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Landenberg, Pennsylvania, United States
Based in Landenberg, PA PLG offers Landscape Installation and Maintenance to Southern Chester County and Northern Delaware

Friday, April 29, 2011

Designing with Children in Mind

When commissioning a landscape design, it is very important to consider how children view and interact with the world around them.  Children tend to view the landscape through a microscope, tending to focus on details rather than the big picture.  A child’s garden should appeal to all five of their senses (Moore, 1997).  It is important to instill in children a love of nature that will grow into stewardship and environmental sensitivity.  It is important to remember that children are individuals that can add a lot of insight into the design process. 
            A child needs are best met through nine basic elements provided in a design: discovery, water, loose elements, plant life, wildlife, heights, enclosure, movement, and make believe (Dannenmaier, 1998).  Discovery is very important to a child’s development.  Creative, constructive activity occurs through a child’s opportunity to define the parameters of their play.  One of the most desirable elements in any garden but is one of the least provided because of cost and liability issues.  A child’s need for loose elements can be provided by a sand box, or even natural elements such as dirt, twigs, and pine cones.  Playing with loose elements help children develop skills in construction and creation.  Heights provide a sense of escape to children by providing an exciting perspective.  If your site has great differences in elevation you can provide this very easily though if it doesn’t height can be provided by a well designed tree house.  Movement is the most important element to provide for kids.  Movement is satisfied through physical activity.  Provide children with a play-scape, a lawn area, but most of all make it this area very safe.  Allowing children room to be creative within the landscape is very important.  Providing a space for make-believe is very easy.  This space should have elements that children can adapt to their play.  Kids like to play in enclosed spaces.  Growing up we all had that special place in the woods where we built a “fort” or “cottage (girls).”  These special spaces made us feel safe, and allowed us to play privately.  Providing parents with a good sightline to these spaces is an important consideration when designing these spaces.  When choosing plants for use around children they should not have thorns, or be poisonous.  Common plants to avoid are anemone, caladium, foxglove, hydrangeas, lantanas, mistletoe, and philodendron.  The next question to ask is “should we educate our children about the dangers or eliminate these plants totally?”  Choose plants that have bright colors, unusual features, and interesting flowers.  Consider growing vegetables, and involving children in your gardening activities.  Use plants to attract wildlife into your garden or use a bird feeder.  Providing children with the opportunity to observe animals helps to develop a sense of wonder for natural processes.  
            Providing these nine elements within a well designed landscape is a difficult process.  Juxtaposing children’s areas against more landscape elements requires careful design consideration.  Keeping retaining walls shorter, designing stairs with a shorter rise and longer treads, and thinking about safer paving materials.  When designing for children it is important to stay away from abrasive paving materials such as, tumble bricks.  Use smoother materials such as range pattern flagstone.  Provide boundaries for children by using hedges or privacy fencing.  Providing ample area to circulate around pools, grills, and ensuring that a patio is well lit at night are important considerations.  Avoiding pressure treated lumber and wood chips in your landscape.  Using natural materials around your children is the best policy.  When placing sandboxes, playscapes, or tree houses consider sight lines from your house.  Most children are injured when they are out of sight.  Under playground equipment use certified playground mulch, poured rubber, or rubber mulch.  Install this material at least six inches thick to protect the kids from a hard fall.  Poured rubber is installed six inches thick on a concrete pad and come in a multitude of colors.  When doing the original design considering the children will outgrow any play ground equipment is very important.  Designing play spaces with a future use in mind.  An area that once held a sandbox or swing set can be re-adapted to a planting be, or a private, secret garden with a bench and fountain.  If you would like a pond, think about installing a grid a couple of inches under the surface of the water to prevent a child from drowning. 
            If you have children or are thinking about having a child please consider this in your design.  A child’s input is also an invaluable resource for a designer, so consider involving them in the design process.  With a little careful consideration and good design a landscape can be beautiful and safe as well.      

-Matt Bradley, Designer, BLA

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Kitchen Garden

            A kitchen garden is an amazing way to supplement your trips to the supermarket by supplying fresh, local produce.  The local and organic food movement is becoming more and more visible; what is more local than your backyard!  Families with children will create an amazing learning opportunity by teaching (and showing) their children where food comes from, and the amazing process of life.  A garden of about 300 square feet can keep a family of four in fresh vegetables and fruit for an entire summer though, I would recommend going smaller for your first season.  If planned correctly the spare fruits and vegetables can be canned or frozen for the winter months.  If you do not have space for a garden of that size, then Tomatoes, Bell Peppers, Swiss Chard, and Carrots can be grown in pots.  My wife and I grew an amazing variety of produce on our back deck during college. 
            It is very important to plan your garden for maximum yield by choosing what you want to grow and what your family eats a lot of.  My grandparents had a garden every year for as long as they were able.  They avoided the initial plowing by hiring a local man with a tractor and plow to work their soil for a very reasonable rate.  Once this was done, they could pick out rocks and sow seed.  Your garden plot should be placed in an area that gets good sun throughout the day.  Avoid areas with large trees because of roots.  Sketching out your garden is a good idea.  An easy scale to work with is 1”=1’ (you can use a regular ruler if you do not possess a scale).  It is important to think about plant space requirements and to make sure you leave space between rows to walk.  Make sure during your planning that taller plants, such as corn, do not shade out other crops that require more sun. 
Research the plants that you are growing to learn about crop yields, space requirements, and whether they can frozen or need to be eaten right away.  I would also recommend researching disease resistant varieties and which crops do well with little work in your area.  The perfect garden soil is loamy and rich.  The key to soil improvement is working organic material into your soil.  A soil test (available from your local County Extension Office) is highly recommended.  A soil test costs anywhere from nine dollars to 30 dollars and will tell you what your soil’s pH, composition, and make up is.  Knowing your region’s frost dates because this helps determining the grow season’s length.  Southeastern Pennsylvania’s is about 200-300 days. 
Taking care of your garden is very important for crop growth and quality.  Take a walk through your garden every day with an eye for diseases, wilting, weeds, and to pick your crops.  Water whenever the soil becomes powdery and dry.  Make sure you water deep and thoroughly.  I also recommend mulching your garden.  Mulch insulates plant’s roots and replaces organic material to the soil.  Leaves, hay, grass clippings, saw dust, or wood chips are all suitable materials to use as mulch in the garden.  For disease problems I recommend purchasing a vegetable disease guide.  It is important to decide whether you want to try to deal with disease problems organically or with a chemical.  There are many organic products available to deal with pests and diseases.    
Hints and Tips for a Quality Garden:
1.     Choose disease resistant plant varieties
2.     Inspect seedling for diseases before you purchase.
3.     Pull and dispose of diseased plants. DO NOT compost.
4.     Rotate crops every year to prevent soil depletion and soil born diseases.
5.     Weed often.
6.     Do not work in your garden after a rainstorm.  Plants can be more fragile, the soil will be soft and muddy, and the roots can be trampled.
7.     Compost healthy plants at the end of their life.
            Crops to Consider:
·       Crops for Early Spring Planting:
o   Broccoli, Cabbage, Lettuce, Onion, and Radish
·       Crops for Mid- Spring Planting:
o   Cauliflower, Beets, Carrots, Swiss Chard, Beans, Corn, and Early Potatoes
·       Crops for Early Summer:
o   Eggplant, Peppers, Tomatoes, Cucumbers, Lima Beans, Melons, Okra (bread and lightly fry in oil, to enjoy a true Southern Delicacy), Pumpkins, Squash, and Winter Potatoes
·       Crops for Summer into Fall:
o   Beets, Broccoli, Cabbage, Carrots, Cauliflower, Lettuce, and Radish
o   Plant in early August: Cabbage, Cauliflower
o   Lettuce, Spinach, Turnip

Friday, April 15, 2011

Container Gardening

Don’t have much space to garden but love growing plants?  Well don’t fret you can always grow flowers, vegetables, and flowering shrubs in pots and containers! Not all shrubs respond well to being planted in pots and containers.  In general you want to avoid ones that have large, fleshy roots.  Almost anything that will hold dirt can be used as a planting container but, be sure to drill a drain hole in the bottom.  Some ideas for containers are wine or whiskey barrels, and metal pails.  Of course, you can purchase all manner of clay, glazed clay, and Styrofoam pots from you local garden center.  When choosing a container for your shrub, consider the mature size of the shrub.  A plant that grows 4’-5’ Tall and 3’-4’ Wide will require a pot at least 2.5’ Wide and 1.5’ Deep.
            In preparation for planting a shrub in a container, make sure that there is a drain hole in the bottom (some pots do not come with them).  If it does not be sure to purchase the correct bit for the material and drill one.  The next thing to do is pour an inch to inch and a half of drainage material into the bottom of the pot.  Drainage material can range from crushed aluminum cans (my Grandma swore by these!), broken clay pots, or course gravel.  This layer give the water an out at the bottom of the pot so the roots do not sit in water for an extended period of time.
            Use a good, name brand potting soil such as Fafard or Miracle Grow.  I personally like to use soil with no added fertilizer or “water retainers”.  This is because I like to add my own; typically, I really like Osmocote’s Time Released Pellets.  The soils with “water retainers” can keep the roots of the plant too wet and cause root rot.  Place enough soil in the bottom of the pot so the base of the plant’s stem is level with the top of the container.  Place the plant in the pot and fill and tamp the soil around the root ball. 
            Water thoroughly anytime the soil dries out.  Check this by sticking your finger into the soil.  If it is dry water the soil in the pot thoroughly and deeply.  You want water to drip out the drain hole in the bottom of the pot.  Watering like this pulls fresh air into the porous spaces in the soil.  A little know fact is that a plant’s roots need oxygen to function correctly.
            It is a good idea to pull the shrub out of the pot once a year to replace the soil, trim the roots (in order to prevent the plant from becoming root bound), and clean the pot.  This will help keep soil born diseases from killing the plant.  This is also a good time to determine if the shrub should be moved into a larger container.  Thanks for reading!!!


Friday, April 8, 2011

Elements and Ideas for a 'Green' Landscape

               Environmentally friendly landscaping requires techniques that are chemical-free, uses native plants, and requires minimal watering, and generally contributes to the health of our ecosystem. These are a few ideas to help you get started on your green landscaping.
·        Slow Down Storm Water Run-off
o   Rain Gardens- Collect rainwater in a planted depression that will allow the water to percolate into the soil.
o   Permeable Paving- Allows percolation of rainwater through a paved surface.  Helps collect “bad” run off and the cleansing of the storm water.
o   Rain Barrels- Emptying your gutters into a receptacle allows the storage of water for use later.  You can use this water to wash your car or water your plants and reduce the use of potable water.
·        Native Plantings
o   Use plants that are native to our region and climate
§  Reduces the need for watering.
§  Reduces the need for upkeep and general maintenance.
·        Grass and Lawns
o   In general, USE LESS.
o   Turf requires an immense amount of energy and maintenance to grow.  Really look at how much lawn you need.
·        Avoid Chemical Fertilizers, Pesticides, and Herbicides
o   End up in streams and ponds nearby, damaging aquatic life and causing algal blooms.
o   Dogs and Cats lick their paws; Children fall down and put their faces near the ground.
o   Birds can mistake fertilizer pellets for food.
o   Poisons can (and will) kill the underground organisms that live in the soil that are needed for healthy soil.
o   The more chemicals you use on your lawn, the more dependent it becomes on them.  When you discontinue their use your lawn might look bad for a period time until it recovers.
o   Aerate you soil.  This helps the water and nutrients reach your lawn’s roots.
·        Compost on your Property
o   This is very environmentally friendly because you are reducing the amount of waste you are sending to the landfill.
o   Creates good mulch and is great for adding to your soil.
·        Create an Additional Wildlife Habitat
o   Use plants that attract bees, butterflies, and birds to your garden.
·        Reduce Use of Gasoline Powered Equipment
o   Lawnmowers, string trimmers, and blowers produce an enormous amount of Co2 emissions and use fossil fuels.
o   If at all possible use a manual push mowers
o   If not keep your gas mower in good working order by changing oil and air filters regularly.  A well maintained engine will run cleaner, burn less fuel, and last longer.  A new lawnmower will also run cleaner.
·        Plant Shade Trees and Shrubs
o   Provide habitats for birds (trees).
o   Can cool your house by shading it.
o   Provide and create microclimate.
o   Use trees and shrubs to shade windows and your roof.
o   Can use leave for composting. 

Friday, April 1, 2011

Quick and Easy Tips for Lawn Care

Lets start with the most likely reasons for a lawn to decline or not look healthy......

1.      Excessive Watering.
2.      Not enough of water.
3.      Not enough sunlight.
4.      Mowing the turf too low.
And move on to some general tips........

               The perfect watering scheduling varies depending on your soil and grass type.  Allowing your grass to tell you when it is time to water is imperative.  When the grass leaves wilt and foot prints hang around, it is time to water.  When watering is necessary be sure thoroughly soak the soil 4”-6” deep to reach the entire root zone.  The general rule of thumb for watering is that lawns need about 1”-2” of water a week to thrive.  Be sure to water in the early morning for the best results.
               For the best results be sure to fertilize your lawn 2-4 times a year during the growing season.  This will ensure lush lawn growth.  Applying to much fertilizer can burn the grass blades and cause yellowish burn spots to appear.  Apply fertilizer during the growing season only.  If you are going to apply fertilizer once a season, apply fertilizer in spring for warm season grasses; apply fertilizer in the fall for cool season grasses.  Be sure to apply fertilizer when the grass is dry, then water to push the fertilizer into the soil and keep fertilizer off f the grass leaves.
               When mowing grass do not cut more than a third of the grass blade at one time.  Mowing the grass to the proper height can help lawns develop a better root system.  More leaf area equals a better root system.  It is very important to cut the grass with a very sharp blade.  A clean cut ensures less water loss and quicker healing of the grass blade.  When cutting it is okay to leave the clippings on the lawn as long as you de-thatch your lawn once a year.  The clippings will decompose and return nutrients to the soil. 
Weed Control
               Weeds thrive in an unhealthy lawn.  The best defense against weeds is a healthy lawn with a strong root system.  A weak lawn, in decline, allows room for weeds to root in and grow healthy.  A thick, healthy lawn has a root system that is thick that will choke weeds out.
               Aeration punches (or takes plugs) from the soil to provide roots with water and nutrients.  Aerate when the grass is actively growing to allow a lawn’s roots to take advantage of the new looser soil.  It is important to water thoroughly before aerating.
               Organic matter can build up between the grass blades.  This material is called “thatch.”  Thatch prevents air, water, and nutrients from reaching the roots.  Any more than a ½” of this material is bad.  Be sure to de-thatch at least once a year to remove this material.
If this seems like a lot of work.....please give LawnScapes a call and we will take care of it for you!!!