Basic Principles of Landscape Design


Posted by Julien Stern | Posted in landscaping | Posted on 07-02-2013

principles of landscapingLandscape design is based on the understanding of how the various shapes can be combined. The best way to draw a landscaping plan is to view it as a series of abstract shapes that will take on a more practical form after the final synthesis of the organic and inorganic materials that comprise a garden: soil, plants, water, bricks, stones, etc.

A balanced garden should convey harmony of all the materials involved and create a smooth sensation to the eye. Abrupt changes, sharp separations of its various sections must be avoided – with the exception of the area dedicated to growing vegetables, which must be isolated.

On the other hand, we may wish to make a specific spot or feature stand out from its environment, and this we can accomplish by using contrast.

There are various methods of creating contrast in a garden, namely:


Lines give a sense of continuity within a given space. As they unfold through areas of various uses, our eye must be able to follow along without generating a feeling of disconnectedness. Paths, pavements, corners, flower beds’ or leisure areas’ boundaries, walls, frames – all these are horizontal or vertical lines that guide our attention to a certain spot and determine the ‘flow’ of a garden.

When drawing a pavement, for example, we should consider it as something more than a hard surface to walk on: a border made of a natural material, such as an edging strip of colorful bushes or an architectural feature to either side, will generate a lively sense of direction in a landscape design.

This sense of direction can also be created by sequence, i.e. the repetitive use of elements that produces an optical rhythm, thus directing the eye along a line — whether this line is straight, curved, or a diagonal.

The ultimate goal of using direction is to grasp the visitor’s attention and to lead it with accuracy to a few select, predetermined spots. A successful landscape design will display a series of images under a desired perspective: visitors will notice the various elements of the garden (whether plants or decorative items) in a specific order while touring the area.

In the instance when our garden space does not allow for the creation of long, open lines and of multiple points of reference without making them look rather congested and jumbled, garden design is made much simpler. In this case, we will designate one to two reference points (in direct relation with the size and the shape of our garden or backyard), and then we will enhance the desired effect by a well-chosen, personal style of planting. Urban gardens, with their restricted space, are the ones most frequently affected by this specific problem.


Color is by no means a separate element, independent from all other considerations; it rather functions as a means of complementing the entire plan of the garden.

Plant color selection may be based on the colors of hard materials used in the garden: that of a fence or of a wall standing behind a series of bushes or trees; of the material with which the house is built; of your own favorite range of colors. The house’s interior may very well set the standard for the colors to be used outdoors, as well as for the color and type of paving, for the style and kind of the pots you will use, etc.

The size of our garden plays an important role to color selection: vivid, intense colors, applied over a large area, will definitely have the effect of making that area look smaller in size.

One more thing to take into consideration when it comes to color is light. Light intensity differs greatly from place to place. In general, intense light makes colors more clear and sharp, and we can recall this from our school days, when we learned that “color is light” and that light influences to a great extent the way we perceive color.

Finally, seasonal changes are another factor in selecting the right colors, as there seems to exist a sort of “cycle” in the way they alternate (at least, in moderate climates). Cream or light yellows mostly appear at the beginning of the year; blues pop up in the summer; the fall is characterized by warm orange and copper hues.

Unity and harmony

Unity is accomplished when the transition from one section of the garden to another is smooth. Visually strong lines, the repetition of geometrical shapes and of dominant design elements, e.g. water, contribute to the unity of the landscape.

In order for us to create an aesthetically appealing effect, contrasts must follow some proportions: lack of proportion means lack of harmony in the design. There must also be a harmonious relationship between the various natural and structural elements, which should be related according to a specific scale.

An all-important factor to consider is time: when selecting plants, we must know how these will develop and which size they will finally reach, or their sheer volume will bring about aesthetical and practical problems.

In a small garden, a single handsome tree may function as a central focal point around which to set the rest of the composition. Finally, the use of a single hardscaping material can act as a factor that will link together the whole landscape.

Unity and harmony are not evident during the initial stages of garden creation, when plants are not yet grown enough to cover the area and to soften up rigid lines and hard surfaces.


Balance does not necessarily mean symmetry. An asymmetrical composition may be well-balanced and agreeable to the eye.


  • The volume, color, or form of a planted area may be taken as a measure for the creation of a visually equivalent area on the other side of a focal point.
  • A concentration of a certain color on one side may be counterbalanced by a larger and more spread-out mass of verdure.



A multicolored tree or bush protruding from amidst a green turf or an opening to a beautiful view can be pleasing and welcome surprises.

Variety in colors, shapes, textures or shadings makes a garden more interesting; nevertheless, caution is advised, as the excessive use of varied materials risks causing a feeling of dizziness and confusion.


These are the basic principles that will guide us in drawing our landscape design. Then, after elaborating on the details, we’ll start implementing it, bit by bit or all at once, depending on our garden space, our budget, and the time we can allot to gardening and landscaping.

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Photo Credit: Bogdan Migulski via Compfight cc

The Wonders of Hydromulching – What to Expect


Posted by Julien Stern | Posted in landscaping | Posted on 04-02-2013

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sprayNot so many people instantly turn to Hydromulching when they need to fix a bare patch of dirt on their lawn.

Perhaps only a few people are aware of this great method of seeding and the numerous advantages.

What Is Hydromulching and How It Works

Hydromulching is simply the process of planting which involves spraying the ground with a soupy mixture of mulch. The mulch which is a mixture of water, seeds, fertilizer, coloring, and tackifier makes Hydromulching unique and effective.

Once the ground is sprayed on using a specially designed machine with a hose or a mounted gun, the result is an instant cover that conserves moisture and protects the surface of the ground from wind or rain.

Since the Hydromulch contains tackifier or binder which holds all the elements together, it can stay in place though exposed to a variety of weather conditions.

A little time is required to let the mulch dry before supplying water. And you do not need much.

Just a little amount of water is needed, just so that it stays damp long enough for the seeds to germinate. This hydromulch makes a perfect nursery for seeds.

After a couple of days, grass will start growing though it might not be visible at first. But if you look closely, you will see little hair-like things protruding through the mulch. Given a few more days, those tiny sprouts will have turned green.

This is when you add more water at night since the roots are about four times longer than what you see above the ground.

Preparing the soil prior to spraying is also an important thing to note. Loosen the soil or add a thin layer of soil so it would be easier for tiny grass roots to penetrate the ground and absorb moisture.This is also the perfect time to mix some slow release fertilizer to the soil.

These procedures will make a huge difference for the results both in the time it takes for the grass to grow and in the overall appearance of your lawn. In a few more days, your once unpleasant lawn will be covered with nice green grass your neighbors will envy.

If you have problem with erosion, Hydromulching is also a perfect solution. It is made to hold tight to very steep banks. Your Hydro Spray Grass operator will only need to adjust the mix to hold to just about any slope.

It’s surprising how well it holds onto steep banks during a heavy rain or even a storm. The top soil can be washed away but the hydro mulch will hold on remarkably well.

After about three days, the area will be festooned with young grass all over the slope with roots holding the bank in place making your erosion concern yesterday’s problem.

Soil Care: 4 +1 Tips for Soil and Garden Health


Posted by Julien Stern | Posted in Gardening | Posted on 31-01-2013

lupin, cover cropAs you must have noticed by now, I am mostly concerned with the creation and maintenance of gardens that follow, as much as possible, the rules established by nature itself for its healthy and balanced development.

One of the most important – if not the most important – among the elements contributing to the creation of a beautiful, thriving garden is the good health of the ground on which the plants grow. You will see me insisting on this point, because soil is a living organism, and it needs the presence of several conditions to be able to nurture other living organisms — your plants.

Each and every material we add to the soil plays a specific role in the life cycle of plants by covering one or more of their various needs. The purpose of these additional materials is

  • to provide (or to assist the provision of) much needed nutrients;
  • to contribute to better aeration of the ground, thus helping the oxygenation of the roots;
  • to help with moisture retention;
  • to avoid extreme temperature conditions (heat or cold, depending on the season) that would hurt the root system;
  • to help prevent diseases and other situations that could prove harmful for your plants.

Let’s take a closer look to these components of a healthy soil:


Humus is a degraded organic material that has reached a certain point of stability in which no further breakdown can take place, thus leaving it unscathed for a long period of time. It is identified with topsoil horizon composed of organic materials, and it can also be described as mature compost naturally occurring, e.g. in forests, and is added to gardens with the purpose of amending soil.

Have you ever seen a cross section of garden soil, with some of its layers displaying a dark brown or black characteristic color? Well, that’s humus.

We could differentiate humus from organic matter by its appearance, which is more uniform and reminds of a dark, spongy, jelly-like substance.

Humus is usually tagged as the life-force of the soil. Now, this so-called life force can occur via a process known as humification which can take place via natural means with the soil itself or by compost production.

Humus significantly improves the structure of the soil. It contributes to the retention of soil moisture by adding up to its microporosity, and facilitates easy access and absorption of plant nutrients by incorporating oxygen into the organic molecules that are charged with transferring the said nutrients to plants. This makes plants stronger and more resistant to plant diseases.


Compost should serve as a significant and wise replacement or substitution for chemicals and commercially available fertilizers. You can easily and conveniently produce natural and organic fertilizer right at your own backyard or at the garden.

Things to know about making your own compost:

  • Always remember to use organic or biodegradable materials that will naturally and easily decompose for your compost.
  • Be sure to prepare the bedding appropriately. To do so, just put shredded fallen leaves, aged manure, chopped up straw and dead seaweed, plants, compost and sawdust.
  • Keep the compost bed moist all the time. You can do so by watering the area at least twice a day, one in the morning and another before night falls. To retain moisture, you can put shredded cardboard or newspaper on top of the area or heaps of hays or dried leaves.
  • Keep the bedding protected from possible attacks and intrusion from animals, insects and other possible predators like birds, ants and rats.
  • Encourage and promote growth and multiplication of earthworms. Red worms are most ideal for outdoor vermicomposting; they are usually found in aging manure and in compost heaps. It is not advisable to use dew worms or those large sized worms usually found in composts and soils as they would not likely survive outdoor composting.


Click here to see what mulching is. Mulch is used to cover the soil’s surface in order to

    • prevent and control weed growth;
    • protect the soil and the root system from extreme heat – that would otherwise lead to evaporation and drying of the ground, depriving plants from valuable moisture during summer – and freeze – that would irreversibly damage plant tissues and destroy the plant;
    • provide nutrients for plants, when organic matters are used for the covering of the ground;
    • embellish the flower beds with application of decorative elements of various colors and textures.

You can use either organic (bark chippings, crushed cocoa shell, grass clippings, chopped wheat straw, well-rotten farmyard manure, leaf mould, sawdust, pine needles, peat moss, shredded newspapers and cardboards) or inorganic (gravel, grit, crushed or tumbled glass, crushed lava rocks or bricks, rubber, geotextiles) materials to cover the ground.

Cover Crops

Another elegant, practical, beneficial way to protect and enrich soil is to sow low-growth annual, biennial, or perennial plants, also called cover crops, or green manure. They are usually grasses, legumes (esp. the pea group), and broadleaves. If chosen wisely, they will benefit greatly your garden. You can also grow several types of these together, and get a more appealing visual effect with the same advantages. Cover crops improve and enhance the soil by:

      • providing nutrients and other beneficial substances, thus increasing fertility;
      • regulating ground moisture, providing shade;
      • being incorporated into the ground by means of tillage, which will increase content of the soil in certain elements (nitrogen, phosphorus, etc); doing this before maturity of the plants will prevent future growth from seeds;
      • forming symbiotic relationships with rhizobia bacteria, useful in the process of nitrogen availability.
          Plus, they make handsome garden features.

Garden soil is a living organism (do I repeat myself?) sustaining living organisms (yes, I do). If you’re trying to grow healthy foods for consumption, you’ve got to take care of your soil. There are several techniques for dealing with annoying and harmful situations in the garden, such as biological pest control (the plants’ wars).

Proper drainage is another important issue in what concerns soil health, and there are several reasons for this: root rot, poor garden image, pooling, and flooding. [Read more here]

Getting the Greenest Lawn On the Block


Posted by Julien Stern | Posted in landscaping | Posted on 28-01-2013

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frontCurb appeal – the general attractiveness of a property from the sidewalk.

Often used by Realtors during a home’s evaluation, it’s also used by opinionated neighbors who are dedicated to the value of the community. One of the best ways to maintain curb appeal is a great lawn.

Don’t assume grass is simply grass, as there are a variety of types grown.

Several factors, such as climate, are to be considered when picking the type of grass to maintain. For cooler climates…

  • Bentgrasses
  • Bluegrasses
  • Fescues

… work the best.

Warmer climates will benefit from:

  • Bermudagrass
  • Centipedegrass
  • St. Augustinegrass

Other factors such as foot traffic, shading, and costs are to be researched before selecting grass type.

To be the greenest (and greatest) lawn on the block takes work, but the following tips will help.

Don’t over fertilize

Yes, fertilizing is a necessity, however there is a limit.

Fertilizing will help the grass grow faster, but it will also attract insects and make the grass more vulnerable to disease. Do this once a year between October and November to promote growth during the cold months where the blades stop growing beneath the soil.

Use slow-releasing fertilizer for best results (or organic for eco-friendly homeowners)

Mow on high

Taller grass = healthy grass.

It will keep soil cool and moist, and shade out weed seeds to prevent growth. With moist soil, nutrients will be produced and encourage the grass to spread into bare spots. Also, avoid mowing in the same direction as it will cause ruts in the lawn.

Say NO to pesticides

It will kill the nutrients your grass needs, plus the earthworms you need to keep your soul rich.

Water For Long Periods

Instead of frequent watering, as plants underground can remain alive and dormant for months. It’s better to deeply penetrate the lawn for an hour per week, versus a few minutes every day.

Remove Weeds

As soon as they appear (the cute dandelions too!) get rid of them. Dig down and get the root of the weed, as the root will continue growth year round.

Add Lime

To combat acid rain throughout the year, sprinkle liquid lime into the soil.

Remember, healthy grass is tougher to succumb to damage. Let the envy begin.

This post was written by Philippe Allaire, a home owner and expert on home renovations with 15 years experience under his belt, from gardens to drywall, we can accomplish your project together.

Landscaping with Natives


Posted by Julien Stern | Posted in landscaping | Posted on 24-01-2013


landscaping with nativesThe wisest tip on gardening and human intervention on the environment I had received from an old neighbor with the most beautiful garden I had seen in my life. It was, “Be quiet. Listen. Look around you.” I was too young and impatient then. And I’ve seen many beautiful gardens since.

Whatever I learned in the subsequent years (and I know a few tricks, after so many years in the business of shaping, preparing, and tending to the land, for both ornamental and cultivation purposes); the cornerstone for my subsequent development as a gardener has been, first, the careful examination of a given space – as well as of the various natural and artificial conditions of the area – and, secondly, an intervention aiming at preserving (as much as possible), restoring, and/or enhancing the balance, the health, and the looks of a garden.


To design a wildlife garden with native plants


If you wish to create a wildlife garden or, at least, to include a number of native plants that will grow add color to your flowerbeds and that will stand wonderful chances of thriving without much effort, start with a few walks in the surroundings and the nearby area. Take a camera and a notebook or a voice recording device with you.

Observe the ground.

  • What’s its color?
  • Is it dry or wet?
  • Is it compacted or fluffy? Light or heavy?
  • Does it crumble?
  • When crumbled, does it turn to dust, or does it have bigger grain?
  • (Ideally: what’s the pH index; composition)

How is the surrounding area?

  • Are there rises of the ground and other geological elements?
  • Are there water features in the vicinity?
  • What’s the weather (on that day / usually)
  • Inform yourself about the particularities of the area (local geography and microclimate)

What is/are the predominant species of wild and domestic vegetation?

  • What plants do you see most often around you?
  • What do they look like? What are the functions of their physical traits?
  • Which spot do they seem to prefer (e.g. walls to climb on, level ground on which to crawl, rocky and well-drained areas, shady spots protected from the winds, etc)?
  • Do they tend to spread?
  • Which of them have you already seen in your garden and near your home?

How would you incorporate the findings into your garden, so that it remains (or becomes), even partly, the continuance and the reproduction of the nature around you?


In order to create wildlife and native plants garden, your landscaping planner should work in conformity with the natural tendencies of the area. Tags: geology, geography, climate/weather, flora, fauna.



Set high standards, go after quality and knowledge: It’s the well-cared for, healthy gardens that you should examine. You will get some good lessons from the solutions that have worked for them and from the techniques they have applied successfully.

There’s more than meets the eye. Ask, whenever you can – e.g.,

  • what substructure work had to be done in order to plant those juicy vegetables up on terraced flowerbeds (and, at the same time, to tackle a geographical feature, a slope, that you didn’t know how to add value to)?
  • why are those rosebushes planted amongst the vines?
    [Bonus-answer: Mildew, a disease that inflicts both plants, manifests its symptoms earlier in the rosebush. This gives you enough time to take the necessary steps and measures of protection for your vineyard.]

Besides your on-the-spot observations, make sure to get the scientific and empirical facts about the plants of your area (their life cycle, their needs and preferences, their geographical spread, etc), as well as about the climatic conditions of your specific area of interest (yearly cycle, in a span of several years).

Familiarize yourselves with your garden’s microclimate.

  • How is it oriented?
  • How much sunlight does it receive, and when? On which particular spots/sides?
  • What about humidity?
  • Which winds does it bear?
  • What are the surroundings, and how do they influence the garden?
  • What’s the soil type?
  • How does water flow in and through the garden?

These are a few of the clues that will lead you to verify the real needs of your garden, in relation to the area and to your tastes. The selection of the plants that are appropriate for the specific conditions of each separate section of the garden will thus be much easier, since you have definite criteria to work with when drawing your landscaping plans.

Image Credit: zenera via Compfight cc

Herbs and Plants for Biological Pest Control


Posted by Julien Stern | Posted in Plants | Posted on 16-01-2013


Insects, fungi, and the rest of a garden’s unwanted fauna and flora are capable of ruining whole months of carefully designed work. Gnawed leaves and fruits, shriveled stalks, ugly yellow and black spots where deep, lush, healthy green color should delight our eyes — all the above may well be prevented, simply by employing the means provided by nature itself.


Once your landscaping plans have come to realization and the basic structure of your garden is finally laid under your feet, then comes the time for the selection of the appropriate plants, the ones becoming your personal taste and fit for the local environmental conditions.

There are many factors that come into play when you get to that final decision about the plants that will embellish agreeable family or solitary hours in nature: appearance, blooming time, the plants’ needs in water and nutrients are the most basic of those. They are also the ones most extensively covered with tips and suggestions – a brief search on the ‘net will provide you with a number of quality resources. Nevertheless, when it comes to the sustainable health of your garden, it is important to also take into account the synergic effect of co-cultivation.

The essence of this technique, which can be applied in a home garden or in a producing farm with the same success, is to use the beneficial action of wild and domesticated plants for the purpose of enhancing the soil, providing needed nutrients, and repelling pests and diseases. Just like men living in a community work together in their respective trades in order for the collective social body to function in a regular manner, plants also tend to benefit from each other’s particularities and strengths.

Plants are made to fight all by themselves the various diseases and harmful visitors that threaten their life and health. If this wasn’t the case, the natural world would have ceased to exist billions of years ago.

Herbs and Plants for Biological Pest Control

There are many flowers and herbs whose essential oils or root secretions are helpful to their neighbors, this is why pest control is so important. Here is a list of the most common among them, with brief information about which enemies of your garden they help eliminate in a natural manner:

Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare, or Cow bitter)
A herbaceous perennial, cultivated since ancient times for medicinal purposes. In the 16th century, it was considered as being “necessary for a garden” in Britain.
Tansy acts as a potent insect repellent, benefiting all garden and fruit-bearing plants. It drives away mites, ants, lice, greenflies, larvae, cabbage whites (pieris brassicae), apple cydia, potato beetles.

Cow Parsley (Anthriscus Sylvestris, or Queen Anne’s lace)
An herbaceous biennial, considered to be edible, although with a quite sharp taste. Be careful! It can be easily mistaken for several similar-looking poisonous plants, such as poison hemlock and fool’s parsley.
Cow parsley will drive snails away from your garden – so fast that you won’t believe it!


Caper Spurge (Euphorbia lathyris)
This is an erect (may grow up to four or five feet tall) biennial, and occasionally annual plant, which produces latex. Although toxic to the skin (may cause skin irritations), if planted in the perimeter of your garden, it will keep away mice.

Other plants that repel mice:

  • Sunflower (Helianthus annuus)
  • Dog’s tongue (Cynoglossum officinalis)
  • Garlic* (Allium sativum)

* Other beneficial effects of garlic:

  • Protects plants from fungi
  • Enhances the plants’ aroma
  • Enhances soil health
  • Repels snails and mildew

Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris, or Common wormwood)
A tall (up to six feet, rarely more) herbaceous perennial plant which is cultivated for both medicinal and culinary purposes. Also, there’s a number of Lepidoptera that feed on Artemisia, either exclusively or as part of their diet.
Mugwort is beneficial to all of your vegetables, as it repels cabbage white.

Pot Marigold (Calendula officinalis)
Pot marigold is among the easiest and versatile flowers to cultivate in a garden. It generally requires mild climates, where it grows as a perennial; in cold and hot climates it does not survive more than a year.

Planted in the perimeter of your garden or flower beds you need to protect, pot marigold repels roundworms (nematodes). It benefits all plants, especially tomatoes, potatoes, and rose bushes. It is also edible, most often used to add color to salads.
Mexican marigold (Tagetes erecta) can be used with the exact same properties.

Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
A strongly aromatic, evergreen shrub perfectly able to survive with very low water consumption and tolerant of low temperatures. It is used in perfumery, as a culinary herb, in massage therapy, and also as a prevention against clothing moths.
In the garden, where it is especially beneficial to trees and rose bushes, lavender repels greenflies and ants.

Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica, Urtica urens)
After garlic, stinging nettle is the plant for a healthy and good-looking garden. It enhances the general health of plants while increasing production of crops, and it is very often used as liquid manure.

This is only a short selection among the numerous plants that act as biological pest control agents. The essential thing to retain is that a garden is no less than a mini-ecosystem with delicate balances to be observed during its life time. You, as masters of your private paradise, can follow nature’s infinite wisdom and relieve yourselves from many growing headaches — demonstrating, at the same time, your sensitivity and responsibility towards our much-afflicted environment.

All images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Prettiest Trees for Your Winter Garden


Posted by Julien Stern | Posted in Plants | Posted on 14-01-2013

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This is a guest post by some Jersey guys! See the bottom of this post for more about them.

I really liked the idea of this post because it shows you that winter need not be a dead time for your garden.

Just because it’s a winter wonderland outside doesn’t mean that you can’t have bright and beautiful colors in your garden.

If your garden is heavily biased toward spring and summer blooms, it may look empty and sad during the cold months.

Why not keep the winter blues away with an eye-catching landscape that’ll have you feeling happy and eager to get outdoors?

Rather than spending all of your time indoors and watching Christmas holiday specials on television, you’ll be able to sit at the window and soak in the view of your own private winter wonderland. Winter trees will also attract and provide sustenance for birds and wildlife that will add visual interest to an otherwise lonely landscape.

You can also cut branches and gather leaves to create striking natural holiday displays for your home interiors.

With a gorgeous winter garden, you might even feel compelled to leave off the holidays lights next year and let the plants show off on their own merits. More often than not, artificial lights can’t match the loveliness of natural lipstick-red winter berries.

Just don’t get too carried away: make sure to mix and match these trees with spring- and summer-blooming plants to keep your garden beautiful 365 days a year.

If you would rather have just one arboreal centerpiece for the winter, consider using large, uncut stones in your landscapes. In the winter, the foliage will fall away and reveal rock formations that mimic wild mountain ranges and lend a romantic atmosphere to your garden.

In the warm months, they can be easily hidden and let the flowers steal the show.

No matter what you finally decide to do, here are a few suggested arboreal additions whose bold colors will make your garden a feast for the eyes year-round.

Flame Willow
Perfect for smaller spaces, the Salix “Flame” variety of willow tree look incredible in the winter.

Their orange-red branches will light your winter landscape on fire.

In the warmer months, the branches become covered with light green foliage.

They spend those months looking deceptively plain, but once winter rolls around, these accent trees show their true colors. At maturity, they can grow up to 20 feet tall if they’re pruned and maintained well. Of all the trees on this list, the Flame Willow is the most labor-intensive; however, the payoff is huge.

Colorado Blue Spruce
An old faithful, this evergreen variety is the classic Christmas tree.

Its sharp needles range in color from blue-green to silvery blue, and it produces slender, reddish cones.

In addition to being the ideal coniferous tree, the blue spruce emits a very pleasantly sweet scent.

Stewart’s Silver Crown American Holly

This variety of evergreen holly develops a dense, pyramidal canopy that retains its variegated coloring throughout the winter. It’s more interesting than traditional holly, but has all of the trademark features of the species.

In addition to its gorgeous, spiny leaves, the tree bears the typical red holly berries. The fruit is very showy and attracts many bird species over the winter. This hardy tree does very well in tough conditions with poor drainage, air pollution, and compacted soil.

Paper Birch

The birch tree’s iconic black-and-white bark patterns have appeared in countless paintings and works of literature for centuries.

In the fall, its leaves turn gold and red-orange. As the bark peels down in vertical strips, the tree’s red-orange inner bark is revealed. You can use the peeled bark for decoration both inside and outside of your home.

Despite its relatively small size (growing to a maximum of 30 feet tall), the hawthorn tree brings a whole lot of drama.

Its diminutive proportions make it exceedingly easy to prune, so it does well near pathways and in tight spaces.

In the fall, it produces clusters of tiny red berries that remain on the branches throughout the winter.

Since the berries are edible, you can use them in home cooking or leave them to attract birds to your yard.

Snowdrift Crabapple

These petite trees are lovely all year long, with spectacular white blossoms in the springtime and luscious red fruits in the fall and winter. Snowdrift crab is hardy and thrives in a variety of conditions. Wild birds will pay you a visit every day to get their fill of these tasty fruits, keeping you company as their migrations take them through your region.

Image Credits: mmwm, mandj98, jamm2

Biodynamic Gardening, A Garden’s Natural Cure


Posted by Julien Stern | Posted in Gardening | Posted on 07-01-2013

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gardenBiodynamic gardening is a method of special organic gardening that calls for treatment of gardens as individual and unified organisms. It emphasizes balance in the holistic interrelationship and development of plants, animals, and soil in a self-nourishing system even without external outputs.

The very special aspect that biodynamic gardening brings into the picture is that is gives emphasis on looking at the soil and the farm in a broader perspective. This only means that a garden is not just any area or plot but more of an environment where living organisms thrive. Having this line of thought the message of giving care and sustenance to every bit of creatures within the vicinity is given a high level of significance.

Although biodynamic gardening is regarded by many as a form of a pioneering modern ecological gardening technique, it would be more fair to say that it actually exists since the beginning of life on Earth. Natural eco-systems are, in fact, well-balanced ensembles of plant and animal life suited to the specific weather and soil conditions of the area they grow in.

Principles of Biodynamic Gardening

Biodynamic gardening emphasizes the use of composts and manures instead of the usual artificial chemicals applied on soil and plants. While it has many things in common with other organic gardening methods, biodynamic gardening is unique in that it uses fermented mineral and herbal preparations (e.g. compost additives, natural field sprays), and an astronomical planting and sowing calendar.

One of the best-known techniques of biodynamic and organic gardening in general is crop rotation, otherwise known as crop sequencing. This is a method that involves the cultivation of a series of crops that are part of different types within the same area or agricultural vicinity. This is done in sequential times or seasons to promote many benefits in crop production. One very good example is the prevention of pathogen and pest build up that is normally takes place when only a single crop type is used.

Crop rotation also creates a specific balance that is vital in avoiding deterioration and reduction of soil nutrients. This balance can be associated with the varying fertility demands of the various crops utilized. Soil structure is also strengthened when deep-rooted and shallow rooted plants coexist in a given land plot.

Crop rotation offers an ideal medium for cultural control. This means that there is adequate defence against pests and diseases that can wreak havoc in a garden. The principle behind this is that the use of constant variation in crop types helps in placing pest population levels to a low percentage. As plants that are members of the same taxonomic family attract similar pathogens, the regular change in the planting location can break down or limit the cycles of pest development.

Besides the use of animal-originated fertilizers (manure), one of the methods extensively used in biodynamic gardening is planting cover crops (green manure) with the goal of improving and enhancing any conditions pertaining to sustainable agriculture. Moreover, cover crops offer an essential way of managing soil fertility, moisture and quality, while they also help battle weeds, pests, and diseases that may inhibit ideal plant growth and crop production.

More Biodynamic Gardening Techniques

Animal life in biodynamic gardening includes mainly useful insects and earthworms. In the past, the use of earthworms and their castings or excretions in promoting plant growth had been widespread. These days, more and more gardeners and agriculturists are reverting back to the old, organic and chemicals-free mode of gardening.

Putting earthworms into gardens and plant plots has become a standard in ensuring that plants will grow better and healthier. Earthworms take care of loosening the damp soil, transporting rich nutrients from the topsoil to the subsoil and making burrows that could facilitate further entry and circulation of air and water into the soil.

Vermicompost has been observed to free cabbage, pepper and tomato from savage and harmful pests like aphids, mealy bugs and caterpillars. Though the exact scientific reasons for the events are still yet to be determined, experts suggest that it is because vermicomposts are rich in highly essential nutrients that help vegetable cops become stress resistant and eventually unattractive to pests.

To Sum Up…

A garden is able to produce or come with a certain result geared to positivity if allowed to. This can only happen when the proper resources are manipulated accordingly.

Due to climate changes and natural calamities erosion may occur that may lead to the destruction of soil components and quality. Now, biodynamic techniques of gardening aim to boost the defensive mechanisms of the soil and increase its vitality and richness. This will eventually lead to the formation of even more fine soil structures that will produce high quality flowers and crops, while promoting a healthy and sustainable gardening model.

The unique facet of biodynamic gardening is that it teaches soil handling and care as a significant way of life by building a relationship with nature. It helps forge a strong connection that can truly lead to massive changes on the quality and benefits of crops and flowers. Moreover, it brings the practitioner in a certain oneness with the land, a land that will solidify his very existence in this world.

Why Proper Drainage is Critical for Landscaping


Posted by Julien Stern | Posted in landscaping | Posted on 05-01-2013

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yard-drainageHave you ever noticed how in some areas of your yard water pools up after watering while other parts seem to magically make the water disappear?

Or perhaps you have some grass and it’s got a nasty fungal issue with mushrooms popping up every now and then.

When it comes to all the different aspects of your garden and landscaping, there is one that is perhaps the most ignored–and that is draining. In this context draining is how you plan for water, whether from sprinkling or rain, is supposed to flow through your yard.

If your landscaping is not planned out with proper drainage in mind, it can result in a host of problems ranging from small puddles of water in the middle of your yard to damaging water flow toward the foundation of your home.

Problems from Poor Drainage

There are many different problems which can be caused from an improperly planned drainage system in your yard. Some of them are minor issues, and others can be costly and devastating. The following are just some of the more common issues people with poor drainage find.

  • Root Rot – If you have an area of the yard that is not properly drained it will often retain the water there for quite a long time. It could be a visible eyesore where there are small puddles of water, or it could all be occurring under the surface of your yard.

    When you have plants growing in soil that is overly drenched for days at a time, it can cause significant problems. This is especially true for larger plants and trees due to the long term damage that can result.

  • Pooling – Most yards naturally have some areas which are slightly higher than others. If you don’t intentionally manipulate the yard to have extra water flow off into a desired area then you’ll likely have small pools or puddles all throughout your yard. In minor cases these pools will be absorbed fairly quickly causing only small problems, but for more serious cases it can cause large pooling of water that can last for days after a heavy rain.
  • Home Flooding – The foundation of a home is not designed to be constantly wet, and if you don’t have a drainage design which pulls the water away from your home you will eventually have flooding problems. As the water remains near your foundation tiny cracks or holes will develop letting the water through. During heavy rains this could cause significant damage.
  • Unhealthy grass, plants and Trees – When the water is not properly drained it will cause some areas to get insufficient water absorption during a rain, and some will be drenched.

Benefits of Proper Drainage in Your Garden

One of the biggest benefits of a well planned out drainage system is that you can use the natural rain water to help keep all your plants and trees healthy.

In many parts of the country you can greatly reduce or even eliminate the need to water your plants if you have a well designed drainage plan. A good drainage plan will design the slope of the yard to bring water from one area to another. This can be done not only by building some areas up and lowering other areas, but also by adding in items like decorative rocks or retaining walls.

Once you have a good plan of how the water will flow in your yard, you can add in plants which will best take advantage of the water. Adding plants which require very little water to an area that you have designed to keep dryer, and those that can tolerate very moist soil to the area near the bottom of your hard is an excellent way to take advantage of as much of the water as possible.

Whether you live in a climate which is naturally very rainy like the North East, or a dryer area like the Texas climate, it is important to plan out your drainage properly. Also keep in mind that you will need to plan for all seasons since in many parts of the country you could have very dry conditions for some months and very wet for others.

How to Plan Your Drainage

If you’ve never made a drainage plan for your yard before it might be best to contact a professional. There are many little things to consider during the planning phase that can have drastic affects on the success or failure of your landscape.

Keep in mind that you can use not only changes in the elevation of your yard and the use of plants, rocks and other above ground things, but also you can add in underground drainage options. This can be done by burying a pipe with holes in it with medium sized rocks. The pipe can lead water away from one area and to another or even off into an existing sewer system to remove excess water.

It is important to have the pipe at the right depth and installed correctly or it could actually cause more harm than good though so if you aren’t sure, don’t hesitate to ask an expert.

Image credit: Brian Tobin

The Riddle of What Exactly Is Wildscaping?


Posted by Julien Stern | Posted in landscaping | Posted on 04-01-2013

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Many gardeners and landscapers have not heard of the term wildscaping which is quickly growing in popularity.

Wildscaping is a method of designing your home’s landscaping in a way that will help to attract local wildlife. This is typically done by using a wide variety of different plants which are native to the area. In addition to attracting wildlife, this is often a great way to have an easy to maintain landscape since the plants will naturally thrive.

Types of Wildlife Which Are Attracted

When you’re planning your wildscaping project it is important to think about what types of wildlife you most want to attract. For most people they will be looking to bring in smaller animals such as birds or butterflies.

If you’re not careful, however, you might attract some larger animals as well. Learning how to attract the most desirable animals can be tricky at first, but it is well worth the effort. Below are some simple tips and tricks that will help you to get started (you can also read the article series, Austin Wildscape Landscaping For Wildlife for some more tips):

  • Attracting Birds – To attract birds you’re going to want to try to think of either what they eat or where they live, or both. Many people today are planting bushes and flowers that grow seeds or berries which birds love. This is a more natural way to attract birds than a bird feeder, and in many cases will be more effective as well. If you’re looking to bring in one particular type of bird you can do some simple research to find exactly what foods they eat or what types of trees they prefer to live in and plant those.
  • Attracting Butterflies – Butterflies enjoy eating out of a wide range of flowers. There are hundreds of different species of butterfly so find out which ones you want to attract and plant the flowers they prefer. Remember, many butterflies don’t stay in the same area all year so it might be smart to wildscape your yard for a variety of different types.
  • Small Mammals – While many people think of bunnies, squirrels, chipmunks and other small mammals as pests, others love watching them scurry around. When planting things that these little critters like, make sure to plant them far enough from the house that they won’t try to break in.
  • Larger Mammals – In some parts of the country, like right here in Texas, you can plant different things to bring in larger animals like deer, raccoons, elk and other large animals. This is only recommended when you have a lot of property and can keep them at enough of a distance to ensure safety. Remember, these are wild animals and they can quickly hurt you or cause a lot of property damage.

Benefits of Wildscaping

While the primary reasons many people start learning about wildscaping is that they want to attract the wildlife to their yard, there are other benefits as well.

To start with there is the fact that the vast majority of plants which will attract animals native to your area will be plants which are also native to the area. This is because most animals that thrive in a particular part of the country do so because there is an abundance of whatever plants they eat, or safety for them.

Planting things which are native to the area will make them much easier to keep healthy since you won’t be fighting the natural climate or water levels each plant likes. People living in dryer areas, for example, will find that plants which thrive on low amounts of moisture are easier to take care of.

More and more people today are trying to live their lives in a more harmonious way, and this is especially true when it comes to nature.

People are eating organic foods, trying to buy from local farmers and generally just live in a more natural way. This is just one of the reasons why wildscaping is becoming so popular.

As we learn new ways to live and work with nature, rather than fighting and destroying it we will almost certainly find that our lives become easier, more peaceful and enjoyable as well.
If you’re looking to start a wildscaping project you’re going to want to first take some time doing the research.

Once you get started it you’ll find that it’s quite easy to find all the plants you want, but keeping them healthy is important. Make sure you know which plants are full sun tolerant and which are not, for example. It can also be confusing to match up which plants will attract which animals. You can learn about this type of thing by either doing some research on the Internet, or just going out and observing nature. Taking pictures of plants you like and bringing them to an expert in your area is another great way to learn more.

Remember, the more you know about the local plant and wildlife the more successful your wildscaping project will be.

It is also important to note that it can often take time for the animals to discover the new plants you’ve chosen. Birds and other animals will eventually discover them so just keep your yard nice and healthy and remain patient until you begin to see your new friends moving into the area.