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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

Monday, December 19, 2011

Design Blog #1-The Entry Courtyard

In this series I will be discussing the thought process, materials, and hard work that went into our more recent projects.  I hope that this series will not only serve as an example of the quality of work and design, but how we work with the client to arrive at the final design.  This process, though stressful at times, is extremely rewarding for us (the designer/contractor) and the client/homeowner.  I hope you guys enjoy and we would love to hear your thoughts and commentary!

The Entry Courtyard

 I had the pleasure of designing a classic entry courtyard for a home in Chadd’s Ford.  The home is set back quite far off the road providing a large open green space for the front yard.  The current landscaping did not fit the grandeur and architecture of the home.  The home owner was looking for something a little more grand, gave room to lounge, and allowed for the use of the front yard as an area to throw the football or kick a soccer ball.

The obligatory 'before picture'

To accomplish this, I put together a design with the help and input of the clients, incorporating all of their needs, while reacting to the genus loci of the area and the architecture of the home. 

Final Rendering
As you can see from the plan, we worked with a rectilinear design language creating a walled courtyard that still allows for entry to and from the yard.  I chose the classic ‘range pattern’ flagstone to reinforce the rectilinear design and chose to match the face stone of the seat walls to the existing stone on the home.  The walk is edged with a classic double sailor course of 4”x8” bricks.   

Picture of the walkway illustrating the range pattern flagstone and double sailor course border

Picture illustrating the Avondale Brownstone walls of the home and the newly constructed seat walls
These design elements reflect the genus loci of the site by replicating the design language and the materials use the southeastern part of Pennsylvania, and the many stone farmhouses of the area.  All of the materials use were locally sourced and are the classic materials of the region.  In fact, our office is just minutes away from the only quarry that produces the Avondale Brownstone used on the walls!  The pattern on the walls and the home is called ‘rubble’ and requires fitting the stones together like a puzzle, piece by piece.  This is an immensely time consuming endeavor but creates a stunning look that breaks up the wall and creates immense interest.  To cap the walls we used ‘thermalled’ and ‘gauged’ Pennsylvania Bluestone.  ‘Thermalling’ is a technique in which the stone is heated up then sprayed with water to split the stone and create a rough texture.  ‘Gauged’ means that all the stone is split at a specified thickness be it 1, 2, or 3 inches thick.  In the case of our caps they are gauged at 2”.  To finish the seat walls and columns we installed brass lighting fixtures with a louvered finishing plate to light the walls and the walkways. 
Seen here is the focal point of the entry courtyard; this paving detail is to set off the future fountain installation.
The focal point of the courtyard is to be a fountain and the paving detail is meant to set it off.  Planted around the fountain are dwarf boxwoods and red barberry.  The red stone chips were an idea that I took from Longwood Gardens and will help set off the grey colored fountain.
24"x24" Bluestone Steppers set into the lawn

Setting 24” x 24” flagstone stepping stones into sod creates a transition between the hardscape and the grass by breaking up the monolithic feel and injecting a different texture between the stepping stones.  This is meant to draw the eye and make the visitor comfortable leaving the ‘structured’ space.
The evergreen plantings were chosen for ease of maintenance, to add another structural element to the landscape, and because they are a classic landscape element.  Perennials and bulbs will be installed when the weather warms back up in the spring.  The perennials and bulb planting will be a mixture of classic bulbs such as Allium and loose, grassy perennial textural plants such as Coreopsis.

View across the courtyard

Front of the home

As you can see from these pictures we created a dynamic, comfortable space, and that matches the scale of the home.

View into the yard

We used hardscape material from: Delaware Hardscape Supply and CST Pavers.  Our plant material came from Water Crest Farms and Valley View Perennials.  If you have any questions don't hesitate to visit our web page at www.lawn-scapes.net.

-Matt Bradley

Monday, December 12, 2011

What is Xeriscaping?

“What is Xeriscaping?” I am glad you asked.  Xeriscaping is the method and idea of designing a landscape to use minimal water.  I like to take it a step further and say they take minimal maintenance as well.  Though we live in Pennsylvania and not the dry, desert climes where this method originated, I think Xeriscaping has a place in our collective conscience.  A landscape designed with Xeriscaping principals requires a little more thought and planning than a normal design.  To quote Martha Sterwert, “It’s a good thing.”
            Site is one of the most important things when designing for minimal water use.  Is the soil wet or dry?;  is it on a hill where there is a lot of wind?;  is there a lot of shade on the site?; how much turf do you really need?  A site analysis of all these factors, and more, helps me (as the designer) determine plant selection.  Porous paving, rain gardens, and rain water harvesting are all important to a green landscape design, but plant selection is the most important by far.  Native plants are best for a landscape that is designed for minimal water and maintenance.  While most native plants from Pennsylvania are deciduous, they can be supplemented by non-invasive, drought resistant plants.  I like to use native plants because they are already suited to Southeastern Pennsylvania’s climate.  They evolved to deal with the amount of rainfall, the average temperature, and the snowfall we receive.  They work with the landscape and are not fighting against it.
            Another issue when xeriscaping is to decide how much lawn does the average family really need.  Does an average family of four really need an acre (or more) of grass to throw the football, play with the dog, or kick the soccer ball around?  I say no.  I know that a well designed landscape plan can provide more and better uses for a majority of the space, all while minimizing the lawn area.  Lawn and turf grass use more resources per square foot than any other type of landscaping, not to mention spending every Saturday for half the year cutting it.  By mitigating and reducing the large expanse of suburban lawns we cut down on the water and resource usage immediately.
            When designing the planting plan, thinking about the different microclimates on the site is very important.  A small residential lot can have microclimates ranging from wet and shady to dry and sunny.  This needs to be taken into account when selecting plants.  I want to place plants that like those types’ climates in the correct space.  Shape, form, color, and texture are all very important elements to consider when grouping plants together for maximum effect. 
            Mulching is very important to the Xeriscaping method.  Whether it is pine straw, compost, or bark, mulch helps soil retain its moisture and helps insulate a plant’s roots.  By mulching we replicate the natural cycle of leaf drop and decomposition in the forest.  It is best to avoid the use of rocks as mulch because they retain heat, do not add organic material back to the soil, and can leach minerals that could change your soil’s pH. 
            Xeriscaping is an important design consideration.  While not for everyone, a well designed landscape using these methods can provide beauty, functionality, and low maintenance.  All it takes is a little design!  If you have any questions please do not hesitate to visit our web page at www.lawn-scapes.net.

-Matt Bradley

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Water Garden Maintenance......Season by Season

               While water gardens are an integral and beautiful part of any garden they take a little work to maintain.  Integrating a seasonal plan for your pond or waterfall makes it easy!!  Since we are in winter here in Southeastern Pennsylvania we will start there.
Fall and Winter
               When the leaves start to fall it is time to think about calling LawnScapes to install leaf netting over your pond.  Leaves falling into you pond from the trees above will throw off the balance of your pond.  Decaying leaves also accumulate on the bottom and create a sludge that can build up over time making the pond shallow.  The skimmer or filter installed with your pond is only designed to pull a random few leaves or the occasional floating debris, not a whole tree’s worth.  The last option, and most labor intensive, is to skim the leaves out of your pond every day.  If your pond has fish, this is the time when their metabolism starts to slow down.  The metabolism of a cold blooded creature rises and lowers with the ambient temperature.  When the water temperature drops into the sixties, decrease the amount of food and feed only once a day.  When water drops below the sixties you can decrease the feeding to two or three times a week; below 50 you should be able to stop feeding all together until the water warms back up.  Since we live in an area where the water will freeze, install a pond de-icer or bubbler.  Ice in your pond will expand and break rocks and trap toxic gases (from decomposing organic material).  Do not be tempted to break the ice up with a shovel as the shockwaves created from this can injure or kill your fish.  The plants in your pond also need tending.  Move all of your shallow water plants deep enough in the pond to keep their roots from freezing.  If your pond is to shallow to protect plants from freezing and does not contain fish, place a cover (like plywood) and a tarp over the pond to provide insulation.  Another option is to remove the plants and store them inside your home.  The best option in our area is to drain all the pipes, filter, and pump of water so they are not damaged by the freezing water.  An interesting idea is to throw some tennis balls into the pond to alleviate any pressure on the pond’s structure from the expansion of ice.
               As temperatures climb through early and mid spring start feeding your fish again working backwards from the winter feeding schedule.  Remove any accumulation of leaves or debris from the bottom of your pond with a skimmer net or pond vacuum.  There are several products that can help with the decomposition of these debris.  Be careful during this step because removing too much of the accumulated sludge and algae can upset the balance of you pond.  Now is the time to check that all of the equipment is working correctly.  Clean the filter, the skimmer box, and perform the correct maintenance on your pond pump.  Think about dividing and repotting your water plants.  When performing this procedure fertilize them as well!
               Most importantly, continue the fertilization program that you began in the spring.  As dead foliage begins to appear on your plants, prune and remove to provide more growth.  This also helps keep the pond free from excess debris.  Your fish will be voracious during this time of the year.  Feed them a high protein diet to help them store fat for the winter.  During the summer it is extremely important to ensure that the pond has proper aeration, if not install an additional pump for aeration purposes.  Water will be evaporating more that ever during the summer months.  IF you do not have an automatic fill, add water in intervals.  Adding to much water at once can disturb the temperature balance, chemical levels, and the pH level.  Summer is the time to really enjoy all of the work you put into your pond so, sit back and take in the view!    
These just some general guidelines to point you in the correct direction, if you have any questions or concerns, call us, and we will do our best to answer any questions your may have!  Please visit our website at www.lawn-scapes.net.

-Matt Bradley

Friday, December 2, 2011

All about Water Features

               Water is one of the most desirable elements in the garden and because of this it is the most important elements in the design.  When designing with water, it is important to think about its inherent characteristics: it runs downhill and collects in low spots.  Try to respect and design within these characteristics in mind.  For example, even the most well designed pool will look silly perched on the top of a hill in the middle of a garden.  It is also very important to consider the scale of the water feature in comparison to the scale of the space that it is placed in. 
               Water can be informal or informal.  This is decided upon based on the design of the garden.  A formal reflecting pool would not work in an informal landscape design for example.  When designing an informal pool look to nature and the surrounding local ponds.  Use the informality to inform your plant selection; use native water loving plants for the best results.  Formal pools have many more rules to follow because applying a strong rigid form to a loose, fluid element.  The formal pond should be set in a space that helps define it.  They tend to be free standing and set in the middle of a flat open space.  A formal pool can be many shapes including, rectangles, ellipses, as long as it’s a formal, well defined shape. 
               A pool tends to be the focus of the garden that it is a part of, because of this an important consideration is its appearance in the winter.  To look nice in all seasons a pool needs to have a refined proportions, clean lines, and well designed lines.  Plants can play into the winter landscape as well.  Ornamental grasses, and other plants should be chosen for their winter shape, form, and winter interest.  Making these important considerations will make your pool or water garden have plenty of year round interest.
               Streams and brooks bring movement, sound, and an opportunity to introduce naturalistic plantings to a landscape.  Streams also act as an axis in a garden, dividing spaces, and defining them.  A stream can cut a landscape in two or create and edge for the design.  A stream forces the garden design to form around it and with it.  Bringing informality or formality to the landscape can be accomplished by using a stream as well.  Fast moving water should be focused on; the banks should be treated simply.  Slower moving water can be treated with a seating area, and more elaborate planting areas. 
               Fountains are amazingly dynamic focal points.  Water in a fountain can be use as a gentle gurgle or in a huge, forceful jet.  The best fountains work within the context of the body of water that they are part of.  Elaborate displays of water work in simple spaces; where the plantings or the planning is complicated the water display should be simple and fade into the background.  When designing a fountain think about the visual effects:  How high should the jets rise?; How wide the should the basin be?; How many different levels should there be?; What angles should the jets be at?  These are always a good questions to consider.  If you have any questions please do not hesitate to visit our website at www.lawn-scapes.net.

-Matt Bradley