Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Designing Trends - Courtyards

- Courtyards and Enclosed patios

One of the most forgotten elements in designing a comfortable sitting space always seems to be the sense of enclosure. People have a need and desire to look out and watch their surroundings, but they don’t want to feel like they are the ones being watched – well let’s face it, no one likes to be spied on! The key word here is sense of enclosure –we don’t want to screen off the key views – we want to frame them. So what are the best ways to enclose your patio without losing your views? The use of small walls, accent fencing and shrubs can be combined to form a courtyard or an enclosed patio. That will give you a sense of enclosure without losing key views.

When using small walls to enclose a patio, height is one of the main considerations. You have to take into effect the views you want to keep open and the views you want to screen, but ideally you will want the wall to be at least 18” high to 36” high so the wall could be used as a seat wall as well. Part of the wall or an accent post could be higher but the majority of the wall should fit into this range. This will give you the fame work for an enclosed space and with site specific placement of plants and other elements you are well on your way to enjoying your back patio or entry courtyard.

Accent fences are a great cost effect way to enclose an area and add visual interest to a patio. The accent fence could be a 3’ solid fence or a taller open style fence. The accent fence will take up less space than a wall, but it does not add the extra seating space that a seat wall would. An accent fence could be used in combination with stone columns for an old world look or the fence could have horizontal boards installed in a more modern style – the combination of materials and design styles are almost endless.

Plants are the most organic and cost effect way to enclose a space. Typically we want our hedging to stay between 18”-36” in height so we are able to enclose the area without screening views. Taller plants can be used in site specific locations to screen particular unsightly elements or to help frame views. Plants will also give you more year round interest and can add different textures, colors and fragrance to your outdoor living area.

The material combinations to enclose your patio are almost endless. Contact us today to discuss adding an enclosed patio or entry courtyard to you landscape.

Hardscape? Oh that's Hardscape! - Fencing


Fence is one of the more dynamic yet seldom used elements in the landscape. Typically when a client thinks fencing, they just envision a dog-eared cedar fence around the back yard. Fencing can be a lot more interesting than that and the fence does not need to be only on the property line. Fencing can act as a solid screen, semi transparent screen or as an architectural element.

Accent fencing can frame views, add a sense of privacy to a sitting area or add architectural interest to the yard. Materials can be combined to add needed privacy yet keep key views open. In this particular project a solid wood fence was requested for privacy, yet they also wanted the view from the street into the back yard give people the sense of something cool around the corner. So we designed a solid fence with a wrought iron gate that gives the clients privacy but will also keep the front and back yard open to each other.

When creating a comfortable space you want to provide a sense of enclosure, but you do not want to screen all the views. In this project a new raised deck was designed and the client requested some privacy, but they didn’t want to lose their views. We designed a small screen fence that had quite an open feeling, yet gave the clients a sense of privacy. A curved metal frame supporting horizontally installed composite boards complete this accent screen fence on top of the deck. This not only acts a semi privacy screen, but it also adds interest to the yard. This design element then was picked up and used as a trellis for the front yard to tie the front and back yards together.

The materials and look of your screen/accent fence are almost endless; contact us to see how we can incorporate an accent fence in your yard today.

Focus on Plants - Autumn Purple Ash

Autumn Purple Ash

Fall is around the corner and trees will be bringing on their fall color show to highlight the many colors in nature. One of my favorite trees for fall color is the Autumn Purple Ash. When the tree is young the fall color will be more of a solid purple, but as the tree get larger, the inside leaves will turn yellow in the fall while the outside leaves will turn a combination or wine red, yellow and purple. It is truly stunning effect that you will notice in early fall and will be the envy of your neighborhood.

The autumn purple Ash is a fast growing shade tree that has a mature canopy size of approximately 50’ high x 30’ wide. The green leaves will provide nice shade in the summer heat to cool your yard. If you have the room and you are looking for a fairly fast growing (18”-3’ per year) shade tree

Designers Toolbox

Conceptual Plans

When designing a plan for a client it is always preferred to give the client some different options. Similar in concept to HGTV’s Designers Challenge, we will proved the client with 3-4 conceptual landscape plans that are totally different in look and the client will get to pick the one they like. When designing the concept plans we like to define two objectives; the location for the main elements (patio area, lawn area, outdoor kitchen….) and overall design style/feel. The concept plans will show main tree location and shrub bed massing, but we do not deal with specific plant names at this time. Typically a client will gravitate to one of the concepts, but bring in some elements from the other concepts to make it their own.

When designing concept plans we also like to provide the client with SketchUp models of the concepts so they can see in 3D what there yard could look like.

In this set of concept plans for a back yard in Boise we present the client 4 concept plans that dealt with different location and shapes of the main key elements. The main elements were decks, patios, water feature, shade structures, lawn areas, planter areas, raised bed gardens, greenhouse, chicken coop, compost area, potting bench and dog run. When doing the concepts we are able to play with the location, level and look of the yard.

These 4 plans were able to give the client multiple options to see what the best use of their yard would be. After reviewing the concepts, the clients preferred concept plan #1 but also brought in elements from the other concepts into a final plan. Contact us to see how we can provide you with multiple options for your yard.


Yard Tips - Fall maintenance

The heat of summer is now past and your yard is getting ready for its winter hibernation. Fall is the time to get your yard ready for this. Fall is also the time for football and hockey, but don’t forget about your yard. In early fall, leaves will start to turn color, but your will have time until you need to start raking them up.  Your herbaceous perennials (the perennials that die back down to the ground) will have to be cut back to the ground after the first heavy frost (or before if you prefer). Fall is also a good time to rake and remove any leaves and debris from the base of your shrubs and trees.  I will usually wait to prune my shrubs and ornamental grasses until early spring. So sit back and watch the leaves turn color and enjoy this time of year before the cold comes!


Fall 2010

I hope you enjoyed our Fall 2010 newsletter. I would like to thank our partners for their help to make this newsletter possible. Please see their web sites to review their products and services.

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Monday, June 21, 2010

Designing Trends - Shade

With spring ending and summer just around the corner, most homeowners have one thing on their mind in regards to their yard –SHADE!!! Yes we do live in the desert and gosh darn-it, it gets hot in the summer. One of the most common requests we get from clients is to have shade in their yard. There are 3 main ways to achieve shade in the residential landscape -- the use of shade trees, the use of shade structures and using existing structures for shade. Here in the summer, even the best designed outdoor rooms will be unused and uninviting if the element of shade is not addressed.

Using shade trees for shade can be very rewarding, successful and frustrating at the same time. Shade trees will have an organic feel with interesting shadow patterns as well as adding a possible habitat for wild life. Shade trees will change every year (grow, flower color, fall color….etc) and provide year round interest, but for a shade tree to be effective you will usually have to wait 4-7 years to get substantial shade. A south west facing entry can be very hot and uninviting but with a few shade trees and some time (5 years for the pictures here) it can become an old world, shady oasis.


A shade structure will give your yard instant shade and an architectural focal point, but will be substantially more expensive than a shade tree. There are several different kinds of materials and styles that could be used (wood vs. synthetics, solid vs. lattice, column accents, seat walls, built-in outdoor kitchens, fireplaces, etc.) to create the outdoor room of your dreams.

The easiest and most cost effective way to have your outdoor room in shade in the afternoon is to have an east facing back yard and take advantage of the existing residence to provide shade late in the day. If you are lucky enough to have this situation, a well designed outdoor space will not require additional shade late in the afternoon, but if you wish to have shade in the morning thru mid afternoon, the use of shade trees or a shade structure might be required.

When the summer heat hits, the use of a properly designed outdoor room will improve the living quality of the space and will add year round interest. Contact us to see how we can add shade to your yard now.

Hardscape? Oh that's Hardscape! - Shade Structures

A touch of Shade
 A shade structure will give you instant shade and architectural interest but there are several elements that must be considered before installing your shade structure. How much maintenance do you want to do? What style will best suit your house and lifestyle? How much shade is needed? Do you want to attach the structure to the house or have it freestanding? Do you want solid or lattice type structure?

When maintenance is the main key in regards to a shade structure there are two main material choices – real wood or Alumawood (or other maintenance ‘free’ materials). Real wood will give you the most natural looking structure but will require the most maintenance to keep it looking new. You will need to stain/seal it every year to every couple of years (depends upon type of wood, sealer/stain used and the exposure to the elements) unless you like the grey, weathered look. Alumawood is a maintenance ‘free’ shade structure material that comes in 6 colors and has a wood grain look.  

When it comes to style, post size and treatment will have the biggest impact. 8” rough cut timber posts will give you a more naturalist and substantial look over a more formal looking 6” stucco column. Stone bases can be added to the bottom of the post to tie materials together and to give the post a more solid look. End cap details (such as beveled, mitered, corbel or scallop ends) can add an extra dimension to the shade structure.

The amount of shade that a lattice type shade structure produces depends upon its location, orientation and spacing of the overhead members. Solid roof structures can be designed to keep the patio area dry during poor weather, but the solid structure will not allow in filtered light like the lattice type. New Louvered remote control roof systems can have the best of both worlds with a touch of a button. It can be open to allow in filtered sun or be closed for a full shade and dry environment.

 If you need a shade structure and are overwhelmed by all the options, contact us to discuss the possibilities.

Focus on Plants - Hosta

In the shade garden, there is no other shade plant that has such a large variety of cultivars as the Hosta. For leaf size you can go from the gigantic 20”x15” leaf on the Sum and Substance Hosta all the way down to the tiny 3”x3” leaf on the Blue Mouse Ears Hosta. Sum and Substance will have a mature size of 36” tall and 60” wide, while Blue Mouse Ears will only get 6” tall and 10” wide. When it comes to colors, there are almost endless combinations of solid and variegated colors. For solid colors, Hostas can come in shades of blue-green, yellow-gold and several shades of green. For the variegated Hosta, color combination can involve shades of green, blue-green, yellow or white.

Hostas will first poke out of the ground in mid to late spring, depending upon the variety. The lush leaves will unfold and add a tropical feel to the shade garden. In summer, flower stalks will appear above the foliage. Flower colors tend to be lavender to white, but not particularly showy, some varieties having a slight fragrance. In fall , after a couple of heavy frosts, the plant will die back to the ground, you can remove the spent foliage and wait until spring for the Hosta to add rich color and texture to your shade garden next year.