In the beginning.
The condition of the house when we bought it, was tired !
It didn’t have A/C.
The roof was old.
The heating needed replacing.
The bathrooms were ancient.
The lovely wood floors were covered in plywood for some reason.
It’s been around 20 years since we purchased this older home in Weston. (Built around 1906) on a corner lot.
We spent the first few years working on the inside, we still have a few things to do. You find more as you uncover areas long forgotten.
It’s a good idea to keep a little of your budget back for the unexpected – 10% is a good figure.
What we have done Inside.
We rebuilt the bathroom, by opening up the old dining room, then closing the doorway to the kitchen.
Next, we split the family room in two forming a new dining room and a bedroom.
The kitchen became larger by closing off the old entrance to the old dining room.
The new dining room received a much more robust flooring. We laid terracotta tiles on a durarock sheet bed.
The downstairs bedroom was recarpeted.
The Office had an extra room added for a half bathroom. We formed an office with a rest room from the old bedroom.
We began collecting old pieces of furniture for each room.
The living room.
The Dining Room
The Dining Room
We spent some time collecting antique furniture.
We laid a terracotta floor over over a durarock sheet base for the dining room.
Next, we installed French windows and had a rear entrance way to the new garden deck.
The work took around three days, and wasn’t that disruptive
Reinstalling insulation was something to remember to do, as was resetting heating and cooling vents, and power outlets.
Once completed we redocarated the inside and added a deck outside, which we stained green
We started with white but quickly changed to a cheerful yellow. Which blended nicely with the green wooden ground level deck, which we kept 2 inches away from the house.
Then we started on the garden.
The plan was to create seven individual small intense gardens that you walked through.
Planting a mixed Hornbeam and Beech hedge provided privacy, reduced a/c and heating bills
Hedges need annual pruning
I’ve found that staining decks green, works really well.
I’ve found that benjamin moores wood stain works great, recoat every three years
The work is never really finished but we are slowly making progress – well that was until we returned to our passion of sailing.
So now we sail during the summer and ‘tinker’ with the house, in the colder months of the year.
Roofing – replaced around 5 years ago
We replaced the three layers of shingles with a ply base then membrane and finally new shingles. It was all completed in three days.
Windows – replaced around 5 years ago
We replaced all the main sash windows with georgian style double glazed windows, they took around two hours each to replace and made an enormous difference to the appearance of the house and significantly reduced our heating bills.
The aluminium siding was cleaned and repainted using an epoxy based white paint. This took rather longer than planned.
Electrical – renewed around 20 years ago
We upgraded the master fuse box to two hundred amps. Relacing 95% of the wiring in all areas where we replaced the plaster with sheetrock, using at least 65 sheets of sheet rock.
Bathroom – replaced around 20 years ago
We removed the old bathroom, took down the walls and built a much larger bathroom, with double walk in shower and jacuzzi, walk in wardrobe and laundry room.
Deck – Constructed around 10 years ago
We wanted a wooden deck, not raised. So we used concrete base blocks and ran rafters across to form a grid to screw treated wooden planks on. By slightly moving the center joint we were able to create a broken joint that visually looks better than a straight line.
Once completed we stained the wood with an outside Benjamin Moore green wood stain – its time to recoat the stain.
Hedge approximately 20 years old. – needs a yearly pruning.
Probably the most effective addition outside is the hedge.
The hedge reduces significantly how hot the inside becomes – around 20 degrees cooler during the summer,. So much so that we have only used the A/C for a few days over the past few years.
During the winter months the leaves of the hornbeam hedge remain , reducing the effects of the cold winter wind.
Painting the aluminium siding white, using a a two part epoxy base system from Sherwin Williams took a little extra time. However I think the overall effect was beneficial.
Tankless water heater. recently replaced original 20 year old one,
The first one a Bosch lasted twenty years, it reduced our hot water creating gas use to less than $12 on average per month over that period.
Then one morning the water feed to it exploded – they think the pressure exceeded 750lbs. It sure was lucky to be in a small town, the city engineer had the water off inside 15 mins, the oak floor got wet, but there was no other damage.
We bought a Rinnai replacement (cost exactly double the first one) it is just as efficient. There is a way to had an additional radiator, which we may do in future for keeping the bathroom warm when having a Jacuzzi.
Wood burning Fire upgraded to a 2021 sealed unit complete with stainless flue.
We recently changed our home insert as it clearly wasn’t up to code.
Our new one has its own stainless steel flue, meets the 2021 code.
Only a 65000 btu heater
Its not quite as hot burning as the previous one, but it produces sufficient heat to reduce our furnace heating to particularly cold days. It doesn’t burn as much wood as the earlier model.
The wood has to be dry and no longer than 18 inches.
Changing out the humongous old one took some ingenuity as it must have weight at least 350lbs maybe more.
Range number two.
The first one lasted twenty years, when a mouse chomped on something electrical inside, the resultant ‘bang’ persuaded us to replace the unit, well and the small issue of the oven no longer working.
Living in a small town, which used to suffer power outages often, it seemed wise to select a gas range.
Today the more efficient conductive electrical ranges are more environmentally friendly, but we would still choose gas as it gives an alternative should the power be cut.
Fridge Freezer number two
The first one died after about 18 years along with the dryer.
(we will continue to update this article)
Trees are an attractive addition to any landscape, they provide shade and balance to a garden.
They do have a few requirements :
Leaves need to be attended to, they are great for composting shrub beds, chop them up with a rotary mower and they are easy to move and place
They also need trimming – best to use an expert
Sometimes they drop limbs.
and then some hedge trimming – usually a hand job twice a year, this time a little more intense work.
Unusual moments from the past 50 years.
I’ve been really fortunate during much of my working years.
Meeting famous people,
Visiting simply amazing homes.
Helping Buy & Sell some truly amazing homes
Designing & building some fabulous landscape projects all over the world.
A big thank you.
First though, a really big thank you.
To all my incredible staff during all this time. I could not have done any of it without their help and encouragement.
I was indeed fortunate to employ some highly skilled, extremely talented, great folks.
During these, many years.
The team was rewarded with a huge number of awards for our work. – 17 National Awards, and 3 Chelsea Flower Show Awards.
Here are a few of the prestigious ones that came with extremely unusual moments:
Now in no particular order, more, just how I recollected them are some of those events.
The Tower of London
Here a straightforward design and install for an irrigation system, we were the first Toro residential dealer in London.
The irrigation systems were for the Moat & the Queen’s terrace. (that’s just outside where you queue to go in to see the Crown Jewels).
We were not allowed to cut into any of the building’s fabric, or into the stonework. In addition, we had to find a place to hide an 800-gallon water tank with a pump along with all the switching gear. This had to be accessible for future maintenance.
Once the design was completed. There followed the setting out of the irrigation lines.
These were completed and trenching begun.
A Collection of Bones
We had just started to trench the main lines when suddenly we exposed a collection of bones – human bones.
When this happens it’s extremely wise to contact a few people you might not otherwise know.
In no particular order, they were the facility manager (they have a wonderful name at the Tower for this person – The Keeper of the Keys), the coroner is next, and then the local constabulary.
Although it was very doubtful that this was indeed nefarious unless the bones were very old!
They turned out to be the remains of a priest. Who had been a chaplain and was buried there in the mid 20th century.
Then everyone sort of forgot where he had been laid to rest.
As the area was close to the infamous ‘Block’ we had to wait until everyone had left.
We rather gingerly, and carefully gathered what remains we could together.
There followed a quiet re-consecration service.
A New Power Station by the River Thames.
A tad more mundane. Having just completed a large ‘cut & fill’ project, covering many acres.
The area was the setting out ground for the entire power station project.
All the metalwork for the project was stored on this area during construction for the new power station.
Just as we prepared one area, about 30 acres for seeding.
A military land rover pulled up, out jumped an officer and team from the bomb squad. I kid you not !
They had been alerted by an old lady across the way (about 1/4mile).
She had just recalled (after almost 35 years), that a flight of German bombers, had dropped their loads of bombs.
Just where we were working during the War.
So the ‘sappers’, were obliged to dig around for a few days, messing up our seedbed as you can see. T
hey failed to find anything and left.
Some ten years later, whilst preparing for the new Queen Elizabeth Dartford bridge, 15 or so unexploded bombs were indeed found in the hedgerow not 70ft from where the bomb squad had poked around and we had adjusted the levels by 3ft !!!
Only in the USA… well maybe not!
I was called over to the USA to visit a huge private estate.
Moving truly huge trees
It was to see if we would like to be involved in a project involving large rocks and trees.
A very wealthy gentleman was in a hurry to complete a fully mature landscape – he’d been working on the project for about 10 years, so it probably wasn’t that much of a hurry.
When I arrived he was indeed pushing the landscape construction boundaries.
This tree was about 600 tons in weight. Perched at least 15ft in the air. The “hardwood stacked columns” were due to stay in place.
Then then the ground would be backfilled with soil. Irrigation would extend into the tree to a height of 40ft for a number of years, to assist with establishment.
As we approached, the site manager, who I was traveling with, was asked by the foreman.
If the position of this tree was ‘OK’. He was asked how far off the angle was – you can see the tilting in the hessian covering the rootball.
The reply – “about 6 inches” The site manager then said, “no it had to be closer.”
This one comment made me think that this project was due to be ongoing for a long time, one to avoid.
Here’s a picture of an even bigger tree moving down the road on the same site……
It took about 2 years to prepare each tree for lifting. We actually drove underneath this monster in a Ford F250.
I know what fun……..
Lambeth, South London
Back in the days when unrest descended on London. (A polite euphemism for Riots in about 1980).
We had an unusual project in Lambeth. – An area that had been called ‘The Peoples Democratic Republic of Lambeth – by it’s then ultra left-leaning leader ‘Red Ted’ Knight)
It was to be a children’s play area with a huge wooden stockade,(long gone I suspect).
As you can see from the picture the logs were huge some 16ft tall and at least 10-inch diameter.
All pressure treated so they would last a long time.
A small scuffle
They had just been delivered to the site when there was a particularly vigorous riot.
Cars were turned over and set alight, windows smashed, the police station attacked, that sort of thing.
I was comfortably at home watching it all on television when my insurance broker called me in a panic at 7 am to ask how things were.
Then he told me he forgot to put my logs (those 16ft monsters) on ‘All risk” as I had requested the day before.
It’s funny how you get to hear about these sort of events if you engage the locals.
Later that day I did go and visit the site.
All was perfectly fine, apart from 4 or five burned-out cars in the surrounding streets.
There was the little matter of 15 rapid deployment police vehicles with full riot shields carrying about 10 fully protected policemen surrounding my site.
Speaking to a local he explained that “they would never harm something intended for their children !!”
It could have been a right proper panic as we say!
The hardest part of the project was to figure out how to pick up and place these huge poles.
We had to keep the tops level. A bobcat with a then newly added 4 in 1 bucket worked out just fine.
Mind you, tracking over the soft ground in wet conditions makes a terrible mess.
Destroys the soil structure, slows the progress down and makes a site look pretty dirty – best to try and avoid if possible.
A project requiring some real ingenuity.
Another prestigious project – A large roof garden on top of the Museum of London.
It was tracing the history of London’s plants and gardens from the middle ages to the present day.
As is always the case working in odd places there are a few obstacles to overcome.
In this instance it was access… the access was a smoke vent set halfway up a wall in an underground car park.
The tunnel extended some 27ft, before the main vent went to the garden area.
Our challenge to move over 400 tons of materials through and up to the roof without damaging all the cars around.
Here’s a picture of the roof before… over the years it had become overgrown and very untidy.
We have cleared all the old planting, set out the new layout.
Then we laid the paving, lined the planting beds with a hardwood framing.
In this picture, the soil ameliorate is being added to the flower beds.
Our access is from the scaffold bridge we built from the basement fire access.
I’m the guy with the bald head in the suit in the middle of the folks on the left.
Yup had to wear a suit in the City of London. I drew the line at bowler hats!
The Completed London’s Pride Exhibition
Below is the finished result.
Which was open to the public for 6 months. My company supplying the staff that took folks around the exhibit.
This project covered close to 27,000 sq ft.
( well ok the ladders were removed and the gate swung back into place..)
It was projects like these that honed our problem-solving skills.
Do drop us a line if you would like to ask a question or have a request.. or take a more in depth look at my adventures in landscaping over the years
Beautiful landscapes take time, professionalism & commitment, from the owner, the designer, the builder and the maintainer.
Unlike almost any other purchase a homeowner can make, an external project involves nature, nature has a habit of seeking attention often !
So let’s take a moment to walk into my life as they say.
There is a well known expression ” The customer is always right” – this is very true. It is essential to build the customers trust, and not lose it, for once gone events have a habit of sending everything as we say ‘Pear shaped’ …. today, let’s stay positive and explore some experiences….
I only know ‘My’ experience, which to be fair has been fairly extensive, as well as fun, over all very enjoyable, with the odd heart stopping moment, which we will discuss later.
My school days, yes ,I was privileged, were at Bearwood College, it’s a school in a beautifully laid out estate. Designed by The Rev Gilpin back in the early 1800’s for John Walters the founder of ‘The Times’, – some 500 acres, at school we were expected to do Estate work on the huge grounds once a week to help maintain the appearance of the school around the mansion house.
So as a youngster for 2 hours every week we played at aftercare of a huge Estate – I’ve just interviewed a colleague who did this for real as a Head Gardener of a 12000 acre estate, with among other things a 44 acre formal garden, this after years of designing spectacular award winning gardens, it’s a fascinating interview, as the estate is probably the busiest in the world with many events attracting over 100,000 visitors at a time, there is a motor racing and horse racing circuit within the grounds ! – you can hear Alan shortly on Growing Trends Podcast
During my vacations to earn additional pocket money for school – the Tuck Shop was stocked with all things fattening, that us kiddies always preferred to real food ! No just kidding.
I worked with a friend in his dad’s business of Forestry – we planted new woodlands in the winter break, did more planting in the spring break, then weeded the newly planted woodlands with a long handled hook in the summer break – it was heavy work but very rewarding, the ploughman’s lunch with a pint of shandy at lunchtime sitting out in a pub garden in the summer was glorious, however toasting your homemade sandwiches over a small twig fire in the depths of winter, cold, soaking wet, drinking peppered hot bovril wasn’t quite the same, especially as your toes were on the verge of frostbite !
Even the summer days had their own special moments…
“That is until you came across a wasp’s nest buried in the ground in your row as you cut down the foxgloves, brambles, and other assorted weeds a swarm of angry wasp’s chased you along your row, which I might add was almost always a vertical hillside ! The really scary one was, when a pheasant launched itself at you as you almost chopped its head off ! It used to take me a few minutes to calm down from that – you never ever hit the bird, or really saw it, but you sure heard it, and it was a huge blur as it flew past you.!”
After leaving school, working for a year at an Estate Agent’s introducing clients to property investments, helping sell houses and commercial properties all around the Thames valley.
I heard about a new landscape course at Merrist Wood College, was accepted, and spent three years really enjoying myself earning a College Degree in the process !
The course was so good, everyone of us was head hunted way before the course finished, well, now that I come to remember Bill, he had the new MGB sportscar, decided to buy a yacht and sailed off into the yonder, never to be heard of again !
Subsequently I discovered how much fun it is to have a yacht and go sailing !
I spend a further three or four years in a London Borough’s parks department learning some serious construction techniques – they called us Landscape technicians. There were six of us, in the group, when four of us left and the fifth joined the ranks of the clergy, one of the original six is still there so Ian must have 43 years of service ! It took almost 12 full time jobs to replace us !
We learned a huge amount, it was a great place to learn, with lots of variety, seriously engineered construction techniques, a dedicated to us work study team, so we knew how long items took to build.
Overall though it lacked the ability to really expand ones horizons, beyond parks, open spaces & schools, so after three years it was time to move on.
Private practice was a completely different place, armed with the knowledge of how to build to an exacting commercial standard – something that held us in very good stead as we built our company, we did something probably unique at that time, we deliberately concentrated on Design and Build we won one award after another, ( currently 17).
We achieved this mainly because we created a standard working method, for our staff, we used standard details that we documented,. Most importantly we loved to experiment with new ideas.
No we didn’t do this ! This is a planning ‘item’ in Oxford, but I bet you took a couple of looks at it !
One of the first A-ha !!! moments was Dri-lay drives, it happened because a client asked for a brick drive with a dark mortar joint.
We duly designed and installed the drive – which took two men 10 days just to point by hand !. This seemed a waste of potential profit , so recalling our local authority days the next one we tried was with the dri-lay method we had used in parks, the very first project saved us over 50% of the normal time to complete !
One of the design features we added, was a ‘canted’ brick edge, when ever possible this served two purposes, it was visually very attractive, catching the eye, creating a visual movement.
More importantly for the housewife, it was a superb aide memoir when driving onto as if you got too close to the edge the powered steering ‘tweaked’ enough to prevent you from driving into the landscape – this produced lots of customers from recommendations..
Below you see the first ‘dri-lay’ natural brick drive, we used a harder brick at first as the clay bricks tended to snap if you applied too heavy a vibration – after a while we figured using a rubberised mat would alleviate this issue.
The bonus to us, the first drive took 2 weeks to complete, this one was finished inside 4 days !
I well remember driving to a large concrete manufacturer of paving and blocks in 1984 and asking for help with our advertising budget – in those days the firms would pay a percentage of your advertising if you mentioned them. Anyway we went up to Derby from London ! gave a presentation on ‘Designer Drives” , it blew them away and we were politely told that the market didn’t exist. – a year later we had 5 crews constantly working building Dry lay drives, so many firms were starting to see the market potential. that we moved up to bricks.
By then we offered Block Drives, Brick Drives and for the really discerning Granite Sett drives – I have to say a granite sett drive looks quite exceptional
We also learned a valuable lesson, as we didn’t want to just build drives, we broadened what we offered clients, adding canted brick edges, specially designed recessed manhole covers, multi coloured drives- which then became ‘brindled.’ As the manufacturers caught on.
Pictures of our drives appeared on advertising brochures from those very companies.
Our next Aha !!! moment was the recessed manhole cover, which we made ourselves at first..
See if you can see the second one in this picture above! This project was one of the first where we used a specially made stock brick the yellow is the kiln dried sand we used to brush between the interstices.
and the final result ..
We designed & built lots and lots of drives…100’s of 1000’s of square meters in area.
We learned some valuable time saving lessons, the best looking was always bricks laid 45 degrees from the road direction, they took longer and required much more cutting, so warranted a slightly higher charge, but they almost always looked better.
Natural bricks are not a standard size, so after about 6 ft (1.8m ) of one direction the joints tend to start running out of line so be careful how you set out. Oddly 45 degree herringbone actually helps to hide this visual effect.
I have to admit that it has, and continues to be, an awful lot of fun and enjoyment, not to mention the satisfaction that comes from achieving a well thought out and attractive scheme, or seeing a client years later saying how much they have enjoyed what was done, how well it has lasted.
A case of “Quality is remembered long after the price has been paid.”
I’ve always adopted a slightly different approach with private clients as I felt that most were not highly conversant with contractual law, or quantity surveying, always striving to give sound , honest advice, and maintain a high quality finish no matter what….
How is it that some projects just look wonderful and others just ok ?
The answer is in the detail and the finish.
There is also no doubt in my mind that, the more experience one has, the greater the ability to be able to produce , not only an award winning scheme, but also to ensure that the design is both workable and economically viable – of course if money is no object ? – I have personally worked on a few projects where money was not part of the equation, oddly they didn’t work out any better than a well designed and thoughtfully implemented scheme.
Some more A-ha !!! moments later , especially as we have grown longer in the tooth, we become smarter and now obtain patents for our “A-ha !! ” moments.
In the meantime do listen to our interviews at Growing Trends
Drop me a line if you have a question or request.
I’ve been really surprised at all the positive comments the site has been generating from everyone – Thank you all so much, it’s fun to write, improves my awful spelling, maybe my grammar as well ?
You can let me know on that one !
Some of you asked if I would make it possible to donate on this site, I’ve tried to avoid that, as well as adverts as I was trying to be impartial, with the content.
As you may know we do have a fun internet radio show, where we interview folks from around the globe about their Gardens & Landscapes.
When we started this radio show the aim was to find interesting people who had a passion for their Garden or Landscapes. Little did we know what would happen. In just a few months we have an audience stretching across the globe in 43 countries.
We soon added a web site www.grotrends.com to provide details of schedules, information on guests and sponsors, and a growing information area with details of techniques, ideas and examples of projects.
The show Growing Trends concentrates on the clients, the designers, the creators, the maintainers and the experts that help them, we would welcome any suggestions on who we should contact – the schedule is filling quickly, which brings me on to how you can help.
We have two one hour shows a day seven days a week, with a little funding help we can update the interviews more often, and tell the story of you, or your friends work, or your garden or landscape.
Can you help us in just a small way ? Contributing just $5 ?
Here’s the link to StartSomeGood the crowdfunding source we are using for this fund raising campaign
Growing Trends is fun, friendly, informative, interesting, amusing & entertaining.
This one acre pond has a water change almost once per hour !
A final interesting project from just outside New York. This fully structural gravity wall is almost 27ft high !
Note the access is less than 4ft !
We really would appreciate your support, so we can interview maybe you, or your colleagues or friends, across the globe – thank you all for your support & comments.
You can also find us on Facebook
Ann & Chris.
It’s been 40 years since I first grappled with a traditional planting plan. All those lovely latin names – like Fagus sylvatica, Fritillaria meleagris, etc.,
In the drawing office, it was a matter of using a thick graph paper so the electric eraser didn’t make lots of little holes in the paper as we repositioned plants, or corrected the many mistakes or changes in mind. Sometimes we used a plant stamp, then labelled by hand. As you can see interpreting the labels isn’t easy.
The whole process was time consuming, difficult to make into a quality finished drawing.
This next version once CAD was introcuded is a combination of hand drawn and CAD drawn, easier to interpret, but still not easy to set out.
On site, in those days these were cumbersome beasts, usually printed on dyeline, so it was dark, difficult to read with scribblings and such in the margin, fragile, and ruined once wet. Wrapping in plastic sort of helped, cutting into smaller sections then laminating was better..
Wielding one of these around on a damp morning picking out the plants, with the planting foreman, and then placing took for ever.
Trying to mark off those plants you had placed and then moving on to the next batch, with a few areas missing….
For some odd reason even though the nursery managed to price all the plants, they never seemed to be able to deliver them all to site completely in one go, or even to the company yard, so the whole process was both time consuming, expensive and worse annoying to a client who by now had had enough of three or five members of staff working in what was their space.
I hear a gentle nod of agreement or perhaps sigh of frustration?
It got so bad that we used to change our standard estimate to something like..
” To carefully prepare ground, incorporating peat and fertilizer at each planting station, to supply & plant in ‘xxx’ number of flowering & ornamental shrubs, carefully watering in on completion, then applying a 50 mm depth of planting mulch”
Here’s a plan without specifics..in this case a veggie garden area.
This gave us a contractual escape clause, but wasn’t what we wanted to portray to our clients. We even tried to restrict the planting selection to plants we knew we could obtain, but designers & clients have pet likes and dislikes being restrained to just a few varieties caused all manner of objections!
We even tried an even more generic look – with areas just designated for planting.
We also found most of our clients actually really wanted to do some of the work themselves, the idea of planting was often the most appealing, as the ground was prepared, the turf laid and all the ‘hard’ structural stuff was completed. The feeling was that just a bit of planting wouldn’t take long and they could then say ‘we did this ourselves’….
There was one small issue, understanding the ubiquitous planting plan. Setting out plants in the damp, with a tape, scale rule and a large piece of paper was a task best left to the experts.
We solved this problem with our Weekend Planting Grid. A really easy to understand ‘garden bedding system’. Today we even have this simple system patented, it’s even incorporated into one of the more easy to use CAD programs.
The system cuts setting out times in half, for anyone, acts as a landscape fabric or paper mulch, reducing weeds and watering and makes the whole process as easy as 1,2,3 ! – costing only marginally more than just a landscape fabric.mulch.
No longer do you need a setting out plan, just a plant position is all that is required.
It makes it very easy to place the plants in position, so now any combination of annual, bulb, corm, perennial, shrub, even tree can be used with little risk of them being placed incorrectly. In fact there is no need for a planting plan at all ! Just a series of grids will do. The fabric is left to act as a landscape mulch mat, preserving water and reducing weeds, all it requires is a 2 inch layer of mulch to keep attractive.
If you use the CAD program you can design your own arrangement , create them with photorealistic images and then print out their positions. The CAD program automatically generates the grid layouts, positions the plants, prints out a planting position list, even prints out a plant label with position for the plant pots, then generates a quotation and plant care notes – amazing really !
Difficult to set out designs are now easy…
Complicated Herb and Veggie gardens are a breeze. With positions shown on a simple patented grid system.
Even more fun is the simple PicaGardi that you can download and use it’s available on the iTunes store, Google Play and Amazon
We are planning a Growing Trends radio show just about design and designers soon, we would love to hear your comments, suggestions & ideas.
Ann & Chris
Today, I thought some technical stuff was in order.
I’ll try and make it interesting, no doubt you will let me know ?
I spent almost as much time as a Quantity Surveyor as I did a Landscape Architect & Contracts Manager… the worst part was as you grow a business you have to give up various aspects of the work, allowing others to do it instead.
The secret is always find someone better than you to do the job you are relinquishing…
Then catch them doing it right and praise them, whilst simultaneously stopping them from doing it wrong, without to much rancour.
Some years ago, just after I graduated I found myself working in the minor engineering and technical department for a large London Boroughs Parks Department – today you would be called a Landscape Architect, but in those days the Parks Managers wanted folks with hands on experience. This meant we not only knew how to design, but we also knew how to build and even better we knew how to manage the project, including the labour, right down to the work study times it took to build a specific item. We looked after Schools, Parks, Playgrounds, Golf Courses, Verges, Allotments, Open Spaces, Housing Sites and the odd Airfield.
I always wondered why we frantically completed a valuation of work ( right down to the allowed minutes of time each element took) every Monday morning , then rushed the ‘bonus’ sheets over to the treasurers department on Tuesday morning so the staff could be paid their bonuses on time each Friday – hourly paid staff were paid weekly in England ( us salaried staff were paid monthly, we even worked flexi time with every other Monday off, those were the days as they say !).
In later years these standard minute values that had so painstakingly been obtained turned out to be especially useful when pricing large scale contracts, as they were actual times not priced rates.
What was more interesting though was they enabled someone to build up a time and thus rate for all manner of projects. So we could accurately figure out how long a BBQ would take to build for instance, or how long 5 tonnes of tarmac would take 3 men to prepare, lay, roll and clean up.
When semi automatic pricing came along in the form of access based databases it was easy to ‘plug’ these times into the program to use for pricing projects.
This worked great for projects where you weren’t tendering for a job, as you were usually able to produce a fair price, quickly and accurately.
The projects that went out to tender were much more of a lottery, as depending on who was pricing and why, often dictated how the pricing went… No one minds losing a tender by say 1-2% and if everyone has a similar price. It would suggest that the bill of quantities , drawings and specifications are usually going to be an accurate reflection of the work in hand, without any unforeseen errors.
What is intensely irritating from a contracting point of view is when you carefully price a project and then lose by more than 15%, I’ve often wondered why during the assessment phase a tendering body doesn’t add up all the tender values, then divide by the number of tenderers and use that mean figure as the basis for the work – we found that more often than not when we did this in the parks department that was the final cost of the project. I believe the Dutch usually take the second lowest price as this makes it almost impossible to ‘buy’ a job by underpricing !
One of the early ‘tricks’ we learned, was how to be asked to price the better projects if we eliminated the ‘snagging or punch list’. The client put us to the top of their use list. More often than not our site staff ‘snagged’ as they went along, this saved us so much time we gave them a bonus.
Another trick was to put the projects up for a national award – we were fortunate to receive 17 national awards over the years, they were great for staff moral , even better for our clients who then asked us to price some fabulous projects.
We have always tried to be professional, to do the best job we could for a client, avoiding confrontation as much as possible, sure we negotiate hard, but not too aggressively. – the saying ‘Under promise and over perform’ is a great way to work.
The pointing above is typical of our approach, when it comes to the finish it is essential to maintain a clean consistent finish, it looks good, keeps everyone happy..
The real pearls of wisdom are ” Quality is remembered long after the price has been paid ”
Have you visited one of your old projects recently?
What did it look like?
Listen to Ann & Chris at Growing Trends
Ever wondered how a landscape project is conceived, designed, planned and then implemented?
We have created quite a few over the years, so we thought we would attempt a trial of one here that we did some years ago.
There is an ulterior motive for this, Ann & I would like to attempt to follow a project from ‘Concept to Completion’ on our radio show ‘Growing Trends’
This project started because the owners, a young couple, were starting a family, and wanted the swimming pool that dominated their back garden removed, partly for safety reasons and partly because as you can see it didn’t leave much space for a user friendly garden.
The first step was to survey the garden, in this case we needed to take fairly accurate levels to enable us to quantify the amount of work to do.
This has a number of benefits ;-
When working in tight areas , there was only a side gate access, it is very wise to design in such a way as the least amount of material is taken away or brought in to complete a project – all that hauling is wasting the clients budget.
Secondly it is jolly hard to accommodate too much material when the entire site is being worked on.
With such restricted access the design whilst needing to be imaginative, had to be practical and effective.
The solution was to use the existing access path level as the main level, demolish the pool surrounds, break out the base of the pool, to allow for drainage, then backfill in layers the excavated pool , paving and surplus material to bring the levels up to create a much larger patio.
We even salvaged some of the brick wall to mix in with the new london stocks to create the imposing planter that acts as a statement as you walk around the side of the house to the rear garden.
The new paving extends all the way around the house to give continuity, we added a stock brick edge to the paving so we could link the low black stained timber retaining walls, the raised patio diaz, and the black stained timber edged step to the rest of the garden.
The stained timber edge is protected with polythene sheeting and has a gravel pressure release drain set behind, to prevent water incursion onto the light coloured patio stones, which would stain very easily otherwise.
There is now a much enlarged patio area ideal for young children to play on, which is both safe and secure.
The step detail is modulised to provide continuity and ease of use when walking on, planting the edges will over time soften the strong straight lines and allow the planting to seamlessly flow into the step area.
The steep banks are now lost in the planting, supported by the low stained timber wall, creating a feature rather than an aftercare issue as before.
The completed project, is much easier to maintain, has a huge amount of safe space, opens the garden up, into an interesting useable space, for play, entertaining , whilst giving more light to the inside of the house and a feeling of spaciousness.
You can hear Ann & Chris talking to garden owners and the experts that help them on Growing Trends ( just click this link) it will send you to our internet radio show.
If you have an interesting garden or story to tell do drop us a line, we will get back to you in a few days.
We would love to hear from you..
Ann & Chris
Alternatively take a look at our web site at www.grotrends.com it’s packed with helpful hints.
There are a number of reasons why, let’s start with this picture of a French Restaurant not that far from Lyon.
Natural materials, always weather well, they tend not to lose their colours so quickly, being much less affected by UV light. The wood for instance changes colour slowly, blending into the other colours, with a softer patina. The natural stone stays basically the same colour apart from the addition of dirt and moss etc., the rendering isn’t really natural, it was something started in the 1950’s for some reason in villages throughout France, some have returned to a more natural stone look by hacking the rendering off, others as here have allowed the rendering to weather and blend in.
Of course it helps to have the walls half covered in virginia creeper, with the windows festooned with trailing geraniums. The over all effect is soft on the eye and pleasing.
When selecting materials for a project, it’s always a good idea to see what natural ones are available first.
All the materials in the picture above are ‘natural’ as you can see they have a softer look to them.
They ‘weather’ in much better and seem to last longer.
This beautiful driveway was constructed with natural bricks to form the rain water gulley run offs – it actually took three bricks to form the channel.
The top wearing surface is a double coated natural dried Pea Gravel that has been applied with fibreglass rovings and a special binder to form an impervious surface. Surfaces like this need to be re applied every 5 years or so to keep up appearances.
The beauty of such a surface is that the gravel isn’t likely to ‘fly around’ much, and the surface lasts longer because it is more or less water proofed.
This attractive Gravel and Granite surface, will basically never change colour, it will always looks warm and inviting, sure it will need some aftercare to keep weeds and encroaching plants at bay, but it will be the same in twenty years time as it is today.
This secret garden, is really easy to construct, its basically larger gravel rolled into the soil, with stepping stone flat rocks leading to a a stone bench with a small statue acting as the main focal point… a great place to listen to Growing Trends our downloadable internet radio show.
Here we used a low natural stone rockery with a low bridge across a pathway around the garden, as a starting point for an artificial stream, adding differing sized stones and rocks into the stream bed to create a natural appearance.
We will be having an interview with an ex Head Gardener of one of England’s great Estates shortly.
Do listen to Growing Trends and let us know what you would enjoy hearing about.
Ann & Chris
Today you can chuckle at my expense !!!
Designing & Building award winning landscapes has been a very rewarding, satisfying, fun filled occupation, of course there have been days one prefers to have skipped or passed by, yet more where looking back it was quite amusing now – I’m sure you too have a few you could share with the growing readers too.
So Ann and Chris are making you an offer you cannot refuse? – well perhaps you can !
Here is the challenge. If you have an amusing enough incident and you share it here by way of a comment,
Ann & I will call you ( we will have to keep this to an English conversation for now) , we will give you at least 5 minutes to describe in your own words the Opps! moment, you may also give your business a gentle plug!
Hows that ?
So let’s get the ball rolling with some of those Opps ! or “Out take” moments that have happened to me.
“Hook – Up”
The first that I remember wasn’t actually related to horticulture it was whilst working during a summer recess from college, working as a summer assistant lock keeper,on the River Thames at Mapledurham, which I think is in Oxfordshire, as I recall a quite well known movie was being filmed at the time called “The Eagle has Landed”, just across the reach from the lock.
On this particular day, there was lots of action and noise from the film set, lots of tourist and regular cruisers plying up and down the Thames. The lock is quite large – from memory nearly 200 ft long and about 16ft wide with a 5 ft rise and fall. Because we were busy we were packing in the boats. Anyway, having filled the lock with boats I opened the sluice gates to let the water out and let the lock water level fall around 5 ft, as this happened I was distracted by the filming. the next minute I turned to see all the boats hooked up with no water beneath! … not a good position to be in !
It took some time to undo the resultant mess….
Sticking to water… one night I was making a visit to a potential client on the way home, it was around dusk, the home owner was a banker, they had a lovely home in Chislehurst, Kent. After a brief talk we took a short stroll around the garden as dusk was fading, it was a long time but it was quite dark by the time we headed back to the house.
For some reason, I was talking to the client side by side one moment and the next I was treading muddy water, tearing though a rather decrepit swimming pool cover having missed the dog leg steps on the poolside.
The water soon reached my waste, and my suit took on a rather unusual color and smell..meanwhile the client rushed indoors exclaiming I had fallen into the pool, which brought the whole family out giggling !.. somewhat soaking I drove the last 15 miles home. We ended up completing the project, one of the requirements was to break out the miscreant swimming pool !
On another occasion we were contracted to dredge a small lake and construct a weir. ( a pond is in my definition an area of water in which you can throw a stone over it to land on the other bank. A lake is where the stone falls into the water). So dredging a lake is a task, requiring a variety of big toys… in this case we arranged with the local waterways folks to block ( legitimately) the upper inflow channel, allowing the water in the lower lake to fall around 8-12 ft which would allow the use of a piece of equipment similar to a dragline.
Unfortunately, whilst we knew the plan, the water folks knew the plan and the parks department knew the plan, nobody had told the security guys – who “unblocked’ the upper lake outfall late in the night, thinking some vandal had blocked up the outfalls !
So after about two days of working we returned in the morning, to find the lake full of water , the equipment marooned 50 ft out in the lake,with their tracks buried and the mud slowly engulfing the cab.. some drastic action was needed, a very heavy lift truck was used to winch out the equipment, and we changed our method of removing the silt,to pumping the now slurry into a temporary lagoon to dry out before carting away.
“An up-lifting experience”
The next was a tad more mundane, well it started that way at least. We had just completed a large ‘cut & fill’ project covering many tens of acres on a setting out ground for a new power station, we were preparing one area of about 30 acres for seeding when suddenly the bomb squad pulled up, I kid you not…
Here is an English sapper exploring on the site !
Apparently they had been told that a lady across the way ( about 1/4mile, you can see the block in the distance) had just recalled a flight of German bombers had dropped their loads of bombs in the 2nd world war ,just where we were working some had failed to explode…
so they dug around for a few days, messing up our seed bed and left, when they failed to find any …..
Some ten years later, whilst preparing for the new Queen Elizabeth II, Dartford bridge, the said 15 or so unexploded bombs were indeed found in the hedge row not 70ft from where the bomb squad had poked around !!!
It was a very useful do not ASSUME moment … you know the meaning don’t Assume as it makes an “ASS out of U and ME”
Enjoy the week !
Ann & Chris
When Ann & I started ‘Growing Trends’ the web site, blog and radio show, we weren’t sure how to engage all of you. It seems a little wit, the odd anecdote and should I say a touch of knowledge has helped us enormously.
In a very short time we have built an audience of readers, listeners and fellow Horticulturists, they have come from :-
United States, Canada, Venezuela, Argentina, Columbia, Germany ,United Kingdom, Spain, Ireland, Italy, Hungary, Denmark, Romania, France, Netherlands, Jamaica,Barbados, Egypt, New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia, Japan, India, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Republic of Korea,
We are just stunned… thank you all so much. Please if you have time send us a picture of your favourite space, garden or landscape with a few notes, we would love to hear from you.
Today, as we have a holiday weekend here in the USA, it seems that our blog should be a little in this spirit, so I’m going to try and find a bunch of pictures of projects we’ve completed along with pictures of unusual items used in the urban landscape that perhaps some have not seen before.. hope you enjoy them..
So let’s start with a really big tree being moved, it was one of many on this site, weighing some 600 tons and approximately 60ft tall!
One of my favorites a flower clock in Geneva, Switzerland.
This one was ‘snapped’ in Amsterdam, it’s an old cannon, now serving as a vehicle bollard !
The next is fairly common – creating a bubble fountain using an old natural millstone wheel.
This method completely softens a brick pier and makes it look ageless – we used a single canted brick on each corner, and added a double layer of tiles ‘Creasing Tile’ before the soldier course, the resultant ‘shadow line creates interest and helps the wall to ‘weather’ much better.
This one is much harder to do, it’s a circular patio of natural setts – they tend to be slightly different sizes. When laid like this, in a circular pattern creates a feeling of movement and space, in what is a fairly small area.
When you have a natural random wall it is always hard to create a ‘finish’ , we solved this by bonding a brick coping to match the drive brick edge.
What is really interesting is, if you look really carefully you can see the brick coping running into the driveway as the wall ends, this looked so good, the red tarmac ( which is quite expensive) helps with the overall effect.
Many years ago, we needed to find away to create ‘Raised planters’ on a roof that were exceedingly light weight, contained and yet attractive. We think we succeeded with these specially made by us artificial rock faced grp planters. – we won an award for the project , which was fun !
Some 30 years ago we started building gravity walls with ‘TimberGrid’ , then we thought let’s add some plants, it worked great..!
It wasn’t long before they started to ‘Grow’ well you know if you try hard enough it becomes a ‘Trend ‘
Sometimes it’s fun to experiment, so here we came up with a ‘curved’ wall
Finally a simple picture on a very clear day !
Hope you have enjoyed, do drop us a line
or visit our website at www.grotrends.com
or listen to our internet radio show Growing Trends
Ann & Chris
I thought it would be fun to share with you, our interview schedule.
We are on air at 1pm & 7pm daily at www.cravingtalkradio.com or you can download as a podcast for later listening.
Our first interview was with Belinda & Terry, this is their lovely garden.
and a more romantic version, the pool is so inviting….
and the famous ‘Zen’ deck, now sanded and restored to its glory…
Our next interview was with John Stanley of John Stanley Associates in Australia, we didn’t talk about his garden as it’s a tad larger than most as you can see – what a view !
What we did talk about was trends in edibles and concerns over bees, you can hear both on Craving Talk Radio.com, we are due to revisit John in Perth again shortly.
Coming up soon is :-
Kelly Daniels lovely garden,
and here is some of her superb photography.
Then we have:
Dwayne Hoover the Horticulturist at the Kauffman Memorial Garden in Kansas City we caught up with Dwayne early one morning – 6am to be precise, the team was starting to put together the summer bedding.
Then it’s Jenny’s turn and her Fairy Room at the Celtic Ranch along with ‘Half-pint McGee’, who will soon be your little heart throb…….
Then it’s the turn of the Nelson Atkins Museum in Kansas City,
and the lovely sculpture park. You have to be strong to play badminton here !
and my favorite the Henry Moore collection…
this next amazing sculpture is some 56ft tall..
to read more about our rather different programs visit www.grotrends.com
As it seems for some of us climate change is playing havoc with our normal weather – for some way too much rain, others nowhere near enough and yet others both but at the wrong times along with huge temperature variations. I thought it might be an idea to show you some projects that eventually turned out quite well despite the conditions we encountered during construction.
The thing to remember is, that they took longer to complete, longer to establish and usually they cost much more because the folks building them could only work in short time sections.
This first project was constructed on very heavy wet clay, here is the site as we saw it when we started work.
here is the site after we have been working a little while. Almost ready to put the finishing planting, turfing in etc,.
Here, during an inspection, the plants have established and the grass is growing well, you would never know how bad the conditions had been. Happily this project won a number awards for us.
This next site was similar… in this case we recommended the owner take a few long weekends away, whilst the garden looked so bad, actually we also wanted the housebuilder to leave so we could apply a finished landscape, without him running equipment over the finished work.
and so it slowly took shape..notice it’s somewhat tidier looking..
The trick is to let the ground dry out, drain where necessary, and what ever you do, do not over compact the sub surface where planting and lawns are due to be.Also as soon as possible get the site clean and tidy and keep it that way, the client usually has had enough after about week 8 of these very distressing looking pictures., fortunately In the end it looked just like any other project.
perhaps nicer than some..
We found that if management spent a little extra time with the client in these situations, it wasn’t long before the project was back on course, with a happy client and a happy workforce.