Friday, July 26, 2013

Synthetic Turf Is The Right Solution For This Play Area.

Finished project with almost 1,000 sq ft of new play area and fence to
keep balls and kids contained. ©2013 BDG
I am sure that people will bristle at the idea of using synthetic turf in their gardens.  I hear people talk about removing or wanting to remove lawn from the landscape because of its high maintenance and chemical dependency, but replacing it with synthetic turf would be tantamount to heresy.  I love a natural garden and I even love grass, but sometimes situations prevent you from utilizing traditional solutions.

Sloping area before construction of
retaining wall. ©2013 BDG
Recently I needed to create an area for athletic kids to play on a sloping property that received very little sunlight.  For several years they had been playing their sports on the driveway, but the space was limited.  Every direction off of the driveway sloped down so netting was employed to contain soccer, lacrosse, field hockey balls and hockey pucks.  

The challenge was to create an area that could contain their sports paraphernalia, provide more level space, was softer than the asphalt driveway and was safe for all the activity.

Wall nearly finished with anchor tubes
for fence posts. ©2013 BDG
The sloping grade was the initial challenge and the solution was to create an interlocking concrete block wall to level the grade with the driveway.  These concrete wall products have improved so much in recent years, and while I am always a fan of using natural stone products, we found a nice blended brown product that would not stand out from the plantings on the other side of the property line.  A natural stone wall would have been cost prohibitive, and these interlocking products provide great stability.

Once the level grade was established with the driveway, the question was what to use for the play surface.  With only dappled sunlight, a shade lawn would never thrive, and being on a slope the additional water for irrigation could become a problem, not to mention the mud from constant play.  Extending the driveway with asphalt would provide more water issues with the challenges of infiltrating the runoff before it hit the slope, as well as providing an aesthetic eye sore with so much asphalt.

Redmond Design crew finishing the sub-surface
preparation.  ©2013 BDG
Synthetic turf was the perfect solution.  It will be playable 365 days a year,  infiltrate rainwater and provide a clean and safe extension of the driveway for play.  Additionally, by placing a slot drain between the driveway asphalt and the synthetic turf we were able to take surface water from the driveway into an in ground collection basin, thereby almost eliminating driveway runoff and keeping it off the turf.  A surrounding black chain link fence keeps balls and kids from going over the edge and raised netting will keep wayward balls from flying through the neighborhood.

I grew up in the 70's when AstroTurf was developed in that awful neon green with the hard plastic blades of 'grass'.  Nowdays synthetic turf is everywhere in sports venues but only recently is it being utilized in residential situations.  The grass blades are longer, softer and far more natural.  The range of products is incredible and the colors choices are quite natural.  Now,  I am not advocating turning your lawns into nylon green carpets, but for this situation it provided the perfect solution in a challenging environment.

Slot drain in front of Turf to infiltrate driveway
surface water.  ©2013 BDG

Friday, July 19, 2013

Purslane: The Weed That Came For Dinner

Portulaca, or Purslane, is a common annual weed that is just starting to thrive in the garden with this ridiculous heat.  Courtesy of a neighbor of mine, I recently learned that it is edible, and in fact a very beneficial and nutritious 'vegetable'.

Freshly harvested(weeded) Purslane from my
mother-in-laws tomato garden.  ©2013 BDG
When my neighbor asked me about this weed, I knew what it was, but had no idea that it was considered by many to be a wonder plant.  So, I had to do a little research and was amazed at the capabilities of this weed.  While I don't believe everything I read, it appears that it is loaded with vitamins, is one of the few veggies to contain Omega-3 Fatty Acids,  helps improve the skin, benefits the urinary and digestive systems, acts as an anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial, can help regulate the immune system and blood pressure, is good for the heart, aids in weight control, prevents cancer, fights depression.  WOW.

A vegetable-centric website called Best Vegetables has a write-up on Purslane.  Health Guidance also has a summary of the health benefits of Purslane.  If this plant can deliver on any of these promises, then it is worth adding it to your salads or stir-fry.  I ate several raw sprigs and found it fresh and slightly zesty.  It will be a nice addition to a future salad.

Purslane in the vegetable garden.  ©2013 BDG
It is available at Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and Wild Garden Seed if you want it available anytime, but I will enjoy searching for the weed in local gardens, and may have to go out with a headlamp at night to harvest from neighbors yards.  It comes out in mid summer with the big heat and grows in disturbed soil, so veggie gardens are perfect places to search.  I may go to our local organic farm, Wright-Locke Farm, to see if I can harvest some of their weeds.  You will also find it in sidewalk cracks and along roads.  Be careful where you gather it since it may be exposed to harmful chemicals.  As with any food, you want to make sure it is grown in a safe environment.
Spurge, a similar looking weed that
can be poisonous. ©2013 BDG

There is another weed out at this time that looks similar called Spurge.  Purslane is prostrate, has thick red/yellow stems, and fleshy, thick leaves.  Spurge has a similar look but the stems are not as thick and the leaves are thin and not fleshy.  Spurge is part of the Euphorbia family and they can be poisonous.  An easy way to tell is to break the stem, and if it is a spurge, a milky sap will ooze out.  Purslane will not have a milky sap and is a thick fleshy plant.

It is used in cultures throughout the world, but apparently its origins are in India.  A fascinating article discusses it cultural significance.

I am continually amazed by our natural world, and thanks to a friend will try not to overlook the value of any plant...even a lowly weed.
After posting this, I received a quote from someone who read this blog and I thought it appropriate to add: "What is a weed?  A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Friday, July 12, 2013

Weeping Japanese Maples Need Pruning To Enhance Their Beauty.

Acer palmatum "Crimson Queen" prior to pruning.  It
is attractive, but needs some pruning to let more light
in and accentuate the many branching layers. ©2013 BDG
I hear some people say that they don't like weeping Japanese Maples (Acer palmatum 'Disectum' and other cultivars) and my heart breaks.  I feel that this can be one of the most beautiful trees with just a little work to enhance its form, but often they are left to their own devices and their beauty can be hidden by layers of branches.

Naturally these plants tend to form a thick flowing coat of branches and leaves, somewhat reminiscent of Cousin It from the Addams Family.  In time they will have many layers with the innermost dying from lack of light.  While they can still be attractive without pruning, I feel that the thick outer layer obscures from view the beautiful branching inside.  The form and branching is what makes this plant so desirable throughout the year.

Cousin It from the Addams Family
With some regular pruning you can have a stunning structural plant that is open to allow you to appreciate the foliage and branching, and it can easily be conformed to any size and be trained in any direction.  Like most shrubs, they need to be pruned for aesthetic and functional purposes.  I hate seeing contractors pruning Azaleas, Boxwood, Holly and many other shrubs with gas pruners.  While they might achieve the lollipop form they are seeking, it encourages a thick outer layer of leaves with no internal growth and a plant that must expand every year to survive.

Functionally, they need to be opened up to allow light inside so the inner branches won't wither.  Aesthetically, you want to accentuate the delicate branching and flowing form.

Here is the Maple after pruning.  The leaves will have better color with
the light and the many layers are highlighted.  With new lighting
underneath it will be beautiful at night and all year long.  ©2013BDG
Last week, I helped a client prune a slightly overgrown and dense maple.  The question I get most often is where do I start.  For those who might be a little nervous, getting inside and pruning out the dead branches is a great place to start.  Next, I look for branches that are going 'against the grain' or crossing the major flowing branches of the tree.  The largest branches form a type of umbrella and they tend to flow out and down, and often branches form that go across this structure and they need to be pruned out.

Step back and see what has developed after this work.  Always step back and look at your progress because it is best to come back and make another cut rather than regretting the loss of a branch you didn't mean to cut.

This plant was so dense that the branching on the back had all died.
With it open all the branching will strengthen and the natural
layers have been highlighted.  ©2013BDG
After the dead and crossing branches are gone it is time to start looking at the major structural branches.  Always start at the top of the plant and make a couple of bigger cuts rather than making lots of smaller cuts.  The bigger cuts will produce the major structural changes you are looking for rather than small ones that will fill in quickly.  The idea at the top of the umbrella is to develop a strong and interesting form to support the rest of the plant.  It often means removing branches to accentuate a curve or decrease the congestion of multiple branching.  Also, it can involve removing a branch that goes underneath and allowing a visual separation to create a layered effect.

This Maple lost its left side in heavy snow 5 years ago.  Through
selective pruning I encouraged branching to fill in the hole.  Also,
I am encouraging a few upward branches to increase the height.  Opening
the branching has also revealed an intricate and curving branching
pattern.  ©2013BDG
The cuts you make will also dictate the future direction of growth.  If you want your Maple taller, then encourage branching on top that is pointing up, and lighten those branches by removing shoots pointing downwards.  If you want a wider plant, then prune at a point where a branch is pointing outwards in the direction you want to expand.

It is pretty intuitive, you just need the courage to make the cuts necessary to enhance your beautiful weeping Maple.  Great words of guidance I learned years ago is to make few big cuts rather than lots of small cuts.  I am not imposing my will on the plant, just opening it up to enhance its beauty.  You can also come back later and make additional cuts.  They are long-lived plants and pruning and care for them is a process.

Sometimes you might just make a few cuts and wait until next year to see how the tree responds.  However you prune your Maple, it is worth the effort to enhance one of the finest specimen trees available.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Natural Beauty And Open Space In The Green Mountains of Vermont

A view south from the peak of Mt. Equinox.  It is  easy to see why they are
called the green mountains.  On a clear day they say
you can see five states (VT, NH, ME, NY, MA).  ©2013 BDG
A recent trip to Manchester, Vermont helped me to appreciate a different perspective:  Open space.

I love the suburban town of Winchester, MA where I live, but the space is limited and big homes tend to be right on top of each other.  When designing gardens, often you are blocking sight lines into a neighbor's kitchen, covering a garage,  or limiting the sound from a busy street.  In general, people want to be enclosed in their landscape and have the privacy to do as they wish in peace.  It's not that people don't like their neighbors, in most cases, they just want to feel some separation.

Canoeing the Battenkill River.  Water is very high
from all the rain, so it was moving fast with
few rapids, yet quite a few strainers that can be
 dangerous.  ©2013 BDG
This past week my wife and I had a chance to spend a few days in the Green Mountains of Vermont, and for those of us not used to the openness on a daily basis, it is a wonderful change of perspective.  I often find that changing perspective allows me to appreciate more what is in front of me.

Instead of focusing on the plant or structure in front of you, you shift to the immense space and views around you.  In the suburban garden so much effort is spent on the details of stonework, plant combinations, color, texture and on and on, but in open space most of the details are lost for the big picture.

Looking west over one of the few remaining monasteries
in the world for Carthusian monks.  ©2013BDG
We spent a morning canoeing on the Battenkill River and from one perspective we enjoyed the mountains and the unobscured views of the natural surroundings.  In the afternoon we were on top of Mt Equinox and I could have spent hours just appreciating the 360ยบ view, listening to the sounds of the wind and birds and not focusing on any of the details.  

Beauty can be found in both suburban and rural settings and I feel that a regular change in perspective can help me to better appreciate my usual surroundings.

A wild carrot, I think maybe Zizia aurea.  ©2013BDG

Milkweed or Asclepias syriaca.  This is one of the major
food sources for Monarch Butterfly larvae.  ©2013BDG

No idea, but I loved the flowers.  ©2013BDG