March 08, 2007
Intersting Garden Sculptures- Bruce Gray
We are working on a current project where the client found an interesting magenetic metal sculpture to be intregrated into the garden design. The sculpture, done by Los Angeles sculptor Bruce Gray, uses high powered magnets to suspend cables in a stainless steel hoop. Gray's work, featuring an assortment of metal creations is worth a look- it has appeared in various television shows and movies.
Image of Suspended Metal Sculpture from Bruce Gray Website
January 24, 2007
Colored Stamped Asphalt
There are a wide variety of options available for driveway paving. These can be a traditional plain concrete or asphalt, or a host of derivatives- decorative finished concrete, stamped concrete, pavers, and resin bound permeable earth pavements are popular alternatives. Colored stamped asphalt is another option when looking at paving options. Similar in appearance and pattern availability to stamped concrete, stamped asphalt is created with patterns that are pressed into the asphalt, and then coated with an acrylic color coat. The result is a fairly cost effective twist on regular asphalt. Patterns and colors are similar to concrete stamps, with brick, stone and paver style patterns available.
Street Print- for colors, patterns, examples and more information
January 22, 2007
Prefabricated vs. Custom Trellises and Arbors
The Garden Design Online blog had an interesting post on some different styles of prefabricated trellis and arbors. We have always had mixed feelings about these. While in many situations they make nice accents for plants to be trained upon, they don't have the substance and construction to make a focal point in the same way a custom build arbor/pergola/trellis does. On the other hand they are a much more cost effective way to add a vertical element or accent to the garden.
The larger kits available for bigger structures have always been a bit subject as well. Frequently these are white vinyl and can't match the detail or look of wood. A solution for something ready to assemble on-site maybe a custom woodwork shop like Charles Prowell Woodworks that ships nationwide.
Image from Charles Prowell Woodworks
Current Project- Heavy Timber Custom Arbor Structure
January 05, 2007
Bulk Materials Billed by the Pound
We got a flier in the mail from a local materials supplier, stating that they were changing billing methods for bulk materials (gravel, sand, soil, bark). Instead of charging by the traditional volume measure of cubic yard, they were switching to a Loadrite system, whereby as materials are loaded with a tractor they are weighed by the pound. On the face of it, this seems like a good thing, using the old system, depending on the tractor operator, you could receive a lot more or less than a cubic yard. The supplier touts improved satisfaction and quicker loading.
After thinking about it for a while, one critical problem seems to arise- what happens when the materials are wet and can weigh substantially more per cubic yard? I would guess that a cubic yard of sand that is wet could weigh at least 20-30% more than a dry yard of sand. Doesn't that mean that materials will cost more in the rainy season and less during the dry months if they are uncovered?
Unless they have a way for compensating for this fact, this works out to be very convenient for the materials yard, while increasing the cost of materials.
December 29, 2006
Another Resource for Custom Gates
We recently received a flier from Williams Gate Works out of Santa Cruz, a maker of wood garden and entry gates. They specialize in mortise and tenon construction and have some interesting style prototypes to choose from. A custom gate can give that unique touch that really sets off an entryway- definitely worth a look.
Image from Williams Gate Works Website
December 26, 2006
Favorite Materials for 2007
Not all materials are created equal. Here are some of our favorite materials for inclusion in landscape designs.
Flagstone- Bluestone: Available in a wide variety of shapes and sizes (irregular, precut, custom slabs), Bluestone works well with most color schemes. It is available in blues and grays (select blue), or in a wider range of range of browns, purples, blues and greens (full range). Makes great stone for wall caps, patios, pool coping, BBQ counters, flagstone pathways or just about any other place stone can be used!
Wood- Ipe (aka. Brazilian Walnut, Pau Lope): Incredibly dense and durable wood is the new in vogue material for deck construction. For good reason- it's several times harder than redwood (also referred to as Ironwood) and has a usable life span up to 40+ years. For those who want to stain (and maintain with recoats every 1-2 years) it has a finished look of mahogany.
Bluestone Patio Meeting Ipe Decking
Plants- Ornamental Grasses: This class of plants is also quite in vogue, allowing for creative massings and quick impact. Our favorite varieties- Purple Fountain Grass (Penesetum), Miscanthus, Deer Grass (Muhlenbergia), Fescues, and Sedge (Carex) varieties.
Bold Masses of Miscanthus
November 14, 2006
Cool Junk- Artefact Design & Salvage
One of the problems with new landscape installations is just that, they're new, nothing has the character or patina of age. A good solution to this is to find unique accents that can give a new project some character. Artefact Design & Salvage located in the Cornerstone complex in Sonoma, is a great place to find interesting accent pieces from around the world. Artefact imports garden and objects that can make interesting design features in the garden. Whether you are looking for objects d' arte or something shabby chic, they have a little bit of everything.
November 02, 2006
Seeded Concrete Aggregate Stones
Seeded concrete aggregates give a good alternative to basic broom or exposed concretes and are commonly used for walkways, patios and driveways. Seeded concrete is a process by which small decorative stones are embedded into prepared concrete. The top layer of the concrete is then washed away exposing the stone color.
There are a few different stone color options that are available for different design aesthetics. In Northern California the most commonly used stones are Mexican Pebbles, Pami Pebble, Salmon Creek Pebbles and Red River Rock Pebbles. See the photos below-
Mexican Pebbles- Colors are blacks, dark blues, with occasional lighter yellow or blue tones- frequently used in Japanese gardens
Left- Pami Pebble colors are lavenders, light blues and greys, Right- Red River Pebbles are reds, yellows, grays. There are some similar colors to Pami Pebble but more intense
Salmon Creek- Yellow, orange and red tones
Salmon Creek 3/4" Aggregrate Installed
August 23, 2006
Ornamental Metal Fencing
We are currently working on a project with Ornamental metal fencing around the perimeter of the property. Metal fencing is typically done by fencing contractors because it requires welding that is typically out of the purview of landscape contractors.
Ameristar is one of the larger manufacturers of modular ornamental fencing. This fencing comes in a variety of heights (3,4 and 6 feet) and styles- multiple rails, different ornamental posts and caps. It is frequently used for perimeter, pool and front frontage/entry fencing. The fencing comes in 3 or 4 colors per style and typically powder-coated at the factory.
Digital Mock-up of Ornamental Metal Fence in Proposed Location
July 19, 2006
Matching Old Brick Pavers
While working on a current project we are trying to match some brick pavers that were installed for a project probably 20 years ago. This has proven to be somewhat of a challenge. The old paver bricks could have come from any number of brick yards, and those brick yards may not make that exact color any more. Websites like Paver Depot, specializing in pavers help, but in our case the material is true brick, not interlocking pavers. Just another challenge in retrofitting older landscape projects.
No Exact Match- The old paver is seen in the middle, with a variety of similar, but different new alternatives
June 26, 2006
Computer Cut Flagstone Patterns
While attending the awards banquet for the San Francisco Chapter of CLCA a couple of weeks ago, I had a chance to talk with Mark Shepherd from Current Cutting Technology. Mark uses a high pressure blast of water, along with digital equipment to cut shapes and interesting tessellations out of stone. The result is that there is no cutting required for a wide variety of unique and interesting designs. His website is definitely worth a visit if you looking for an interesting design flourish for a stone patio, without the hassles of cutting stone on-site.
Image from Current Cutting Website
June 13, 2006
Is Decomposed Granite the Best for Paths?
Decomposed granite is a commonly used material for pathways. It's fine sandy texture packs well for pathways and provides a softscape alternative to concrete or other harder surfaces.
Is Decomposed Granite (DG) the best option for pathways? It depends on the application and the amount of maintenance desired. After a recent tour of over 50 residential gardens by a variety of landscape contractors and based on comments from our customers, I have found there are places where DG works and where it does not. There are typically three types of DG installations, natural unbound, stabilizer bound, and resin bound (Polypavement or TerraPave).
Natural Untreated DG:
DG without any binding agent, which is usually compacted with a Vibraplate.
Pros: Looks good and makes great garden paths through plantings and in secondary areas, least expensive DG option.
Cons: Material movement off of paths into planting beds, migration of the material if installed on sloped pathways, moss growth in shady areas, muddiness during the wet season, tracking of the material into the house or onto patio surfaces, needs to be refreshed and maintained periodically to look its best.
DG with a stabilizer agent to aid in binding the material together.
Pros: Less migration with stabilized material, less costly than Resin bound DG pavement.
Cons: Stabilizer is expensive, gutter runoff and rain may erode the material, has same problems, although often more minor as untreated DG as noted above.
Resin Bound DG:
DG with polymers/resin used to create an asphalt like hard surface
Pros: Solves many of the problems associated with the other two DG types
Cons: Can still erode over time, especially if not compacted with Steamroller (which is often not possible due to access or cost), expensive, texture of surface is more like asphalt and less like DG, which depending on the situation, may be less desirable.
Where should DG be used- we recommend using DG for secondary garden paths, where aesthetics are important, but a hard durable surface is not required. Another option instead of DG are compactable gravels or walkway gravels, usually 1/8” in size. Some of these have fines material and pack well like DG, others are just fine gravel, that does not pack as well, but does not migrate as much and is usually easier to maintain. Based on our experience we don’t recommend DG for areas under eves as the material gets dripped on and etched by gutters. Areas where garbage cans are going to be stored, or heavy traffic areas are better suited to concrete or stone.
Past article on DG Types
June 05, 2006
More Alternative Mulches
Here's another look at alternative mulches, after last weeks look at recycled glass mulch. In addition to glass, there are a few other recycled materials that give a different look than bark or gravel. Recycled rubber mulch is an interesting alternative mulch. It is available either as a simulated mulch, designed to look like wood chips, or in pieces looking like ground rubber. Consumer Reports looked at the benefits and differences of rubber mulch with traditional wood mulch.
There are some questions about the long term effects of mulches made out recycled tires that contain other chemicals that may leach into the soil.
There are other alternatives out there too, like recycled screws or nut/grain hulls.
May 27, 2006
Glass Mulch in the Landscape
Glass mulch has gained popularity as a unique alternative to traditional bark or gravel mulches. The material, often recycled tumbled glass shards, gives a wider variety of colors and textures than traditional mulches. One supplier, American Specialty Glass, offers a wide array of glass mulches that can be used in the landscape. The drawback to using glass- the cost. From the supplier mentioned above, a 50lb sack of glass ranges from $1.00-2.00 per pound. Obviously this is going to be cheaper in bulk. But consider that gravel mulch that probably has a similar density, I would guess weights out at one half to one ton per cubic yard.
The best example locally of glass mulch used in a landscape is the Cost Plus Plaza in Larkspur designed by Topher Delaney.
March 31, 2006
Another Option for Cable Systems
Browsing through a trade magazine, I spotted another interesting cable railing/cable systems manufacturer- Decor Cable. While their site does not look quite as easy to navigate as Cable Rail's, Decor Cable has a wide array of products and cable assembly solutions for railings, trellises and more.
March 23, 2006
Fresh Looking Precast Paver Solutions from Stepstone
One of the design issues with using concrete pavers is that often they look generic, not varying much from a style that imitates brick pavers. Even the best styles of concrete pavers can't fully imitate stone paving and often look phony when installed over a large area.
For projects with more modern design sensibilities, Stepstone Inc. provides an attractive and wide array of precast concrete pavers. These pavers look different than most of the traditional concrete pavers on the market, and can be more economical than stone or other paving types.
March 10, 2006
Another Option for BBQ Islands
Another interesting option for BBQ islands that don't require the construction of elaborate Barbeque Islands are Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet Barbeque Islands. Many of their products are designed to be freestanding, allowing for easy installation and movement if desired. This is definitely a high end product for those who are interested in a serious outdoor kitchen, but with a lot less installation cost this helps offset the cost of these high end grills and may offer more flexibility than a built-in island.
February 18, 2006
Green Building Products- Green Fusion Design Center
A good source for ecologically friendly building products is Green Fusion Design Center in San Anselmo. Green Fusion's mission is, as described on their website: "to promote the understanding and use of green building practices by connecting homeowners, design professionals, builders and the general public with natural, eco-friendly, healthy products and services. The company is committed to the process of inspiring our culture toward conscious lifestyle practices by providing modern goods that blend function, style and sustainability."
To that end, their showroom provides a variety of home improvement and building products, many of which are highlighted in their products section of the website.
Products include paints, stains, ecologically sustainable wood products, recycled materials, and furnishings.
February 13, 2006
Digital Timers for Light Transformers
We recently made the switch from old fashion analog style timers to digital timers in our lighting transformers. These digital units allow for a lot more scheduling flexibility in setting on and off times, have a security feature for random on/off times, variable scheduling for weekends and other customizations. Even if not used for a lighting transformer these units would be handy for fountain pump or house light that needed a timer.
November 02, 2005
Lighting Barbeque Islands
We are currently working on a barbeque island for a project and in the course of looking for solutions for lighting I found an interesting product from Vista Professional Lighting. This low voltage light is functional for lighting outdoor areas for activities like cooking.
Image Source: Copyright Vista Professional Lighting
-See the catalogue page for more options
October 25, 2005
A Natural Repellant for Gophers
Gophers can be a vexing garden problem with many different solutions. A range of products exist including traps, poison, sonic deterrents, plant protection cages, etc. One product recently mentioned by a colleague that works as an organic, non lethal deterrent is a caster-oil based mixture that is sprayed in the affected area and is supposed to deter gophers. This is another option to consider when countering these subterranean pests.
One spray called Gopher-Mole Med, is supposed to last for up to two months per application.
Image from Wikipedia
October 14, 2005
Different Types of Fencing
We are currently working on a couple of projects where we have employed alternative fencing types, instead of traditional wooden fencing. When designing fencing there are several options for detailing, both for wood designs, and for alternatives.
These two projects both used wire elements to give a more architectural feel to the design, and to prevent a boxed-in feeling.
In the first, we used heavy grade welded wire fence panels framed with wood to create a fence that would act as a trainer for vines. For the other project we used wire cables to prevent deer from entering a property, while still preserving views. The client did not want a fenced in feel, and did not like the aesthetic of a tradition welded wire deer fence or chain link. Vines and shrubs will be used to screen where necessary.
Photos to come...
September 15, 2005
Cable Rail Systems for Decks and Fences
An increasingly popular option for railings and fences that we frequently install are tensioned stainless steel cable railing systems. These systems give a clean architectural look for railings and fences that visually disappear, allowing for uninterrupted views.
Feeney Cable Rail is one of the manufacturers we use for cable railing systems. Their products allow for straightforward installation and provide many railing options. These include glass panels, aluminum railings and a variety of commercial and residential cable systems.
September 02, 2005
Landscape Lighting- Adding another Dimension
Special touches and features can really put a finishing touch on a project. Water features, sculptural pieces, custom woodwork, and outdoor lighting are some of the most common elements that can help take projects to the next level of detailing.
Low voltage outdoor lighting is an especially effective way to add the additional dimension of nighttime viewing. Lighting allows enjoyment of the garden year round, while also addressing safety and access concerns. This is typically done in a way that accents trees, pathways and special features, while not making your garden look like Las Vegas.
We typically install high quality professional low voltage lighting fixtures from a number of companies including FX Luminaire and Vista Professional Lighting. There are an increasing number of manufacturers producing high quality fixtures giving more options in terms of light style and application. We prefer low voltage lighting for flexibility of installation (it is easy to add or remove fixture to existing lines), safety, and lower cost.
Most fixtures we install are finished in copper or brass, but there are also a wide variety of powder coated metal colors available from manufacturers. As with anything, when it comes to lighting fixtures you get what you pay for. You can buy a cheap transformer or light set, designed for the do-it-yourselfer, but the lights are typically plastic and not designed to last.
July 25, 2005
Bring Your Wood Back to Full Luster
Nothing can detract from woodwork, even a well constructed woodwork, like the gray tarnished look of weathering. There are several products available that can make an old wood look new.
Cleaner-Brighteners: These are effective one step products that both clean deposits and bring back the wood's natural color and beauty. There are several products available, one example is Behr's Cleaner-Brightener.
Oxalic Acid: This product is good to remove rust and other types of staining, wood bleeding from tannins (common with redwood), and nail or galvanized bleeding stains. Oxalic acid is often part of cleaner-brightener compounds as mentioned above. This product is also frequently called wood bleach.
These products can also be useful on new fence constructions. Often wood from the lumber yard may have bled, have marks from shipping straps or from being stacked outdoors.
After the wood has been cleaned, it is often a good idea to stain your newly cleaned fence to preserve its color. There are a wide variety of clear and colored stains available to preserve and protect the new wood look of your fence or wood work. Clear stains often look the best, when selecting a colored stain, make sure that the color is not too strong- this can make the fence stand out.
If you prefer the weathered look of wood, it is a good idea to treat your fence or wood to help prevent warping and aging. A good product is Seasonite.
For More Information:
July 19, 2005
Arizona flagstone is one of the most common and readily available stone materials (in California and the West at least). It is frequently used for patios and wall veneers. The stone comes in a variety of colors, mostly beige, pinks, reds, and oranges.
Arizona has the advantage of being one of the lowest cost stone materials, however if it is properly installed in irregular sheets it can often cost more than alternative stones materials that are installed in precut pieces. The material looks best when it is broken into inter-fitting pieces, which has an installation process much like a giant jig saw puzzle. Grout lines should be consistent, with small pieces avoided whenever possible to fill the intersections between stones.
Arizona flagstone is easy to work with, because it is quite soft. Dropping the material is often sufficient to break it. This makes cutting and chipping the stone easy, but exposes it to flaking and breaking. The material does respond well to pressure washing, which, depending on the area and exposure of the installation, can help bring the material back to full luster. It will slowly fade and lose color intensity over time.
The material is best used for patio and wall veneers, especially Arizona ledgestone, which makes a very handsome stone wall.
Visit our Stonework Portfolio for more image examples
Rosa Arizona Flagstone Patio & Steps
Sedona Red Arizona Flagstone Walkway & Steps
Classic Oak Arizona Flagstone Patio
Peach Arizona Ledgestone Wall
July 12, 2005
A Guide to Concrete Finishes
Concrete is another material where I get frequent questions from clients asking about the range or choices for concrete finishes. The different types of concrete finishes come from different manipulations to the concrete surface and color. Here is a brief rundown of common finish types:
Exposed or Washed Concrete: The concrete (it can be colored or gray) is finished and typically treated with a surface agent. Once the concrete has had a sufficient chance to dry, the top layer of concrete is washed off to reveal the aggregate (sand & gravel). This finish is commonly used on city sidewalks, and makes for a high traction surface.
Close up of Exposed Concrete Surface
Heavier Exposure Concrete Driveway
Colored Concrete: Color concrete is achieved with a color pigment that is added directly into the concrete mixture (integral mix). There are a wide variety of earth toned concrete colors available. At times colored concrete can have some color variations and can fade and discolor over time. Colored concrete can be used with a surface treatment such as the exposed finish as detailed above.
Colored Concrete Driveway
Colored concrete can become blotchy depending on a series of factors involving drying exposure, quality of finishing and amount of available moisture in the ground and added to the mix and the time of pouring.
Broom Finish: This is a standard concrete finish where the concrete is troweled to a smooth surfaced and then broomed to create a higher traction surface for outdoor applications. Smooth finished concrete (like a garage floor) should not be used for outdoor applications as it poses a safety risk when wet. Broom finishes are commonly seen in new developments on sidewalks and as a finish for colored concrete.
Broomed Color Concrete Patio
Salt Finish: This finish is often used around swimming pools, or in conjunction with terra cotta tile (think a Santa Barbara city Sidewalk). The concrete is finished smooth and then rock salt is added to the surface. When the concrete has set the rock salt is washed away leaving small pitholes in the concrete that create an interesting finish.
Seeded Aggregate: Concrete is finished and then small colored stones are packed by hand into the concrete surface. When the concrete has dried the top layer of concrete is washed away to reveal the stones. This is a popular finish for driveways. There are a variety of different pebble types that can be used to give different looks to the aggregate finish.
Aggregate Path with Brick Trim
Aggregate finish adjacent to gray brushed concrete finish
Stamped Concrete: Stamped concrete is typically colored concrete applied by with special color and shape molds that give the concrete a different appearance. Typically the stamps imitate stone or tile patterns. Some can offer the look of stone at reduced cost. Stamped concrete is typically done by stamped concrete contractors who specialize in this type of installation. Bomanite is one company that has authorized dealers that install stamped and colored concrete using their particular stamp and color patterns.
Stained Concrete: Concrete staining is a surface treatment, where stains or dyes are applied to the surface of the concrete to improve or change its appearance. There are a lot more options for colors and patterns and textures with stained concrete. This is also something that can be done to existing concrete. Frequently, surface staining is done on interior floors (often in restaurants)
July 09, 2005
Are Composite Decks the Best?
There was a great article in today's San Francisco Chronicle about composite decking versus traditional cedar and redwood decks- "All Decked Out".
Essentially, there are three drawbacks to composite products according to the article. Composite decking products are susceptible to mold, fade over time, and are susceptible to staining as well. The advantage to these materials is less maintenance and a longer useable lifespan.
I would add two other problems with composite decks. First, the composite materials do not have the same structural properties as wood. As a result all the structural framing (and sometimes railings) for the deck will need to be constructed out of regular lumber which will have a shorter lifespan than the decking boards above it. Second, the composite materials, while much improved since their introduction, do not replicate natural wood's appearance.
One final issue that the article points out: composite decking is not biodegradable. While it is true that composite decking is made of a high percentage of recycled plastic (such as grocery bags) and wood waste (saw dust), once the decking is disposed of after its useful life, it will be sent to the landfill where it will degrade at the same rate as other plastics. Natural wood on the other hand will rot and degrade naturally.
July 07, 2005
Wanted to share another local contractor we use for gate automation and entrance gates. We recently collaborated with Sculptural Gates out of Sonoma, California on a Brazilian Hardwood gate for a residence in Kentfield.
They have a great website with lots of gate related information and resources and a spin-off website for broader area sales- Gate Depot. They are a great resource for people interested in installing or purchasing an entrance gate.
Brazilian Hardwood Entrance Gate- Design and Construction Collaboration with Sculptural Gates, Sonoma CA
June 26, 2005
David Allen- Learning Blackbelt Productivity
Here is another great resource that has been influential in our office that has helped us increase effectiveness and efficiency. Author and productivity master David Allen's books Getting Things Done and Ready for Anything give a great system for organizing everything that needs to get done in a system that works. Allen's basic tenet- get things out of your head (or your ineffective system) and into systematized processes that work consistently and effectively.
One of the things that differentiates Allen is that the books go beyond the theory of "Getting Things Done," he walks you through the processes with some great tools. The tools are as simple as a basic tickler file to make sure you don't forget your dentist appointment on Monday, to more advanced gadgets like his firm's Getting Things Done Plugin for Microsoft Outlook.
June 24, 2005
Charles Prowell Woodworks
Wanted to share a great woodworker I found in an Internet search, Charles Prowell Woodworks out of Sebastopol in Sonoma County. A great website and beautiful detail and artistry (see gate below). We haven't used them in one of our projects yet, but the next time we have a client who wants a high quality gate or craftsmen fence we will give them a call.
Image from Prowell Woodworks Website
June 22, 2005
Great Planning Software
Wanted to share a great planning tool that we use in our office for brainstorming, planning and to-do lists. The software is MindManger by MindJet located locally here in Larkspur http://www.mindjet.com/. The software allows you to quickly brainstorm, lay out visually to do lists and planning. It also works well as it integrates directly into Microsoft Office and Outlook. We use it throughout our company for planning purposes and recommend it for anyone looking for a great planning tool. There is a full feature 21 day trial available on the MindJet website.