Making this smoking area was a bit little like putting extra springs in the back end of a Chevy for rum running.  That was part of the fun.  The other amazing aspect about this commission was that it was a perfect opportunity to help bring people into nature; whether they were smokers or not.  

It may not look like much, it is a bit scraggy even as it needs a trimming, but it does fulfill everything asked of it.  In fact I call it a commission as it makes it sound more like a work of art I feel it is.  Proposal and quote do not reflect the same thing.

I show you here pictures of the finished product.  It has taken some years for the space and the atmosphere to mature to what it is today.  When doing art work with plants the canvas takes some time to dry and for the mood to set.

In the attached pictures there are some things to note that were designed into this project.

  • it is not square.  It was designed to fit the space
  • the cedar windbreaks work against the prevailing winds (except opinions)
  • the simplicity of the design lasted and has aged well.
  • It does not smell of smoke like some tin shed or bus shelter.
  • the spaciousness of it
  • the shade
  • the hiding spots

Note the hidden bench and the “Buttercup” Ashtrays.  It does need some pruning but the “long drapes” made it cool and private.

 

On this visit to the project I ventured in. I parted the Mulberry and found the sweetest world you can imagine.  It is a gem and it is a pity non smokers have not discovered it and scheduled themselves for a quiet time in this sanctuary instead of having to sit in full sun on concrete.

The cedar shrubs are almost ready for their first pruning. As they age they will cover the back completely.

You should note the easy to maintain “buttercup” ash trays we installed.  A smoker can remove it and have it beside them while they imbibe.  (yes we still have some in stock)

Please note.  The commission was to make a smoking area to fit this space.  It would be the same if we designed a reading area or a “let’s discuss this outside” board room.  

Please note.  Budget was important.  

Please note the bike parking area that got thrown in for no charge.

Please note.  I am bragging.  Sometimes I am that good.  

 


Sometimes husbands and wives find faults with little things.  These teeny foibles are both tough to find in my wife and tough to talk about with her.  Occasionally there is a lovely blush of spring in her cheeks and an “oops a daisy” in the end.  This is my favourite look of hers.

Last spring among the cute baby plants from the nursery was a “Jack O Lantern”.  ”Do not put that in my bed” I say in my best still in control deep bass voice.  

I expect her to trust and listen to me; to care about how I feel.  This did not happen.  She already knows I feel nothing and have no idea what goes on in either my head or heart and that my voice is cracking.  In they go.  

There is no revenge taken. I ignore for the season and move on. The best I manage to express myself is a stupid haiku.  

toe nails                                                                                         and coarse bone meal                                                                    in her bed

 

So.  Anyway.  It is next spring now.  I had to strip this bed and clean things up.  Let me quantify without feelings or judgements, as if you were a customer who needed a quote.  It took 2 plus hours to ferret out the roots.  One cedar shrub was infected.  The roots needed to be burned at 1300 degrees. (kiddimg about the fire)  This is only the first round.  A new shrub will have to be picked up, delivered and installed.  It will likely not match the existing one.

Nothing can grow there while I wait a couple of weeks to certify there are no roots left. I had to dig deep besides so it will take that long for the soil to settle back down anyway.  The edge of the deck will need to be monitored closely.  Some boards may have to be lifted to get underneath if we find a little pumpkin patch hiding there.

I really liked the job.  (not kidding)  Often I wonder if my calling was not an archeologist.  This work is very soothing to me and even Sandra recognizes this.  “That’s why I did it.  You can thank me later”

lol.  “Thanks dear”


Composting is not always an option in this busy world even though it is easy. We help people do it. The difficulty in doing this is that it is a process of changing mindsets and habits. We have found that to properly serve people through all the seasons of a garden we have in fact had to become lifestyle coaches. It is an unavoidable part of gardening.

In Guelph they have started to charge a $5.00 flat fee for residents’ yard waste and there was a bit of an uproar. They had to take the measure of hiring a security guard to help deal with rude customers. If I was to get anything across in this post it is to educate people on several key points. Where I start is to point out that yard “waste” is in fact not waste. It is valuable. (I may draw a few metaphors as I do this) The only other point is that compost is not hard but, because it seems easy, it is easy to mess up. If you start your first one chance are you will mess it up. You will forget to feed it, you will throw the wrong things in it or miss out on an important step in proper maintenance and any of the above can stop the process of the pile.

The first difficulty as I have said is that we view materials from the garden as waste. It is not waste, it is an important part of the garden process. The irony is that when we view it as waste we are not understanding. The stories from our past, or our ancestors and community, are not a waste. They are an essential part of the process of learning. A story in a way is like a compost. It is the past feeding the future. It is odd but when you really think about it everything becomes in the end a tale. The moment it takes place, whether it is exciting, sad or full of regrets, is not really as exciting as watching it transform from memory to story and on to legend. Our lives compost, our gardens compost and learning the process in the physical realm of your yard will help you make better stories. Teaching your children will do wonders.

I watched a lady make Broccoli soup. What I saw was a woman who knew about life, who had felt in her compost pile in the past that gross wasted stump of Broccoli that was too large to easily process, that would not go away. She had learned to process hard things immediately and so as I watched I was not surprised that before discarding the stump in the “green” she chopped it up into smaller pieces. Now she would not need to mull over it every year in her pile. The stumps and the stories were chewed on and broken down as they happened and then were added to the pile. When emptying out the bin from last year’s memories and putting them on the garden for this year’s flowers and fruits she did not have any large baggage to hinder her.

My job of course is not to draw parallels to your personal life but I do need to guide you to stop viewing garden trimmings and kitchen cuttings as waste. There needs to be spots in your yard for different things and certain processes should be introduced. One needs to see the irony of shipping off the yard waste that has so much worth to the city and paying them to take it. One needs to see that feeding your very own compost in your back yard takes no more time than putting it in a city bin.

Compost should not include just waste from your garden. These tend to be dry materials such as leaves, spent flowers and twigs and these items do not break down well with out the proper proportion of nitrogen that a good pile needs. They do not fully break down fast enough on their own to make this worthwhile for the home owner without some planning. It is possible to do and there are techniques that can be employed to make this work but it is important when doing them that there is a clear understanding of what to expect and how much space should be used.

The latter dry pile though is a great place to start. It does not create an odor (or is WAY less likely to) and it needs very little maintenance. The trick with this is learning very simple techniques and making sure your yard can accommodate it.  All stages of designing a “dry” carbon based compost are inexpensive and if properly done there is no distraction to your yard. The other bonus is that you now have a ready supply of material to add to your more valuable compost when needed.

If you start with managing the dry and stockier material you now can more easily manage the gross nitrogen that a good pile needs. Nitrogen includes vegetables from your kitchen and lawn clippings. (just two examples) These do create odors if not managed properly. (One rule of thumb is 60% carbon (dry) and 40% nitrogen (green)) The greatest flaw with a compost pile is supply and demand; the seasons. If you do not want to turn your pile continuously it is important to keep up an inventory of supply of carbon to add to the nitrogen to help keep the pile working at its optimum and to eliminate odors. In the fall if you have a place to store leaves over winter and have them available in the spring and summer to mix in with the lawn clippings and kitchen scrap you will be better able to support a balance.

I on purpose do not get too technical with my posts. There are many great resources on the internet to help tune a compost pile and, once you begin and the conversation starts, these sites will be places you will want to visit often. Here are a few key thoughts that will hopefully encourage you to start.

  1. Start a carbon pile first. These are very easy to do and though they do take up space they are easily able to fit in any garden design.
    1. Think “mulch” when you create this. Cut stems and the like down to a size you would typically find in mulch.
    2. Spread evenly on the ground
    3. layer with leaves where possible. This is mostly for appearance but by making the layers even you will help the pile rot more evenly
    4. the pile will only ever get so big.
    5. NOTE: These piles take nitrogen from the soil. Fertilizing the plants next to the pile and even the pile will help everything.
  2. Start a kitchen waste compost. I suggest starting at step one for the first year. This helps you to begin to “budget” carbon, to see the seasonal needs and it will help train you in management.
    1. Keep the balance 60/40 as stated above.
    2. Never put excessive lawn clippings or greens of any kind in without stirring in an appropriate amount of leaves and layering with a fine layer of dirt. (or sheep and cattle manure)
    3. NEVER put in greases, bones or meat. No Animal feces.
    4. The design of this bin should allow you to access the pile from the bottom to occasionally empty it. The black bins are good or we can custom make a bin for you.

110628 nancy

 

A properly designed garden means that where and how it is edged is well thought out. It cannot be stressed enough that it is here, where your garden meets the lawn or the neighbours’ fence, that you can have the most impact. Improper design means that your garden will become labour intensive and the investments made in the plants could be lost.

This post is self serving in that it is encouraging you to book a consult. Yes this is one of many topics that will be discussed. Type of tools, placement of plants, plants to avoid and such things as available light will be also be gone over. The reason for this specific post is because of a quote we just sent in. If the garden was edged with Schepers Property Maintenance’s “hidden edge” there would be a saving of close to $500.00 yearly on labour costs. It would take 3 to 3.5 years to retrieve the costs of getting it installed. The plants would be healthier and safer. If you are one who does the work yourself a consult may not save you money but it will give you more time to enjoy you yard.

The raised dirt garden edge is not the best edge for your plants. The soil dries out faster, the mulch sloughs off and the rhizomes from the grass still get in your garden. These grasses tend to be trimmed down and beaten into hiding but they are still there. If ever the garden is not maintained this grass will soon take over. It is the most labour intensive task in the garden. There are other ways to properly edge a garden that look great and save the property owner time and money. We can help.

Our goal is to promote gardening and to make it as enjoyable as it should be. Learning techniques refined from 30 years experience and talking over plans will make that possible. When we arrive for a consult we are not quoting the work. This is not a fancy way to make you a customer; though that is a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

When planning the edges here are some key points to consider.

  • Never plant too close to the edge. This is a costly mistake and will give a very messy appearance.
    • The perennials and shrubs in the garden, fully grown, should just kiss the hem of the lawn or walk. Annuals can be forgiven if they start to crowd and edge into the lawn.
  • Never let an edge go. Choose type of edge and then diligently maintain.
  • Fence lines are the hardest to weed and trim. Resolve these issues first with design changes and maintenance techniques. (and our hidden edge)
  • Do not be afraid of a larger garden. A shrub/ perennial garden 100 by 100, properly mulched that has but a 10 foot edge takes less time to maintain than a 30 by 30 garden with a 60 foot edge. Always consider the edge.
  • Plastic edging is not the best and takes maintenance. It is also more labour intensive to install too as it should not have any kinks. Do not instal around a tree as it will pop out sooner than you think. Check often and repair and reset as needed.
  • Stone edging, especially round ones are the worst. Every gap is a nursery for grass. ASK US FIRST!

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Hardscaping: Thoughts on Interlock

When hardscaping your property it is important to know what you can expect from the different materials available. We are gardeners and view the world of your yard through a lens that judges the maintenance requirements and how the materials work to help create the effect you want from your property. We know that in the end it is in the plant choices, the garden design and the the location and size of the hardscape that effect the atmosphere of your yard the most; not the material choice. This post deals with the maintenance expectations of the interlock only.

Let me give you an example. The quaintness of interlock, that feel of being more natural, is lost if there is no garden to help with the effect. Inversely a concrete walk can easily be softened and made to belong by good garden design. It is the garden design that makes the difference every time. Some more examples? The biggest mistake in walkway designs is making the shrub bed it borders too small. It looks right when initially installed but it does not take into account the growth of the shrubs. The walk becomes crowded and obscured, uncomfortable to walk on. To compensate the shrubs are pruned too close. They loose their natural softness and begin to brown. The perennials encroach. Had this walk had been properly placed there would have been a temporary loss of proportions but in time it would naturally fit; saving you time and money. Placement is more important that material.

Yes the point is to plan the garden first and to consult with experts. Yes we are expert. In fact we mostly use other companies to do the hardscape work for us as our capacity is limited. They are good. We may install a walk in the back yard, edge a garden with concrete or make repairs to hardscapes but we do not install a large project like drive or entrance way. We will get quotes, schedule work and over see the job.

In heavily trafficked areas we would shy away from interlock. The reason for this is simply that it is the hardest to maintain. It is in severe weather conditions that this becomes most evident. Interlock freezes first every time and the very nature of it makes it the most difficult to clear. The applied salt, when used, does not sit on the surface as well and as it dissolves and does its job it will sit in all those little cracks. Interlock is the hardest to shovel, at least when the weather is severe. The choice of equipment used is limited if one does not want it chipped or flawed in anyway. During the last freezing rain event we had to do the interlock areas first and, on several properties where all else was clear, there was still a need to schedule return visits. The thing about interlock, because of its density, is that it does not transmit heat from the sun well and it does not retain heat well. This includes transmitting the warmer ground temperature in the early winter, meaning snow accumulates on it first. The one joy of interlock for maintenance is the sound the shovel makes as it clears a light snow, the soft little percussions at each joint that, cobbled together, have a very unique effect on serenity.

Interlock is not a BAD choice despite all that. It does mean that of all drive materials it would be a good idea to have sand on hand to deal with ice. I was considering interlock in fact for our drive despite all these “fails” and the reason in the end I eliminated it as an option was not to do with winter maintenance. Interlock was not chosen because it is nearly impossible to make it safe with people with handicaps. It would work well in the drive or on a straight run of walk but at all the transitions in grade it is extremely difficult to eliminate trip hazards. I have yet to see a raised interlock/ retaining wall front stoop that does not have areas that sink and create little trip hazards over time. These occur at the edges where the joint between the retaining blocks and filler bricks meet. This happens to be the place where handicapped people rely on a smooth consistent walk, right at the railing.

Interlock is not a bad choice despite all that. Interlock can still work and I know companies that could do it right, even in my drive. The worst thing about interlock is not the fault of the material but the conceptions we have of it. The first one I will deal with is the connotation of easier. It is not easier to install…properly. Like with all hardscapes it is in the end the base material and the site preparation that matter more than what goes on top. Proper preparation is critical and though I am loath to say it, it is even more important with interlock. There is less forgiveness in details with interlock and any mistake matters. To be honest one of the reasons I was considering interlock for our home is that “it was something I could do well” This reasoning is flawed when you consider I would still need a back hoe to properly remove the existing drive and old base materials. It is no small task to bring in the right material either. Proper packing techniques are critical. Yes the actual laying of the bricks and perhaps the cost saving of supplying them would be something I could do but it will still take a different capacity than I offer to properly prepare the area. So, the flaw of interlock? Simply that it seems like a good DIY project but in fact it is not. It should not be seen as cheaper and easier.

The last flaw with interlock? The connotation of quaint. I have attached a link to a post about my aunts house in Holland. I have also included pictures of cobbled streets. North Americans do not get quaint is the end conclusion. It is ironic that a cobbled drive has a million cracks and all of those cracks are a petri dish for something. Moss and weeds. In my aunts house the “weeds” were Columbine growing up, they had a name and they were welcome. Likely she actually sowed them. If one truly understands quaint and unique they would take walks and be on the lookout for different mosses to propagate in the cracks. They would create a mosaic and, by propagating the moss, they would smother out dandelions and their ilk. We have a customer that is doing this. We have made a moss garden. (it is harder than laying the drive…just beware)

Stones and bricks put down as interlock are meant to tell a story. They discolour and weeds grow. If you do not want weeds and moss in your drive it will take more maintenance and perhaps concrete or asphalt is the better choice. In the end a perfect drive is a beautiful thing and I enjoy the look but a perfect faded interlock drive looks the same as asphalt or concrete. The bright colours or contrasting tones you chose will fade and that initial contrast and freshness will wane. Which brings us back to the first point about design and the ‘fit’ of your drive in the yard.

I always encourage people about a final consideration. It is in the lingering guests that a home truly pops. You know the feel. The long good byes on the front stoop. A porch light left on to help visitors see. I have yet to see hardscape or gardens make difference in a good conversation or the warmth of a hug. Interlock or any change in your yard should be to make relationships happen better. Relationships by the way mean spilled wine and sometimes even puddling oil and recognizing this truth may also help influence what clothes you put on your house when guests arrive.

We are always on the lookout for garden makeovers. Yes we will undertake the whole yard and yes we are very good.