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Landscape Tchotchkes

Style Makers

garden gnomes, birdbaths, sun dials, landscape accessoriesWant to add charm to your landscape? Bird baths, bird houses, shepherd’s hooks, garden gnomes, wind catchers, sun dials, and weather vanes add personal style. They are tchotchkes in a garden design. Keep them subtle and to a minimum, just as you would with jewelry for a clothing ensemble. Too much charm can read as artificial.

Artificial Turf

Being Artificial is the Fundamental Problem with Synthetic Turf

artificial turf, synthetic turfI watched the Super bowl, and noticed the players were complaining about the artificial turf. They were losing their cleats. Artificial turf is nothing more than plastic carpet. No matter what you might hear from the manufacturers, it can never replace natural grass. It can be slippery. It has to be replaced every few years, just like regular carpet. It can harbor bacteria and mold. It can gets very hot in the sun. There have been reports of outgassing causing health issues. Did that one item register with you? It has to be replaced every few years, just like carpet! I am not convinced it is good for outdoor surfaces.


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.