Thursday, November 30, 2006

Stone Masons

What makes a good stone mason? I often get asked by many clients about natural stone and use of it in their landscape.

Where the problems start with using natural stone is that it takes a skilled mason to work with stone. Not every landscape contractor is experienced enough to work with natural stone, yet time and again, I see mistakes being made in landscape construction due to inexperience.

Masonry work is an art... I have seen Masons lift a brick or stone, look at the space they need to fill, balance that stone in their hand and then chop it down to the size needed...only to place it in the spot like it was made for that space. A mason must know their materials and be comfortable with what they work with.

Mistakes commonly made;

-Mortar mix being the wrong consistency which can lead to the failure of the mortar to hold it's bonding ability.

-Stone walls assembled without "rock facing" unsightly saw cuts that are visible on the stone face once it is placed in the wall.

-Sloppy mortar and grout application which leads to staining of the stone surface for years to come.

-If you also noticed something in the photo posted, then you've probably guessed it, staggering stone joints so that the overlap of materials actually give more support to wall structures.

Like the example in the photo, joints that are lined up, can over time, open up and ultimately cause a wall to begin to fail. When this particular wall was built, it was a good example of a contractor selling work and not having qualified workers doing the masonry. The contractor himself is a qualified mason and sold the client on his company's ability to do the work based on past projects. It was not him that built the wall and therefore the masonry quality suffered. The client now has to look at a failing wall 4 years after it was constructed.

Check your contractor's past references....ask who will be doing your masonry work? How long have they been doing Masonry? Ask to see past projects that are at least 3 to 5 years old. Seeing how a landscape ages will tell you if that contractor is right for you!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

When do good fences make good neighbours???

There are many variables to consider in a landscape when all you want is privacy ... when all else fails, don't get mad, get even... and use the landscape design to get even!!!

When you read through Lawrence's Blog post on Insane Neighbours , you begin to really question the intent or the attempt of people to be civil towards each other in a big city such as Toronto. I have seen many instances where disputes have arisen because a willing party is looking for the confrontation.

Being neighbourly and friendly towards those that share the same street name as you, requires a certain behaviour of social balance and the ability to say "hi" as you get in or out of your car. But what do you do when a neighbour does not want to adhere to making life on your street ... pleasant? Most often a fence gets erected to shut out the annoyances... Sheds get placed strategically and shrubs get planted.

When I first started design school to learn about Landscape Architecture, I never would have imagined that so much residential design would play such emphasis on privacy issues. I quickly came to realize that residential landscape design was all about the PRIVACY and enjoyment of your own private garden.

A good landscape design takes this into heavy consideration when planning a backyard layout. Much thought and ideas are given to views from within your home as well as views that neighbouring home owners may have of you as you sit and sip on a cold drink during a warm summer day. Annoyances such as noises can be masked by bubbling water features...big or small.

Where you sit most in your yard determines what views you wish to see or what views you wish to not have others see from. That can be fixed by playing with angles and with a big tree or two... Shrubs and fences carefully designed and placed can have a great effect at keeping out ground level annoyances.

If it is all planned right, you can have a wonderful and private garden to yourself...and your neighbours would never suspect a thing as to how you were able to block them out because the changes put in place were very subtle.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

The Falling Leaves...

In my many travels centered around my career, I often get asked, what do I put in my soil to make my plants grow better????

Hmmmm…??? Each year around this time of year, I see so many folks gathering up the leaves, using leaf blowers or strenuous raking work… and then bagging the collection in big brown paper bags. You go by the curb side and see names like Home Depot, Rona, Canadian Tire, President’s Choice, Costco…and so on… People buy these bags because the city requires you to paper bag your organic garden waste…they spend money to advertise the big corporate logos and throw out the very stuff that makes soil healthy! Then they spend even more money the next spring buying compost rich soils from the same stores that sold the paper bags?...

Yes…organic garden waste….compost friendly materials…think of it this way, a tree spends it’s time growing and searching for nutrients in the ground. It sends out roots looking for water to help dissolve the solid nutrients in the soil…way below the surface. Then it takes those nutrients + water up through the trunk and through some miracle of nature…forms leaves! Yes it also forms more branches and adds layers to it’s trunk, but for the most part….a lot of what lays deep below in the soil, gets brought up to the surface through the leaves each and every year!

Now, what is the most common practice of the urban city dweller??? Rake up the mess!!! Why is it a mess? It is unsightly and looks as if the landscape is not swept clean! No tucking the dust under the carpets! Bag all the organic waste and put it on the curb…. Nature worked so hard to create that “waste”…why throw it out???? Compost it!!!

Leaf matter adds so much nutrients to the soil…sometimes even more then adding well rotted manure. A simple process of running your lawnmower over the leaf pile can shred the leaves into small clippings, easily devoured by soil insects and organisms once it is mixed into the surface of your garden’s soil. The end result?…Black gold…add to it your collection of spent coffee grounds (a source of nitrogen) for a natural slow release fertilizer along with eggshells (a source of calcium) and banana peels (a source of potassium)…and you have the makings of good growing soil from what most people view as garbage.