Garden Walls: A Primer

A well-designed landscape can be inspiring, consider creating visual interest by adding garden walls. Changing the heights in your garden is one sure way to improve curb appeal on a once boring, flat yard. A low retaining wall or garden wall might be just what your landscape needs.

Concrete vs Stone walls?

The difference between the |”look and feel” concrete versus stone walls has become more indistinguishable as technology continues to evolve in concrete forming. Here is a list of pros and cons for both concrete and natural stone walls.

Concrete Walls

Modern concrete walls are not the ones you think of in cold, commercial plazas. They have much improved over the years and come in a variety of shapes, textures and colours allowing it to blend in well with the yard, garden and the exterior of the house.

Pros

  1. Lightweight – Machinery is usually not necessary when installing concrete garden walls, most attempting this DIY project are able to lift one or two blocks at the same time. Concrete products are usually compact and easy to work with.
  2. Quick and easy install – The integral lip or tongue-and-groove system interlocks the blocks and makes the installation fast and easy. You simply drop the blocks in place. Just be sure to stagger the vertical joints between rows.
  3. Versatile design – The shapes that this material comes in allows for curves in the design and much more versatile than stone.
  4. Inexpensive – The cost to make a garden wall out of concrete is less expensive than using natural stone and is widely available at home centers.

Cons

  1. Requires a strong and level base – Leveling a concrete garden wall requires more tedious leveling, it is imperative that your base (4 to 6”) is perfectly level before installing. We do not want the wall to shift. Unfortunately, this means more digging and base material required.
  2. Cutting with a saw – Cutting is required when installing a concrete garden wall. A special saw is required to cut these materials during installation.

Stone Walls

Natural stone (Armour Stone/rock) of different shapes and sizes fit tightly together when stacked to form a wall. Stones create the nicest-looking walls but are more costly and it will take much more skill and creativity to build as they are also much heavier.

Pros

  1. Less time is spent on the base when installing Armour Rock because most rocks are not perfectly level to begin with, most applications do not need tedious leveling.
  2. Strength – Strength is one of the biggest reasons why a natural stone wall built out of Armour Rock is a terrific option for a garden wall, the sheer weight of an individual rock will make it next to impossible to shift or move.
  3. Best-looking – Natural Stone is currently the trendiest option for landscaping; it offers great curb appeal to all homes. With increased competition within the industry natural stone is more affordable than ever before.

Cons

  1. Too heavy – Weight is a problem when using Armour Rock, most of the time a machine (skid steer) is used when installing Armour Rock.
  2. It is much more difficult to install Armour Rock on a tight radius, most of the time you are limited to straight/linear designs.
  3. Harder to work with – Stacking Armour Rock is difficult because of the various heights, skill and experience is important when selecting specific Armour Rock.

The finished product looks complicated but is a fairly simple project. Be sure to do your research. Regardless of the material you choose to build your new garden wall, with a little planning and effort, you will soon have a new focal point in your yard and a new home for your flowers and plants.

For more free landscaping advice, please contact us and we will be more than happy to help you out.

Soil Preparation for Gardens and Lawns

Good news fellow green thumbers, it’s time to get your gardening tools and gloves ready for spring! As we slowly enter into April, the snow melts into the ground and the cold winters break into longer, warmer days; many of us become eager to start planting in our gardens but it is important to care for the soil at this stage by adding back important nutrients and improving texture so that healthy plants can flourish.

Here’s a checklist to get your soil preparation for gardens and lawns started:

1. When can we start digging? Check the soil conditions.

A mistake that many make is working on the soil too early. Allow the melting snow and spring rain to pass and the earth to dry out a bit before attempting to do any work. Heavy, wet soil is difficult to work with and doesn’t break up into loose, plant-friendly texture. Also, treading across wet ground will further compact the soil making it much more difficult to dig up later.

Is the soil dry enough? Do a quick test!
Squeeze a handful of soil and form a ball in your hands. If the lump of soil shatters easily when given a tap, it is ready! If the lump keeps its shape or breaks apart in solid sections, it still contains too much water and you must let it dry out some more. Clay soil, the type commonly found in Mississauga, when too wet will feel slick when rubbed between the fingers.

2. Clearing the area

Springtime is often associated with new birth and green growth, but as the white snow melts, we are often left with areas of debris, rocks and twigs. These need to be cleared away. A spade or a hoe is a handy tool to have.

3. Dig deep and loosen the soil

Don’t make the common mistake by using lousy soil. Plant roots grow below the ground so remember to dig deep! It is best to work soil 10 to 12 inches deep.

4. Adding organic matter

Lay the organic matter on top of the loosened, prepared soil and work the material thoroughly into the soil with a spade or a fork. Make sure it is even distributed. You can’t change the soil you have but adding organic matter drastically improves the overall soil quality.

Organic matter improves the soil by:

  • It helps loosen and aerate clay soil
  • It improves the water – and nutrient-holding capacity of sandy soil

Add lots of organic matter such as:

  • compost
  • manure
  • peat moss
  • grass clippings
  • aged sawdust
  • Spring soil preparations maybe hard and tedious work but it can save you untold disappointments and ensure you give your new plants and seedlings the best nutritious soil to grow and thrive in.

    For more free landscaping advice, please contact us and we will be more than happy to help you out.

Landscape Design Trends 2013

A well-designed landscape can be inspiring. It can provide a sense of calm, a sense of awe and a sense of balance. A beautiful landscape can also improve the curb appeal of your home.

Landscaping and gardening are also ideal outlets for your creativity. It is important to keep a few design elements in mind when planning your new landscape – unity, balance, simplicity, variety, focus and emphasis.

Here is a list of the landscape design trends of 2013 to help you out:

#1. Focus – Water Features:

Water features are once again very popular this year as it is creates a dramatic focal point, add ambiance and really transform your outdoor space into a tranquil environment. Whether it is a pond or a moving water feature, the sky is the limit! Many water feature kits are available to purchase and simple to install; and with your choice of lighting colours it is no wonder that homeowners are going crazy for waterfall kits in 2013!

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Landscaping Trend – Focus

#2. Emphasis – Dark and distinct borders:

Borders play a big role when it comes to great interlocking stone projects. The usage of dark distinctive borders helps define and highlight your landscape and is a prominent trend this season. This can be the difference between a mediocre and a fabulous design.

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Landscaping Trend – Emphasis

#3. Simplicity – Clean lines and simple patterns:

Lines are a powerful design element that define rooms and connect people to the landscape. The days of swooping lines and circles are considered out-dated; and a minimalist approach using clean lines and simple patterns are currently hot at the moment. Although not new to landscaping, simple patterns and a ‘less-is-more’ attitude can create a much bigger impact.

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Landscaping Trend – Simplicity

#4. Texture – Mixing it up:

When it comes to interlocking pavers there is an array of textures and designs to choose from. When creating a driveway, walkway or backyard patio consider changing up patterns with different textures as it can highlight key aspects of your area such as borders, accents, trees and flower beds.

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Landscaping Trend – Texture

#5. Unity and Balance – Creating harmony with concrete products and natural stone:

Breaking up a landscape with natural stone is great way to create the perfect balance in any yard. It is important to not over use any one type of material as this could lead to monotony. A yard that is purely concrete becomes over bearing and dry, and by incorporating natural stone in a variety of shapes and sizes, such as boulders and rock, to the landscape helps creates contrast and interest.

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Landscaping Trend – Unity and Balance

Planning a Garden Landscape

Every year around this time while putting away the last of the Christmas decorations, I secretly hope that spring will be just around the corner – the smell of fresh grass, colourful flowers in bloom and warm sunny days – sadly I know the worst of the cold is still to come as February is really, just around the corner.

Since spring is still months away and is blistery cold outside, what better way to pass the time than to make your daydreams into reality by planning out your garden.

Whether you like fragrant flowers, lash green shrubs or bountiful vegetable gardens; planning the foundation is essential.

Research is Key

Start by gathering ideas from magazines, the internet and visit home shows (International Home and Garden Show at the end of February and the National Home Show in the middle of March) to see what you like. Research is key, especially when you consider that a fixed object in landscape isn’t going to be move easily, such as driveways or large trees.

How is this space going to be used?

Decide what you want and need. What are your priorities? Is it entertaining friends, playing with the kids, growing flowers and vegetables, or simply relaxing in a hammock? How much maintenance are you willing to do?

Keep in mind of your budget constraints.

Also remember that the landscape may have to develop in stages. Make a map of your property. Draw a “bird’s eye view” to scale on graph paper. Be sure to include:

  • The house itself
  • Boundaries, noting the neighbor’s landscape style as well
  • Existing plants
  • Exposure (which way does it face – north, south, east, or west)
  • Utilities (dryer vents, air conditioner/heat pumps)
  • Service areas (dog kennel, storage building, trash cans)
  • Views you wish to preserve or hide
  • Downspouts and drains
  • Grades/slopes/drainage
  • Any existing irrigation systems
overview-of-garden-landscape

Use tracing paper or graph paper to draw your ideas. These could include plants, a gazebo, a walkway, an orchard, a pond, or sculpture. Lay the tracing paper over the map to get an idea of how the new landscape will look.

Here’s a helpful program from Better Home and Gardens to help you with laying out your design. This program is called Plan-a-Garden. It lets you design anything from a patio-side container garden to your whole yard. Use your mouse to “drag-and-drop” more than 150 trees, shrubs, and flowers. Add dozens of structures like buildings, sheds, fences, decks — even a pond. You will need to register to use the program and it is completely free!

Careful planning and sourcing will make the task much easier when springtime rolls in and the warm sun comes out. With planning out of the way, you’ll have all the time to run around outside and enjoy the new season with the family.

For more information, please contact us and we will be more than happy to help you out.

Image Source: Freshome Design and Architecture

Burning Firewood Guide – Fireplaces and Wood Stoves

Nothing fills the house with smells and warmth like the crackling of a burning fire. Wood-burning fireplaces can creative a peaceful, inviting ambiance as well as an alternative way to heat your home.

Choosing the type of firewood to use can be a daunting task, so here is a quick guide to selecting the best firewood to use to get the best burning firewood experience. Arm yourself with some key information to help you be on your way to picking the right kind of firewood for you.

1. Always pick a seasoned firewood

Freshly chopped or unseasoned (green) wood has up to 50% water content and burning this will only result in a room full of smoke. Seasoned wood on the other hand have been cut, split and properly dried out for over a year allowing the moisture in the wood to evaporate.

2. What is the difference between hardwood and softwood?

Wood TypeType of TreesPositiveNegative
Hardwoodmaple, oak, ash, birch, fruit treesburns hotter and longer, uses less firewoodmore expensive, harder to split
Softwoodpine, balsam, spruce, alder, poplareasy to ignite, easy to splitcreosote build-up (cause chimney fires), highly flammable, burns out quickly

3. How does wood burn?

In the first stage, wood is heated to the point where moisture within the wood cells is driven off and the cells are drying out. As the wood is losing moisture, it is chemically changing into charcoal – which is famous for its volatile gases and liquids. Stopping the process at this point is where the charcoal industry packages their products.

The second stage is where actual flames burn off the volatile gases and volatile liquids to the point where charcoal has lost most of these volatile fuels. Much of the energy of wood fuel is lost during this stage.

Finally, the third stage occurs when the charcoal burns and can be seen when the embers glow. This is called “coaling”. At this point, heat is radiated from the burning bed of coals. Different species of wood burn and expend energy differently throughout these three stages.

4. What do I look for when buying firewood?

The burning properties and the heating potential of wood depend upon its species and density of that wood. Here are three heating values to consider when buying firewood – density, heat content and coaling quality.

  • Density – Denser wood contains more heat per volume
  • BTU – The higher the value, the more heat you get per unit of wood
  • Coaling – Wood that forms coals allow a fire to burn longer
Tree SpeciesDensity (lbs/cu.ft)Million BTUs/cordCoalingCharacteristics
White Birch (Hardwood)4220.8goodBirch gives off good heat but tends to be consumed pretty quickly. The flavor is good, similar to maple which compliments pork and poultry nicely.
Beechwood (Hardwood)32 to 5624 to 27excellentThis has some great heat and flame but tends to give off a fair amount of sparks. Use a fireplace screen or door.
Pine (Softwood)22 to 3115poorThis burns well when well- seasoned but has a tendency to crackle and pop because it is resinous and a softwood. Good for kindling since it lights easily but too much can leave a strong piney smell which is nice outdoors but can be overwhelming indoors or with food. Can also leave an oily soot in your chimney and your food.
Spruce (Softwood)25 to 4415.5poorBurns too quickly, produces low heat, can be smokey and with too many sparks. It is good to start fires with, but substitute with a hardwood.
Poplar (Softwood)22 to 3116fairNot recommended – even when very well seasoned it burns poorly and produces an unpleasant black smoke.

Remember, part of having a memorable fireplace experience is having the right type of fire wood – choose a quality hardwood that have been proper aged

A Fun Way to Remember your Firewood

Here’s a fun rhyme to help you to remember:

These hardwoods burn well and slowly,
Ash, beech, hawthorn oak and holly.
Softwoods flare up quick and fine,
Birch, fir, hazel, larch and pine.
Elm and willow you’ll regret,
Chestnut green and sycamore wet.

For more information, please contact us and we will be more than happy to help you out.

Image Source: Flickr