It’s Always Sunny in San Diego

It’s about that time of year for spring fever.  The annual dose of sun known as Spring Break  to the under 21 crowd and what I like to call “the calm before the storm” brought me to San Diego for a long weekend with my husband.  The goal was to get as south as possible on a budget and since I had been once before on a work trip and was not able to enjoy the sites, I got some redemption, took some plant pictures, and checked whale watching off my lists of things I’ve always wanted to do.  Here are a few of the pictures of the horticultural variety to help satisfy your need for spring.

My favorite stop was Balboa Park, which had more gardens than we had time to view in the waning hours of the afternoon.

Becca LaBarre

Becca LaBarre

This is the Alcazar Garden of which this tree provides the focal feature.  The maze of boxwoods are familiar in this formal garden reminiscent of a Spanish palace garden.

Becca LaBarre

Becca LaBarre

The center garden planting is a welcome spot of color while in Illinois there is nothing, but brown and white as far as the eye can see.  This was also a very popular picture spot for the many wedding and Quinceanera parties on a busy saturday.

Becca LaBarre

Becca LaBarre

Artistic tree roots on a slope.  One of many in a grove overlooking some walking paths for easy strolling.

Becca LaBarre

Becca LaBarre

Rhododendrons in bloom in February, well worth the trip!

New Tricks of the Trade

Aside

Ever want to rub shoulders with a ton of landscape professionals?  Good thing we do.  As in many industries we make our own good company and in an industry with passionate people, there are bound to be a few shop talk moments. Today was my venture to Chicago for the Midam tradeshow, our one show a year that allows us to meet up with the who’s who of landscape and everyone else too.  We catch up with colleagues, old classmates, suppliers, contractors and take various business classes.  Here are a few of my new finds this year.

1.  Hocus Pocus groundcover from Midwest Groundcovers.  The tag line is that they “cover like magic”.  They are made up of many tried and true groundcover, but the increased size pots will aid in their ability to grow in fast.  My favorites are the six different sedum and creeping thyme.  They are all drought tolerant, and with the way things have been going we need every drought performer we can get.

examiner.com

examiner.com

2.  FX LED lighting fixtures with more power.  We’ve been slowly switching to LED lighting fixtures.  Until this year the FX downlights (for placing in trees and various other elevated locations) were made with an output of no more than 3LED which visibly looks like about 20watts of light.  This season they are introducing a new light, the DE,  which will output up to 9LED which visually looks like 50watts.  This is great for higher locations that will allow a lot of light to pool onto the ground.  FX really stepped up this season and also showcased a new Luxor system which allows for customization and versatility in the low voltage lighting system.  Now, like a sprinkler, the lights will be put on zones and the system can tell the lights to dim when needed.  Now mood lighting can be customized for every situation.  Need more light during a backyard pool party, or less during a romantic stargazing event.  The choice is yours.

3. The Belgard truck trailer stopped by for a visit.  This entire truck trailer is retrofitted with a fireplace, water feature, outdoor kitchen, grill and the floor is laid with pavers to show all their products without ever having to set up for another tradeshow.  Brilliant!  The back even has a working pizza oven and grill for those shows where the convincing is done through demo and a taste for brick oven pizza.  Belgard recently purchased another company, Hanson Hardscape, which gives them access to some new product lines.  This one below is part of the tile line.

betzcutstone.com

betzcutstone.com

Something Borrowed

It was once said to me that designers are the best at stealing ideas from each other.  In fact, in school, modifying an idea from someone else was often encouraged.  Perhaps the modern-day version of stealing ideas from each other can be summed up in one word.  Pinterest.  Interestingly, I’ve never used Pinterest as a means of stealing landscape ideas, though I have for just about any other creative venture I have tackled from party hosting, to Christmas gifts.  Whether it’s Pinterest, flipping through magazines, or walking through nature, the smallest detail can spark an idea and no one is the wiser to the fact that it might not be 100% original.

One of my favorite ideas of all time that I received and modified, was during a design seminar taught by Greg Pierceall, a design instructor formerly of Purdue University.  He had planted the tread of some stone steps to help soften the look of one slab on top of the other. He offset the steps so that they did not overlap and left about six inches to plant sedum groundcover. The idea was that most of the time people do not step that close to the next step, so why not use it for greening up the area.

Below is an idea of how it would turn out if English Ivy was used.

I decided to use the idea to plant groundcover between two different spaces of a patio.  A lot of time different levels of patio can define one space unique from another space.  The level change can signal a different use.  However, it isn’t always practical to use two levels.  I decided to make this patio the same level, but define the spaces with a six-inch break and Creeping Thyme planting in the gap.  This way, the patio can be broken up with some green space without compromising the functionality.  Here is the result pictured below.

Image

Becca LaBarre

So, my secret and those of countless other designers, it out.  Designers have been “Pinteresting” for years.  How convenient that all creative people have collaborated together and made our job so much easier!

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!

A Change is in Order

Change the color of your living room wall, add a tabletop accessory, and move the location of your bedroom furniture.  Sometimes a little change can go a long way to spicing up life, or for our purposes, a garden.  I design landscapes for mostly clients who seek advice because they are not of the green thumb persuasion, or they don’t enjoy it, or the work involved in making sure they do it right, is not worth the time and money of doing it wrong.  Here are a few tips to making small changes with big reward.

1.  Forget singing in it, how about transplanting in the rain.  Ok, maybe not in the rain, but on a cloudy morning with a hint of drizzle.  Rule #1 is…Don’t mass transplant at the wrong time.  I will often move plants around if it is worth saving, or I think it will survive, but being smart about transplanting can mean the difference in the look of your new garden.  Move plants in the cool of the morning or an overcast day.  No hose can do what a dose of real rain can, so timing is crucial.  Spring can be a great time to transplant especially items that can be injured in the move.  Hostas for example, can be easily split just as their shoots are emerging.  Once they’ve leaved out fully they are cumbersome and if the leaves get broken they may look sad the rest of the season. Another great time is late summer to fall because most plants already look tired, are done blooming and the extra beating they take from transplanting is not important.  However, if you have to transplant in the heat of the summer (and as professionals we will do it with stipulations) it’s all about the water.  This is one of the times when it is ok to keep a plant continuously moist.  Professional transplanting is an art form and harder than it looks.  Our crews are able to put a large root ball on a plant to help save as many roots possible.  Also, you have to be willing to sacrifice blooms, or even stems to accomplish a successful move.  I will usually cut most perennials down about 6-12″ above the ground and plant the remaining “sticks”.  They might look ugly, but you’ll never know next year.

resources.austinoutdoor.com

2.  Color me with Petunias.  Or maybe Impatiens, begonias, or Vinca.  Adding bedding annuals can help supplement during weeks where your perennials or shrubs are not in bloom.  Impatiens are by far the most useful annuals as they provide bright color in shady spots.  Shade is a difficult because there are very few long blooming perennials and I often get asked about adding color to shade and I love to use annuals to accomplish this along with foliage plants like Coralbells and Hostas.

Becca LaBarre

3.  From Concrete to Fabulous.  A great way to add luxury in a small way is to cover an existing stoop with natural stone.  A concrete stoop can get pitted over time, have hairline cracking, or look bland and dirty.  As long as the structure is secure, sweep the unsightly under a rug of stone and no one has to know.  If it is not in budget to use stone in abundance, using it in smaller areas like a stoop can allow you to add a special touch.  Because stone is thinner than a paver. the capping of the stoop maybe able to be done without having re-pour any concrete to fix the heights of steps.  Here is a before and after stoop.

Becca LaBarre

Becca LaBarre

 

4.  Focus on the Obvious.  An additional focal feature like a trellis, garden art piece, or small water feature can dress up a view that is previously not worth looking at.  How about trying to bring down the size of a tall, stark wall on the house by adding some greenery.  I also like to look out the windows of a house to see where the views are coming from the most and what will be seen out the windows where you spend the most time.

houzz.com

Just in case your change in hair style is boring you, make a few small changes to your landscape instead.  Not all small additions will make a punch of impact, but take away a few idea to get you off in the right direction.

 

 

 

A Tour of the Trendy

How do I spend an afternoon off of work?  How about touring some fabulous gardens on the North shore of Chicago.  Am I obsessed? If you’ve been reading this blog for any number of posts, I can almost hear the resounding “yes” among you.  I love getting a chance to see how area trends in landscape design can change even driving an hour away from where I work.  The patios are all bluestone, walls are stacked stone mortared in place, and the plantings full of unique and unusual varieties. It’s an inspiring array of reminders to always try something new and shamelessly steal ideas from other designers.  Just so you know, we all do it.

This next garden walk and probably my final of the season was planned by the Landscape Design Association and consisted of five homes in and about Evanston, Wilmette, and Glenview, IL.  My gracious besty and fellow garden fan, Mary, joined me and put up with all my oohs and awes, picture-taking, and shop talk.  As it was a self guided tour, I probably would have been touring alone, so I enjoyed the company and a chance to have one on one quality time that seems to not happen often in adult life.

Of the cool take aways of the day, the best was a grape-vine trellis on the second home we toured.  The home, deep in the heart of Northwestern University student housing, had a redesigned backyard full of special touches.  The grape vines are harvested and purchased in any length desired.  They were twisted around two beautiful pillars anchoring the back porch.  Two Sweet Autumn Clematis twine around the trellis covering it completely.  Then, during the winter, the vines die away and the grape-vine trellis provides an organic element instead of an exposed mechanical look of more unnatural materials.

Becca LaBarre

Becca LaBarre

Becca LaBarre

Another special touch noted on most of the patios is that they rough up the edges to make the bluestone look old.

Becca LaBarre

The garden walk incorporated some sustainable elements showcased in the walk.  One of the last houses on our walk was an explosion of plantings that worked with the grade as the property had one of the lowest points in Glenview.

Becca LaBarre

This prairie style works with the low spot and is planted with plants that can deal with the periodic rains that have created as much as four feet of water on this side of the property.

Becca LaBarre

The above shot shows how the vegetable garden on the left has been incorporated into the beds with perennials and even a few trees.  It is a great way to save space and make the vegetable garden a part of the beauty of the landscape.

 

Becca LaBarre

The chain hanging down to the water feature acts in place of a downspout.  It is a more decorative option that flows into the feature to replenish during a rain.  I do think a bigger pump in this case would have allowed the water to splash more instead of slowly falling, and prevent the drilled holes in the boulders from being seen.  I am digging the moss that has developed on the wet boulders.

I leave this post with a picture of an inviting space worth pause.

Becca LaBarre

There are no fancy curved lines, just a correctly proportioned space for a relaxing evening with friends and family.  I enjoyed getting out of the western suburbs for an afternoon designed to get any designer out of a design rut. I can’t wait to use a grape-vine trellis in a new design.  Any takers?

 

 

 

 

 

Walking In A Garden Wonderland

A fresh dose of rain on a saturday morning left behind a humid haze.  A flock of floral skirts and festive garden hats set the mood as the Pottawatomie Garden Club members buzzed around greeting and directing the steady stream of guests.  Their hard work showing in everything from the carefully placed seating in the shade, floral arrangements on the tables, and loads of freshly baked goods for the enjoyment of the garden’s observers.  This biennial event featured five gardens to delight, inspire, and raise money for their college scholarship fund for green industry students.

The first garden on the list featured an EverGreen Landscape designed formal garden on a historic St. Charles home.  The front yard looks like a park and used to be mistaken for one before the fence completed the privacy.  The front lawn design allows for a long view that leads the eye directly to the monumental home.

Becca LaBarre

Becca LaBarre

Becca LaBarre

Becca LaBarre

Check out some pictures from two of the other gardens.  One was a in town small garden that used perennial combinations in a cottage garden style.  The colorful pairings really fit the theme of “Kaleidoscope of Garden Color”.

Becca LaBarre

Becca LaBarre

Becca LaBarre

This last garden pictured was a complete project that incorporated several details and tons of visual interest around every corner.  The homeowner worked with several different landscape companies to do the hardscapes, but did much of the plants herself.  I was able to discuss it with her and she explained that she cares more about the texture of how certain plants combine even more than the flowers themselves.  Her favorite combination is a dwarf golden evergreen with pink and green Ajuga surrounding, near her Aquascapes pond.  You can see it to the right in the first picture below

Becca LaBarre

Becca LaBarre

Becca LaBarre

Becca LaBarre

Becca LaBarre

This, my first garden walk of the summer, went well despite the drought conditions.  I enjoyed talking to the Pottawatomie Garden Club members while meeting the comers and goers.  I was even asked to become a member myself.  Maybe some day when I am retired.  I do enjoy hanging out with people who find beauty and joy in a garden.  They tend to be pretty happy people.  It came to my attention how much work this event is for the ladies of the Pottawatomie Garden Club and reminded to be grateful for the scholarships I received from them many years ago as a student.  Somehow at the time I didn’t even think about where the actual money came from.  The full circle realization is that they believe in the work their group accomplishes and the garden walk proves it.

Fastest Way to a Good Design is a Straight Line

Maybe spending time outside on a new paver patio seems less than appealing at this point in July.  It is a great time to consider doing a project that doesn’t include watering.  When I begin to design a patio space there are quite a lot to think about besides just what shape it might be, but it tends to be the most often thought about.  It is also most common to hear that my clients want a curved patio to make it more interesting.  That might seem true on first look, but don’t discount the simplicity and beauty of using good old geometry to make a patio space work.  It creates “nooks and crannies” to hide views and create rooms,  and the lines work well with the lines on the house.  Check out a couple patio designs that utilize geometric themes.

Becca LaBarre

Extra linear shaped plant spaces allow for breaks in the patio to clearly define the different  rooms and their purposes.

Becca LaBarre

A fire pit can be geometric instead of circular.  When done with concrete block, circular fire pits have to be a certain radius to allow for the block to be cut into a circle.  This isn’t an issue with a square shape.

Becca LaBarre

Geometric lines on this patio work well with the sunken hot tub.

Becca LaBarre

And lastly, it does work well on walkways too.  The client was a fan of Frank Lloyd Wright and wanted to match a more modern prairie design with the rest of the house.  The path jogs every few feet to give some visual interest.

A Day at the Park

There is a sense of calm in meandering through a garden. A place you can lose the everyday and find the anything possible. This past weekend I celebrated my 29 years with  a trip to Garfield Park Conservatory planned by my husband. Having never been before, I was very impressed with the way the designers’ original intent has been withheld in a place committed to teaching the surrounding community about the natural world.

Becca LaBarre

The many family events and number of families we saw that day are an indication of the gardens commitment to the community. The Children’s room has a multitude of plant curiosities like the Sausage Tree, carnivorous Pitcher plant and Sensitive plant. This saturday the event was “Bees, Bats, and Butterflies”. It was a salute to “National Pollinators Week” and chock full of information complete with lives bats to pet. They are surprisingly fuzzy and kinda cute.

Becca LaBarre

The gardens under the glass epitomized an assortment of climates from tropical, to desert. The designer, Jens Jensen even intended for there to be a conifer room, but the temperature was too variable and thus it was transformed into an Aroid room or in other words a room full of giant versions of your favorite house plants. Below is a picture of the central water feature in the Aroid room, with a newer addition of Chihuly glass lily pads.

Becca LaBarre

My favorite indoor garden was the fern room. The room is adorned with rock outcroppings covered in moss and ferns as far as the eye can see. The story on the waterfall is that Jens Jensen made the mason rebuild it over and over until it made the sound he intended. He eventually had the mason listen to Mendelssohn’s Spring Song, to inspire him to make the falls “tinkle” into the pool below.

Becca LaBarre

Becca LaBarre

Becca LaBarre

Outdoor, the expansive bluestone patio is surrounded by many specimens of my favorites. Check out the Tennessee Coneflower which in recent history was an endangered species. See how they are nodding in one direction. They always seem to face east.

Becca LaBarre

Becca LaBarre

A crushed stone path connects to a larger path that hugs the perimeter of the property. A variety of prairie plants long the path give way to a grove of Quaking Aspens and end back near the conservatory as you walk over a water feature ablaze with a rainbow of lily pads.

Becca LaBarre

The visit comes about a year after a crippling hail storm broke through a majority of the antique glass panes, an event still being remedied. Check out some of the pictures of the devastation on June 30th, 2011 on the Garfield Park Conservatory website. The temporary plexiglass will eventually be replaced by shatterproof glass to help prevent further storm damage. To help support it, a local glass artist, Bryan Northup, took the actual broken shards and turned them into bowls sold at the gift shop.

Becca LaBarre

I never tire of exploring a new garden. God bless my husband and his patience.  This trip I was rewarded with a clear head and was reminded to try a few more diverse plants in my designs. On our way out we passed a group of school aged children visiting in a group.  They’d come to the right place to invoke the sense curiosity for what nature can hold. Perhaps a future budding horticulturist in their midst? I couldn’t help but smile.