Author Archives: Brad

Farmhouse Restoration:

Outdoor Fireplace

Outdoor Fireplace

I’ve always loved Farmhouse Restoration projects.  There is something very unique about these clients.  I find most of them spend a lot of time defining the balance of using modern technology with preserving the character of the old.  I enjoy taking this same level of sensitivity to the outdoor living environment.  I often propose core elements that would have been used during the original construction of the farmhouse.  This practice is not limited to the materials.  Lifestyles were very different 100-200 years ago and the design needs to reflect it.  I’m also not afraid to mix modern materials into the design if it improves durability, maintenance or better suites the client’s budget.  Getting to know where my clients fall on this spectrum is part of the fun.  There are no two clients the same making each project unique.  Farmhouse Restorations often lend themselves to a “Less is More” design concept.  This can be tricky.  If I don’t design enough, it looks unfinished.  If I design too much, it loses the Farmhouse charm.  Striking this balance along with the modern vs. old has been a large part of my success with these projects.

Let me know if you have a Farmhouse that needs restored.  I’d love to help transform and preserve the entire property with you.


See More Amazing Before and After Farmhouse Restoration Pictures at:

Award Winning Farmhouse Restoration

Award Winning Farmhouse Transformation

10 Top Landscaping Trends for Central PA in 2014

RVL Fireplace 3DThe New Year has arrived. Every year, there’s a lot of talk of what’s popular and how those trends fit into the landscape and hardscape design world. Nationally, new colors, to stay-at-home dads, to sustainable living, to edible gardening are all having an impact on how landscape and hardscape designers are creating outdoor living spaces for their clients.

Here are the 10 top landscaping and hardscaping trends for 2014 that you need to know if you live in central Pennsylvania:

  1. Let a certified landscape designer come up with the plans for your dream – Whoever you hire to design your new deck, outdoor kitchen, or any other landscape/hardscape project, should be willing to listen to your dreams, desires, and goals that you have for your outdoor space. After listening to you and asking pertinent questions, a qualified landscape designer should be able to take that information, as well as the raw data of budgets, measurements and yard size to transform it into a plan that meets both your needs and desires.
  2. LED lighting for outdoor living – LED lighting has evolved over the past few years. No longer do you need to sacrifice peace and tranquility with the harsh, blue LED lights of a few years ago. Now, they’re available in warmer yellow colors and softer glows. Additionally, LED lighting saves you money: they use less energy to light your outdoor space and they’re coming down in price.
  3. Low maintenance outdoor living – One of the over-arching themes for 2014 is low-maintenance, outdoor living. Some low-maintenance, landscaping options include adding more drought-tolerant, deer-resistant perennials, shrubs, and trees to your property, as well as adding automatic irrigation and easy to care for deck flooring like composite decking, pavers, and concrete pads. Pergolas and arbors add interest and can connect your outdoor rooms to the rest of your landscape. Consider building bubbling brooks or pondless waterfalls, which require less maintenance than traditional ponds.
  4. Colors, colors, and more colors – Earth tones are still the color of choice for patios and outdoor kitchens. Yet, this season has two interesting color trends forecasted: the monochromatic marriage of black and white, as well as blocks of bright, bold colors. Put away those pastels and think about how your can transform your deck or patio into a black and white geometric pattern. If black and white isn’t your thing, make a statement with bold colors, like deep blues, cayenne reds, and orchid purples.
  5. Millennial Man’s influence on landscape design – Believe it or not, the newest generation of home buyers is coming to age and is having a profound effect on landscaping trends. For the millennials, women are increasingly becoming the breadwinners and men are staying home to raise the kids. Thus, dads are having their say on landscape design and décor. They like to have more DIY-friendly landscapes, man caves, outdoor kitchens, and edible plants.
  6. Sustainability – Sustainability is still a trending buzzword for 2014. Fortunately, there are many sustainable landscape ideas that your designer can incorporate in your property from green walls, to edible potted plants, to adding LED light bulbs to your fixtures.
  7. Adding dimension to your style – Traditional gardening is out. Now, it’s geometric meets carefree by adding flowers of different dimensions and shapes. Tall flowers mixed in with low-lying plant media add dimension and interest to your property’s landscape.
  8. Trees are still in – It’s still trendy to include trees in your landscape. They offer multiple benefits to homeowners, including cutting down on energy costs by keeping your home cooler in the summer and by providing wind-resistance in the winter. They also add beauty, simplicity, and sustainability to the mix.
  9. The organic touch – A love for good stewardship is inherent with our heritage and by using organic materials in your landscape, you continue that tradition of caring for the earth. You can recycle your plant media for compost, as well as use recycled materials, for example, in your landscape design and outdoor living projects.
  10. It’s all about you – The bottom-line to all of this trendiness is you. And a good designer will construct a plan that reflects you: Your tastes, likes, and dislikes. Don’t be afraid to speak up about what you want in your landscape and hardscape projects because you will be living with the finished product for years to come.

Remember, while it’s nice to know the trends, it’s more important that you have the final say-so to your landscape or hardscape design. Some trends change each year, but less maintenance and better design are definitely in for the long haul.
Do you need a certified landscape and hardscape designer? Then, look no farther than River Valley Landscapes. For more information about their design services, call them at 1-800-455-8666 or fill out their contact form at

Preparing for the Holidays

Preparing for the holidays doesn’t have to be stressful.  Take this time to walk around your property cutting greens.  Greens will enhance any fireplace mantle, window sill, center piece or even window boxes.  Here is a window box I put together last week.

A Beautiful Window Box for the Christmas Season

A Beautiful Window Box for the Christmas Season

3 Simple Holiday Tips:

  1. Take extra cutting to ensure a great selection
  2. Look for different textures and colors (don’t be afraid of the bold)
  3. Don’t be afraid to add some deciduous plants such as:  winterberry holly or redtwig dogwood

Now go and enjoy the holiday season.


the right designer

Choosing the right landscape designer can mean big savings. It has always puzzled me why some people would pay one company to design their project only to send it out for bids. I guess I know why. People think they are then comparing apples to apples and will get a better price. This can be true to some extent, but all too often they are not comparing apples to apples.
We have a project going on right now that our client called me just to say how impressed he was with our staff and particularly Andy our mason.  Andy was scribing a piece of flagstone around a boulder.  His craftsmanship really impressed our client, but not another mason on the job site. Our client said the other mason ,representing another company, stopped to watch what Andy was doing. The other mason just shook his head and said that is what mortar is for. I told my client those are the details that are not in specs when pricing out a project. We assume those details while many other companies assume the short cut.
I refuse to believe most people just want the lowest price. I believe people want to be treated fairly while getting the most value for their investment. …………

Looking to do a home improvement project?

Buyer beware! This was suppose to be the final clean.

Looking to do a home improvement project?

Spring is a popular time of the year for home improvement projects in south central PA.  I don’t want to discourage anyone from doing a home improvement project, but do your homework.  My parents like many people in the Lancaster, York, and Harrisburg area had a lot of White Pine damage this winter.  You would think I would have a great referral for an arborist, but I don’t.  If you had a great experience with any, here is your chance to give them a plug.  I would love to have someone to refer this type of work.  When they told me the price, I thought wow how can they do it for that price.  I should have asked what they are going to do for that price.  The picture above was taken after their final clean up. 

 After a phone call, they did say they will be back to finish cleaning up when they are in the area.  We all have stories like this or know someone that has experienced something like this.  So how does a consumer know what to look for in a contractor?  Here are 5 simple tips.

                5 Tips to find a landscape contractor in Lancaster, York and Harrisburg:

  • Get references from friends and neighbors (the contractor’s reference are handpicked)
  • Do your research (check industry association, related vendors, their website, blog, or Facebook.)
  •  Look for thorough designs and proposals (the clearer everything is up front, the less likely there will be any misunderstandings)
  • Before signing, ask yourself “Did they listen to you?” (a company can’t deliver if they don’t know what you need)
  • Visit similar type or scale projects (this is the best way to see if the company can handle your project and if you approve their quality)


I know these 5 tips don’t guarantee a smooth project, but I think they can help.  Let me know you how your last home improvement project went.  Good or Bad.  What is your next scheduled project?  Spring is coming soon…

What plant is “Not as easy as it looks”?

Mature Weeping Japanese Maple

What plant is “Not as easy as it looks”?

I’m talking about some plants look absolutely beautiful, but hard to use in design.  Acer palmatum, commonly known as the Weeping Japanese Maple is one of those types of plants.  I guess this is only true if you are designing for your landscape to look better over time. 

Weeping Japanese Maples look totally different in their first 5-10 years than they do 20 years out.   This plant looks so small and cute when it is young.  Because it has such a beautiful texture and color, it is often planted next to houses, walkways and patios.  People fail to image what this plant will look like as it matures.  There is nothing more disappointing to me than to cut down a plant just as it is starting to mature.

You may be saying Thanks Brad, so how do I design with a Weeping Japanese Maple?  I love them.  Assuming you have the right culture for this plant, I would image this plant 10’-15’ wide and tall.  I know they can get taller and wider, but this should be adequate.  I would not place any permanent plantings that would infringe in that space for at least 15 years.  That will leave you with a very large space between the Weeping Japanese Maple and the surrounding plant materials.  I often fill these spaces with temporary plants (3-5 years), easy to transplant or less expensive plants.  Some of my favorite choices would include: 

Grasses like Pennisetum sp. – Dwarf Fountain Grass; Perennialslike Amsonia hubrichtii – Blue Star or Calamintha nepeta ‘White Cloud’; Shrubslike Butterfly Bush or Deutzia gracilis ‘Nikko’.  I also like to fill the space with groundcovers like Cerastium tomentosum – Snow-in-Summer, Vinca minor – Myrtle.

Maybe this is easier than I thought…

Rain Gardens

Rain Gardens: You may have heard this term recently wondering what is a rain garden. Well with all this rain, I thought I would address Rain Gardens. First let’s address the problem we are facing. I’m sure you have notice a few places that have flooded in the last week or two. When we force all the runoff off of our properties it flows down our street and eventually into the streams. Other than the obvious problem of flooding blocking our road there is a bigger issue. The increased volume erodes the stream’s banks. When the water slows down it deposits the sediment containing fertilizers from our lawns, farms, etc. Most of these little tributaries end up in the Chesapeake Bay, resulting in polluting a very sensitive ecosystem.

So what can we do? There are a

couple simple things we can do on our small properties to make an impa

ct. Water harvesting is the collection of rain water to be reused in some manner. Rain gardens, rain barrels, and underground cisterns are most common ways to collect rain water.

Rain gardens usually do not collect the water for human consumption

, but slows down the water allowing it to soak back into the water table. This can be done by cont

ouring the ground forming small basins. Typically we see swales that channel the water quickly away. The small basins form small puddles in designated areas. Rain Gardens also have plant materials that thrive in moist soils. These gardens give you an opportunity to plant varieties of plants that you would not otherwise be able to have. This may increase your population of butterflies and beneficial insects.

Some of my favorite Rain Garden plants are:
Trees: River Birch, Black Gum, Sweetbay Magnolia, Witchhazel, and Sycamore
Shrubs: Winterberry Holly, Itea , Virginia Sweetspire, Inkberry Holly, Redtwig Dogwood, Highbush blueberry, and Red Chokeberry

Perennials: Swamp Milkweed, Most Sedges, Joe Pye, Weed, Swamp Hibiscus, Blue flag and Siberian Iris, Most Ferns, and Water Forget-me-nots
Often this does not cost the homeowner any more money. Sometimes it can even save money. If you have a portion of your property that collects water, don’t pay to dry it out. All you have to do is change the plant varieties to plants that will thrive in this environment. I agree one property does not make a difference, but we can all do something to help.

Fall planning for spring pleasure!

Now is the time! I know a lot of people are tired of the hot dry summer, but now is the time to start planning for spring. Are you one of those people each spring regretting not planting bulbs the previous fall? Bulbs are a cheap and easy way to welcome spring into your garden. If you have Vinca minor (myrtle) ground cover, here is one simple trick to add more bang. Try adding Grape Hycinths throughout your vinca ground cover. The flowering times overlap extending the flower time of the bed space while giving a stronger bang of blue color. Also don’t be afraid if your planting depth vary a little. This will cause the shallow bulbs to start flowering a little premature while the deeper bulbs will be lagging a few days behind. This is another easy way to extend that color.

Now is also a great time to contact your Landscapes Design Professional. He or she can begin to pull your ideas together. Starting these talks now gives you plenty of time to work through the design process. Here is a link showing our design process. Many Landscape Design Professionals will have their own process to go through, but getting an early start will give you time to make any changes before the equipment shows up at your property. A lot of companies may even give better pricing to ensure a strong start to the new year.

Another advantage of starting the process now is to give you all next year to enjoy your new space. Obviously the earlier you get started the sooner it will get finished. Some parts of the project may even be worked on throughout the winter months.

Start planning today. The sooner you start the sooner you enjoy!

Part Two: A not so behaved native – Senecio aureus

In my last post, I mentioned I would update you with photos of my Senecio aureus after it was cut back. Now you might understand why I kept calling this 18″-24” perennial a groundcover. I also took a photo showing the flower as it is turning to seed. Now I can sit back and relax enjoying this ground cover do its job. The flower is done and cut back. There is nothing to do with this native perennial until next May.

Any opinions on whether this plant looks better before or after the flowers are cut back?

A not so behaved native: Senecio aureus

I don’t think I would put this in the most underused native catagory, because there are few places I would trust this plant. I found it does not behave very well. In my garden I have let it go wild. I was looking for an aggressive groundcover to reduce my yearly mulching. In my garden, this groundcover is more or less evergreen. It turns a noce burgandy color in the fall. I like the early spring highlights of new green foliage emerging out of last year’s burgandy foliage. I will be cutting off whatever flower is still remaining this weekend. I find the flower is very showy from a distance, but doesn’t do much for me up close. I actually like it best once it is cut back. It leaves a simple low boarder to the garden. I know it sounds like I’m not really endorsing this plant. I thought I should write about it because you don’t see it used often. This weekend my neighbor commented how good they looked this year. I also had a local gardener drive by asking my what it is. I will post more pictures after I cut it back. You can let me know which you like better. You can enjoy this plant, but be ready to watch it run.