Down in the Dirt Details

I love a steady supply of landscape projects as much as the next designer. Getting in the groove over a spring and summer of project after project can sometimes leave me a little lack lustre in the creativity department.  I can often focus on the big picture of plant bed, patio, walkway and have blinders when it comes to the nitty-gritty details.  I often refer to my clients, after all, they live in the house and notice many things.  For example, the back shade garden that needs a pop of color when they look out over the sink doing dishes, or a new vantage point spot to read a book other than the patio.  The details often come from the words my clients speak.  Its my job to listen and then create it.

Earlier in the year on a garden walk, I found this house was not lacking in the details.  Here are a few pictures of how the homeowner tweaked some areas to provide the most beautiful personal touches planned down to a science.

Becca LaBarre


Succulents used in planters in the new in vogue way to plant containers.  These colorful Hens and Chicks create color without flowers.  Nice addition to a hot patio that doesn’t require water.  You heard me, they are actually not supposed to be watered much at all.  After a summer like this one, a welcome trend!

Becca LaBarre

I love the contrast of the red pillow with the rest of the landscape, especially the blue hostas.  The eye is drawn to it, which is why it is such nice and simple detail.  I think it is especially cool to have darker colored fabrics on the furniture of a patio and keep the bright colors there rather than in the patio brick itself.  A patio should never take away from the house.  Color can be added back with splashes here and there.

Becca LaBarre

Though the picture above focuses mostly on the pond, which has many details of its own.  I was particularly interested in the planting detail to the right of the photo.  There is a small mophead Cypress with a multicolored groundcover, Ajuga underneath.  I don’t advocate that any landscape be a crazy mix of textures and colors or it can look messy, but an interesting contrast can also be eye-catching used in moderation.

Becca LaBarre

This makes me want to visit Cape Cod and eat some fresh seafood and I don’t even like seafood.  Check out the planter ring around the patio umbrella.  Time for a dinner party.


Water Works in Any Size

Back in college I introduced the concept of a “water feature” to my then boyfriend when I gave him a small fountain to adorn his desktop at his college apartment.  In turn, he would use the term “water feature” in several conversations with friends when referring to the gift.  Apparently, no one had ever heard of a water feature before, and found it quite hilarious that he insisted on this definition.  Perhaps it was because they were 18-year-old kids, or hadn’t yet met me, the aspiring landscape designer, but I am happy to say that if I asked any one of them, they would be able to identify one, and I hope, the benefits to having one in their lives.

I love the idea of running water as part of a landscape and since then have had several small (and large) features play a role in my life.  The first of course being the Bed Bath and Beyond version that my husband still has somewhere.  Though only a table top size, still hold the same benefits of their larger counterparts.  The sound of water blocks out unwanted noise, and replaces it with soothing sounds.  It can create a focal feature that can draw the eye around the landscape (or room), and depending on the type, can attract wildlife.

Becca LaBarre

My second water feature purchase (above).  This was a decoration for our new home.  The Wave Fountain as it is called, is copper, and the forces (a physics lesson I don’t totally remember) make the water adhere to fountain without splashing.


The pond-less feature and surrounding landscape (below) turned out to be one of the coolest little features that I get to enjoy regularly along with the hot tub nearby, as it belongs to my in-laws.  The pond-less feature is sans fish, but the concept is that the waterfall plummets to a void under the ground made up of what looks a lot of like milk crates surrounded by a pond liner to keep the water in.  It then gets recycled to the top.  Its a space saver for smaller gardens, but has all the perks of a bigger pond without fish.

Becca LaBarre

Becca LaBarre

This is the third feature I purchased or rather it was a birthday gift from my husband and installed by EverGreen Landscape.  I was able to see first hand the amazing system that Aquabella Designs out of Harpers Ferry, WV has to offer.  The pump sizes are much larger than you can buy at a box store and they are oversized appropriately for features that use a vase as the actual feature.  Since there is more surface area using pottery than a fountain that pushes the water out of a small hole, the pump must be much larger than needed to get the splash and sound desired.  Also, a connection kit can be added with all the needed pieces to connect the pump and feature together.  It makes it much easier than a la carte purchases of pvc connectors and the quick release valves on the hoses are a huge help when winterizing the feature.  I have also had excellent customer service and dealt with knowledgable staff on several purchases for clients and myself.

P. Goodreau

This is my latest done for a client.  I have done several, but this one turned out particularly well.  The glazed pottery catches the light and the eye of many a passerby.  The height on the feature allows for a lot of splash that increases the noise.  It happens to be in the backyard of a client who lives along a walking trail and so many neighbors have also enjoyed.  The client added a remote control to turn the feature on and off from the house or upper deck.  A feature that will always remind me of working with wonderful clients!

The Grand Finale of Color

Are you craving pumpkins, apple picking, cinnamon scented candles, bonfires, or chunky knit sweaters?  The time of year is full of seasonal activities to drain every last ounce of outside enjoyment before the winter sets in.  While the trees will do their own part to color our world in just a few short weeks time, it is the fall annual plantings that add the compliment to planters, and garden beds.  As the perennials tire, a display of fall flowers can add a face lift to the aging gardens.  Here are some favorites and some new must tries.


1.  Common Pansy

The pansy can come in a wide range of colors and mixes that bring out the best compliment to your tree leaf blazes.  With names like Citrus Mix, which is a combination of yellow, white, and orange or Halloween Mix that is orange and almost black. The colorful display and long-lasting blooms are among my favorite things about pansies.  The best part is that if planted in the Fall and covered for the winter, a pansy display can often come back full force in the spring.  The plants are often even flowering well into the time when summer annuals are ready to be planted.  A great way to get some early spring color before everything else gets going!

2. Hardy Mum

These floriferous color shockers epitomize the Fall.  A 6 in pot can often be all that is needed to adorn a stoop.  They range in color from yellow, red, maroon, orange, pink, white and lavender.  If you find them overwinter, make sure to pinch them back (aka cut the tops off so buds don’t form to early) in the summer to make sure that the flowers are displayed later in the Fall.

3.  Ornamental Kale or Cabbage

You wouldn’t want to eat it, but the display is right out of the cabbage patch.  Purples, greens, and multicolored displays can provide filler to the flower pot as well as in a bed setting.  Names like Peacock red pictured above, or how about a fun one called Dinosaur Kale because of its bumpy texture.

4. Ornamental Pepper

This is one of my favorites and the Sangria variety picture above is one of the new varieties being sold by our supplier RCOP.  I love the added texture of the peppers, that you can’t get with very many other plants.  This is a perfect addition to containers.

6.  Ornamental Grass

The sky is the limit on what types of grasses you can add.  Proportion is important to keep in mind in selecting.  Often, if your regular planter display has used some grasses as the focal point, they can remain throughout the Fall and the filler plants can be changed out.  Sometimes it is fun to use crazier varieties that can’t be grown in the midwest over winter.  I’ve always loved Imperata ‘Red Baron’ because of the flame like tips the grass blades as seen above.  Some interesting newer varieties include Vertigo Pennisetum with purplish grass blades.

The Law on Lawns

As the light of the day begins to dwindle, it’s about time for a week or two of indian summer to make us all throw up our hands a say, enough!  By now the lawns that had a chance of survival have begun to green.  Some established lawns may need to be re-seeded and this month is the best time to do it.  Here is the step by step process we take to insure your new lawn looks green next year.

1.  Start by killing any weeds with roundup a few days in advance.  This step is not necessary if weeds are not a problem.

2.  If there is sufficient topsoil, but the soil is hard, till the soil with a rototiller and rake it to loosen the top.  This ensures that the seeds will have something to germinate in rather than wash away in the first rain.  Also, remove any large rocks or clumps unearthed by the rototiller.

3.  If there is insufficient topsoil, it would be ideal to add to it.  Six inches are best for optimal root growth, but unless you can remove six-inch of existing soil, it is a bit unrealistic.  I would try to add an inch or so if possible.

4.  If you live in the Midwest, and have a sunny location use a seed mix that is made up of a Kentucky Bluegrass, Perennial Ryegrass and Fine Fescue blend.  It is imperative to make sure the seed is not old or inferior or the lawn will be poor and full of weeds.  For shady yards the preferred lawn should have creeping red fescue as part of the mix to grow in low light.

5. For a novice lawn applicator, use a drop spreader in two directions to make sure you haven’t missed any areas and have the seed spread evenly.

6. Add a turf starter granular fertilizer to the seed.  The granular fertilizer should be re-applied in two to three weeks intervals for another one or two times depending on when the seeding was done.

7.  Use erosion blanket to cover the new seeds and pin it down.  This is imperative to protect the seed from washing away and any animals from making all your hard work a meal.

8.  Watering the new seed is the single most important step in establishing the new lawn.  Water every day with an overhead sprinkler.  The soil should remain wet.

9.  Flashing forward to next season.  A new lawn may benefit from another application of fertilizer in the spring.  In winters of snowfall, the snow may be too heavy for new lawns and could cause some dieback.  In this case, overseeding may be necessary as well.

10.  A new lawn is still vulnerable to drought for several seasons after establishment.  Treat all one to two-year old lawns with care by watering as needed.  Do not apply any pre-emergent weed killers in the first season after establishing the lawn, as the preventative measure may prevent the growth of the new lawn.

The right steps at the right time is the best bet for a healthy lawn.  Planting in the wrong season can mean lots of weeds and little fruitful yield.  A lawn that is planted in September can often grow thick in a few short weeks and may even need one to two mowings before a hard frost. Hard to believe?…try it!