New Tricks of the Trade


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.

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.


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…

How about lighting a gnarly old tree…

Floating in a pool during an outdoor dinner party…

I love the originality in this.

For more ideas and information on Low Voltage Lighting and the LED options check out