Sunday, December 28, 2008

A monumental task....

Back in the summer of 2008 I was asked to assist the Curve Lake First Nations People in a community park project. In the center of their community sits a cenotaph stone dedicated to the people of their community who lost their lives in WW1, WW2 and Korea....

I was asked to design and organize the surrounding park area into a properly functioning space for annual community events. The place to start was with the monument itself!

After speaking with the committee, I got the sense of what they were looking for in terms of the monument. I decided to give it a better height and reposition it so that the face of the stone pointed in the right direction (facing the main entrance). The committee then told me that the monument was to sit in a medicine wheel with the red, white, yellow and black colours displayed in a proper order.

The Chief of Curve Lake requested to me that the base of this monument be made to last a couple hundred years or so... I designed it to be at least 6 inches thick with re-bar set in and also to have some foundation piers that go below frost.

The end result looks much like the concept drawing I did. The project is still in progress so the finished park will have to be photographed in the coming year...

I look forward to continue working with the people of Curve Lake on this project!

Monday, November 10, 2008

A Stone Mason in Toronto

A couple of years ago I was fortunate enough to meet up with a very talented group of stone masons working in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

Just a few examples of some stone masonry work in my designs can be seen below and in the photo above:

In the above photo, Natural stone retaining walls and random flagstone path (Credit Valley Flagstone and wall stone). This was a brand-new stair/wall system put in for better access to the client's front door from the driveway.

In the above photo, Natural Owen Sound square-cut flagstone in a Grey-buff colour mixed with black square-cut for a bit of accent. This is a patio that had been put in to provided a great space for entertainment.

In this photo we see the work in progress as the front walkway is completed for one of my clients. The photo at the beginning of this post is the end result of excellent Stone Mason work and quality landscape construction work. The stone used here is called Indus Valley Sandstone in a grey colour.

For stone mason work in the Greater Toronto Area you can contact me for further information regarding design or I can refer you to a contractor for estimating the work on your natural stone projects.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

What inspires...part 7

One the most exciting things to see in a landscape is a combination of plantings staged within a setting of rockery that looks both pleasing and harmonious to the eye.

What inspires me when I create and arrange planting beds with rockery is to observe how Nature does it first! The tower of rockery on the right and the picture above is from a limestone outcropping found in The Beaver River Valley near Georgian Bay, Ontario. You can find this lookout along a hiking trail in the Old Baldy Conservation Area.

There are so many places that Ontario has to offer for the casual observer to feel truly inspired about Nature.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A simple Pergola

Back in early spring of 2008 I was contacted by some wonderful clients to help create a pergola structure in their yard.

Above is the space before I got my hands on it and created the design... I still remember that day being -19 degrees Celsius and one of the coldest days ever for me to take property measurements. The design issues were as follows:

- Shade for both the sitting area on a patio as well as shade for the interior rooms of the home.
- A structure to add value to the home.
- A structure that would properly bridge between the home and the garage buildings without looking out of place.

After giving much thought and allowing my brain to thaw out, here is what I came up with!

I kept the structure away from the garage building and gave it some interest along the edge as it wraps around the building instead of joining right to it. The Architectural challenge to create a pergola that attached to the building would have proved to be too costly for the budget and would have looked out of sorts with the A-frame roof of the garage.

The details of the rafter ends and the other wood elements present, give the look of an elegant structure that gently rests between the two buildings and softens the transition in-between.

The clients went with Tiger Decking which is a form of hardwood used for exterior surfaces. It added a finishing touch to the new deck and really makes this space feel like an additional room to the home.

The deck carpenter for this project was Tony Fredericks of The Woodcrafters (416-420-3999)

Friday, August 29, 2008


As you search on the internet about Hummingbirds you'll find there are a lot of articles on the net that tell you how to attract the birds and how to keep hummingbird feeders with sugar water and so on...

I'm of the firm belief that we should not intervene with Nature's natural patterns and the natural migration routes of these beautiful little creatures... so my method of practice would be to create a natural hummingbird garden full of their favorite plants....

We may not know the right time of year to take out the feeders or to put them in but if it is a garden full of flowering perennials and shrubs, we can leave that guess work up to Nature. If hummingbird feeders are not kept clean, we can actually do more harm than good... even the plastic feeders baking in direct sunlight are found to leech chemicals into the syrup feed!

The photos in this article are from a recent trip to a friend's cottage... I was so fortunate to capture these pictures of the hummingbird feeding on Evening Primrose flowers. Rather than having open grass around the cottage, my friend had decided to plant wildflowers everywhere! The beauty of this is that you can spend time watching the flowers grow, watching the bees flourish and in this case... sit quietly in the garden and wait for one of these beautiful little jewels to buzz by you on his way to hover over a flower while you snap your pictures...

This guy decided to sit in front of my face and check me out first before he went to his flowers... I tend to look at this encounter as if he interviewed me before he would let me take his pictures. When they are in their natural element (sans man-made feeders) they are fearless and in control.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

A unique dowtown backyard

In the confining space of some of the areas in downtown Toronto, deck designers can find some unique challenges. The picture below shows such a challenge. This is a continuation of the Deck spans article... showing what the 20 foot beam is holding up!

I was called into this project last year to help dream up a new look for the privacy screen/railings that enclosed this "backyard". The space is approximately 20 x 20 and sits at the second floor level over top a parking area in the back of a townhouse complex. The clients asked me for something that kept the privacy, allowed for air flow and gave them a view to the surrounding tree tops, all the while keeping it stylish and appealing to the eye.

I came up with a combination of the privacy screens for the sides of the deck and the glass windows along the back with etched in window frames on the glass. The glass windows were placed strategically so that when seated on the deck, no one could see you from down below but you had all the pleasure of the green surrounding from the tree branches.

This effect makes the space feel larger and more connected to the landscape even though it is 9 feet off the ground. The deck carpenter for this project was Tony Fredericks of The Woodcrafters (416-420-3999).

The glass panels for the screens were supplied by Verrage Glass and Mirror Inc. (416-631-6500 or 905-738-6565)...they are a great group to work with and will customize any glass shapes, sizes, patterns and specifications for your project!

Deck spans...

Last year I had the pleasure of working on a deck project that involved a face-lift plus a structural repair to the main supporting beam.

The deck is an elevated second-story deck that sits over a 2-car parking area which required a 20 foot clear span of the main beam. The picture above shows some fancy engineering of a laminated beam made up of 2 x 12's and plywood spanning the 20 feet. It will not sag under it's own weight and will hold up nicely when your party of 12 sits happily and safely above!

The deck in the distance shows a 20 foot span sagging under it's own weight...evident in the slightly curved appearance to the bottom of the deck. Imagine what a party of 12 would do to it? When designing the structure of a deck, there are specific building codes to follow with beam and joist spans. Things are very specific in the types and sizes of beams to use according to the distance you wish to span from post to post.

You want to make sure your spans follow those guidelines for safety reasons... saving money or trying to maximize space under a deck by using less posts with the wrong type of beam could result in structural failure. The above picture shows what you get with the proper guidance of a knowledgeable contractor working on your job. The deck carpenter for this project was Tony Fredericks of The Woodcrafters (416-420-3999)

Yikes!!! My Tomatoes!

If any of you out there are avid gardeners and enjoy fresh home grown tomatoes like I do... watch out for these pesky buggers!

This is a picture of the Tomato Horn Worm which later turns into the Five-spotted Hawkmoth. It can make a meal of your tomato plants in a hurry... leaving you nothing to enjoy for the rest of the gardening season. If you find this silent invader in your garden plot try a quick and green solution of hand picking them and disposing of them from the garden area.

I have heard of cornmeal being used... the worms eat the corn meal and are not able to digest, which results in their death. Other hopeful solutions is to let nature deal with them as they make wonderful meals for birds and they can also be attacked by wasps.

In my many years of being around Tomato gardens, I have only seen the worm once... they are hard to see from a distance but easy to recognize (4 inches long) when you find your tomato leaves being eaten.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The outdoor living room

Recently I have noticed a growing trend in the sense of the outdoor living room. A concept that was widely used in California back in the 50's is now making it's way here to Toronto!

With the warmer summers and longer growing seasons we are having ... there is a push to be outside in your backyard rather than in the home and in front of a TV. Actually, they are making flatscreen TV's for the outdoors these days... so you can have all the comforts of inside with you as you enjoy the outdoors in your yard.

Why not create that dream living room or dinning room space in your backyard? You'd be surprised what a few well placed pieces of furniture or even well planned out gardens would do to a space.

Complete that with an Outdoor kitchen with a bar and you'll never have to leave home to find a fun spot to entertain in! If budget is a concern, doing something as simple as planting a tree in an ideal spot would create that shady area needed to have a table and chairs set up so you can enjoy an outdoor space. When decorating the landscape, the possibilities are endless....

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Define: Stone Mason

There are lots of pitfalls and hidden risks when hiring someone that has a business card which portrays the image of a professional Stone Mason or Landscape Contractor. A Stone Mason is a professional that knows stone material and is an artist at working with Natural Stone.

Just yesterday I was on my way to an appointment with a client and I had to stop my car, back it up and take this picture! Wow! Yikes! I'm willing to guess that this home is probably valued at about $700 000 to $900 000 in Toronto's current real estate market.

Yet the masonry work done on these front steps is scary! I hope it was a family member that sets tiles for a living who built the steps and did not ask for any money. I think it would be highway robbery to pay a contractor calling themselves a stone mason and you end up with a job like this.

When you interview a potential stone mason to do the masonry work around your home, it is an investment! Always make sure you ask to see past projects to avoid mistakes like the picture above!

A proper masonry job should look like the picture below. Solid 2 inch or thicker tread edges that are professionally finished with a rock-faced edge. Straight and level lines are also a plus to keep the steps looking neat.

This picture displays a work in progress as the Stone Mason is building the new set of steps into the walkway. This particular job is something I designed for one of my clients and I highly recommended the stone mason for this work because of the quality he puts into his craft. Even the unfinished work done by a professional mason looks better then the finished work seen in the photos at the beginning and middle of the article.

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Hidden Aspects of Landscape Architecture

One of the most important things to learn when dealing with a landscape design is to learn to check what the mature heights and sizes of your chosen plant material is.

More often then not, I run into cases such as the above photo. The plants seen there are what I would consider to have been planted in the wrong spot. Yes they may be small and cute looking when you see them on sale at the nursery... but remember this important lesson! Always check the I.D. tag for the plant's specifications.

How big will it get? How tall and wide will it grow? Does it need full sun or part shade? The spot you are thinking to plant it in... does it have the space needed for the mature size of this plant? Will you constantly be pruning it back so it does not block pathways and hide crucial things like a view to your front door?

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Natural stone used in the landscape

The picture below is an example of stone installation that lacks imagination and scale. I drive by this on a daily basis and wanted to take a picture of it to show you another example of how not to use natural stone.

The idea that inspired this was simple... what is the quickest way to make a raised planting bed with the least amount of skill.... maximum profit on the contractor's part and the least amount of cost on the client's part. There are several raised beds on this particular property and I have to painfully say that this one is the more attractive of them!

What makes things worse is the use of the two or three different stone types placed by the sidewalk edge (The most visible side!) You have weathered limestone used all around the raised bed and then you have un-weathered limestone sitting in the front where everyone can see it.

I think that for the amount of stone used in this display and the others on the property, they could have played with the levels of the planting areas, creating high and low beds and actually featuring the rocks for focal points in and amongst some inspired plant material choices.

For just a few dollars more investment in plants and some careful design consideration in stone placement... the grounds could have look very stunning.

Sunday, April 27, 2008


Just about every design I create for my clients involves the very essential "gate"! It designates back yard from front yard and sometimes it keeps some potential wanderers from trespassing.

If the client is a dog owner, it keeps their pets in and other neighbourhood pets out. Also, if there is a pool, it fulfills the bylaw requirements of a closed off area surrounding the pool.

What I have come to notice in recent years is that many people are looking for something much more than just a simple gate... something that will set them apart from their neighbour's gate.

What ever the purpose of the gate, the style is important as it states a point of entry to either your front yard or back yard and sometimes even your driveway (as in the picture at the below).

So if you are completing a fence project this year, or looking to replace an old and failing gate, remember that this will be your chance to add a personal flare to your yard. Make a statement by creating a unique gate.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Could it be Spring???

Well it seems that the weather has finally changed towards the gardener's favour! I am checking the forecasts here in Toronto and there is no calling for below freezing weather any time soon.

That should be good news for Spring bulbs, cherry blossoms and many other things that will bud over the next few weeks!

Almost patio weather, but not quite pool side summer sun just yet...
(In this photo: Pool side sunning/seating area for two, set on beautiful Owensound Square-cut flagstone.)

Time for this Gardener to come out of Hibernation!