Category Archives: Landscape Design

Tips for landscape design as well as conversations about design theory.

Crabapple, Linden, Spruce, Oh My. The Great Tree Debate!

Their are so many tree options for your yard. It can be hard to decide which one is the right one for you. Let’s discuss a few of the basic differences, but ultimately you’ll want to find out more about each particular tree your considering before making a final choice

Flowering Trees

Pyrus callyranna

Flowering Pear

Flowering tree’s add texture and color to your landscape. Most are early bloomers, so they give you some of your first splash of color come spring. They are also typically smaller in size and stature so they give you a tree option without requiring tons of space.  These would probably not be on the top of the list for helping with utility bills; although they may be a good choice for screening in some situations. 

Shade Trees

Acer x Freemanii

Freeman Maple

However; shade tree’s are great for helping control utility bills if planted in the correct place. Place a large shade tree near the southwest corner of your house and it will help keep your house cool and shady in summer but allow light and warmth through in winter.  Shade tree’s typically have a wide spectrum of fall colors as well, adding to their appeal.  This is due to the different chemicals produced in the leaf (some year round) although that is a discussion for another day.

Fruit Trees


Apple Tree

Fruit tree’s serve a very specific purpose and should be considered only if your willing to put in a little extra effort to care for your tree’s. Most of these tree’s all require multiple chemical applications each year to keep them healthy and producing great fruit.  It is important to note as well, that for many of the fruits that are popular and grow well in our region, you do in fact, need more than one tree to actually produce fruit.


Columnar Spruce

Columnar Spruce

Evergreens’ are great as sound, visual, or wind barrier’s as they always have needle structure present.  (Just a tidbit though, evergreens’ do actually drop their needles, it just happens during  the needles thirds year of growth.  By then, new needles have started growing so most people never even notice the change.)  They also carry a distinct style with many shape and even color options to choose from. From vase shapes to weeping forms, or round wispy tree’s to broad pyramidal structures, you’re sure to find an evergreen that appeals to your sense of style.


No matter what your goal, tree’s add a distinct flare and important balance to your landscape. In  your landscape, we refer to them as the ceiling of your outdoor living space.  They should not be overlooked. Take some time, do your homework, and choose a tree (or two) that your going to love for many, many years to come.













The Future of Landscaping?!

I’ll admit, I try to get to all the garden shows that are in my area every year.  I’ve personally spent many hours setting up extensive unique displays only to see very little return on my and my companies investment of time and capital.  The worst part is you know that at least 75% of the leads you draw from a given show (even the pre-qualified leads) will still be a competition between your company and probably two or three others that had displays.  At that point, a designer has to ask himself, is it even worth my time to go through this every year, sometimes more than once.  I’ll tell you what I found from the show I attended this weekend.  And I’ll be honest, if that is the future of Landscaping and Gardening in the Midwest, then we are so far from the “cutting edge” it’s sad.  But I guess the good thing is, when your that far from the edge, you can never fall off.

Does it get any more basic, and boring, than this!

Does it get any more basic, and boring, than this!

Now don’t get me wrong, this hardscaping is certainly a hot ticket these days.  With so many people cutting back on generic spending, they are looking to put their money somewhere they may see a return on their investment.  Any sort of outdoor garden expansion generally creates an increase in a properties value since if it is executed properly, the garden should add livable space to the home.  Whether that space be for entertaining, playing, or quiet contemplation is solely up to the discretion of the home owner.   That doesn’t mean it has to be the same space as the neighbor up the street.  Just as “track homes” have lost their flare even to the price conscious, I have to believe that a cookie cutter backyard provides no appeal to Joe and Jenny Home Owner.   People are using their space in far more creative and hands on ways, and something like this display just tells me that this contractor doesn’t realize there is more to life than this.

A Nice mix of Fire and Water yet still not terribly creative.

A Nice mix of Fire and Water yet still not terribly creative.

Please don’t misunderstand, I did find a few things I liked at the show.  This bubbler rock with a fire “topper” intrigued me a bit.  Although not terribly creative, at is still more unique than the average fire pit you saw in almost all the other displays.   The combination adds a nice touch of class while still providing at touch of nature at the same time.  I would like to see this taken to the next level and instead of being in the garden on the edge of a patio, use permeable paver’s and a rain water harvesting system and put this bad boy right in the middle of your patio where you would install any other fire pit.    What bothered me the most is the fact that the last year I was involved in a show display was the last year I saw ANY contractors promoting any sort of rain water harvesting or permeable pavement systems.  These sustainable landscape methods are becoming common practice in many parts of the country but are still struggling to catch on here in good ole Omaha, Nebraska.  I’m not going to lie, this bothers me quite a bit that more contractors aren’t promoting these methods and systems.  That being said, I know from experience, many people feel they are environmentally conscious right up until they see the cost attached.  While I do admit, many of these systems do carry a higher up front cost than your typical landscape, can we really compare the two.  One is making a patio and planting some flowers, while the other is reducing our carbon footprint, utilizing natural resources, AND STILL creating a wonderful space to enjoy.  This coupled with the fact that utilizing these systems will eventually create a “return of investment” by reducing utility costs as well.  That being said, it really is a commitment to living more sustainably to leave something better for the future.  Okay, I’m done preaching about that, now back to my thoughts on the show.

Cool take on the old stand by fire pit.

Cool take on the old stand by fire pit.

As I said, I did find a few nice ideas to take away from the show.  The unique burner installed on this fire pit gives it some pretty cool character and does create a bit of a break from the norm of its boring old square parents.  Still let’s be honest, it still just like it’s daddy, it just got a new piercing to rebel like most kids do these days.  Perhaps a figure eight shape melding two round pits each with one of these towering at its center would be enough to wow me these days.  I fear I may be becoming just a bit jaded, but with a new IPhone every 6 weeks, I guess I feel like my fire pits should be unique and updated too.  Biggest complaint about this is they used river rock in it.  Even grey lava would have given this a better texture in my opinion.  Although I do have to admit, there is one trend I am riding right now.  That is the use of glass chips in fire pits.  Again, in my humble opinion, there is no better texture available at the moment for your fire features.  And with the myriad of color choices you can really get it to blend with the color pallet of your adjoining gardens.

Interesting but could have been so much more creative.

Interesting but could have been so much more creative.

Even this wonderful, large water feature shows a phenomenal lack of creativity on the part of the contractor.  The simply took two very distinct tools out of their “design bucket” and slapped them together in one site.   At least in the first picture I shared, they attempted to blend the fire and water.  Here they simply dropped a fire boulder right in the middle of the pond.  Where’s the “splash”, where’s the thoughtfulness, where’s the NEW?  Perhaps had the put the fire directly on the surface of the water, or moved a burner to under the upper falls so that the fire burned behind the water they may have achieved something special.  Instead, it just appears like they didn’t have any creative thought process, they simply wanted to show as many items they could shove into one space as possible.  Unfortunately, the result doesn’t work for me.

At the end of the day, I can tell you a few things for sure.  First, there were far fewer contractors with displays in the show I attended last week compared to the shame show in previous years.  Sad, but a testament to my belief that aside from getting your name in front of a potentially large number of people, there is little in the way of returns for an established contractor in these events.  Second, of all the contractors in this years show that I have seen there in years past, very few had even CHANGED THEIR DISPLAY FROM LAST YEAR!  Now, believe me, I KNOW how much these shows cost us as contractors, but that REALLY shows  a lack of creativity or effort on the part of the contractors involved.  The way I see it, if your going to spend the money anyway, why not be different and find a niche that you can promote yourself with.  Even if it doesn’t blast off, like the the rain water harvesting systems I had in my display one year, at least folks will remember YOUR display over every other patio and fire pit they saw.

Anyway, point of the story is, don’t be satisfied with your grandma’s landscape unless your grandma is the awesome grandma that would sit and play Atari with you before video games were even cool!  Their are so many unique things you can do with your outdoor living space, so don’t just jump on the first idea you see.  And the last thing I would like to leave you with, is if your going to spend the money anyway, why not try to improve not just your own life and space, but leave it better than when you got here and consider installing some of the more environmentally friendly options available to you.  Even if that just means getting “your feet wet” with a rain barrel on your patio (it’s like a gateway drug), trust me you; you won’t regret it!


Anyone Else Getting Anxious For Some Green?!?!

It’s the beginning of February and we’ve reached what may be the coldest temps of the season so far (at least here in the Midwest).  I saw a funny post on Facebook yesterday (one of those goofy e-cards everyone seems to have on their pages now) stating, “I’m tired of winter.  I want to fast-forward so I can bitch about how hot it is!”  Guess you had to be there, but I thought it was funny….AEcardnyway, if you are getting the green urges there are certainly some things you can do to quench your thirst, if only a little.

The first, and lowest commitment, task you could do would be to begin setting goals and planning your summer garden activities.  Do you plan on changing up your landscape at all?  What is working in your landscaping and what isn’t?  Did you find a new plant last summer that you just couldn’t fit into your beds?  Now is the time to look back at your plantings and decide if you want to change anything up.  Perhaps you’ve got some Little Henry Sweetspire in a foundation bed that don’t seem to be growing as well as those further out in the yard.  Start thinking about where there might be some  space further out that you could move the smaller guys but still have a nice flow in your beds.  It’s not uncommon at all the the same plant will grow differently in two different areas of your yard.  We call this “putting the right plant in the right place”.  Even in the same yard different micro-climates can occur and if a plant is borderline hardy it may do well in one location of your yard but not in another.  Perhaps the Sweetspire are just not getting the same moisture under the eve of your roof as the ones out further in the yard or perhaps it’s more shade than they would prefer.  Any number of things can affect the growth of a plant and it takes some work and even some trial and error to learn what will work well in your space.  Now that you’ve decided to move that Sweetspire, you can start doing your homework to decide if that Hydrangea you found last summer is a good fit for the vacated space.

The first thin I would caution is completely trusting the tag on a particular plant.  While these tags are a perfect jumping off point, they seldom have all the information a person truly needs to adhere to that “right plant, right place” concept.  Worse than that, if your buying your plants from a “Box-shop” (a big name chain that isn’t strictly a plant centered business) I have seen many instances where the tags are just plain wrong.

Not all tags are created equally.

Not all tags are created equally.

These places hire folks who typically have no horticulture background or knowledge and sometimes tags get accidentally switched or lost and these people sadly don’t have sufficient education to know the difference.  Don’t get me wrong, I am NOT saying you shouldn’t buy your plants from a box-shop (but you shouldn’t buy your plants from a box-shop, lol); however, I do highly recommend that your do your homework prior to purchasing.   With the internet practically in everyone’s pocket these days, there is no excuse for being uninformed.  Again, though, I would caution against trusting the internet mail order sites.  Many of those sites know just as little as the box-shops do sadly.  I would steer you towards websites that are managed by universities or botanical centers.  Generally, these are updated on a more regular basis and the information is based on research and experience.  Honestly, my go-to website if I’m not sure about a particular plant is the Missouri Botanical Garden Website Plant Finder Resource.  This source is great for me because it is close to home with a similar climate and it’s an extensive database.  Others such as the USDA plant database, or Ohio State University and UConn are excellent resources as well.  All I’m saying is do a little research before you buy that plant and stick it in the border of your landscape just because the tag said it was full sun and it only gets 18 inches tall.  That may be the case in Tennessee, but in your zone it is actually part shade and as a result gets closer to 30 inches tall (just an example, but you never know).

The point of the story is DON’T BE AFRAID TO CHANGE IT UP!  As a general rule, your garden space is a living, breathing thing that will (and SHOULD) change over time.  Plants will die, things will grow differently than we expected, and our tastes will change.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not an advocate of throwing away perfectly healthy plants.  But you don’t have to kill plants for these changes to occur.  I can assure you, even if you don’t like a particular plant or can’t find the perfect place for it in your garden, you know someone who would or knows someone else who would gladly give that plant a new home!

So there you have it, thseed packse first tip for curing your wintertime blues!  Next time will discuss another surefire way to clear out the winter cobwebs.  A much more hands on task than playing on the internet!  Next blog we will talk about planning for your kitchen garden!  I will share seed starting tips and time-frames as well as ideas for a well rounded kitchen garden.  I’ll also provide insight into some of the tools you can use to increase success and ideas for saving cash while still utilizing those tools.