a feature is because they are so expensive.

Retaining walls can be both a beautiful and functional part of a landscape. Gabion walls are boulders contained in wire grids. They can be used in inexpensive ribbons or mattress shapes to provide slope stability in difficult situations. They can be made more attractive with live stakes or other vegetation inserted between the openings in the walls. Concrete retaining walls are massive slabs of gray, but they can be made more attractive by incorporating attachment ties along the façade for adding a decorative face. Textured forms can build in interesting surfaces on concrete wall surfaces. Modular units are often used to build attractive and easy-to-construct terraces. 

Retaining walls can be dangerous. If a wall is over four feet tall, a landscape architect must call in a civil engineer for design assistance. Walls can fail, and when they do, they can fail in a large way, posing a hazard to people and property.

Gravity walls are massive structures that use large stone units, battered back about one-half inch each top course to form a slanted wall. They hold back soil through sheer weight. Most gravity walls are low. Because it is difficult to gauge how well they can do their job, the chance of damage during unusual storm events is high. A “dead man” can be added to hold the wall in place, by keying perpendicularly to the hillside. Railroad tie walls use T’s made from additional ties and secured to the wall to do this.

Larger retaining walls are reinforced concrete with rods or interlocking keys. Additional geosynthetic fabric is often used every few feet, woven into the layers of backfill to add strength. Modular units can vary in quality, so shop carefully and choose wisely. Good pieces typically weigh over fifty-five pounds each.