Leading With LED Lighting

Green landscape design has been the trend for at least 5 years, and eco-friendly light bulbs in other facets have been in vogue much longer.  Over the last few years I’ve been paying more attention to what the low voltage lighting industry has to offer for LEDs and finally this year I was able to test them out.

From illumination on a BBQ grill, path lights to signal a curve in a walk, or inset steps lights to allow a quick and safe decent to a lower patio landscape lighting can be practical.  However, my more favorite usage, which is definitely more fun to design are the mood lighting that becomes an added bonus.   My utmost favorite is moonlighting in a large tree to allow the outline of the branches to dance on the ground when the lights shine through.  After reviewing the LED lights that FX luminare offers, none of the usage or light quality is compromised.  FX did their research and unlike the original LED car lights with the bluish glow, these lights are true to the lighting quality of the less efficient lights.

The FX fixtures also come with several filters to place over the light source, which come standard instead of an add-on like the originals.  This makes it easier to play around with how the different filters can change and add value to the landscape.  Green filters are awesome for making the green leaves on a tree pop.  The blue filter can enhance the color of evergreens.   The frosted option can the features of a house or amber filters can be used on different types of plants to give a more realistic glow.  Two different colors can even be used at one time for multiple effects.  The freedom to try different filters adds creativity to the landscape lighting and new ideas are being tested all the time by landscape designers as they become more familiar and comfortable with the effects.

This year I was able to try the FX system out for the first time.  We brought in one of our lighting experts the first installation to make sure we set them up the right way.  From an installers stand point, the installation is a breeze.  With regular low voltage lights, we have to calculate voltage drop.  As a fixture gets further away from the transformer, and as multiple lights are connected using one cable, the light will actually dim.  This is called voltage drop.  Unlike with traditional low voltage lights, The LEDs have virtually eliminated voltage drop because they use such little voltage to begin with.  This means less cable, smaller gauge cable, and smaller transformers which all equals less money to purchase the accessories.

The biggest benefit that my clients have enjoyed is the maintenance side.  I usually suggest changing out light bulbs each year at the same time on regular low voltage lights.  If one light goes out and the rest on the same line remain lit, they will burn out faster.  I have had countless homeowners have one bulb go out, just to have to replace the next one down the line soon after.  What a hassle!  The LED lights don’t light via bulb, but by diodes that make up an LED board and thus do not require light bulb replacement.  The boards and fixtures carry a 10 year warranty.  The boards can be replaced without having to purchase a new fixture.  Depending on the actual fixtures used and the amount, a typical landscape lighting job can pay for itself in just a few years with the energy savings and low maintenance features.  All in all, I expect to be using the LED systems more regularly, especially as the older systems are phased out.

Check out some of these beautifully lit landscapes…

beachsidelighting.com

How about lighting a gnarly old tree…

homefurniturefashion.onsugar.com

Floating in a pool during an outdoor dinner party…

midhomes.net

I love the originality in this.

For more ideas and information on Low Voltage Lighting and the LED options check out www.fxl.com.

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Window Ledge Gardening

apartmenttherapy.com

All summer, I successfully kept a flourishing basil plant alive in the only spot of sun in our yard. I don’t usually plant edible garden decor, but with the enticement of fresh foods, and a $2 price tag at the grocery store for just a few leaves, I decided to make a go of it. Our reward was homemade pizzas and doctored pasta sauces to name a few. Sadly, my green thumb success hasn’t transplanted as well to the indoor herb garden. The house lacks a few essentials; light and consistent warm temperatures. I plan to use these tips on my second round attempts, this winter.

1.  Nothing beats natural light or at least a combination of natural and artificial light. The optimum light requirements are about 6 hours of natural light or 12 hours of artificial light.  If you have very little light, like me, you can use artificial grow lights to help them along if you are desperate and really want to grow your own herbs.

2.  Find a way to introduce humidity. A great place can be a window above the kitchen sink or even a bathroom.

3.  Watering too much can be detrimental. This can be true too of all plants, but especially with indoor plants, water will not evaporate as quickly and roots sitting in water will rot. There are soil mixtures for indoor plants that help with this problem. Regular outdoor potting soils will be hold too much moisture. Always let the soil dry out completely before watering.  Make sure you use a pot with ample drainage holes on the bottom

4.  Snip long-legged herbs. The lack of light may encourage your herbs to be floppy, and tall with few leaves. Cutting them back when they get this way will produce stronger stems and make them more robust. Also, always cut back herbs before they begin to flower, because all the energy will go into flower production and make the leaves bitter. Also, leggy plants may be an indication to try to find a spot with more light.

5.  Know your herb varieties. Some herbs need variations on care. For example, Basil can need more water than dry loving Rosemary or Thyme. Also, certain types will take over and thus are better planted in their own pot, such as mint. Other varieties that will grow well indoors are chives, dill, sage, oregano and parsley.

6.  Watch for insects. This is a difficult one because indoor herbs can be prone to insect infestation. Usually a little soap and water can get rid of the pests. Either dip the plant in a soapy concoction or use a spray bottle. There are insecticidal soaps that can be used if they get out of hand. Also, if you’ve decided to try to bring in outdoor herbs, try to re-pot with a soil-less mixture to control insects that are already in the soil.

Check out these creative indoor herb uses…

indoor herbs

taken from pinterest

herbs

taken from pinterest

Gathered together for a dinner party centerpiece

herbs: indoor grow bottles

Potting Shed Creations, LTD.

These grow bottles are made from recycled wine bottles.

And lastly, here is my favorite easy appetizer recipe using fresh basil.

Caprese On a Stick

aquatechpools.com

Ingredients:

  • 1 package grape tomatoes
  • 12 fresh basil leaves cut in half
  • 1 package small mozzarella balls cut in half
  • 24 tooth picks
  • a pinch of salt
  • a pinch of pepper
  • drizzle of olive oil
  • drizzle of balsamic vinegar
Tip: many recipes will use a full mozzarella ball and full basil leaf per toothpick. I have found that the proportions work better by halving these ingredients.

Using toothpicks make a kabob using one cherry tomato, 1/2 of the mozzarella ball, and 1/2 of the basil leaf. Lay flat on a tray with sides. Drizzle with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and salt/pepper to taste. Serve. This makes a great way to serve caprese salad in a party setting and is just about as simple as it gets!

No Garden Variety Book Review

“All the leaves are brown and the sky is gray” and the only place to find a patch of green is in a few of my favorite books for the gardening enthusiast. There are several great books that I use as reference, inspiration, or curling up with on a long winter’s night.  One of these would make a nice last-minute christmas gift for off-season gardeners.

Gardening in Illinois,  By James A. Fizzell

  This month by month guide is split into categories such as roses, perennials, vegetables and headlined by each month. The format is the same for each page, so that everything laid out is more than clear. My number one reason for liking this book is that it is written by a leading expert in the field of gardening and landscape, James Fizzell. I have had the privilege of consulting him on a few of my biggest plant debacles for my clients. His knowledge is second to none and the information has just the right amount of detail, to be helpful, but not scientific. This book is great for anyone who has recently moved into their first home and inherited a yard much larger than their apartment balcony, a garden hobbyist or owner of a recently renovated landscape (hopefully they also have the lifeline of a great landscape company to rush to their aid if the plants are going a little south).  This book format is also applied to other states by various authors, Gardening in Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, Iowa, and Minnesota to name a few.

The Encyclopedia of Grasses for Livable Landscapes, By Rick Darke

   This work has beautiful photography which showcases unusual combinations of grasses together. The format is very much like an encyclopedia, and is very comprehensive, but the oversized hardcover book and gorgeous photography lends itself to make one very awesome coffee table addition. You may even recognized a few midwestern scenes like Piet Oudolf’s urban garden at Millennium Park in Chicago, IL. This book is a great reference for gardeners, but also great for inspired interiorscapers that enjoy bringing the outside in, and photography aficionados that drool over pretty pictures.  A quick glance can always get me out of a design rut, even on the worst Chicago winter day.

Continuous Bloom, By Pam Duthie

  This book addresses the gardeners biggest challenge, how to get a continuously blooming perennial garden. As a garden designer Pam Duthie tackles this question head on and has quite a few creative pairings, and successors. The book has won several awards along the way and the use of pictures to illustrate for the visual learner makes the book. This book is a source of fond memories, working at The Natural Garden in St. Charles, IL, where I first found a love of plants. Pam Duthie came for a book signing during the beginning of the books existence. The line of fans were out the door to our little garden shed, where she set up shop. The book was followed up several years later with Continuous Color, a book highlighting the use of trees and shrubs.

Residential Landscape Architecture, Norman K. Booth and James E. Hiss

 Probably the most trade-speak item on my list, I use this book for the occasional reference to remind myself of rudimentary principles of design. It does shed a lot of light on the why behind landscape design styles, “rules”, and trends.  The black and white illustrations show very basic, but well thought out designs, that can offer a reminder the use the Keep it Simple method. This is a great book for anyone who spends time in any design field or hobby, whether it is interior design, product design, or other type of architecture. The principles are the same, and can help give a more rounded view on the subject.

I could continue on about other great landscape literature. There is no shortage of inspiring works to entice the greenery deprived. Check out these awesome recommendations and maybe Santa will find a way to deliver one of these to the gardener in your life.

Deck the Halls with Holiday Planters

It’s December 6th. Do you know where your level of holiday readiness is? With the unofficial kick off to the holiday season a week and a half past, its easy to worry that there is much to do and little time to do it.

If you wish those strands of twinkling lights would string themselves, here’s a few holiday decorations that make a big impression using a lot of what you already have.  These next few pictures are some holiday decorations done by two of my co-workers for clients of EverGreen Landscape Associates.

photo credit: mickey bittenbender

Mixed evergreens using white pine, blue spruce, serbian spruce, and boxwood. I especially like the use of dried hydrangeas. Another idea is to harvest the hydrangeas in the Fall when they still have some color.

photo credit: kelly potts

Look what can be done using your existing planters, some left over greens from your live christmas tree, or evergreen trimmings from your own backyard.  Check out the red ornaments.

photo credit: kelly potts

Spruce tops can be purchased to give some height to your planters and for volume. It also makes a great shape to adorn with twinkle lights for an evening display.

So if you feel like the clock is ticking a little too fast, winterize your existing planters holiday style.  You can put off lugging it to the garage and deck out the stoop instead of the halls.