Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Alison O'Connor's Blog on Soil Testing

One of the blog links on my blog is to CO-Horts, blogs written by various Colorado State University extension horticulture agents.  This one by Alison O'Connor from Larimer County is a must read.  Check it out.   

Soil Testing: It's a Good Thing

Monday, February 10, 2014

Why Hire a Pro

Do you like giving or getting advice?  Many people do, others not so much. Years ago one of my favorite aunts said to me “Betty, you should never say ‘you should’ to anyone, because no one likes being told what to do.”  My dear Aunt Helen was right, but I sometimes still say “you should.”  But before saying it I quickly explain my Aunt’s point of view, hoping the person will give me a pass and consider it helpful.  So when it comes to landscape advice I’m writing to tell you that “you should” hire a design professional at least once.  Here are the “you should” reasons-

SW Corner of New Landscape


What you have versus Your Dream Landscape

What kind of landscape do you have?  Does it need some help or just a tweak here and there?  Is it seriously overgrown with half living lilac bushes and junipers (not that these plants are duds, emphasis on the overgrown and half living)?  Do you have too much shade for the roses now that the spruces and linden trees are thirty plus years old?  Is the lawn growing more weeds than grass or has it become a pain to mow? Maybe you would just like a few more suggestions to put the finishing touches on your work.  I can write examples all day, but you know if you’re in the “overgrown plant, or half alive, but definitely doesn’t look good anymore or never has” camp.       

There are many landscape styles to consider. Top on most dream lists is to have casual flowering beds of non-stop bloom from March through October. Conversely, a lovely low maintenance landscape to enjoy more with less work will ease your sometimes less than cooperative knees.  Or maybe you’re a new home owner with little free time but you’d like an herb bed to flavor up your dinners and ice tea. You’ve dreamed of planting grape vines and fruit trees for their sweet juicy peaches and crisp apples in late summer.  Don’t quit dreaming just because you have no terra firma, a small sunny patio can easily be a garden space.  No problem, potted trees, shrubs and tomatoes will grow just fine.

Renovation, self planted (my dad made the bird feeder)


What a Pro brings to the Table 

Like interior design, understanding and taking into consideration color, balance, height, size and form are key principles.  Color creates moods inside the house and out – hot colors of yellow, orange and red are bright and cheerful.  A calm, serene feel comes from cool colors of greens, blues and purples. Color choices even help outdoor spaces feel larger or smaller (cooler makes spaces seem larger). Knowing when to repeat colors at planting intervals can really unify the design concept.  And knowing how many of each plant to repeat is vital, too many hot colors can easily overwhelm warm colors.    

Balancing plant heights and forms can be tricky, and even hard to achieve by an untrained gardener.  It seems intuitive to plant taller plants in the back of the border, but if the design is more free form it makes sense to plant taller plants in wider spots or interspersed through the bed.  Tying all the design elements together with plant textures is best accomplished by someone with an extensive knowledge of plants and plant characteristics.  It’s best to mix up and vary leaf textures. So incorporate crinkled, fuzzy or smooth leafed plants next to each other, and contrast feathery flowers with bold, waxy or delicate blooms. And like repeating colors, repeating interesting textures really draws the eye to the landscape. You’ll like what you see.  

A knowledgeable, experienced landscape designer can help make your dream landscape a reality, or at least get it started. A professional not only provides a working plan, but can pull together the basic landscape principles mentioned above. They can address trouble spots like awkward access areas to side entrances or garages.  Clever plantings to cover up neighborhood or alley eyesores are easily fixed by a professional’s expert eyes and plant sense. Or maybe you just want a little bit more color and interest or help replacing those tired lilacs and junipers.  

Color, texture, form, placement


If you are a self-learner or experienced gardener with a good eye to design and implement then by all means give it a go yourself and see where your dream landscape plan takes you.  But if lacking in design principle know how, and familiar with only a few plants like daisies and daylilies, then “you should” bring in a landscape design professional.  The outcome and the small dollar investment will net years of enjoyment and remove the frustration of a disorganized collection of plants that just aren’t working.

Professional Job Descriptions

In the landscape world people can be called different titles but offer similar or over lapping services.  Some include - landscape contractor, landscape designer, landscape architect, professional gardener or horticulturist.  Degrees and certification requirements vary among these titles. Be warned, the landscape world includes many people who advertise garden services that include areas they may not necessarily be certified or properly bonded to engage in, including design work.  A lawn mowing service might offer landscape planting or tree pruning, be sure to check all credentials, especially their arborist certification and call their references.  

A good recommendation from a neighbor, friend or relative goes a long way, especially if you like their landscape, so ask around.  Many designers offer a complementary or minimal introductory meeting fee (often this fee is credited toward the job).  Ask to see photos of their recent work and also check their references.  Fees vary, some charge by the hour and some by the job.  Designers may do the design and installation with help from their crew, or they may recommend install companies.  Many will draw up the design plan so the homeowner can do the work as time and opportunities permit.  Part of enjoyment in creating a new or renovated landscape is adding personal touches or plants that may not be on the plan, designers expect and encourage homeowners to take part in making it their own space.

My Experience with Landscape Designers

I fall into the category of having experiences and a pretty good understanding of general landscaping, plant materials, hardscaping and what goes into designing and installation.  I also fall into the category of not wanting to design on a professional basis. Over the past seventeen years I’ve had two opportunities to install a landscape, and for both jobs I hired licensed designers. The first one was a renovation where I followed the design plan, purchased and did all the planting, except for a couple of trees and heavy pieces of flagstone. I also ran the drip irrigation lines to each plant after an irrigation specialist installed the main lines. One highlight of that landscape was enlisting the help of my husband and in-laws to build raised beds to grow herbs and vegetables.  We completed the build over a couple of weekends.  

Home built Raised Beds


The second was a much larger job, a brand new landscape which included stone work, lighting, a small water feature and several trees, so I chose to have the design and installation done by two local companies.  I was very fortunate to be in a position to hire professionals for both landscapes and I’m very grateful.   

What made both landscapes a success was choosing design and installation professionals that I knew did quality work, charged fair prices for materials and labor and completed the job in the time frame they promised.  This is not always the case.  Delays and complications can and will happen, but part of the whole process is being flexible in your mind and know that once it’s completed you will enjoy the relaxing setting and fruits of an enhanced or new landscape.  

SW Corner new landscape, late October


Spotlight on Alan Rollinger, Landscape Designer  

Al knows plants and he knows how to design and place them in a landscape so they can be enjoyed for many years. His designs are timeless. He designed our new landscape and years ago offered additional ideas for the renovation. My mother-in-law introduced me to Al after a garden class he taught on common landscape mistakes.  

Being old school in design practices doesn’t mean being old fashioned or out of date. Al places plants according to tried and true spacing so plants don’t have to be pulled out in a couple of years due to over crowding.  The landscape won’t initially seem sparse; his knack for suggesting annuals or other garden features will keep the plan and plants appealing and fresh. His approach to placing hardscape materials like boulders, retaining walls or patios is innovative and makes the whole space feel connected or seamlessly separated based on how he envisioned the space. 

Al is not afraid to try plants that aren’t regularly recommended for our area. He will study a landscape, checking soil conditions and the microclimates to determine what plants might work best. He works closely with clients to learn about their landscape style and asks them what plants they like. He’s up to date on new plant introductions including ones from the Plant Select® program. Viewing a landscape designed by Alan Rollinger is as exciting and interesting today as it was when it was installed twenty or more years ago.    

Many outstanding Colorado State University’s Horticulture and Landscape program graduates are working in our area including Al Rollinger.  His forty plus years in the industry include teaching plant identification and design at University of Colorado Denver and many years teaching courses on perennials, vines, ground covers and woody plants at Denver Botanic Gardens.  His design projects have taken him around the country to homes and businesses in Phoenix, Boston, Alaska and cities in Colorado.  

Al can be contacted at arlandscapedesign@gmail.com or
303 758-1529