Sunday, January 28, 2007

What inspires?... part 2

As I sit here looking out my window at a snowy city, listening to a truck plowing the parking lot near by, I look at this photo and think back to that beautiful spring day when I stumbled upon these red trilliums and snapped a shot of them.

In Nature, everything is simple yet so complex! Looking at these red trilliums you may think they are a nice little bunch of flowers growing in the wild....would look nice in my backyard garden! The underlying fact is that in order for those flowers to grow in that spot, a big tree first had to grow in the space and probably lived for about 70 years...

After many years of enjoying its life in the forest, the tree died and eventually a few years later, it toppled over. The stump that was left behind began to do what is natural, break down into basic nutrients and return to the soil.

The end result... moss now covers the rotted wood, the surrounding soil is in an acidic state due to the wood's decomposition in the wet humus of the forest. With the conditions of the soil being just right, the Red trilliums decided to grow... aiding further in the decomposition of the stump.

Understanding the delicate construction and composition of soil will help anyone to become an excellent gardener. Knowing how Nature does it is part of what inspires me to design....

Monday, January 22, 2007

Natural Stone: Credit Valley Sandstone

Credit Valley Sandstone: This is a widely popular Natural Stone used throughout the GTA and Southern Ontario. It was made popular in the 1900's by it's widespread use for building facades and patio/walkway materials.

(Photo courtesy of

Origins: Sandstone is known as Sedimentary Rock and is formed from layers of sand-grain like material being compressed together over time. Credit Valley stone would have had some help in being compressed from the glaciers of the last ice age. Through pressure and heat, the minerals in the sand grains bond together and form the hard material we see today as sandstone.

Character: Credit Valley stone is usually quarried out as a chalk-white colour with a sandpaper-like texture. It is a soft stone that is easy to shape and work with for masons. As it ages, it can change colour according to sun exposure. Most often the aged stone is seen in various shades of grey with a slightly weathered texture.

Common uses in landscaping:

  • Random Flagstone (loose fit): When taken from the ground in the raw format, Credit Valley stone breaks off in sheets of various sizes and irregular shapes. This type of stone is commonly used for an informal path such as in the picture below. This layout allows for planting groundcover perennials between the stones. (i.e. creeping tyme)

  • Random Flagstone (motared): A more formal and clean look for the random pattern. This application provides a more stable pavement surface in which the stones have been shaped by hand tools or a saw and then mortard by a mason.
  • Steps: As seen in the picture above, this is an example of Credit Valley stone being used for steps. This application shows the stone mortared in place with a riser and tread arrangement.

  • Square Cut Flagstone (dry-laid or mortared): In this application, the stones have been cut and shaped into square or rectangular patterns. It can be used for a very formal look in either a mortared application or a dry-laid (no mortar) application. (Photo courtesy of

  • Wall Stone Facing: This application is very commonly seen on older buildings such as the Eaton Hall located in King City. It gives a very formal and traditional look to wall faces for both buildings and retaining walls.

  • Coping Stone: Much like the square-cut stone, Credit Valley stone was also widely used for capping walls or framing pool edges.
(Photo courtesy of

Due to the expensive nature of this stone, it is not so widely used in today's landscape construction. It is often requested in first considerations for materials until budget comes into play and the thought is to look for a cheaper stone alternative.

For small job applications or for jobs where the budget allows... it is one of the nicest natural stone materials you can use.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Natural Stone: Granite

Granite stone is a very common type of Natural Stone in Southern Ontario. It was a big hit for some architectural styles during the 60's and 70's and it is still used today in some fashion or another.
(Photo: "Hole in the Wall", near Parry Sound, Ontario)
Origins: Granite is known as Igneous Rock , and in Southern Ontario, almost any granite you see has had it's Geographic origins from the Canadian Shield unless it has been specifically shipped from outside of Canada.

Character: One of the hardest rocks found on earth, second only to diamonds. Commonly found in shades of pink, greys, blacks and whites. One single section of Granite can have all the colours mixed within. It can also be speckled with different flakes of colour/texture or solid in composition. Usually seen as a rounded, smooth stone unless it is split, cut or shaped by tools.

Common uses in Landscaping:

  • Wall Facing: Split-faced fieldstone granite which is obviously split in half and chiseled to shape. The stone is then mortared in place with a fitting pattern that keeps most of the mortar joints uniform. (See Landscape Feature Stones below for origin details.)

  • Landscape Feature Stones: Used as a garden accent, the stones are usually rounded or oval shaped with interesting patterns or colours to them. Attractive when combined with planting or other landscape elements... Sold by the ton or pound and refered to as Fieldstone... Found throughout Southern Ontario, it's origin is from glacial erosion scraping the Canadian shield and depositing the rocks in Moraine fields during the end of the ice age.

  • Granite Flagstone: Random shaped patterns ranging in the many different colours that granite comes in. It can give a rustic and warm feel to an informal patio. Usually this stone is sold by the ton or pound and is quarried from bedrock. A more elaborate and thin (0.5 inch) type of flag is known as Mill Lake flagstone, quarried near Parry Sound, Ontario... commonly used as facing around fireplaces and is sold by the square foot.

  • Beach Pebble or River Rock: A very popular garden or water feature edge material. Great for placing in areas where planting is hard to establish or in other areas to help keep erosion and weeds down. Sold by the ton or in bags and comes in different dimensions (2" to 5" is the most common size). It's origins are from river edges and glacial deposits known as Eskers. When looking for this material, ask for "scrubbed" beach pebble.

  • Granite Cobble Stone: Used mainly as a natural stone paver, it can be both colourful and busy looking. A very labourious stone to install due to it's non-uniform shape and it can be uneasy footing for elderly folks or ladies in high-heeled shoes.

Cobble stone use dates back many years and is an old world practice found commonly on the streets of Europe. It was used mainly in Toronto during the construction of the Streetcar Routes throughout the city. It is a desired stone by some folks, but hard to come by in mass quantities. Reason being that this stone is not commonly quarried in such dimensions. The stones are carved out from bedrock and individually shaped.

If it is found on the market today, it is because a section of road base in the old parts of Toronto (pre 1950's) has been torn up and rebuilt. The Granite Cobble Stone is removed, packaged and sold. The demand for this stone combined with it's scarce availability makes it a very high priced stone.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

What inspires?... part 1

(A seat by the falls)

Part of what inspires me most to create landscapes is my constant interaction with Nature. I would say that is what drove me into such a career as a Landscape Designer. Inspirational beauty is all around us in Nature and bringing it alive in my landscapes is what I love most.

(bottom view of the falls, I had to stand in the middle of the Oxtongue River to get this shot)

(Below: View across the lower falls, taken under a red maple)
These are photos taken at various points along Ragged Falls, Ontario. A place where the water rushes down with such force that vibrations literally resonate within your body.
(Above: The very start of Ragged Falls, one of a series of drops along the Oxtongue River)

(Top of Falls view looking down)

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Interlock Pavers...where to start???

Ok, so you were thinking about an interlock patio, walkway or even a new driveway... but where does one start??? Lots of companies in Southern Ontario produce this stuff and each individual company makes their own colour choices & patterns.

But who's got the better product???

The truth? No one! The better question to ask would be which one suits your tastes more?

The engineering for concrete brick pavers sold in Ontario is regulated by the Canadian Standards Association (CSA website). The products sold in the U.S. are regulated by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM website). This means the man-made material products that are sold in the landscape market are generally the same quality in strength and durability. The only differences are brand names with different colour dyes, shapes, textures and prices!

Those thinner bricks you find in certain "Box Stores" are in a different category to themselves in terms of strength.

Now having jumped that hurdle, visit a few stoneyards with materials on display. See which one catches your eye and get a unit price based on the square foot (sq. ft.) for each material. The going rate for most concrete pavers ranges between $2.00 to $7.00 per sq. ft. ... that is before installation costs.

A contractor may charge $10.00 to $20.00 per sq. ft. to supply and install. That should be followed by a 1 to 2 year guarantee against movement or settlement (price depends on material choice and total amount of the square foot area). Typical base depths for walkways and patios should be set at 6 inches deep, plus the depth of the bricks.

A driveway should be set at 8 inches or more, plus the depth of the brick. A deeper base is determined by heavier vehicle loads parking or driving on the surface....the heavier the vehicle, the deeper the base should be.

Things to consider:
  • Colour: One school of thought is to match colours of bricks to the colour of your house bricks... that is either hit or miss and can look a little cliché by having too much of a mono-tone colour overload. You want a colour that compliments or accents the house.
  • Texture: Tumbled or smooth brick finish? Depending on the look you want to achieve, tumbled bricks can give that weathered or aged look and a feel of almost natural cobblestone. Smooth finish looks more like a tiled floor.
  • Salt: Sealing the bricks can prolong the effects of winter road salt from damaging the brick surface. Using non-corrosive de-icing products can help, but as you park your car over the bricks, the road spray that collects underneath the car will drip down and corrode the brick finish over time.
  • Snow: Is a plow contractor clearing your brick driveway?... expect scrapes and gouges to be prominent by spring. To minimize the damage, ask the contractor if they have a rubber or composite scraping edge on their plow blade.
  • Weeds: It happens and cannot be avoided! Placing a geotextile fabric under the bricks does nothing. Weeds will seed and grow in the joints of the bricks from surface soils or dust that washes in...grass spreads by runner-roots & seed. Round-up works nicely on weeds ... be mindful of over-spray on grass & perennials.
  • Polymeric and Joint Stabilizing Sands: These types of sands can help deter weeds from forming once brushed and washed into the joints. It helps to stabilize the bricks from moving individually and forms a hard surface that deters weeds from rooting.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Thinking about a pool for this summer?

Start planning now! Chances are that most pool contractors are booked up solid by Spring!

Fall or early in the new year is an ideal time to contact a contractor. Planning a pool involves a number of things to consider and it should not be a rushed process. You want to make sure it fits your yard and fits right once it is in place!

Most common things to consider:

  • Pool size and equipment location is usually the first idea to cross the table... What would fit best?...a humpback kidney shaped pool with it's rounded edges?... or a roman-end pool? Layout planning with either your pool contractor or a landscape designer will come in handy here.
  • Backyard access!!! Is there a wide enough gate or fence area to allow excavation equipment through? You may need your neighbour's participation in granting equipment access across their property with the promise of full repair once the job is completed. (Promising use of pool usually wins them over.)
  • Check local by-laws and regulations regarding pool installs. Building codes are put in place to ensure safety for both the wandering public and the property residents. Things considered are pool locations, ravine protection by-laws, septic systems, maintaining a certain percentage of regulated green space and most importantly... fences & gates!
  • Vinyl or concrete? In-ground or above ground? An average cost for an in-ground vinyl-lined pool can start at $35,000. Concrete based pools average $50,000. Above ground pools are cheap to install yet often look like an eye-sore in the landscape because of their height.
  • Consider pool patios & finish materials... A three-foot wide band of concrete is typically installed to encase the sides of the pool and add to the paved access area. It helps guarantee the pool edges from being damaged by frost or prevent rainwater from washing in soil & debris that clogs the pump/filter. Consider a different look before it is done.
  • Pool coping... They can build the pool edge to accept stone coping or to finish with a plastic edge-moulding. Depending on stone choice, it could cost between $3,500 to $7,000 for installation. Once you know the size of your pool, start looking for the proper amount of stone coping needed as supplies sell out fast!

  • Last thing to consider is a Saltwater or Chlorine-treated pool. Saltwater systems actually produce a natural type of chlorine that keeps the water clean and is gentle on your skin. The filtration systems are different so you need to determine which way you want to go. Ask your contractor to explain all the pros and cons of both systems.