Category Archives: Landscape Features

A few weekends ago, I attended the Association of Professional Landscape Designers’ annual international conference in Toronto, Canada.  It had been several years since my last conference and I was extremely happy I attended.  It is great to spend time with my peers from around the country and world.  There were designers from England and Saudi Arabia in attendance.   This conference is packed with great speakers and amazing gardens from the area.  The annual conference has been held in various locations including Detroit in 2013, Boston in 2017 and next year in Seattle. 

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One of the great talks was by Susan Cohan, APLD of Susan Cohan Gardens in New Jersey.    She is an award winning, nationally certified landscape designer and is well-known in the landscape and design communities for her design work and for her writing about design. Her residential landscapes for private clients and concept gardens are frequently published and have won numerous awards. Susan has been a contributing editor to Garden Design, an American voice on the British Thinkingardens, as well writing about gardens and design since 2007 on her own blog Miss Rumphius’ Rules.

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Susan’s talk was about three overarching styles of gardens: traditional, contemporary and rustic.  Most designers try to be specific when describing a design’s style, but in reality, all landscape design can be easily divided into one of these categories.  Each of the styles has elements that can crossover into another to create a unique hybrid that will ultimately tilt one way or the other. 

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Traditional landscapes tend to be the most common type of landscape, especially here in Michigan.  These type of landscapes would incorporate brick, stone, pavers and wood and look alike material that fits in regionally.  Vintage and antiques could also be possible but not necessary.  The overarching goals of a traditional garden design are to create a well-defined and beautiful outdoor space.  This type of style is very broad and would include many sub categories of gardens (i.e. English Gardens, Mediterranean Gardens, Oriental Gardens, etc.)

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The hardscape manufacturers we use offer products that would fit in each of these styles.  Most of their products could fit in the traditional style.  Some of the great products we enjoy using include Unilock’s Rivercrest Wall for walls, Unilock’s Enduracolor and Enduracolor Plus pavers, Oaks Ortana and Ortana Plus for walls, and Rosetta Dimensional Flagstone for floors & Rosetta Kodah Walls.

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Although different designers have different opinions on what is or isn’t a contemporary design, I believe Susan’s definition is more towards modern design.  Her definition is a simple design.  Simple does not mean easier, but there is a lot of orderly repetition, limited amount of plants used, sleek and lacking ornamental and geometric.  This style is known for its streamlined aesthetic and sleek sophisticated style. Overall the garden will feel controlled and organized. Typically, the focus is heavier on hardscape and structures than it is on plants. Plants used have very little color, mostly green with maybe a little white.  Materials used on a typical contemporary design would include steel, glass and concrete.  You will see unexpected details in the design while incorporating technology to its fullest.  One of the main goals of contemporary design is to create contrast. For example a large massing of ornamental grasses pops out against a grey concrete wall, orange cushions draw your eye when placed on otherwise simple patio furniture and a fire pit filled with colored glass demands attention when set amongst a bed of bluestone. It is important to be selective when creating contrast, too much can be overwhelming and make the space seem disjointed. Pick two or three spots in your yard and focus on one contrasting element for each.

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Hardscape materials would include material such as Unilock’s Artline paver & Porcelain tile; Unilock’s Lineo Dimensional Stone wall; Oaks Eterna, Presidio, & Molina pavers; and, Rosetta’s Miros Patio Slab

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Rustic landscapes are similar to traditional landscape but are not as neat more natural.  Whether you’re in a woodland setting or out on the prairie, rustic landscape design is all about reflecting the natural surroundings. This type of style uses handmade and aged look products.  Relics, shards and artifacts help define this landscape. The rustic style is very eclectic.  Using natural material such as flagstone and boulders is essential for this style.  Natural-looking man-made products could be used such as Rosetta’s  Grand Flagstone and/or Outcropping.

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By Steven D. Thoms, CGIP, APLD, CLP

 

MGIA Gold Award for the Park Residence

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In the Winter of 2012/2013, we were contacted by a referral client for a new house landscape design and build project.  The client had bought an old, smaller house on a two acre corner lot in Bloomfield Township.  They were tearing the house down and building a new one.  We started working on preliminary designs as the house had begun.

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Changes in slopes and elevations are both a designers dream and nightmare.  A dream as it adds interest to a landscape and the opportunity to install walls and other features that cannot be done on a flat piece of property.  Slopes and changes of elevations can also be very challenging in the design process.  Meeting local ordinances, staying in clients budgets and helping the client visualize the design are all challenges that we designers face.

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It was mutually decided to use a ledgestone boulder instead of a typical round shape boulder such as Michigan Fieldstone Boulders.  Mocha mint limestone was chosen for its consistency in thickness, relative ease of installation, and its buff to brown color.  Since the township had a limit of 4′ high retaining walls, we designed and installed two tiers of four layers (12″ thick pieces of stone) to get us to that four foot maximum height.

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3D renderings were used to help the client visualize how the landscape would look.

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The design and front retaining walls were completed in 2013 with the majority of the job installed in 2014.  The only stipulations we had from the homeowners was to keep it somewhat natural looking to blend in with the landscape and neighborhood.  Otherwise we pretty much had free reign. 

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To keep the design somewhat simple, but give the property color and interest large swaths of landscape roses, perennials and flowering shrubs of the same variety were planted.  Some evergreen hedges and shrubs were also added to give the landscape relevance in the winter.   Free flowing bed lines and hardscape edges were used to add to the natural feeling. 

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Many Proven Winner plants were used in the design including: Incrediball Hydrangea, Little Henry Sweetspire, Vanilla Spice Summersweet, Kodiak Black Honeysuckle, Abracadabra Orb Hydrangea, Quickfire Hydrangea, Fine Line Buckthorn, and All That Glitters Viburnum.

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Landscape roses included Double Pink Knockout and Drift Roses.

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Perennials from Spring Lake’s Hortech include: Walker’s Low Nepeta, Biokovo Karmina Hardy Geranium, and various  others.

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Various sedum, creeping phlox and moss were used planted in the cracks of the limestone walls.

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A large raised brick paved patio with limestone wall was constructed in the backyard leaving room for potential future pool.  The patio was constructed using Oaks Colonnade Pavers.

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Four inch thick limestone stones, called “steppers” were installed flush with the lawn from the rear walkway to the sidewalk limestone steps.  This was to give a very informal pathway connecting the two areas.

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The real issue in designing and installing this job was WATER.  The neighbor’s yard to the East and the entire backyard of the property was engineered to drain along the South side of the house.  This is where the walkout was, adding to the complexity of the situation.  The sump pump discharge at the rear of the house needed to be addressed and there is no storm sewers in the neighborhood.  We ran piping from all downspouts, behind walls, from sump pump discharge and several french drains in a very thought out and intricate design to avoid any flooding and/or erosion issues.  All water was directed to a dry pit in the lowest part of the yard at the ditch by the street. 

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In the Summer of 2017, the job was entered into Michigan Green Industry Association’s (MGIA) Environmental Improvement Awards Program.   The aim of the program is as follows:

  1. To increase public awareness and reflect MGIA’s commitment to environmental through quality landscaping.
  2. To recognize and encourage the landscape professional who executes superior landscaping through the use of quality materials, design and workmanship.
  3. To recognize the consumers.

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On December 7, 2017, we were awarded both a Gold for Residential Landscaping and a Design Award for the project.  Gerardo (Jose), the project leader received the award on behalf of the whole team involved.

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Brick Paved Driveways

 

They are too expensive to install……are they?  Those little bricks do not hold up to heavy vehicles……they can’t?  They are too rough to clear snow from…..they are?  These are the things that most people think when a brick paved driveway is mentioned.  In 2016, Unilock did a research on driveways with 3282 homeowners in Ontario, Canada and the Midwest and East, United States.  While most driveways (86%) are made up of the tradition material (asphalt, concrete and gravel), the 5% brick paver driveway owners chose interlocking concrete pavement mostly because of their looks and the good investment. In this survey, when the asked the homeowner if they had to re-do the driveway again what would they do differently.  Most homeowners with paver driveways loved it and really wouldn’t change anything.  But on the other hand the decorative concrete owner was very dissatisfied with their driveway. 

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Now brick pavers are initially more expensive to install but installed right can last two or three times longer than concrete and ten to twenty times longer than an asphalt driveway.  Plus, most people do not take into effect the extra benefit of curb appeal.  Not only will your home be satisfying to look at from the street and frankly from inside your house, but when you sell your home you will sell it faster and for more money.   To help bare this cost, Unilock is offering a rebate for residential driveways.  Option 1 is a driveway sized between 600 and 999 square feet.  Unilock will write you a check for $300 for any Unilock driveway-approved paving stone.  Option 2 is for a 1000 square foot plus using any of Unilock’s driveway-approved paving stones.  Unilock will write you a check for $600.

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Many people have the concern of brick pavers stability.  Installed right, brick pavers can handle the toughest situation.  The Port of Oakland, CA with 5 million sf of interlocking concrete pavement receive wheel loads as much as ten times higher than over-the-road trucks.  Unilock Michigan’s own yard is entirely made out of brick pavers.  If semi trucks and forklifts moving thousands of pallets of bricks a year can hold up, then your driveway made out of brick pavers can handle your car.  If you have seen a neighbor or family member’s brick paved sidewalk and/or patio fall apart, this is because it was installed improperly.  Common installation failures include: not enough and/or the right base material, failed edge restraints, and improper subsoil preparation.   To give you a proper product, you site would be evaluated for its soil, moisture, and use.  This information would be used to design the driveway with the proper amount of base, DriveGrid System, geotextile, and edge restraint.  Than your driveway would be installed by our Certified Concrete Paver Installers (CCPI).  To show you our confidence in our product, Thoms Bros. offers a lifetime guaranty on our brick paver installation work.

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The last concern of snow clearing of snow removal is easily handled by using the right equipment.  If you have your driveway cleared by a snow contractor with a truck or other heavy equipment plow, having him use a rubber edge will prevent any damage.  Snow blowers and plastic shovels are usually not an issue unless a heavily textured product, such as Unilock’s Courtstone is used.  In this case, it is suggested that a heating system, such as Warmzone be installed.

 

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To learn more about brick pavers please visit our page, Unilock, and ICPI.

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June is National Rose Month (Part I)

In 1986 President Reagan signed a resolution making the rose the national floral emblem of the United States. What a good choice! Roses can be grown in all 50 states and are one of the most versatile and rewarding of plants.  There are basically four types of rose: landscape roses, those bred for cutting (like what you enjoy on Valentine’s Day), miniature roses and rugosa roses for people with larger properties.  Unless we have a client who is heavily into gardening or has their own gardener, we typically deal with landscape roses.  Landscape roses continuously bloom and are typically disease-resistant. 

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A line from a state of Michigan plant producer, Spring Meadow Nursery, the Proven Winners Oso Easy Rose comes in color variations ranging from pink, red, yellow and orange. Touted as being “so easy” to grow, the roses in the Oso Easy series are becoming known for being disease resistant and not susceptible to black spot or powdery mildew.  In the past few years growing Oso Easy’s in our landscapes we have had no issues with disease.  These roses are self-cleaning and require little to no pruning.  As with any other rose the Oso’s are best grown in full sun and benefit from good air circulation.  They prefer well drained and slightly acidic soil with medium moisture. The American Rose Society (ARS) announced at the 2015 National Conference that Proven Winners® received the Award of Excellence for Oso Easy® Lemon Zest rose. To receive the Award of Excellence, a rose must prove its mettle in six different no-spray trial locations across the United States. This is the second Proven Winners rose to win this prestigious award; Oso Happy® Petit Pink rose received the Award of Excellence in 2012.

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Spring Meadows June 12 Plant of the Week is Oso Easy® Mango Salsa.  This Proven Winners variety grows 2-3′ tall and wide and is hardy to USDA Zone 4. It will do best in full sun and is very disease-resistant and will not need spraying to keep its foliage nice and clean. It will bloom continuously all summer and into fall.

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Here’s a rose for dad. Oso Easy® Urban Legend™ is a real tough guy, a badass, take-no-prisoners rose with intense red flowers accented by bright yellow stamens. The flowers are brilliant, but the thorns really stick out.

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They are many other varities in this lineup including Candy Oh! (candy apple red), Smoothie (hot pink), Livin’ La Vida (flamingo pink), Cherry Pie (red w/yellow stamens), Double Red (bright red), Fragrant Spreader (light pink/white), Italian Ice (soft yellow w/pink margins), Paprika (reddish/orange), Peachy Cream (peach to cream), and Pink Cupcake (reddish new growth turning pink).  Check them out at www.springmeadownursery.com.

In our next articles, we will be talking about Knock Out, Carpet, Drift and the Home Run lines.

Proven Winner Shrubs

New Fireplace Options

Fireplaces and pits have become very hot in the landscape trends.  People love to extend their seasons and stay out in the yard as long as possible before the snow falls.  Thoms Bros. is happy to announce two new products.  Both of the Rosetta Hardscape fireplaces and our StoneMakers fireplace come in kits cutting our labor time down and ultimately your cost.  Please consider these for your new landscape project or add into your current yard.

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Rosetta Hardscapes offer two lines of their precast fireplaces.  The Claremont is based on their Claremont retaining wall with same textures and colors.  These kits come with the firebox and chimney.

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Visit www.discoverrosetta.com to see more pictures.

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Rosetta Hardscapes’ beautiful Belvedere design replicates natural stone with stunning accuracy.  This product comes in there Slate Gray, Walnut, Auburn Ridge and Fond Du Lac colors.

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Part of our StoneMakers line, this fireplace gives you the look of real split faced fieldstone boulder but only at a fraction of the cost.  A real stone fireplace like this would cost $13,000+ but we can do this at a fraction of the cost.

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Optional wood burning or natural gas inserts.

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Patio Surfaces

So you are thinking about adding or renovating a patio.  There are many different types of surfaces to choose from.  A patio can be a very large investment with prices from $2000 (standard size/shape concrete patio) to more than $40,000 (raised wet laid natural stone patio).  So choosing the right surface can be very daunting. 

Pros/Cons of Patio Flooring

Natural Stone (i.e. Bluestone) (on concrete base w/mortared joints)

Pros

  • Natural stone is a very durable and versatile building material, due to its hard and dense composition.
  • Natural stone is safe to use around the pool, for they have a non-slip finish to them.
  • Natural stone will add natural beauty to your property, giving it that classical, ‘ancient’ aesthetic appeal!
  • Because natural stone is available in so many different colors, there is bound to be the right color to match any of your existing materials.
  • Natural stone can be very long living, if proper installation of concrete sub-base is completed.
  • Same material can be used for pool coping

Cons

  • Natural stone is very expensive to install in this manor (generally $30 – $45 per square foot installed)
  • If proper drainage and/or compaction is not provided when concrete sub-base is installed, then heaving and cracking could occur damaging surface of paved area
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Natural Stone (gravel base w/sand joints)

Pros

  • Natural stone is a very durable and versatile building material, due to its hard and dense composition.
  • Natural stone will add natural beauty to your property, giving it that classical, ‘ancient’ aesthetic appeal!
  • Because natural stone is available in so many different colors, there is bound to be the right color to match any of your existing materials.
  • Same material can be used for pool coping
  • Much more less expensive to install then on concrete base (generally $15 – $20 per square foot installed)

Cons

  • Extremely high maintenance especially in pool configuration, joints will encourage weeds & ants.
  • Freeze/frost conditions can damage very easily, making longetivity very short

Interlocking Concrete Brick Pavers

Pros

  • Wide range of surface finishes, colors, and styles to meet any architectural style of home.
  • Moderate cost for installation (generally $10 – $20 per square foot installed)
  • For long lasting, Thoms Bros. offers lifetime warranty on installations.
  • Low maintenance, stained or broken pavers & sunken or heaved areas can be fixed relatively easily.

Cons

  • Areas could sink easily if base is not properly compacted or washes away between boulders
  • Weeds in cracks could be issue if polymeric sand and/or sealant is not usedIMG_0009Patio28

StoneMakers Flatwork Concrete

Pros

  • Custom colors to give real stone look
  • Moderate cost for installation (generally $10 – $16 per square foot installed)
  • Expansion joints are disguised in joints of individual stones
  • Color is both mixed in with concrete and surface applied.
  • Cracks can be disguised with new stone joints

Cons

  • Must be sealed on regular basis (depending on quality of sealer) or surface damage will occur and color will fade.
  • Concrete will eventually crackIMG_0519HPIM1565

Stamped Concrete

Pros

  • Descent range of surface stamps & colors.
  • Moderate cost for installation (generally $8 – $14 per square foot installed)

Cons

  • Must be sealed on regular basis (depending on quality of sealer) or surface damage will occur and color will fade.
  • Pattern of stamp can be ruined by saw cuts
  • Repairs will stand out because matching color and stamps after the fact is almost impossible
  • Concrete will eventually crack
  • Many installers only surface apply powdered color.

Exposed Aggregate Concrete

Pros

  • Better looking than standard concrete
  • Lost cost for installation (generally $4 – $6 per square foot installed)

Cons

  • Must be sealed on regular basis (depending on quality of sealer) or aggregate will pop.
  • Less attractive alternative to above
  • Repairs will stand out because matching color is almost impossible
  • Concrete will eventually crack

Standard Concrete

Pros

  • Extremely Low cost for installation (generally $3 – $5 per square foot installed)

Cons

  • Least attractive alternative to above
  • Repairs will stand out because matching color is almost impossible
  • Concrete will eventually crack

 

 

Fire in Your Outdoor Room

05B251B6-8E32-4B06-8D32064DBAFF017A 39102871-671E-45D6-83466666737935D9Stickel12Kotenko20Bennett39Pollock06Fitzsimmons64As the economy continues to gain momentum, homeowners will be adding outdoor kitchens, fire pits and fireplaces for outdoor entertaining in 2013 according to a new survey of leading members of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA).  The informal survey conducted in December, identified on the top of the list for homeowners are fire pits and outdoor fireplaces.

Homeowners are requesting landscape architects and designers to design complete outdoor rooms, such as kitchens and bars, for entertaining. Water features such as koi ponds, pools, and fountains continue to be popular.   Steve Martino, FASLA, of Phoenix—recipient of both the ASLA Design Medal and the ASLA Residential Design Award of Excellence in 2006—cites private living spaces, outdoor rooms, and water features as top homeowner requests.

Although we are not blessed with a long warm season like some other areas of the country, enjoying your backyard to its fullest is still of high demand here in Michigan.  We see more and more clients asking for these new trends.  Along with the increase in luxury items for the common person, people are just staying home more.  Rather than go on trips, or go to the local restaurant, people want to entertain family and friends in the comfort of their own home.  And, rather than being confined to the interior of their home, people want to enjoy their yard as well.

Here at Thoms Bros., we are using many products and manufactures to bring these new trends to our customers.  For outdoor kitchens, the high-end line of appliances that we are installing come from Viking (www.vikingrange.com) and Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet (http://kalamazoogourmet.com/).  They both offer a full range of appliances from refrigerators to grills to cabinetry.  They both have a long history of high quality products and are offering the newest of technologies in their products.  We also install more affordable products from Weber (http://www.weber.com/home) and Kitchen Aid (http://www.kitchenaid.com/)

Outdoor kitchens can be created as nice as any indoor kitchen.  Sinks, electricity, and weather protection can make preparing that perfect meal.  The appliances and other necessities for the kitchen can be supported in several different ways.  Manufactured concrete walls, cement block with a stone or stucco face, and even outdoor kitchen cabinetry from Atlantis (www.outdoor-kitchen-cabinets.com/atlantis) can be used.  Countertops are usually done in granite, but other choices like concrete can be utilized.

Extending the patio season later in the fall has become very common with the use of fireplaces, fire pits and other warming devices.  As with interior fireplaces, exterior ones can take on many looks.  These backyard center pieces can be made out of manufactured decorative concrete blocks, stone, and brick.  Exterior fireplaces can also be either natural wood burning or gas.  Fire pits can also be natural wood burning or gas, but are usually more informal of a center piece as compared to a fireplace.  The advantage of a fire pit over a fireplace is the 360° seating and lower cost installation.  The disadvantage of a fire pit is smoke control in a real wood burning application.

Adding one or many of these features will definitely not disappoint and be well worth the money.  We were created to be exterior creatures and incorporating an outdoor kitchen, fireplace, and/or fire pit will draw you, your family and friends outdoors.