Our friends at Bluestem Nursery recently posted this video on their blog, and I wanted to share this nice story with you. And if you haven’t visited Bluestem’s website, head over and check it out. It’s chock full of information on grasses, willows and perennials. They’re great folks with great plants!
Humans are obsessed with beauty. We spend billions of dollars enhancing the way we look, more often than not robbing the world of our innate natural beauty.The horticultural world is no different. Each year new introductions are made promising longer bloom times and more controlled growth habit.
Recently I have been reminded of this, as the Cherry Trees in our area begin to blossom. More specifically Weeping Pink Cherries, Prunus subhirtella ‘Pendula’. I don’t like Weeping Pink Cherries. More specifically, I don’t like the “cute” little umbrella shape that has come to identify this once natural beauty.
An umbrella is not the natural form of this species, but is a weeping species grafted onto a standard (or trunk) of another cherry species.
It has become ubiquitous, it is everywhere.
Every once in a while though, an older specimen is encountered and the question arises, “Why do we mess with Mother Nature?”
I am very pleased to introduce you to Kathy Moran of Cedarstore.com. Kathy is the first guest blogger to appear here on Blue Heron Landscapes, and I hope you enjoy the wonderful ideas she bring to us today! You’ll find more information on cedarstore.com at the end of this post, please pay them a visit.
Just look through any magazine for outdoor design ideas, and you’re bound to notice the trend toward turning patios, yards, and porches, into outdoor living rooms. Often furnished as luxuriously as indoor rooms, some are even equipped with stoves and refrigerators.
After seeing so many pictures of these gorgeous spaces, many people give wistful sighs when glancing at their own backyards and patios, feeling that they’re too small or drab to have any such potential. However, they needn’t give up so quickly, because there are many ways to capitalize on spaces of any size. In fact, even those who have small porches or patios, and limited acreage to work with, can create charming backyard havens and outdoor living rooms.
For example, trellises, arbors, and pergolas can be strategically placed to define a specific area, such as a cozy hideaway in a corner of the backyard, a delightful niche for entertaining, or a secluded alcove in a side yard. These rooms will have colorful walls and ceilings that are alive with vibrant, climbing flowers and vines, as well as built-in shade and air-conditioning. Another alternative is to use planter benches with latticed backs, which supply seating, flowers, and walls, all at once, without hindering air circulation. Multi-paneled garden trellises and screens also offer beauty and privacy.
It’s easy to decorate these spaces attractively, as today’s outdoor furniture is available in styles and colors that will complement any motif, from rustic, to refined, or classic, to contemporary. Beside the traditional woods, modern choices include durable aluminum and polywood, along with synthetic wicker, a material that looks stunningly authentic, but is practically indestructible.
Carefully selected colors can establish a flow from the indoors to the outside, giving the illusion of a larger space. For instance, if the room immediately off the patio has blue walls, patio furniture, outdoor throw pillows, or patio umbrellas with blue in them, will create a unified look. Blue flowers, in a bed, and/or in some planters placed near the door, will enhance the effect; and a vase full of those flowers on an indoor dining table or accent table will tie things up perfectly.
This principle applies not only to solid colors, but to patterns and materials, too. Indoor paneled walls and wood furniture can easily be complemented by wood outdoor furniture. Moreover, with the countless colors and patterns available for outdoor furniture cushions, it’s easy to find some that will correspond with indoor upholstery, carpeting, throw rugs, or tapestries.
There are also many lighting options for these spaces, which, in addition to candles, party lights, and torches, include exquisite outdoor table lanterns, pendant lights, and floor lamps.
So, the next time you’re browsing through a magazine, don’t be dismayed if you don’t have the same kind of sprawling backyard or spacious porch or patio that you see in the photographs. No matter how large or small an area you have as a foundation, you can be sure that, with the proper planning, it can be transformed into a striking outdoor room that’s as functional, practical, and comfortable as any room in your home.
CedarStore.com is a family of five websites specializing in outdoor furniture and garden structures. Offering a wide variety of top quality and handcrafted patio furniture, CedarStore.com, GazeboCreations.com, AllPicnicTables.com, TeakDesigns.com and DesignerBridges.com can boast the absolute authority on both their products and their ideal uses.
As experts in the field, CedarStore.com writes a well-read blog, AllOutdoorPatioFurniture.com, to help outdoor enthusiasts, landscapers, and gardeners design their gardens, lawns, and patios to suit their needs. Their biggest passion is always making sure everyone can get the most out of their outdoor living spaces as possible!
To learn more: visit CedarStore.com, AllOutdoorPatioFurniture.com, Follow them on twitter with @CedarStore, or, of course, simply call them up at 1.888.293.2339.
In Part I of our series on Compost Tea, we learned of the existence of the Soil Food Web. In Part II we learned about organisms within the Food Web, focusing on four building block organisms that plants use to gather the nutrients they need to survive. Now let’s take a look at actually brewing Compost Tea. First off, let’s start referring to Compost Tea in the correct manner, Actively Aerated Compost Tea (AACT). This distinction is important in order to differentiate it from other ways of applying organisms to your soil. The AACT process involves feeding and growing organisms under properly oxygenated conditions. If proper oxygen levels are not maintained, then some very bad visitors can show up in your brews. Hence the term “Actively Aerated”. Processes that simply steep compost without foods or aeration are ‘Leachates’ or ‘Extracts’.
Ok, so you have decided that brewing AACT sounds like a great idea, and you would like to try it. Excellent! Simplified, the process involves taking a high quality, well made compost, agitating the organisms from the compost into water, feeding and providing adequate aeration, and waiting for them to multiply. You will need the following materials to be successful;
Compost: Remember, in Part I we learned that not all compost is equal, and what some people consider compost, is not really compost at all. For our process, we are looking for a rich dark brown (think coffee grounds color) finished material, alive with organisms, free from pathogens and weed seeds. Finished meaning the compost has completed its process, and has sat long enough undisturbed for beneficial bacteria and fungi to grow to acceptable levels. If you do not have an adequate source on hand, compost for brewing tea can be purchased. It is important to obtain testing results for all compost, whether you have made it yourself or are purchasing it. All respectable companies selling compost for tea should be able to provide you with test results. Once purchased or made, your compost can be energized prior to brewing to give your fungi a head start. Fungi take longer to grow, so feeding them early (about 4 days with oats and Fish Hydrolysate) will give you a better chance of having them in your finished tea.
Water: You will need a chlorine free source, or if need be you will need to remove the chlorine. Chlorine being highly unstable, can be released from water by agitation for a period prior to brewing. Many municipalities are now using chloramines in drinking water, because it is more stable than Chlorine. This can not be agitated out, but can be negated simply buy adding organic matter to your water prior to brewing.
Brewing Container: AACT can be brewed in containers ranging from a five gallon pail up to large tanks holding thousands of gallons. You will applying your tea at a rate of about one half gallon per 1000 square feet of soil, so plan accordingly. Here is a great brewer, perfectly sized for the home brewer from Keep It Simple, Inc.
Source of Aeration: maintaining oxygen levels above 6 parts per million is essential in growing the aerobic organisms we are looking for. For small brewers, an aquarium pump can be used, while for large brewers, as we have (250 gallons), a regenerative blower will be necessary. A mesh bag: This is an optional item. The amount of compost used in relation to the amount of water is small, so it allows the brewer to use a mesh sack to contain the compost, making it easier to spray the tea, and simplifying the cleaning process. You may also choose to let the compost hang free in suspension, but you will need enough agitation from your aerator to help dislodge the organisms from the compost. Food for the Organisms: Depending on which organisms you will be trying to grow, you will use a combination of the following food sources; Fish Hydrolysate (NOT Emulsion!), Soluble Kelp, Humic Acid, Oatmeal (oats), and Organic Flour. It goes without saying that products should be all natural and/or Organic.
We purchase from the following, as we find the quality and service excellent with these vendors ; Neptune’s Harvest, Keep It Simple Inc., and Bob’s Red Mill. A Google search will produce companies in your area if these prove to distant form your location.
24 hours: What? Yes 24 hours, for that is the average time it takes for the organisms to consume all the foods and multiply into finished Actively Aerated Compost Tea. Now, if you’ve gotten this far and thought, WHOA!! this is getting to complicated, take a deep breath, making AACT is not as complicated as it sounds. If you find yourself still overwhelmed, take a look at these 2 products. They are pre-brewed AACT in a dormant state, with a shelf life of about one year, ready to be applied to your lawn or garden. They are ICT Organics 1-2-3 Compost Tea and Natures Solution Compost Tea. Both are produced by companies well versed in the production of Compost Tea, and both effective products.
For those of you still interested in brewing your own tea (and I hope there are a few of you left), tune in next time, for a discussion of the process and application methods. Thanks for hanging in through a long series!
In Part I of our series on Compost Tea, we had a brief discussion on the Soil Food Web and compost. We learned that these are tools we can use to restore the biology to our soils. Now would be a good time to talk about the microorganisms within the Soil Food Web, their roles, and then we can move on to brewing compost tea.
Healthy biologically active soil is home to billions and billions of microorganisms, and the four that represent building blocks for healthy soil are Bacteria, Fungi, Nematodes, and Protozoa. One teaspoon of healthy garden soil can contain up to a billion bacteria, yards of fungal hyphae, thousands of protozoa, and dozens of nematodes. Truly an incredible amount of life, all invisible to the naked eye, simply living and going about their daily routines. Let’s take a quick look at each group.
Bacteria are tiny, one-celled organisms and fall into four functional groups; Decomposers, Mutualists, Pathogens, and Lithotrophs. We are most concerned with Decomposers (which break down materials) and Mutualists (which form symbiotic relationships with plants), and want to avoid Pathogens (the bad guys) for obvious reasons.
Fungi are microscopic cells that grow as long threads or strands called hyphae, which push their way between soil particles, roots, and rocks. Fungi perform important services related to water dynamics, nutrient cycling, and disease suppression.
Nematodes are non-segmented worms typically 1/500 of an inch (50 µm) in diameter and 1/20 of an inch (1 mm) in length. Nematodes mineralize, or release nutrients in plant-available forms.
Protozoa are single-celled animals and are classified into three groups: Ciliates, Amoebae and Flagellates. Protozoa play an important role in mineralizing nutrients, making them available for use by plants and other soil organisms.
Bacteria and Fungi are the holder of nutrients, and nematodes and protozoa are the releasers of nutrients. In short, the nematodes and protozoa eat the bacteria and fungi, and poop out nutrient rich material. Always comes back around to manure, doesn’t it?
Growing and re-establishing these organisms in poor soils is essential to re-energizing the Soil Food Web. The numbers present and needed of each of these groups of organisms differs, depending on the existing soil ecosystem, and the type of crop one intends to grow. Perennial plant ecosystems (forest, tree and shrub landscapes and perennials) are generally fungal, while annual plant ecosystems (annuals and vegetables) are generally bacterial. Grass ecosystems (great plains, lawns and turf) tend to be slightly bacterial. These compositions are important to note whether making compost, steeping Leachate or brewing Compost Tea. By building the correct soil organism communities, we provide plants an environment they can easily exploit, giving them the best opportunity to thrive. This is the essence of the organic process.
You may be asking, “How can a plant exploit?” Great question. Plants actually attract beneficial microorganisms. Say what? That’s right, plants, by releasing nutrients called exudates through their root walls into the rhizosphere (an area of only a couple of millimeters wide surrounding the root), attract the organisms they need to survive. The exudates attract bacteria and fungi that will in turn supply the plant with the nutrients it needs. Pretty cool eh? The plant actually attracts and feeds the certain bacteria and fungi that produce, or help the plant find the nutrients it needs to survive. It’s gardening on a microscopic level.
You now have a very basic understanding of the Soil Food Web. As with any complex subject, it can not adequately be covered in short blog posts. I will be providing you with suggested reading material and reference links at the end of the series.
Compost Tea or Actively Aerated Compost Tea (AACT) as it should be known, is gaining popularity amongst organic practitioners and home gardeners, but finds itself in the midst of controversy over its efficacy. It’s time to take a closer look at this very effective tool in the organic arsenal.
Any discussion of compost, AACT, and organic gardening, should begin with The Soil Food Web. Similar to the food pyramid used for nutritional guidelines for humans, the Soil Food Web is a mapping of the life and interaction of the organisms in healthy biologically active soil. Here organisms eat, live and excrete, and in turn are eaten and excreted by other organisms, producing nutrients for other organisms in the Foodweb and for the plants growing amongst them. So what keeps the Foodweb cycling? Compost. Compost, as most everyone knows, is produced by the decay or breaking down of organic matter by microscopic organisms. It is the foundation of Organic Gardening. Everything necessary for a plant to survive can be found in well made compost. At the basal level, composting really is the process of growing the microorganisms of the Soil Food Web, and organic gardening is the process of reintroducing these organisms back into the soil of our gardens. All compost, however, should not be considered equal. Nature has created very specific regenerative cycles for each of its plant communities, and by following these examples we can effectively create and maintain healthy, biologically diverse soils. I’ll have more on that in upcoming posts.
Ok, so up until now, whether you’ve knew of the Soil Food Web or not, if you use compost to amend your planting beds or topdress your soils, you have been growing and applying the microorganisms necessary to promote plant health. Bravo! You are doing your part to help nature succeed, contributing to the health of our planet and reducing our dependency on chemicals. There is an easier way however, and it’s here that Actively Aerated Compost Tea (AACT) can be a very effective and efficient tool for you.
It’s important to note here, the different techniques using compost and water to apply nutrients to the soil. They are; Compost Leachate, Liquid Compost Extract (LCE), and AACT. To produce Compost Leachate, one simply adds compost to water and lets it sit for a period of time. The resulting liquid is then strained and applied to one’s soils. To produce LCE, one uses the same process as Leachate, but agitates the slurry, either by creating a vortex or aerating (bubbling) the solution to extract the microorganisms and nutrients from the compost. The resulting liquid is then strained and applied.
The process of making Actively Aerated Compost Tea (AACT) uses a small amount of compost in water, and blasts the microorganisms (through aeration) from the organic matter. Foods are then added to the tank, and consumed by the microorganisms. This is the beauty of AACT. When brewed with well made compost, the correct amount of foods and adequate levels of dissolved oxygen, the microorganisms multiply exponentially, and safely, producing a solution rich in microbial activity, that when applied, infuses the soil with the biology necessary to sustain plant life.
In part II, we’ll discuss the some of the organisms of the Soil Food Web, and the process of growing them by brewing AACT.
If you’ve ever walked through a landscape and not been able to tell what part of the country you were in, or have traveled somewhere only to find the same plants, paving materials, and stores as the mall back home, then you have experienced the homogenization of today’s society. Uniqueness is giving way to mass production in our world. If everywhere we go, looks the same as where we’ve been, is there really any reason to have gone there in the first place? This post, and the posts of 12 of my friends and fellow Landscape Designers today, is dedicated to celebrating regional diversity in the garden. Lauding the uniqueness of each corner of this small planet. Please take some time to visit the other participants blogs, and experience the visions of each of these talented designers, as they delve into regional diversity in Garden Design. You’ll find their names and links to their blogs at the end of this post.
I live and design landscapes in southern New England. New England is a wonderfully diverse region of the country. The Connecticut River Valley, rich and fertile, has been home to thriving agriculture for some 400 years. Dairy farms once dominated the rolling hills of Vermont. There are granite quarries in New Hampshire, brownstone quarries in Connecticut, rocky lobster beds in Maine, and the world’s premier oyster fisheries in Long Island Sound. Mill towns throughout the region stand as reminders of a strong manufacturing base, long since weakened by present day global economies. Ecosystems vary from huge sand dunes on Cape Cod, alpine meadows in New Hampshire, deep spruce forests in Maine, and over 6000 miles of rocky and sandy coastline. In a days drive, one can experience all that New England has to offer, passing through cattle pastures, tobacco fields, mountain passes, large cities and industrial hubs.
The architecture in New England is predominantly colonial in nature. It echoes the feel of northern Europe, for it is those Europeans that originally settled here. They brought with them their colonial style houses, cottage gardens, and an innate ability to construct miles and miles of field stone walls, perhaps the defining image of New England. Stone walls line both farmland and Main Street in most New England towns, and that same stone can be found in the construction of many of the older factories, churches and municipal buildings.
Sadly though, New England’s natural beauty is slowly disappearing, succumbing to strip malls and boring landscapes of mass produced plant cultivars. The brick paths, field stone walls and cottage gardens, that provided this region with its traditional character and charm, are also giving way to more modern concrete pavers, block walls and uninteresting plantings. To turn around this trend, one need only to look again to New England’s history and natural beauty when designing a garden. Its early European influences, natural geography and native ecosystems, still present today, can easily be drawn upon to marry each design to the regions character. And when that design is true to its surroundings, and successfully implemented, the effort put forth to enhance that natural beauty, disappears beneath a conjoined sense of place. To put it simply, a well designed landscape seems not to have been designed at all, yet gives the visitor a sense of location, and of the character within. Herein lays the value of celebrating a location’s natural diversity, and turning away from homogeneous design. By focusing on regionally specific plant groups, hardscape materials, and design concepts, we promote uniqueness rather than assimilation into the global fold.
Examples that might celebrate regional diversity could be as follows: A shade garden of locally native plants beneath a beautiful hardwood canopy, so common in New England, instead of cutting down as many trees as possible to grow a lawn. A meadow or rain garden in a low lying damp area, filtering toxins from runoff before it reenters the ecosystem. A habitat garden comprised of native plant species providing a place of food and sanctuary for the native fauna. Moving in closer to the house, examples might include; Native stone and brick to construct walkways and patios, calling back to the days when such materials were quarried in a nearby location. Regionally available wood species, felled and milled locally to build garden structures. And, when possible, situating the home itself so as to accentuate the property, shunning cut and fill grading practices and taking advantage of the land’s unique characteristics.
Drawing upon the history, native plants and hardscape materials of a region when designing a project, provides the designer a culturally specific path to creating that garden. A garden that celebrates its location and informs its visitors. As our world continues to shrink, it is imperative to preserve local character and regional identity. Doing so, will give your garden its unique sense of place.
I hope you find yourself a new sense of place in your own garden. And please, if you any thoughts on this topic? I’d love to hear them, leave a comment below!
I would invite you now to visit my friends and fellow Landscape designers as they blog from their unique and diverse regions, and who knows, maybe you’ll find an interesting place to visit the next time you venture across this wonderfully diverse country of ours. Click on each of the Designers names to visit their blogs. (And while your there, explore some of their older posts also. You’ll find a wealth of information!)
The world of Garden design is chock full of talented people from all walks of life, and from all corners of the globe. And depending upon one’s perspective, the approach to designing a garden might follow a certain criteria to success. But does this mean that there are hard and fast rules? And (for the purposes of this post), do artistic denizens of Garden Design practice what they preach on their own Gardens? Well the answer to each of these questions is a definitive Yes…. and No. You see, just like the “Pirates Code” in the Pirates of the Caribbean, these rules ” is more what you’d call “guidelines” than actual rules”.
Here are a few of the rules… er guidelines that I follow when designing a Garden:
The Garden must match the surroundings. A garden or landscape should appear to fit comfortably into its space, and should complement the architecture of the home. The transition of that, which is designed, be it house or garden, should appear seamless, to that which is nature.
The design should address realistic expectations of the client’s interaction with the garden. For the client with a green thumb (or even a want of a green thumb) bold swaths of perennials can be combined with shrubs and even vegetables. For those with little time or desire to work in the garden, lovely conifers, shrubs and a smattering of perennials will require little maintenance. For the entertainers, a patio garden and lawn space will provide ample room to play.
It should embody Genius Loci. Genius Loci, or sense of place, ties the garden to the heritage of its site. Alluding to the past can be a powerful design element when creating a garden. Experiencing the history of the site connects us to the life force of garden.
Finally, to paraphrase Captain Barbossa, there really are no rules, so have fun, and create something you will connect with and enjoy!
For myself, I do follow these guidelines at home, but it seems the one I am most successful with is Genius Loci, as evidenced by the wagon wheel in the picture below. It came with the house, and was soon placed against this sugar maple. That was over ten years ago now, and every time I pass by I am reminded of those that brought it here, and I hope they are happy with my efforts.
This post was inspired by friend and fellow Garden Designer Susan L. Morrison of Creative Exteriors Landscape Design in the San Francisco area. She recently proposed a question to me and two other of our colleagues, Susan Cohan of Susan Cohan Gardens in New Jersey, and Rebecca Sweet of Harmony in the Garden, also in the San Francisco area. The question: Do designers practice what they preach? She then suggested we all post our responses on our blogs at the same time. It’s a great idea Susan thanks, it’s an honor to be included with three very talented designers
Recent events have kept me from attending to all the details that keep each project moving along smoothly, and that has caused there to be a little downtime for the crew. When faced with idle time in the past, I could usually trust that my crew would keep themselves busy in some sort of constructive fashion. My current crew, consisting of 2 college aged males on the otherhand, upon finding themselves with some empty time, decided they would rather exercise their ceative muscles. When instructed to move an existing pile of brick, they instead decided to build a monument any mason was sure to be proud of. So, move it they did. All that was left was to sit back and soak up the accolades.
So my friends, I give you – “Pile of Brick”, by Justin and Mike.
Now in the past, I may have over reacted to this kind of “tom-foolery”, but I have matured over the years, and have learned to accept things for what they are. After all, they could have used their idle time in all manner of degenerate ways (that’s a story for another time!). No, this time I took into account that the customer was fairly amused, and that their actions didn’t leave me with any repairs or the need to replace anything (which is also a story for another time!), instead I focused on the positive, and….. promoted them.
I am pleased to introduce the new Vice President and Executive Assisant, of material storage and brick stacking for Blue Heron! (I’ll let them decide which is which).
To those of you that tuned it to watch “The Ultimate Backyard Makeover” on FOX 61 this past Saturday, I must first say thank you. Not only did you perservere through a long blog series, you went the extra yard. Now, if you found yourself saying “what the heck was that?”, you are not alone. Apparently there were some technical difficulties in the Fox 61 control room, and half of the show did not make it on air, so if you didn’t get it, it wasn’t you. Fox 61 will be re-airing the the show in all its glory again this Saturday (Same Bat Time, Same Bat Channel) and this time you’ll get to see the whole thing.
So if you have it in you to give it one more try for cause, please tune in. Oh and just in case, better have a copy of your favorite movie to watch if things go awry again. I think I’ll rent moonstruck……