Posts Tagged ‘Design’

Gardening, done well, is at least 50% preparation. Once you realize what you should have done, it’s probably too late for this year. So, having a garden journal is invaluable to for successful planning for next year.

Here are a few things to look out for this spring, and steps to make next year even better:

  1. A Blank Slate – By fall when the bulb catalogues arrive, it’s easy to forget where you planted what. Take photos and use inconspicuous plant markers to remind yourself where you have clusters of daffodils or where you meant to add that globe allium. (Geek tip: If you use Evernote to capture random ideas on your smartphone or tablet, the Skitch app lets you easily annotate photos right on your device.)
  2. Color Me Beautiful – Love it or hate it, flowering shrubs give spring in New England a distinctive palette. Yellow forsythia, mauve ‘PJM’ rhododendrons,  lilac magnolias, scarlet quince, and a range of cherry-blossom pinks. If you have mature flowering shrubs on your property, take note of the color and bloom time, and build bulb and perennial planting around a similar color family. For instance, forsythia could take tulips in loud, saturated reds and oranges, or contrast with more subdued purples and blues of scilla, hyacinth, and periwinkle.   tulips, hyacinth, squill and forsythia forsythia, parrot tulips, hyacinth, ranunculus
  3. The Grass Is Always Greener – After doing a spring clean-up and seeing bare patches where last year’s crabgrass died out or there is too much shade, one’s inclination is always to want to rip up the whole yard and start from scratch. Don’t. Spread some compost and grass seed now, but wait to do major renovations until late August, when  the grass seed will stand a chance against weeds. The one exception: if you have a shady area where grass is patch, and you are ready to develop it into a planting bed, its easiest to do it in spring while you are edging and mulching beds.
  4. Seedy Characters – Want to start a veggie garden, but don’t want to wait to buy expensive seedlings at the farmer’s market? Plan ahead next winter so that you can start your seeds in time. Here’s a nifty seed starting calculator from Margaret Roach at AWaytoGarden.com to tell you when and how to start what in your zone.

toddler & mom planting seeds

What did you remember to do this spring? What do you want to remember for next year? Let us know in the comments!

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Japanese Umbrella PinePinus flexilisChamaecyparis pisiferaPicea pungenspicea orientalis 'skylands'Chamaecyparis nootkatensis

When space permits, we like to screen views with a mixed evergreen planting, rather than a boring arborvitae hedge. Here’s a list of favorite evergreen trees in more compact sizes. All prefer full sun and grow 10’-20’ unless otherwise noted.

  1. Abies koreana – Korean Fir
  2. Chamaecyparis nootkatensis ‘Pendula’ – Weeping Alaskan Falsecypress – elegant upright leader with weeping branches; tolerates some light shade
  3. Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Filicoides’ &  taller C. pisifera cultivars – unusual, thread-like foliage texture in green and gold
  4. Pinus flexilis ‘Vanderwulf’s Pyramid’ – Limber Pine – Soft, airy texture to the white-ribbed needles.
  5. Pinus cembra ‘Glauca’ – Swiss Stone Pine
  6. Picea orientalis ‘Skylands’ – Oriental Spruce – Sexy! Gold needles and purple new cones.
  7. Picea pungens ‘Montgomery’ – Blue Spruce – Classic blue color in a compact size
  8. Picea abies ‘Acrocona’ – Dwarf Norway spruce
  9. Sciadopitys verticillata – Umbrella Pine – thick, shiny needles, grows slowly to 30’
  10. Thuja (arborvitae) – Still has its place. Good for filling in space inexpensively while other plants grow in; remove when others reach mature size.

Need more ideas? Missouri Botanic Garden’s Plant Finder is a great resource for researching plants or developing a plant list based on specific criteria (form, height, sun/shade, hardiness zone, etc.).

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This year, exhibitors at the Boston Flower & Garden Show at the Seaport World Trade Center were charged with creating designs around the theme “Seeds of Change.” Installations feature local stone and hardscape, native plants to greater and lesser degrees, and some innovative solutions for rain water, small spaces, and modern homesteading. Chickens and vegetable beds mix with clipped boxwoods and colorful forced plantings.

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layers of spring bulbs in a pot

This weekend promises to be beautiful weather for some final gardening chores. Guarantee yourself weeks of spring blooms by making “bulb lasagna.” Line the bottom of a 14″ or deeper container with gravel for drainage. Then layer potting soil and bulbs in 3 layers, starting with the largest bulbs on the bottom. Choose bulbs which will flower at different times to make your planting really work.  Keep in mind that there will likely be some overlap in bloom times, so choose a color scheme that will be pleasing, such as monchromatic, contrasting, warm or cool colors.

Spring bulb bloom sequence (Boston area):

Iris & crocus

Iris reticulata ‘Gordon’ and yellow crocus


Dwarf Iris
Galanthus (Snowdrops)
Snow Crocus

Late March-Early April

Chionodoxa (Glory of the Snow)
Kaufmanniana Tulips
Large Crocus
Eranthis (Winter Aconite)

Mid-to Late April

Daffodils & Muscarii

Narcissus ‘Sailboat’ and Grape Hyacinth (Muscari armeniacum)

Darwin Hybrid Tulips
Large-Flowered Hyacinths
Muscari (Grape Hyacinths)
Double Tulips
Lily Flowered Tulips
Single Early Tulips
Fritillaria (large and small)
Mid-season Daffodils
Triumph Tulips

Early to Mid-May
Bunch Flowered Tulips
Giant Allium
Scilla campanulata
(Wood Hyacinths)
Darwin Tulips

Flaming Parrot Tulips

Flaming Parrot Tuli

Parrot Tulips
Viridiflora Tulips
Fringed Tulips
Peony Flowered Tulips

Mid to Late-May
Dutch Iris
Single Late Tulips Dutch Iris
Small Alliums
Madonna Lilies

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Turfstone Pavers in LawnPermea permeable driveway

Which of these photos shows permeable interlocking concrete paving? Both!

A concrete grid system (left) was once the only permeable option.  As municipalities have increased pressure on developers to minimize storm water runoff, a number of attractive permeable pavers like Permea (right) have come on the market.  These concrete pavers look like cobblestone, brick, or traditional pavers, but spacers allow water to flow between them, when filled with a fine, clean aggregate.

Much of the flooding in urban and suburban areas is the result of large impermeable areas of asphalt and rooftops.  Porous paving options can reduce runoff up to 100% when properly installed and maintained. Other benefits of permeable paving include:

  • Reduces construction costs for underground drainage systems
  • Qualifies for LEED credits for new construction
  • Easy to repair and maintain
  • Recharges groundwater rather than dumping to streams and waterways
  • Cleans water through biological filtration, removing chemicals and pollutants
  • Makes nearby streams safer for wildlife and human enjoyment
  • Eliminates puddles, standing water, and icy patches

This short ICPI video presents more detail on the benefits, performance, and applications of permeable pavers.


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Update: Nice coverage of this installation and more about the Cedar Hill camp from the Waltham Daily Tribune.

This week, the Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts receives a very special gift for its 100th anniversary:  the revitalization of a portion of the former maze at Camp Cedar Hill in Waltham.  A Yard & A Half Landscaping, a woman-owned business based in Waltham, is providing the design and installation services for the project at no charge.

The beloved 75-acre site has provided generations of girls around Boston with the opportunity to enjoy traditional camp activities, from swimming and hiking to marshmallow roasting.

Early 20th century postcard of Cedar Hill arborvitae maze and watchtower

Early 20th century postcard of Cedar Hill arborvitae maze and watchtower

Formerly a private estate, Cedar Hill once featured a replica of the maze at Hampton Court Palace in London, complete with 1,000 six-foot tall arborvitae shrubs.  All that remained when the design process began this year were four granite benches and a dry fishpond.

At the site of the former maze, the project will feature a path of commemorative bricks bearing messages from the Girl Scouts’ many friends.

color rendering of Girl Scout commemorative maze

Color rendering of Girl Scout commemorative maze

“The brick maze at Camp Cedar Hill is an important part of our council’s history, and revitalizing a portion of it during our centennial year is a fitting tribute to all of the girls who learned to be leaders at this camp,” said Ruth N. Bramson, Chief Executive Officer of Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts. “We are grateful to the alumnae, board members and supporters who invested in our Pathway to Leadership project and to Eileen Michaels and her hard-working team at A Yard & A Half Landscaping, who serve as valuable role models for our campers and their families.”

Donations to the Pathway to Leadership project benefit the Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts’ Campership fund, which provides camp experiences to girls with financial need.  A contribution of $300 funds one week of camp for one girl.  Through the campership program, 450 girls received assistance.

About A Yard & A Half

Founded by Eileen Michaels in 1988, A Yard & A Half Landscaping provides complete design and installation services, including certified organic planting and maintenance.  Recognized by Inc. Magazine for its “smart management and enlightened leadership,” A Yard & A Half was selected as a “top small company workplace” in 2010.  It is a multi-year Angie’s list Super Service Award winner.

About Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts
Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts serves more than 41,000 girls ages 5-17 and engages 18,000 adult volunteers in 178 communities across eastern Massachusetts with the mission to build girls of courage, confidence and character, who make the world a better place. The Girl Scouts organization has a rich history and has been the nation’s leading expert on girls for 100 years.

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Powered by biodiesel: clean, renewable, domestic

In a recent Customer Advisory Board meeting, someone mentioned that “sustainability” has become a meaningless term.   If we are to say that we do sustainable landscape design, construction, and maintenance, we have to define our terms.  To that end, here’s an inventory of our sustainable practices.  In developing these standards for ourselves, we have drawn from the Standards of the Northeast Organic Farming Association’s Organic Landcare Committee, the 2009 Sustainable Sites Initiative (SSI) benchmarks– it’s kinda like LEED for landscapes — and Sustainable Landscape Construction (Thompson & Sorvig, 2008).

A Yard & A Half  Landscaping will always:


  • Mow high & return grass clippings
  • Hand-prune shrubs
  • Recycle/compost all greenwaste
  • Use only approved organic amendments for lawn and plant fertilization


  • Use pre-design site assessment to identify and protect existing natural features, minimize waste, and determine sustainable grading, drainage, hardscape, and planting options.
  • Specify efficient irrigation systems – rain sensors, timers, etc. (whenever irrigation is specified)
  • Specify efficient site lighting which minimizes light pollution (low-voltage, with timers and/or photosensitive controllers)


  • Separate and preserve topsoils
  • Protect water, trees & rootzones during construction
  • Protect soils from contamination by fuel & other chemicals
  • Recycle/compost all greenwaste generated during construction
  • Separate construction debris for recycling/downcycling, if facilities exist (concrete, brick)


  • Select plants to fit conditions, rather than altering conditions to fit plants
  • Plant diverse plantings and avoid moncultures
  • Mulch planting beds with organic mulch to retain moisture and prevent compaction


  • Fuel all diesel trucks and equipment with biodiesel fuel
  • Recycle plant pots, toner cartridges, paper, plastic, glass, aluminum, and scrap metal
  • Conduct ongoing health & safety training for field staff
  • Perform regular maintenance of trucks and machinery to maximize fuel-efficiency
  • Practice double-sided copying & printing; scrap paper reuse
  • Minimize use of heat & air conditioning

Whenever possible, we…


  • Recycle/compost greenwaste on-site
  • Remove weeds by hand or using mechanical (non-chemical) means
  • Manage and remove invasive plants
  • Use no synthetic pesticides or fertilizers


  • Reduce lawn areas and impervious paved surfaces
  • Use native vegetative materials to stabilize slopes and banks
  • Plant dense, multi-layer planting to minimize water loss, weeds, and maintenance
  • Group plants with similar cultural needs (soil types, water, etc.)
  • Harvest rainwater using rain barrels, cisterns, rain xchange water features
  • Use bioswales, ephemeral streams/dry creekbeds & rain gardens to keep rainwater on-site
  • Install low maintenance, chemical-free, soothing habitat ponds
  • Specify permeable pavers, vegetated grids, gravel to minimize runoff
  • Specify solar or lower-energy use pumps & lighting fixtures
  • Reuse existing site structures & amenities
  • Provide spaces for physical activity, mental restoration, social interaction, and food production
  • Design sites for use by people of all ages and abilities (ADA-compliant, safe for kids and elders)
  • Provide usable spaces for clients’ recycling and composting


  • Protect site soil during construction using planned access routes
  • Restore soils damaged by construction (compaction/infiltration, organic matter & biological activity)
  • Coordinate with all site professionals to faithfully implement design while protecting the site and minimizing waste
  • Confine cutting of pavers/bricks to a designated area
  • Do not use wood from endangered or threatened species
  • Recycle or reuse salvaged materials, stones & plants
  • Use regionally-produced materials (SSI: 50 miles for aggregate & soils, 500 mi for other mat’s)


  • Plant native plants to minimize inputs of fertilizer, water, and energy
  • Select plants with value beyond aesthetics: food or cover for desirable wildlife and pollinators, edible/medicinal, soil improving, etc.
  • Plant to shield buildings from summer heat and maximize winter sun (“passive solar” planting)
  • Remove or remediate contaminated soils (lead, creosote)
  • Use only NOFA-approved organic soil amendments
  • Amend soil based on soil tests to avoid pollution from excess nutrients
  • Use regionally-sourced plants (SSI: growers w/in 250 mi)


  • Minimize idling of trucks & machinery
  • Email invoices and correspondence to reduce paper & transportation
  • Educate clients about the sustainable practices that are being/could be implemented on their sites, and the environmental, health, and financial benefits of those practices

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