Basics of Landscape Design

landscape design
George W. Vanderbilt knew exactly how to design the ultimate landscape at Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC–hire Frederick Law Olmsted, the father of landscape architecture in America to do it. While it’s unlikely that the average homeowner has the resources to hire one of the world’s best landscape designers to makeover their front yard, it is possible to come up with a basic plan that will meet most needs.

When you begin planning your new landscape, you’ll want to begin by thinking about how the space is going to be used. Do you have children who need a play area? Do you have pets that might damage plants? Would you like to entertain outdoors? Once you’ve decided how you will primarily use the landscape, consider the basic elements of landscape design and how they apply to your needs.

Balance – There are two types of balance–symmetrical and asymmetrical. If you choose symmetrical balance, each side of your landscape will basically reflect the other in shape, form, plant height, color, etc. An excellent example of this is Biltmore’s Walled Garden with its central arbor effectively dividing the garden into two equal halves with matching beds and borders. Asymmetrical balance gives each side of the landscape the same visual weight, but by using contrasting elements. While each side will be different, they should “match” in the sense that a group of trees on the left is balanced by a gazebo on the right or a curvy flower bed on one side is balanced by a walkway and bench on the other. Stroll through the estate’s Shrub Garden for a good example of asymmetrical balance

Color – Varying color combinations can be used to set the mood in your garden. Bright, fiery colors like red, yellow and orange make a garden seem lively and warm–or even hot. Cool or pale colors like green, blue, pink and white are more soothing and make a garden seem quieter and cooler. Dark plants or tree trunks work well as backdrops to set off brighter colors. Use contrasting colors to work as a focal point to draw attention to a specific area.

Unity – To create consistency throughout the landscape, repeat like elements. These may be specific plants or plant groupings, colors or decorative pieces like statuary. Layering – Throughout your landscape, you’ll want to gradually move from one element to another. Rather than planting a bed of pansies around the base of a large tree–step down with smaller trees, then shrubs, then bedding plants with those pansies forming a border in front of the full planting.

Proportion – Make sure the plants and elements you choose suit the available space. If you have a postage stamp garden, don’t plant an oak tree and try to squeeze in a pond. Select something delicate like a Japanese maple and a small fountain. On the other hand, if you’re yard is currently an acre of grass, a 6’x6′ bed in the center will be completely lost.

Take the time to sketch out your plan on paper and start small if you haven’t done this before. Get out that tape measure and use a garden hose to mark off curved borders or walkways. Now get out the garden magazines and catalogs and get creative. You might find it easier to get started if you pick a theme–maybe specific colors such as yellow, red and white or pick a shady corner and focus on shade-loving plants or look for plants that attract butterflies. Again, don’t forget the primary use of this new garden spot. If the kids will be romping through here with balls and Frisbees, some sturdy trees and shrubs might be a better choice than a delicate flower garden. If you’re going to be entertaining, think about including a patio, deck or other surface that enhances the house and garden.

Once you have a pretty good idea of what you want, go to your local garden center and ask for help selecting plants. They can also look over your plan to make sure you aren’t planting a tree that will block a window or a shrub that’s going to overgrow the heat pump. Now get planting!


Tips to improve the quality of your outdoor space and patio

Improve patio space

Its easy to get overwhelmed trying to figure out just how to bring an outdoor room together to make it a peaceful spot to relax or enjoy quality time with friends and family. But if you think of it as yet another room to decorate and furnish, the space will come together more easily. Measuring and a simple site analysis Just as you would for a room inside your home take the measurements of your patio or outdoor room area.

This most important step is essential for scaling in comfortable sized outdoor furniture, patio accessories, planters and such. The next step is to conduct a simple site analysis. For this you will want to jot down factors such as the direction (north, south, east, west) your patio is facing, prevailing winds, if any; areas in sun or shade and any other relevant observations that will impact the quality of people spending time in that space.


Now for the fun part, create a realistic wish list beginning with how you would like to use your patio: to relax, to entertain friends, to grill/barbeque, to eat outdoors, to hang out with friends and family, to converse, etc. Now go back to your site analysis and determine, if applicable, where you can start staging the pieces to your outdoor room. But before you do so, here are some tips and ideas for you to consider.

Arrange patio furniture and elements thoughtfully In order to create a comfortable space with pleasant atmosphere it is important to consider these details:

Circulation – how will people walk through the space;

Seating – where will people be sitting;

Views – what will people be looking at when sitting. For circulation, you want to position a sitting area in a location where circulation will not pass directly through, making the space distracting, unless you have no choice.

For creating comfortable seating for conversation, orient chairs, sofas, and gliders towards each other, 6 to 8 feet apart; this is a comfortable distance for talking without feeling too close. For views, you can create focal points with trees and shrubs in the distance, or planters and ornaments closer by. Dealing with wind and sun From your site analysis you have discovered information about how the wind blows.

By knowing the direction of the prevailing winds you can make some good decisions about the placement of certain items. First, if you are going to include a grill or barbeque be sure to locate these accessories in a location in which the wind will carry the smoke from the cooking fire away from the outdoor space; there’ s nothing more irritating than the uncomfortable sting of a smoky grill.

Also, if you have an area with cold wind, you can block it by creating vertical planes; this can be done by planting trees or shrubs in the ground, or by placing them in planters within or around a part of the patio. Fences and walls can also help. As for sun, these same vertical planes can screen hot, late afternoon sun. For overhead sun, retractable awnings can be a very effective way to minimize both sun and heat. These awnings are designed to extend (open) or retract (close) to create shade or sun options.

Other ways to create shade from the hot sun: patio umbrellas and trellises, pergolas, or arbors. Creating a sense of enclosure Creating a sense of enclosure is a great way to make your outdoor space more intimate; it is also a great way to create separation and privacy from your neighbors.

Think of the walls and ceilings inside your home: the walls are the vertical plane and the ceiling is the overhead plane. Outdoors these vertical and overhead planes help create the foundations to an outdoor room. While you don’ t want to overdo it or completely enclose your outdoor space, adding elements: shrubs, trees, arbors, trellises pergolas and such in a careful way can improve the atmosphere of your patio space

Once you’ ve measured your outdoor space, done the site analysis and figured out the area where you will be putting your outdoor furniture it’ s time to begin reviewing outdoor furniture and accessory options. If your patio is very small, you may only want to buy 1 or 2 chairs or loungers for conversation and relaxing, and a small bistro table with chairs for snacking. If your space is large, you may be looking for a larger seating arrangement: sofas, chairs, coffee tables, in one area and a patio set with umbrella in another.

There are many options and styles available and you can learn more about the materials and brands available by visiting a local patio furniture store or by shopping online. Popular furniture materials include: outdoor wicker, teak, wrought iron, cast aluminum, recycled plastic and casual aluminum.

You can buy this furniture individually or as a set such as a dining table complete with chairs. With many patio furniture options to choose from you can easily create an outdoor space that will be well used. Additional outdoor decorating accessories such as patio lamps, fire pits, garden arbors and trellises, and outdoor heaters fit in well to create a great atmosphere outdoors as well as being extremely functional.

For example, outdoor heaters will greatly extend your time outside, allowing for more time to enjoy yourself outdoors later into fall, and earlier into spring. Outdoor fireplaces such as: chimeneas, fire pits or even a gas outdoor fireplace create a great atmosphere and focal point, as well the opportunity to grill, heat, or just enjoy hanging out by the fire. About the author: Nicole Martins is the editor of Everything Patio Furniture, a patio furniture and accessories review site, which provides valuable tips and information as well as great products for your outdoor space. You can visit this site at


How Much Concrete Will It Take To Make Your Patio?

concrete patio

There’s a simple way to calculate how much concrete it will take to make your patio, plus you will be able to make sure you are getting your money’s worth, if you decide to hire a contractor. First, decide how big a patio you want. Since almost everybody needs to see something before they actually understand if that is what they want, you need to layout the size of the patio that you want to add on your lawn.

Contractors use spray paint to mark the outline of things they are going to build. This is called laying out a project. When you have spray painted the grass to show the size of your proposed patio, you will better understand exactly what your project will look like when you finish. Use a lot of paint so you can easily see the line.


Over the next couple of days, look at the outline to see if that is the size patio you want. What do you like about it? What don’t you like? What would you like to change?

Now is the time to make any changes that you want because it does not cost you anything to do it. Make the changes in a different color paint.

Now that you have decided on the size and shape of your patio, you can start to determine how much concrete you will need to do the job. This is called creating an estimate of the cost and is not as hard to do as it sounds.

Measure the outside of your patio and calculate the area. For instance, if your patio is 20′ x 25′ the area is the width x the length. So the area would be 500 SQ Feet. Now decide on how thick you want your patio to be. Most patios are 4″ thick. Now you need to convert the thickness of the patio into feet by dividing by 12. This would give you a thickness of 0.3333 feet.

Now its time to calculate the volume of the concrete that you will need to build your patio. Multiply the area in Sq. Feet (500 Sq Feet) x the thickness in feet (0.333 feet) and you get 166.66 Cubic feet.

All concrete is sold by the cubic yard. There are 27 cubic feet in 1 cubic yard of concrete, so in order to get the number of cubic yards you need just divide 166.66 by 27. The total number of cubic yards you need is 6.17.

Concrete costs vary from $70 per cubic yard to as high as $100 per cubic yard. (The concrete ready mix company and any contractor you talk to will refer to concrete in terms of yards instead of cubic yards, so don’t get confused.)

If you are going to do the patio yourself, you will need to tell the concrete ready mix company what you are going to be doing and when so they can give you the right mix of concrete. They will make the concrete to match the weather conditions and what you are going to be using it for.

I would not recommend that you attempt to make a pour this large unless you have some experience with concrete or have someone who can help you. 6 cubic yards is a lot of concrete to place and finish, especially if you are in your back yard and have to wheelbarrow it.

A reputable contractor will have a crew of 4-6 people to place a project of this size, so don’t think for a moment that you can do it with your buddies and someone who has seen concrete poured before. If you do decide to save a little money by doing it yourself, you might just have 12,000 pounds of concrete that you need do break up and haul away. (Each yard of concrete weighs around 3,500 lbs.)

You should get 3 prices from contractors in your area because prices vary from area to area. Choose the price in the middle so you know you are getting a reasonable price from a solid contractor.


Sealing a Deck

sealing your deck

A deck is an extension of your home’s living space and where you will spend much of your time during the summer months. Consequently, it needs to be treated and cared for as much as your home’s inside rooms. Most important to the care of your deck is regularly sealing it. This is particularly true if you want your deck to maintain the natural color of the wood.

Sealing a deck is critical in order to preserve the life and look of the wood. The sealant preserves the beauty of the natural wood by protecting it from both water and sun damage.

When to Apply the Deck Sealant

In order to preserve the natural wood look for many years, I typically apply the sealant every year. Also, I usually apply it in late summer/early fall as I live in New England. I do this because of the concern of snow lying on the deck for long periods of time during the winter months. My concern is in the acidity of the water in the snow. By putting on a sealant just prior to snow season, I can provide peak protection against the prolonged damaging effects of the acid contained in the water. In hotter climates, where there is less snow, I would suggest applying the deck sealer in late spring.


Clean the deck prior to Sealing

First, remove all of the deck furniture off of the deck.

Prior to sealing it is then best to power wash the deck and let it thoroughly dry. You may need to use a stiff bristly brush to get off any material that is not being removed by the power washer. Pine pitch frequently requires the services of this tool. There are also a variety of products offered by sealant manufactures that can also assist in the deck sealant preparation.

After power washing it may take 24-48 hours, or even longer, for the deck to thoroughly dry, pending weather conditions. Make sure the deck is completely dry prior to applying the sealant. Otherwise the sealant may not be appropriately absorbed into the wood’s surface.

Once the deck is dry, and you are about ready to begin sealing, use a leaf blower to remove any debris that may have fallen onto the deck’s surface since you power washed it. If you do not have a leaf blower, than simply sweep the deck.

Sealing the deck

First, the deck sealer should not be applied if the temperature is below 50 degrees Fahrenheit and if rain is forecasted in the next 24 hours. Otherwise the sealant may not absorb properly, nor dry properly.

Using a brush apply the sealant around all the deck edges and posts. Once the edging is complete, use a sprayer, brush or roller to apply the sealant to the deck surface. Make sure that the sealant is firmly pressed into the wood surface to maximize the penetration of the sealant into the wood.

Typically only one coat is recommended by most deck sealers.

Though most manufactures suggest the deck is ready for walking on after 24 hours, I would recommend waiting a little longer if the weather has not been ideal for drying conditions.

Once the deck is dry, return the deck furniture and enjoy the beauty of your deck for another year.

About the Author

Over the past 20+ years Mr. Donovan has been involved with building homes and additions to homes. His projects have included: building a vacation home, building additions and garages on to existing homes, and finishing unfinished homes.


Top Ten Ways to Spruce Up Your Yard

Spruce up ypur yard

1. When it comes Spring, do you notice brown patches, even under the new growth of green grass? That means your lawn needs de-thatching, or a good, deep raking to lift out dead weeds and grasses from the previous season. Once that is done, you can encourage lush, new growth by using a rolling application cart to deliver both fertilizer and weedkiller to the lawn. Repeat fertilization in late Spring, and again in autumn.

2. Mowing is not just whacking down the grass and letting it lay there. You need to learn how to mow properly to keep it at its best and greenest. If you have a mulching mower, it will cut so that the grass is scattered in small bits, back onto the lawn, fertilizing as it goes. For regular mowers, purchase a bag attachment so that the clippings come off the lawn with you, or mow at a higher setting, and more often, so that you take off just the smallest amount, and it can remain on the lawn and not interfere with the growth.

3. If your yard has “bare” on thinly grassed spots due to shallow, dense tree roots, hard soil, or an excess of shade, there are a number of remedies to make it look more attractive. Providing there is sufficient soil, rake it up well, water, and scatter a variety of grass seed that is specifically for shaded areas, if that is the problem. For sunny areas, choose the appropriate seed. When there is not enough earth, invest in some topsoil, and seed after it is spread. Should you find that even properly cared for, the grass does not grow well, you might try some of the hardier ground cover plants from your local garden center.

4. For adding a little color to the yard, especially after the “blahs” of winter, try planting some flowering shrubs. From the brilliant yellows of Potentilla, and the reds and whites of Spirea, to the lavender of Forsythia, you’ll have all the pleasure of flowers, without the work of a garden.

5. Consider planting bushes that will develop berries that linger into the fall and winter. Not only will they provide color on the bare branches, chances are they will attract birds that your whole family can enjoy watching and identifying. Another tip for color in the colder season, is to choose varieties such as the Burning Bush, a deciduous plant that grows green through the summer, and turns flaming red in the Fall.

6. Have you got a fence that you need, but don’t really like to see? Try planting climbing plants along the length of it, including the annual Morning Glory, or floribunda roses. Clematis will also climb clothesline poles and turn them into a tower of beautiful blooms. Hide unsightly posts by planting a few low maintenance Canna Lilies. These summer bulbs and tubers grow plants up to 6′ high, with brightly colored blossoms. Unless you’re in zones 7-10, they’ll need to be taken up in the Fall.

7. Perennial gardens are well worth the work of the first year, and even the next Spring, in establishing them. If you take the time to research varieties and growing conditions, you can plant a bed with enough different flowers that you’ll have blooms throughout the whole season, and plants that come back every year.

8. For something different, try putting a pond in the backyard. This doesn’t necessarily mean a lot of excavation and twiddling with the ground. There are pond liners that will slip into the area you have dug out. If you’re planning on keeping fish, you’ll need a circulating pump, as well. Plant some water-loving greenery and flowers around the perimeter, and you’ll have a neighborhood conversation piece.

9. If you have chosen not to have flowerbeds, you can still add an element of distinction to your yard, with outdoor décor accessories. For pathways, choose from the highly decorative selections of stepping stones that mimic ancient Greek mosaics, Roman tablets, or which come with charming and whimsical characters or sayings. Add a Romanesque birdbath or water fountain in the center of the lawn. And for just a touch of color, Roman urns on either side of your front door/steps, planted with bright red geraniums.

10. House flags and garden flags are an excellent way to add color to your lawn and driveway. Adjustable brackets can be attached to the house, garage or fence posts, to hold a pole, and the larger house flags. Garden flags are hung from T or inverted U shaped frames, and look wonderful planted along a path. Celebrate special occasions, holidays and the changing of seasons, with inexpensive flags that can be used year after year.

You may also want to check out our article on enhancing your yard with raised bed gardening.