Natural Setting for Hemlock Screening

“If Pennsylvanians were to select one tree as characteristic of our state, nothing would be better than Hemlock.” So wrote Dr. Joseph T. Rothrock, the “Father of Pennsylvania Forestry,” in 1896. In the mid 1800s Pennsylvania was number one in the country for lumber production and hemlock made up two thirds of that production. This majestic native not only provided wood for homes, but the bark is very high in tannin with is used in the tanning industry ever since it started in this country. On June 22, 1931 the hemlock was adopted as the state tree of Pennsylvania. The eastern hemlock is found in every county in Pennsylvania, but is most common in mountainous regions. The father of landscape gardening in America A. J. Downing felt the hemlock was the most picturesque and beautiful of the worlds evergreens. This plant has a very open conical shape with very dense foliage and branching down to the ground.

Alot of hemlocks planted in our Urbain areas today are very much in decline. There are two reasons for this. the first is when hemlocks were taken from there natural environment (growing along cool creeks and streams in very organic soils) and planted in urban areas were the top soil was striped and taken away. Then planted in hard packed clay soils that tend to dry out in the hot summer. This is not an endowment the hemlock can survive in. The second cause of decline is Hemlock woolly Adelgid, this is a small insect that looks like white cotton that attaches to the bark at the base of the needle. Damage is done when this insect inserts its piercing and sucking mouth into the base of the needle and removes fluids. This will cause reduction of plant health, Severe infestations will result in needle drop, die back and death of the tree. The best time to spray an insecticide to control this insect is September though October to try to kill as many adult females before overwintering. Also spring soil injections of a systemic insecticide will give you much longer control of this insect. Although these are very good controls for this insect in our ornamental, this insects continues to devastate our forests of Pennsylvania.

Are you afraid to establish a budget with your designer?

After a client has determined their needs and desires, the next step is to discuss a budget or price range for their project. Some clients have the luxury to work through the design process without establishing a budget, because they want what they want, they have the means to achieve it, and they don’t want a budget to disrupt the design process. But for most of us, establishing a budget is a prudent course of action. Occasionally when I am designing a project, my clients are simply afraid to share their budget with me. They may be afraid that if the project doesn’t cost as much as the budget allows that I will design a plan that implements the entire budget. The reality is I will design a project that creates the best value towards the client’s lifestyle and home. This may mean investing the entire budget or possibly not. The job of a good designer, who has studied and practiced their craft, is to recommend the best solutions with the available resources to achieve the desired goals and objectives.

While it is totally understandable that a client may have no idea what a project will cost because they have not done anything like this before, it still makes sense for the client to establish the maximum cost they can afford for the project. I have presented numerous designs with proposals for installation of projects, where budget was not revealed, and have heard, “I didn’t think it would cost that much. We only wanted to spend this much.” Unfortunately, as a result of not revealing the budget, more time and money is spent on revisions. Revealing the budget would have opened up a discussion of budget analysis. If your price range is inadequate for achieving your goals, then your designer can work with you to either modify your program, or suggest materials and design strategies that might be used to achieve your goals. In this scenario, many of my clients will install their projects in phases in order to achieve their objectives. This course of action still requires budgeting and planning but it is based on what you will spend for the first phase and over time.

Look at it this way, when you purchased your home or your new car you gave the agents the amount you were able to spend. This obviously allowed them to show you what you could purchase within that range. Without this information they most likely would have wasted your time and their own showing you houses and cars that were either above or below your means. Similarly, with a price range in place for your landscape project, a good designer will be able to evaluate your needs and bring them together in a concise plan.

If you build trust with your designer, and allow them to display their talent, you are on your way to establishing a mutually beneficial relationship. The relationship, while supporting the designer, will also provide you with a purposeful plan. If the plan is competently installed, it will at its best, achieve the full potential of your objectives and add meaning and value to your home and lifestyle.

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 www.plna.com, related vendors www.patiopennstone.com, 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) www.outdoorlivinglancaster.com


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…

Amsonia Hubrichtii

Photo Credit: Melanie Blandford

Amsonia Hubrichtii has been voted perennial plant of the year by the perennial plant association for some very good reasons. This perennial is a plant for all seasons, with its mounding almost arching growth habit, it is great for a border garden or open woodland. This plant is best planted in large masses, it likes full sun to partial shade. Amsonia prefers well drained soils and will tolerates less moisture. As it gets established it will tolerate drier conditions. Arkansas blue star as it is known has a upright mounding growth habit with its narrow willow leaf and a slender round seed pod. With its Powdery blue star like flower clusters at top of a 2-3 foot stem in early spring to the beautiful display of fern like foliage in summer. As November roles around the foliage turns to a golden yellow, This is one of the best fall shows for a herbaceous perennial. Another Amsonia to try is a variety called “Blue Ice” This is a much smaller plant only getting to 15-18 inches tall and a much longer bloom time. This smaller compact plant should also be used as a edging or border plant.

Design with a Purpose by Doug Myers

        It’s perplexing. Much of our designed world, the things that we use and rely on in our daily lives, can simply create frustration. Product packaging is one area that I often cannot figure out. I recently purchased a couple of CD’s for the holidays and was surprised to find that a simple solution for removing the plastic was still not in place. For me, opening CD’S has become synonymous with frustration. Once you find the elusive seam, you have to scratch and pick to remove the shrink, then thinking you are home free you remember that a security sticker is still between you and the CD. After a few more “what the french” moments you are able to remove the cd from its casing. Rarely will I open a CD without these small moments of frustration. As an isolated example this may seem trivial but there are so many examples of poorly designed things that create moments of annoyance that can accumulate consciously or subconsciously and simply spin our day in the wrong direction.

                  As a landscape designer I have an interest in designing projects that not only serve the needs of my clients, but also, at their best, help give meaning to their lives. Many of the designed landscapes I observe on a daily basis not only fail to inspire but also fail to meet the needs of the individuals they are intended for.  Although many are competently installed and well cared for there is still something missing. The topic of purpose in landscape design was suggested as the theme for this blog, but purpose alone does not create good design. Even the CD packaging was designed with a purpose. The best design goes beyond purpose and involves deliberation and inspiration.

        Deliberate purpose is comprised of the practical, functional and utilitarian needs of the client. A designed landscape should at very least meet these needs. The space has to be the right size to accommodate the number of intended users, the circulation through the spaces should be fluent and it should be constructed to last for decades. Ideally it is built on budget and possibly in phases which may help eliminate design compromises.  In a nut shell, successful deliberate purpose in design requires a willingness to engage in process oriented thinking and avoid the temptation to simply sell a product. Be careful to check your ego at the door before sitting down to work. It is easy to become enamored with our ideas, and consequentially, stifle the voice inside your head that allows you to transcend, evaluate and modify your concept.

       The environment should also possess a quality that transcends the deliberate purpose of the project. Projects with inspired purpose go beyond competence and are satisfying in deeper ways – aesthetically, emotionally, intellectually and perhaps even spiritually. The best have an intuitive balance between complexity and simplicity, allowing the differences to enhance, rather than cancel each other out. Mastering this is very difficult, and it is a puzzle which I am continuously trying to solve and in no way have mastered. Inspired purpose speaks of true design, not simply decorating or imitating an image or idea from a book or magazine.

        Between the two areas of deliberate and inspired purpose, deliberation without inspiration is relatively easy to achieve and much more widespread. Consequently, the presence of inspired purpose in design combined with deliberation increases the value of the landscape considerably.  This is true in all design, not just landscape. Take the ipod as an example. It is a product that effectively balances simplicity and complexity, typically does less than other mp3 players, generally costs more, but yet, manages to outsell its competitors by wide margins. Truly deliberate and inspired.

       Good design offers us an opportunity to bring solace, meaning, and value to our daily lives. As I sit in my Eames lounge chair typing this blog, it occurs to me that well designed things tend to become a seamless part of our lives, but it is easy to take them for granted. As you look around your home or office, just about everything has been designed. I am sure each of us can name examples of well designed and poorly designed things, whether it is a cell phone, a chair, or the actual space in your home, or the space around your home. If we compare these spaces or things with others, we find that most of them are fairly well made; the thing that really differentiates them is the harmonious use of deliberate and inspired purpose in the design or lack thereof. I will leave you with a quote from Charles Eames. “Design is a plan for arranging elements in such a way as best to accomplish a particular purpose.”

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. https://www.rivervalleylandscapes.com/process.html 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.