Foundation planting with containers

 

Today’s article is about what I call a “Barbie Doll Garden.”  Here’s the story:

One of my favorite clients for a number of years is very easy to please as long as she gets ­exactly what she wants.  The problem is that I sometimes have to get really creative to reach that goal.  I spent a lot of time trying to get the entrance planting just right but she kept asking me to move this or change that.  Finally, in order to make the moving and changing easier, I got some nice clay pots and created a garden that can be moved around and changed easily.  I got tickled when I figured out that it was kind of like playing with a doll house and being able to change things easily and at will.

Containers in foundation planting for easy maintenance and change
Containers in foundation planting for easy maintenance and change

The planting is divided into three sections.  In this one by the drive, we installed a fieldstone border and added pea gravel for the “floor.  We set containers where we thought they should go and planted a combination of evergreen and flowering plants. The plants have been pruned to shape using bonsai techniques. Whenever Betty decides that something doesn’t look right, we can move it, prune it, or change the plant out for another one.  The next picture shows the end of the planting area which is framed with an arborvitae in a cast iron urn

containers in the foundation planting. Not the urn framing the end.
containers in the foundation planting. Note the urn framing the end.

The second section takes in a porch by the drive and curves around the corner to the main entrance.  I like the way pots of impatiens and caladiums flash their colors from an area behind the autumn ferns. We are able to move the accent plants around to get the placement just right.  As they say on the infomercials, “It really, really works.”

Containers of impatiens behind autumn ferns
Containers of impatiens behind autumn ferns

Permanent plantings of well shaped lorapetalum and dwarf nandina give a background for a bed of containers on the house side of the walkway to the front entrance.  We chose a combination of variegated cypress, dwarf procumbens juniper, dwarf yaupon, and frost proof gardenia for the perennial evergreens.  The bed is bordered with rock and has been filled and leveled with compost and cypress mulch for stability and levelling

cypress chips, rocks, and containers with shaped evergreens
cypress chips, rocks, and containers with shaped evergreens

We also left room to plant flowers.  I love the dragon wing begonias.  These are the most dependable begonias I ever worked with.  They can be used as bedding plants or in containers.  The begonias are replaced with pansies for the winter garden.

Bedding plants form a nice frame for the containerized evergreens.  I love the gardenia bloom
Bedding plants form a nice frame for the containerized evergreens. I love the gardenia bloom

To add balance for the planting at the end of the walkway, we added one more small bed around the cast iron horse head.  I selected three upright junipers and pruned them into an interesting topiary.  These plants will never be finished.  I have a picture in my head of each of the limbs having a flat top with rounded edges.  The final picture will take years.

Three carefully shaped topiaries in containers anchor the end of the stone walkway
Three carefully shaped topiaries in containers anchor the end of the stone walkway

To add color, I found a large dragon wing hanging basket and planted it in this terra cotta pot.  The plant had been root bound in the basket and it almost exploded when it received room for its roots and a goodly dose of liquid fertilizer.

Dragon wing begonia and procumbuns juniper in separate containers
Dragon wing begonia and procumbuns juniper in separate containers

I really like this garden.  I like the way it looks and I like the fact that when something doesn’t look right I can move it or easily change it.  When some of the plants become root bound or out of shape I can plant them in the yard and replace them with new ones.  I am planning to renovate my new wife’s back yard and I think that we will use the “Barbie Doll” concept for at least one or two sections. I love the aspect of being able to modify the scope and balance by easily moving or changing a plant here or there.

This is also a wonderful concept for someone who finds instant gratification a bit on the slow side.

Other articles relating to this topic:

How to start a bonsai

The basics of pruning

As usual, I would just love for you click here to go to Amazon and purchase the ebook edition of my wonderful book, Requiem for a Redneck to go on your Kindle. I have also noticed that Amazon now has a free Kindle app for iphones and tablets. Is that cool or what?

If you would like a consultation with John Schulz, Landscape Artist, in your yard,Please contact me by email

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A new garden style? Call it “Country Formal”

I really don’t know what we will call this garden, but I’m sure something will present itself as time goes by. The garden is out in the country and the main problem is weed control. The invasive grasses that invade with underground stolons are the worst. They are hard to control because if you pull them they get worse. We will prevail, though, through good design and maintenance. I started with a scaled drawing

For something really special, I always use a scaled drawing

For something really special, I always use a scaled drawing

We will have a pretty formal looking brick lined garden in the center of the project. This garden is designed to be low maintenance, meditative, interactive, and visually pleasing. The raised beds will be bordered by a “no grow” zone for the control of invasive weeds. The floor of this zone will be river gravel and the plantings will be in containers. I can think of all sorts of benefits that will present themselves with this idea. Irrigation will be through drip tubes and regulated with a clock. We start with a stake in the center of the garden to use as a pivot point.

using a stake and a nail as a pivot point

using a stake and a nail as a pivot point

I love my ‘pistola de pentura’ (paint gun). I can tie one end of a string to the stake in the center of the garden and another to the paint gun. An accurate 30 foot circle can then be drawn just like we did it in grammar school.

Using inverted marking paint to put the design on the ground

Using inverted marking paint to put the design on the ground

We begin installing the bricks keeping in mind that we will add four inches of compost on the inside and three inches of cypress mulch to the pathways.

installing the border

installing the border

One of the good things about building country style is that “you can’t mess up country style.” One of the hard things is that when you run into a problem, there are no guidelines or rules. We had to think a bit about how to make the center circle stable and visually pleasing.

design problem

design problem

I liked the view of the garden from this corner. We took particular care to design and build around the beautiful eucalyptus tree. I think it will be a wonderful background focal point.

beds and paths prepared

beds and paths prepared

Our next step will be to enhance the perimeter of the garden with an entrance planting and a sitting area in the shade under the magnolia tree. I’m really excited about this project. I hope you are enjoying it, too.

garden from entrance

garden from entrance

Before leaving the job, I stood and looked at this quadrant for a while. I still don’t have the planting design worked out, but I am a man of faith.

Planting area

Planting area

And a Word from Our Sponsor:

As usual, I would just love for you click here to go to Amazon and purchase the ebook edition of my wonderful book, Requiem for a Redneck to go on your Kindle. I have also noticed that Amazon now has a free Kindle app for iphones and tablets. Is that cool or what?

If you want a consultation in your yard in N.W. Georgia, send me an email at wherdepony@bellsouth.net

Raspberries and Introspection.

This website is becoming a part of my life. WordPress tells me that I have written 117 articles and that this one will be number 118. My wife, Dekie, tells me that she is impressed with my self-discipline. Hell, I’m impressed with it, too. I never thought I had it in me.

My new truck has a pocket in the glove compartment that holds the camera perfectly. I take it with me every day. There’s also a little compartment in the back of my mind that calls for ideas every week. I know that I will need information, ideas, and photographs for the coming Sunday morning.

I also know that I have a following. I don’t know who many of you are, but I know that you are out there. I know that if I skip a Sunday article I will get a phone call from someone who wants to know if I’m all right. That’s comforting and a compliment. The WordPress stats tell me that over a thousand people a week visit the site. That’s also a compliment.

Several people, including my astute father-in-law, have told me lately that the articles are getting better every week. I like that, too—it’s part of my pay. Any time I want to let Patsy know what is going on in my life, I just put it up on the blog.

“Blog” is a funny word, too. It is short for “web log” which would remind one of a “ship’s log” which would segue over to the word “journal”. And, that’s what it is—My personal work and life journal that is put out there for the world to see. I have total control of the content, and that is why I have decided to share this introspection.

He picks a fresh raspberry and says, "here, try this"

He picks a fresh raspberry and says, “here, try this”

Lynn and Joel Todino had asked me to come out and look at a part of their yard that needed help. The area had been installed as a rose garden which did all right for a while and then turned into an herb garden which became overgrown with Bermuda grass and other creeping weeds that show up when one lives in the country. Part of it was this wall of ivy.

Sometimes I feel like ivy is my job security.

Sometimes I feel like ivy is my job security.

I had no idea where to start. If the house had been a McMansion or something like that, I could have said, “Ok. We’ll do a wall and then put down a flagstone patio and then place the fire pit over there and the water feature over there…” That would have worked.

But this wasn’t that kind of location. It was a most intriguing country house that looked comfortable and lived in. The funny thing was that the appointment was in the afternoon and I had stopped by the house to put on a clean shirt because I had mud on the one I had been working in all day. You know—I wanted to be presentable when I met the Doctor and his wife.

And then he showed up at the door dressed in a pair of dirty jeans and a t-shirt that he had wiped his muddy hands on. “Ok,” I thought. “I can handle this. It’s like meeting a guy and he has a tie on and I don’t, only this time the badge of honor is a muddy shirt and I’m not dressed properly because my shirt is clean.”

He took me out to see his garden. I am totally intimidated by someone who has the conception, motivation and discipline to plant and maintain a garden at this level.

I stand in awe, looking at the garden surrounded by a ten foot deer fence

I stand in awe, looking at the garden surrounded by a ten foot deer fence

Now I will post this article and go to work on designing a garden for a lady who I have seen dressed in formal attire for the symphony as well as barefoot in  newly mown summer grass on a Friday morning.

We had to clean the garden site up before I could even visualize the design. Here is the picture after the clean up. I’ll show you the design next week.

4.

And a Word from Our Sponsor:

As usual, I would just love for you click here to go to Amazon and purchase the ebook edition of my wonderful book, Requiem for a Redneck to go on your Kindle. I have also noticed that Amazon now has a free Kindle app for iphones and tablets. Is that cool or what?

If you want a consultation in your yard in N.W. Georgia, send me an email at wherdepony@bellsouth.net

Adding Definition to a Shade Garden.

It’s funny how things work out. I was just getting ready to write a series of articles about shade gardens when Lisa and Dick Landry asked me to come over and work on the yard at their new house which sits on the top of a big hill within the city limits. It may even be a mountain. The location is not listed as one of Rome, Georgia’s seven hills, but it looks down on a couple of them.

The yard is rather large and well shaded by numerous old, large trees. I entered through the back garden gate.

Shade garden entrance, "before"

Shade garden entrance, “before”

I found it interesting to walk through a shade garden that had been there for a number of years. I was looking to see what plants thrived in the environment. A lot of plants will live in the shade but few will actually “perform.” It appeared that someone had put a bit of thought into the original planting of the garden but then the landscaper seems to have changed to someone who just stuck things in the ground with very little thought. There are several Arizona cypress, for instance, which perform well in full sun but exhibit puny and straggly growth in the shade.

There are a lot of rocks in the yard which could be moved around. This delighted me. I grinned as I noticed one thing that thrives in the shade—moss.

no problem growing moss on rocks in the shade

no problem growing moss on rocks in the shade

Mulch and groundcovers are important in a garden of this size. I haven’t decided how to handle that yet, but I was happy to see a large expanse of vinca minor (periwinkle). Vinca is a wonderful ground cover for shady areas—but be sure to use the smaller v. minor and not the larger leaved v.major which will take over an area and become unmanageable.

Vinca minor--a wonderful groundcover for shady places.

Vinca minor–a wonderful groundcover for shady places.

I noticed a holly fern performing well in an alcove by the back patio.

Holly fern in medium bright shade

Holly fern in medium bright shade

The oak leaf hydrangea was doing well in one part of the yard. It was placed to get some late afternoon sun. I don’t think that this plant would perform in the deeper shade.

Oak leaf hydrangea in shade garden

Oak leaf hydrangea in shade garden

This gardenia seemed to be performing well. There weren’t any blooms on it but I could see evidence of flowers from a few weeks ago.

broad leafed gardenia in the shade garden

broad leafed gardenia in the shade garden

I decided that we would spend a day cleaning, pruning, and generally shaping up the yard. Something just wasn’t right about the plantings and I wanted time to think about it so as we pruned and cleaned, I had time to look at the garden from a lot of different viewpoints. I’ve always thought of gardening as a four dimensional art form—there are the ubiquitous dimensions of height, width, and depth—but the art of the garden adds the dimension of being inside the creation and looking out. I suppose that the changes of time would also give us a fifth dimension. It depends on one’s viewpoint.

As we were cleaning and pruning I had occasion to sit in a chair on the back patio. I noticed a place in what I would call the back “wall” of the plantings that looked interesting. I studied it a while and then did some careful pruning, returning to the patio periodically to check the progress. The pruning opened up an interesting window in the “wall” which looked way out over a house across the street and into a pasture in the valley. Here’s what I saw

A window in the garden wall

A window in the garden wall

A window in the back of your garden—how cool is that? I zoomed in on the window for another shot.

A rooftop view from the rear patio

A rooftop view from the rear patio

I had looked around enough to decide that the garden needed what I call “definition.” I really didn’t want to start moving those large plants on a hot summer day, so I decided to build the definition around them by using a garden path. Lisa told me about how much the grandchildren loved the hammock in the lower part of the back garden and I decided that this area should be a focal point.

The hammock area needed to be turned into a special place

The hammock area needed to be turned into a special place

There are a lot of rocks in the yard and a great number of them are in the wrong place. When I told Lisa that there were several thousand dollars worth of rocks, she told me that the lady who owned the house previously was 90% blind and that she had a chauffer. Almost every day, the lady would take the chauffer out Horseleg Creek Road and pick up a few rocks. That must have been before all of the development out there.

I appreciated the lady’s work, though, as we were easily able to move enough rocks around to form a double border for a meandering pathway which will provide logical places for meditative garden plantings. Dick and I talked about using pea gravel for the pathway but decided that the area wasn’t quite flat enough to keep the gravel from moving. We decided on ground cypress mulch. I like the way it looks. The mulch will fade out into a grayish brown as time goes by. Since this job will be done in stages, we included turnouts for extending the pathway or for adding benches or statuary.

well-designed pathways add definition to a shade garden

well-designed pathways add definition to a shade garden

The hammock area became the destination for the first pathway. We shaped the area to give space for a garden bench or maybe for a small table and a couple of comfortable chairs. The grandchildren will love it.

The hammock area is turned into a "special place"

The hammock area is turned into a “special place”

Everyone was delighted with the change in the yard. You may compare the following picture to the “before” picture of the entrance that I started this article with.

The garden entrance "after"  we added an ikebana effect with flower pots and St. Francis for a welcome sign

The garden entrance “after” we added an ikebana effect with flower pots and St. Francis for a welcome sign

This is going to be a fun project and will probably take several years to complete—one step at a time. If you want to keep up with all of the projects on johntheplantman, go up to the upper right hand corner of this page and subscribe. You will get a nice gardening article in your inbox almost every week.

Lisa Landry is the owner and operator of Living and Giving which is a wonderful shop in downtown Rome, Georgia. I did an article about the shop a while back which you may see if you Click Here. I probably need to update the article but you’ll get the concept.

And a Word from Our Sponsor:

As usual, I would just love for you click here to go to Amazon and purchase the ebook edition of my wonderful book, Requiem for a Redneck to go on your Kindle. I have also noticed that Amazon now has a free Kindle app for iphones and tablets. Is that cool or what?

If you want a consultation in your yard in N.W. Georgia, send me an email at wherdepony@bellsouth.net

A Privacy Screen with Arizona Cypress and Knockout Rose

What happens if you don’t prune?

I write a lot of articles about pruning and actually the articles on pruning Knockout Roses are the most popular ones on my blog site. One of my rules on landscape design is to plant so that the project will look finished in five years. Today, I visited a site that I had planted about that long ago and I thought I would share.

I love the way the rose grew in. I parked my white Dodge minivan behind it to give an idea of scale. This rose has never been pruned

privacy screen with Knockout rose and Arizona Cypress

privacy screen with Knockout rose and Arizona Cypress

I had been asked to design a small privacy screen that would not be just a row of plants. I studied on the problem and decided that I would use a juxtaposition of textures, colors, and sizes in an irregular pattern.

I chose one of my favorites—Arizona cypress for the blue tint in the winter time, Knockout rose for the summer bloom, and a semi dwarf crape myrtle that would give shade for the summer and allow the sun to shine through in the winter.

The design turned out to be a good one. The plants were planted and never pruned. Actually, other than growing them in the first year, they were never watered. The plants performed well and survived a couple of droughts.

The Knockout rose was in full bloom in mid-November even after two periods of heavy frost. It is approximately ten feet high and eight feet across.

Large Knockout rose--never pruned

Large Knockout rose–never pruned

The crape myrtle has dropped almost all of its leaves, but you may still see the effects of its screening in the summertime.

Crape myrtle for shade in summer and light in winter

Crape myrtle for shade in summer and light in winter

And, here’s a view from another window showing the cypress, rose, and an arborvitae.

cypress, arborvitae, and rose for privacy screen

cypress, arborvitae, and rose for privacy screen

Nest summer, I may prune the back side of the rose away from the Arizona cypress. But, then again, I may not.

 *****These articles are brought to you by the author of Requiem for a Redneck

As usual, I would just love for you click here to go to Amazon and purchase the ebook edition of my wonderful book, Requiem for a Redneck to go on your Kindle. I have also noticed that Amazon now has a free Kindle app for iphones and tablets. Is that cool or what?

 

Would you like to have a consultation with John Schulz, Landscape Artist in your yard in NW Georgia? Contact me by email:  wherdepony@bellsouth.net

Using pansies in window boxes for winter color

Using pansies in window boxes for winter color

 Dot Fletcher loves her window planters. I call them window boxes, but they are actually made of a wire frame with coconut fiber liners. We change these planters twice a year—in the spring we plant lots of begonias, bacopa, and similar plants for summer color. In October, when the begonia plantings still look nice, we change the planters over to pansies. I love pansies because of their hardiness and their ability to give us beautiful flowers throughout the cold days of winter.

We started the project with a trip to a couple of local nurseries where we picked out just the right colors of pansies. I laid the trays of plants out on the driveway next to a tarp which would help to keep the site clean.

Choose just the right colors of pansies for the planters

Choose just the right colors of pansies for the planters

Repeated work with these planters has shown me that we need to change the coco liners once a year. Here is a label from the new ones:

You can find coconut fiber liners for just about any wire planter

You can find coconut fiber liners for just about any wire planter

I bought a bag of premium potting soil. This particular blend from Miracle Gro is loose and easy to work with. A good potting soil will allow air flow while still having a capacity to retain moisture.

A good potting mix ensures success

A good potting mix ensures success

There were six planters. We changed out the liners and filled them with potting soil.

fiber lined window boxes ready to plant

fiber lined window boxes ready to plant

I had also gotten a couple of trays of violas. I love violas because they just keep on blooming. I thought these would be good for the corners and spots in the fronts of the planters because the violas tend to droop and run as they grow. They will fill in the areas below the pansies. I used a tray of white and a tray of purple.

Violas will fill in and enhance the sides and fronts of the planters

Violas will fill in and enhance the sides and fronts of the planters

We sprinkled Osmocote, a time release fertilizer, over the top of the soil before planting. The actual planting of the plants will mix the fertilizer into the soil and the fertilizer will work slowly all season long. At this point, we’re ready to plant.

Pansies love Osmocote which feeds them all season

Pansies love Osmocote which feeds them all season

I started out by planting the separate colors in groups of three and then finished up by filling in the blank spaces with whites. All of the planters were to look more or less the same, so I planted one for a prototype and then followed the design on the next five. The coco mat liners allow for lots of air flow and that allows me to pack the planters with as many plants as I can find room for.

arranging pansies for lots of color and interest

arranging pansies for lots of color and interest

We moved the finished planters to the windows. Dot told me that one of the best things I ever did was to install the system of drip stakes for the window planters. There are two stakes for each planter which are attached to tubes which come up from a drip system at the base of the wall.

drip irrigation stakes for container watering

drip irrigation stakes for container watering

The drip stakes run for 7 minutes every other day and are controlled by a simple, inexpensive, and easily installed Orbit timer that I found at Home Depot.

Orbit irrigation controller--inexpensive and easy

Orbit irrigation controller–inexpensive and easy

The pansy planters look good in the windows. The plants and flowers will droop a bit at first but will pick up and look pretty after a couple of days of sunshine.

A pansy planter on the outside windowsill will flower all winter

A pansy planter on the outside windowsill will flower all winter

You will find a little bit more information about running drip tubing to planters in an earlier article if you click here

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Do you have a landscaping problem that needs solving? Leave a comment.

As usual, I would just love for you click here to go to Amazon and purchase the ebook edition of my wonderful book, Requiem for a Redneck to go on your Kindle. I have also noticed that Amazon now has a free Kindle app for iphones and tablets. Is that cool or what?

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How to make stepping stones with whiskey barrel rings–part one

How to make stepping stones with whiskey barrel rings–part one

For part two of this article, click here

There’s a story behind this picture, read on

Amanda likes to make a good impression wherever she goes

Amanda likes to make a good impression wherever she goes

Halves of whiskey barrels make great planters but the barrels don’t last forever. Years ago, I realized that one of my recurring duties as a landscaper was to remove rotten barrel planters and replace them with new ones. I realized that the oaken staves, though partly rotten, would make good kindling and I shared them with my friends. I kept looking at the left over rings which held the barrels together and thought that I might, someday, find a use for them, so I began saving the rings. People who saw my growing stack of whiskey barrel rings often questioned my sanity. I didn’t care, though, because I knew I would find a use for them some day.

Then, one day, it dawned on me that the rings would make great forms for pouring stepping stones. I tried it out and made a few mistakes before I figured out a good way to make unique stepping stones that wouldn’t wiggle and which had lots of character. The process developed over the years. I finally got the concept of stepping stones that looked as if they were slabs cut from a petrified log full of fossils.

 We were working on a long (100 foot) narrow side yard on the north side of a house. The drainage is critical and a normal walkway just won’t do. We had built a long rock garden at the bottom of a retaining wall and were looking for a sustainable walkway, so we decided to use poured stepping stones surrounded with a pea gravel mulch. Here is the first part, step by step:

We dig out a circle to set the form so that will be level and rise to the proper elevation. The stepping stone will be poured in place and therefore won’t wiggle when finished. The barrel ring is slanted and we make sure that the side of the ring with the smaller diameter faces up so that we will be able to remove it from the finished stepping stone without lifting it.

Be sure to get the ring level, with the narrow diameter facing up

Be sure to get the ring level, with the narrow diameter facing up

We line the ring with plastic which will make it easy to remove the ring when the cement is dry. Then we start filling it with cement. I used Sakrete concrete mix for strength and durability. Be sure to use a concrete mix, because mortar or sand mixes will not set up strong enough for a stepping stone.

Lay plastic over the ring, shape it to the corners, and add cement

Lay plastic over the ring, shape it to the corners, and add cement

With the plastic folded back, we smooth out the cement to the top of the stepping stone.

Smooth out the cement to the top of the barrel ring

Smooth out the cement to the top of the barrel ring

There is almost no limit to the choices for an image in the stepping stone. I chose a fern for this one which will come out looking like a fossil. The fern frond was placed in just the right place and smoothed in with a trowel. You will need to experiment to find just the right stage of curing to wait for before troweling the inset into the cement.

The fern will look like a fossil in the finished stepping stone

The fern will look like a fossil in the finished stepping stone

Gently pull the plastic toward the center to make sure that there is no overhang of cement. This will also give a nicely finished wrinkled effect to the edge of the stepping stone.

Pull the plastic toward the center to form a finished edge

Pull the plastic toward the center to form a finished edge

Fold the plastic over the stepping stone. I like to gently mash the wrinkles of the plastic into the cement to create random lines of interest.

Mash the plastic wrinkles gently into the stepping stones to create a neat texture

Mash the plastic wrinkles gently into the stepping stones to create a neat texture

Gently place a rock or two on the plastic so that the wind won’t blow it around and walk away from the project until the next day.

allow the stepping stone to cure for a day or so

allow the stepping stone to cure for a day or so

After the project had dried for a day or two, the barrel rings may be removed. At this point, we trim the plastic at the bottom of the stepping stone, leaving the circle of plastic under the cement alone. If you are careful, the stepping stone will not be disturbed and will not wiggle when walked on.

pull the barrel ring from the dry stepping stone

pull the barrel ring from the dry stepping stone

Feel free to be creative with the images left in the cement, too. In the picture below, we used hydrangea leaves and parts of artificial flowers that we got from the dollar tree. The materials used to make the images will be removed, leaving their impressions in the finished product.

Flowers in a stepping stone

Flowers in a stepping stone

That’s it for the first stage. Be careful to allow the cement to set up well before allowing any traffic on them. In a week or so, these stones will have cured enough for me to stain them. Part two of this series will deal with staining and finishing the stepping stones as well as with mulching and finishing the total project. Stay tuned!

To see part two of this series, click here

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If you like this article on stepping stones, you may wish to see “Building Rock Steps,” parts one and two.

Would you like a consultation with johntheplantman in your yard? Contact John Schulz BY EMAIL

 These articles are brought to you by John P. Schulz, author of the novel, Requiem for a Redneck

As usual, I would just love for you click here to go to Amazon and purchase the ebook edition of my wonderful book, Requiem for a Redneck to go on your Kindle. I have also noticed that Amazon now has a free Kindle app for iphones and tablets. Is that cool or what?

A Waterfall Instead of a Retaining Wall

A beautiful waterfall in late September

 One of the points of profit associated with being a landscape artist, designer, and installer only shows up after a few years. On Friday, September23, I was delivering some pine straw to the Maire house where I had done some extensive work. Urs likes to touch up his pine straw periodically but I deliver because he doesn’t want to get his Lexus dirty hauling it himself. It was late on Friday and I was tired from the week’s work but as I finished unloading and closed the truck door I heard a sound that took me back a few years. I walked toward the back yard and was stopped in my tracks by the beautiful sight that appeared before me.

The plantings had matured over the years, perfectly framing the water feature

Flowers show off in September around the waterfall

I walked down the flagstone path to examine the beautiful water garden

Flagstone steps lead past the waterfall to the back yard deck

Flagstone steps lead past the waterfall to the back yard deck

As I walked to the other side of the waterfall, stopping to examine the different plants and flowers, my mind went back to the beginning of the project and I realized that I had pictures of some of the early work that we did on the yard. The project actually started because everyone thought that a retaining wall was needed on the slope in the back yard. There was no real access for equipment though, and any work would have to be done by hand and wheelbarrow. After a lot of thought, research, and discussion Urs and Mary decided that a waterfall would do the same job as a wall, look better, sound good, and cost less. This is what I refer to as cost effective on steroids. I found the pictures.

 The first thing that was done was to shape the waterfall and line the bottom with a large sheet of firestone rubber. This liner is the only way to go with a water feature in my way of thinking.

Waterfall construction with rocks and Firestone rubber liner

Waterfall construction with rocks and Firestone rubber liner

Some of the rocks were rather large and heavy. We used manpower, ramps, wheelbarrows, and industrial strength hand trucks to move them into place. The rocks where the water falls (fall rocks) and the ones that force the water over them were cemented into place.

The rocks are carefully laid to make the water run in the right places

The rocks are carefully laid to make the water run in the right places

It took some time and some work to get the job done but we were proud when we stood back and threw the switch. We had been very careful and the water went just where it was supposed to.

Being careful pays off, all of the water went in all the right places

Being careful pays off, all of the water went in all the right places

I found a picture of the planting in the first spring of the project. I always try to tell my clients that it will take five years for the planting to mature. It looked pretty good from the start, but there was more in store as the years went by

First year planting for the waterfall

First year planting for the waterfall

Some time around the end of October we will remove the impatiens and plant pansies which will offer their lovely flowers during the winter and early spring.

View of the waterfall from the back yard deck

View of the waterfall from the back yard deck

I stood on the deck and carefully studied the way the plants had grown and turned the setting into something rather magnificent. I listened to the water as it ran its course down the hillside, splattering and rippling as it fell over the rocks and into the small pools at the end of each terrace. I had a good payday on that particular Friday.

Impatiens flourish around the waterfall in late September

Impatiens flourish around the waterfall in late September

There are many other wonderful features in this beautiful yard. I’ll show you some more as time goes by.

Thank you for visiting. I hope you enjoyed it.

******

As usual, I would just love for you click here to go to Amazon and purchase the ebook edition of my wonderful book, Requiem for a Redneck to go on your Kindle. I have also noticed that Amazon now has a free Kindle app for iphones and tablets. Is that cool or what?

If you would like to have a consultation with John Schulz in your yard in the North Georgia area, email me at wherdepony@bellsouth.net

Building stone steps with a retaining wall—part two

To see part one of this article, Click here

 I often tell people about the old man who taught me to lay steps with stone. This morning I got tickled when I realized that that old man wasn’t any older than I am now. He has gone on to his great rewards and I have become the old man teaching people. Time does pass, doesn’t it? Last week I showed how to lay out the project and to build a foundation with concrete blocks. This week we finished the project. This job was different from most because we were using rocks that were already on the site. These were some might fine rocks and I doubted if I could find more like them. We had to be very careful.

If you missed part one of this series, you will find it if you click here.

To begin with we played it safe by laying out the larger rocks so that all of the edges would be just right. I figured that if I ran out of rocks, I could find smaller ones to fill in the spaces. I wanted the edges of the steps to be as natural as possible with no cuts. We paid particular attention to the area where the ramp from the deck ran into a landing. It needed to be exactly right. This landing had been a focus from the very start.

finding the right rocks for the right places

finding the right rocks for the right places

The other part of the project that had to be just right was the top of the steps. The transition through the grass border to the top step had to be just right. I knew that if we got the top where it should be and the landing fitting perfectly into the ramp at the other end, we could adjust any differences in between.

Start at the top to be sure everything is at the correct level

Start at the top to be sure everything is at the correct level

One other consideration in laying out the rocks was color. The old man had told me that stonework is not a color in itself, but the “color that it casts.” I learned that one can change the “cast” of the color by moving pieces of stone to different places in the design. Curves can also be “insinuated” by using the larger stones in different places. It’s an art form. We started laying the stone in a rich mortar mix. The larger stones are laid first and the interstices are filled with smaller ones. We started at the top. Note the catch basin set in the driveway. It’s going to go away.

Getting started with the rock steps. We will remove the catch basin and use the steps to control water runoff.

Getting started with the rock steps. We will remove the catch basin and use the steps to control water runoff.

Leveling is critical on steps. We don’t want water to stand on any part of it, but we want it to be “safely walkable.” I had studied the catch basin at the top of the steps and I didn’t like it for two reasons: it was unsightly and I felt like it could turn into a safety issue. I decided to take it out and put in the walkway so that it worked as a waterfall, taking care of the water flow much better than the catch basin would. I remembered Tom Sellick in one of my favorite movies, “Quigley Down Under” when he looked at his lady and said, “Lady, I do believe you’re about a quarter bubble off of plumb.” That’s exactly where we wanted the steps to be. We wanted the water to roll down the center and fall slightly to the outside. A quarter bubble off’n level was just right.

A quarter bubble off level to the inside will do just fine

A quarter bubble off level to the inside will do just fine

After setting up the top step and getting it exactly right, we moved to the landing at the deck ramp and did the same there. If I had any problems, I wanted them to be in the middle.

We pay close attention to the elevation of the landing. No mistakes allowed

We pay close attention to the elevation of the landing. No mistakes allowed

When the rocks were all mortared in on the tops of the steps it looked like this:

The tops of the steps all mortared in

The tops of the steps all mortared in

The original plan had been to lay rocks as stepping stones from the bottom step to the pool deck but We couldn’t get away from the feeling that the overall job would be much better if we did a walkway instead. I had invested some time ago in reusable plastic forms that we can curve and shape. I love them. We put in a form from the bottom step to the pool deck and began laying rocks. I couldn’t get a good curve to the top side of the walkway so we decided to lay the larger rocks and cast a curve. You’ll see it in the finished picture. Here’s the beginning

Starting a stone walkway to the pool deck

Starting a stone walkway to the pool deck

Here is the rock laid in the walkway. The level is such that any water running downhill will fall over the walkway and head on down to the retaining wall and french drain.

The stones are laid for the walkway. Do you see how it "casts" a curve?

The stones are laid for the walkway. Do you see how it “casts” a curve?

While everything in the rock work project cured, we decided it was time to take care of the retaining wall. I knew that there would be steps going from the retaining wall to the lower garden area and I wanted to insert a stone that would direct traffic in the proper direction. We took out a couple of wall caps and put it in. It makes a good visual statement:

This rock step will signal the entrance to the back garden

We laid 4” black perforated pipe behind the wall and put a tee in at the lowest level, running a pipe out under the wall. The correct way to lay the black drain pipe is with the holes down. I had to explain it to my client. The way it works is that the holes go down and the water goes up through the holes. A hydrologist explained it to me one time long ago. He was an old guy, too.

The black drain pipe will direct water into the lower garden instead of causing erosion

The black drain pipe will direct water into the lower garden instead of causing erosion

I have experimented with all kinds of adhesives and I have found that one containing polyurethane is best for gluing the caps down. We put a bead of the adhesive all around the base and stick it down.

The retaining wall caps are glied down with polyurethane.

The retaining wall caps are glied down with polyurethane.

The next job is to “pour the joints,” using a thin mix of “type N” colored mortar. We mix this to a pourable consistency using two shovels of sand to one shovel of mortar. The mixture is poured into the joints so that it sticks up above the rocks. We will trowel it off smooth when it reaches just the right level of dryness. Too soft, it messes up and too hard, it won’t come off. It has to be just right. There is no hurrying on this job.

Pour the joints with a "type N" cement mixed thin

Pour the joints with a “type N” cement mixed thin

This is what the joints look like after they have been scraped and finished.

The joints look really good when properly finished

The joints look really good when properly finished

We put in a set of stepping stones from the walkway to the step at the retaining wall and filled in behind the wall with my wonderful compost.

Stepping stones lead from the rock walkway to the lower garden path

Stepping stones lead from the rock walkway to the lower garden path

We finished moving in compost and took care of the edges. The zoysia grass will grow in rapidly.

Filling in the edges. The zoysia grass will grow back rapidly

Filling in the edges. The zoysia grass will grow back rapidly

We finished the transition to the lower garden path

The finished stone walkway with a garden path

The finished stone walkway with a garden path

And then we cleaned up the job. One time I did a really nice job for a lady and she said, “John, it is lovely. It looks almost professional.” I have always laughed about that. Does this qualify as “almost professional?”

 BEFORE:

This is what it looked like before we started

This is what it looked like before we started

AFTER

Finished rock steps to downhill pool and garden entrance

Finished rock steps to downhill pool and garden entrance

******Related information:

If you missed part one of this series, you will find it if you click here.

To see how we built flagstone steps and a garden entrance, part one, click here

For “flagstone steps and a garden entrance, part two, click here

Would you like a consultation with johntheplantman in your yard? Contact John Schulz BY EMAIL

 These articles are brought to you by John P. Schulz, author of the novel, Requiem for a Redneck .  

As usual, I would just love for you click here to go to Amazon and purchase the ebook edition of my wonderful book, Requiem for a Redneck to go on your Kindle. I have also noticed that Amazon now has a free Kindle app for iphones and tablets. Is that cool or what?

A nice landscape garden and dealing with the stump from a large uprooted tree

A garden visit and Dealing with a stump from a blown over tree  “Oh, My God, the wind is doing something weird. The trees are dancing through the sky, There comes a tree top into the middle of the back yard. This is scary!!!” It was April 27, 2011, a little after eight in the morning. I was at my office and Dekie had just called me. A tornado had gone through the Summerville Park subdivision in the middle of our conversation.  The winds went away quickly, though, leaving quite a number of the stately trees on and around Oakwood  Street down in yards, across the road, and on top of houses. Fortunately, no one was injured. By the time I could get there to look at it, the streets were blocked with trees and workers with chain saws.  Ken Nance lives in a beautiful house across the street and down a bit from our house. He called me a few days after the basic rubble had been cleaned up. My brother and I had both done some work for Ken about twenty years ago and he wanted me to look at a stump that was left in his yard after the winds. The tree had been laid neatly out across the road, missing Ken’s house and a decorative fence. When the tree was cut away from the stump it almost righted itself but was left partly out of the ground. There was a big air pocket full of water and old roots beneath it. The question was “how to handle it”

dealing with the stump from an uprooted tree presents problems

dealing with the stump from an uprooted tree presents problems

I looked at the stump and thought about it. It seemed that no matter what we did, there would still be a problem with the area under the stump. Grinding it would leave us with a lot of wood chips and we would still have a hole under it. If we left the base of the stump, we would still have a problem with the water and a big air pocket. Anything we did on top would slowly sink, too, as the wood rotted underneath. I had to think about it. I was very busy with spring plantings and getting ready for a wedding to be followed by a two week trip. I told Ken to be patient and that we would fix the problem in June.  I got back from my trip and started on a hectic schedule trying to take care of neglected customers. Every day, though, I had a small stress attack as I drove by Ken’s house and looked at that sideways stump. Finally, it hit me. “I’ll have to call Lee,” I told myself. I was lucky, too, in that I ran into Lee Bagley, owner of Maloney’s Tree Service, in the Home Depot parking lot. We made a plan for Monday, June 27. I left the conversation grinning. My assignment was to move all of the nice plants out of an area that was ten to twelve feet from the stump. I called Mike Hutchins and scheduled a delivery of a load of compost for 1:30 that same afternoon. It was a tight schedule, but I wanted to make a show.

digging up good plants to save them for the replanting after stump removal

digging up good plants to save them for the replanting after stump removal

We showed up on Monday morning and started digging plants. There as a number of nice nandinas among other plants. We dug a good root ball and set the plants to the side to be used after we took care of the stump. I told Ken that the tree service would show up between 11:30 and 12.             Ken asked, “Will he bring his machine?             I said, “Yes, he will.”             “A large stump grinder?”             “No. You’ll see.” And right on time, Lee showed up with his machine. I could see Ken’s face light up. Lee backed in the driveway and Lee proceeded to unload a digger that was equipped with rubber tracks.

A cost effective way to take care of a stump from a blown over tree

A cost effective way to take care of a stump from a blown over tree

All of the plants had been removed and the site was prepared for the stump to be dealt with.

plants have been moved out for a problem free stump dig

plants have been moved out for a problem free stump dig

Lee operated the back hoe with skill and confidence. He began by wiggling the tree back and forth to break loose any tenuous roots. I was reminded of a dentist pulling a tooth.

Lee Bagley, owner, Maloney's Tree Service, Rome, Ga.

Lee Bagley, owner, Maloney’s Tree Service, Rome, Ga.

Lee carefully explored the area all around the trunk, gently cutting and digging. Several times he put so much pressure on the dig that the entire machine looked like it would tip over. I wondered if the idea would work.

wiggling the stump kind of like a dentist works on pulling a tooth.

wiggling the stump kind of like a dentist works on pulling a tooth.

After a while the stump came out of the ground. Lee’s helper was standing there with a chain, but we didn’t think the machine would lift it. I wondered what would happen next.

pulling out a stump from a blown over tree

pulling out a stump from a blown over tree

And then Lee pulled one of the slickest moves I’ve ever seen. He used the back hoe shovel to pull the stump over to the top of the blade which had been lowered to the driveway. Next, holding the stump firmly against the blade, he raised the blade and the stump came up off the ground.

A slick move. A good tree man understands leverage

A slick move. A good tree man understands leverage

  Everybody grinned. The stump pulled the backs of the treads off the drive now and then as Lee slowly moved the stump toward his trailer. Watching the back hoe move up the trailer was tense, too, as the back treads wiggled off the ground and the entire machine was perched precariously on the ramps. I looked at Ken and said, “Tight, ain’t it?”

Headed for the city compost pile

Headed for the city compost pile

Lee drove off to take the stump to the city compost area. We cleaned all of the left over roots out of the gaping hole and had time for a short lunch break before the next delivery.  At exactly 1:30, just as scheduled, Mike Hutchins showed up with a ten cubic yard load of his wonderful compost. I don’t think I could run my business without this stuff.

Mike Hutchins brings me the finest compost I've ever found. This stuff will grow anything.

Mike Hutchins brings me the finest compost I’ve ever found. This stuff will grow anything.

In between the stump removal and the compost, we decided that we needed to run a pipe out from the downspout so that was hooked up before we started finishing the contour of the bed. We planned to make a mound of the compost to compensate for any future settling. We packed it firmly as we put it in the hole and on the surrounding garden area.

Spreading compost and building a mound. Note drain pipe from downspout

Spreading compost and building a mound. Note drain pipe from downspout

One spot in the undamaged part of the garden was crying for flowers, so we use some left over compost to create a raised bed.

flower bed preparation with mounded compost

flower bed preparation with mounded compost

The next day, Mary worked with me on the plant layout. She loves the nandinas for their ease of maintenance as well as for the free and open multi colored leaves and the berries in winter. We moved some azaleas and other plants around to create a natural looking “woods floor” motif. We used a palmatum Japanese maple for height and accent pretty close to where the stump had been. For the “forest floor we use plum yew (cephalotaxus), lenten roses (helleborus), and lily of the valley. I also found one plant of Solomon’s seal for the back entrance. This garden will show off every day of the year. I made Ken one of my WONDERFUL SPRINKLERS He loved it and asked me to build another one. I showed up a few days later and got this picture of Ken and Mary admiring their new garden

Ken and Mary Nance admire their redesigned garden. The ugly stump is history

Ken and Mary Nance admire their redesigned garden. The ugly stump is history

I stood back and took a picture of the finished garden

A beautiful new garden instead of a tree stump. Fair exchange?

A beautiful new garden instead of a tree stump. Fair exchange?

I decided that I needed to take a short walk to the Nance’s delightful back yard. I entered through the neat arbor that my brother TOM SCHULZ, ARTIST had built a number of years ago. I really like the meditation bench that he worked in to the left side.

A beautiful entry arbor. Note the meditation bench to the left

A beautiful entry arbor. Note the meditation bench to the left

I admired the comfortable looking series of walkways and sitting areas.  The entire area brought a feeling of peace and relaxation. I enjoyed looking at Mary’s sculptured container plantings. The facade of the old garage with ivy on it really makes a good backdrop.

Peace and serenity abound in this beautiful and relaxing back yard garden

Peace and serenity abound in this beautiful and relaxing back yard garden

Ken and Mary enjoy their garden, their morning coffee, and a bit of a reading break in the garden. Ken has just started Mike Ragland’s new book, Bertha

Mary and Kenneth Nance enjoy a morning cup of coffee in their lovely back yard garden.

Mary and Kenneth Nance enjoy a morning cup of coffee in their lovely back yard garden.

As usual, I would just love for you click here to go to Amazon and purchase the ebook edition of my wonderful book, Requiem for a Redneck to go on your Kindle. I have also noticed that Amazon now has a free Kindle app for iphones and tablets. Is that cool or what? ******

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